JetBlue struggles with relevancy in Washington, D.C., market

Sep 25, 2019

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JetBlue Airways faces a slot challenge in the East Coast’s second largest metropolitan area: Washington, D.C.

The New York-based carrier holds just 30 slot pairs — one pair is the equivalent of an arrival and departure — at popular Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA) Airport, which lies just across the Potomac River from downtown Washington. JetBlue shrank its presence at Baltimore/Washington International (BWI) airport earlier this year, and ended flights to Washington Dulles (IAD) airport in January.

“With 30 slots at DCA, we didn’t have enough to make ourselves relevant,” said Andrea Lusso, director of route planning at JetBlue, at the World Routes conference in Adelaide, Australia, on Tuesday.

Related: JetBlue Shrinks D.C. Route Map, Drops 2 Other Cities

At DCA, JetBlue will end routes to Charleston (CHS) in South Carolina; Hartford (BDL) in Connecticut; and Jacksonville (JAX) and Tampa (TPA) in Florida by November. The airline largely will redistribute those flights to its other routes from the airport, primarily boosting frequency between Boston Logan (BOS) and DCA to 15 weekday flights by November, according to Diio by Cirium schedules.

In addition to Boston, the carrier continues to serve DCA with nonstop service to San Juan (SJU) in Puerto Rico and the Florida cities of Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Fort Myers (RSW), Orlando (MCO) and West Palm Beach (PBI). It also serves Nantucket (ACK) in Massachusetts and Nassau (NAS) in the Bahamas on a seasonal basis.

JetBlue’s route shakeup in Washington plays to “our strengths,” said Lusso, who described the Boston-Washington route as among the carrier’s “best markets.”

Related: JetBlue considers premium amenities for Boston ‘shuttle’ routes

The D.C. adjustments come amid larger changes to JetBlue’s network. The airline has increasingly turned its attention to its “focus cities” at Boston, Fort Lauderdale, New York John F. Kennedy (JFK), Orlando and San Juan.

Following the latest network changes, Lusso said that 98% to 99% of JetBlue’s network now touches one of its focus cities, which also includes the Los Angeles-area airports of Los Angeles (LAX) and Long Beach (LGB).

The changes are good for the airline’s passengers in its focus cities. For example, Boston-based travelers have more routes and flight options on JetBlue as the carrier continues to build its operation at Logan in competition with Delta Air Lines.

Related: Can Delta and JetBlue Make Boston the Next Dual-Hub City?

But the adjustments are less convenient for JetBlue travelers outside of the focus cities. In D.C., it means local passengers can no longer fly the airline nonstop to Hartford or Charleston. Connecting options remain available, though JetBlue’s DCA-CHS connections will primarily route through Boston or Fort Lauderdale while most DCA-BDL connections will require a stop in either Florida or Puerto Rico.

JetBlue first added the three routes it’s now ending after it acquired 12 slot pairs at DCA following the merger of American Airlines and US Airways in 2013. JetBlue already flew from the airport, but the new slots allowed it to expand its presence there with flights to Charleston, Hartford and Jacksonville. Now, those will end by year’s end as JetBlue shifts those flights to its Boston and Florida focus cities.

Featured image by Zach Honig/TPG.

Related: Snapshot: A Look at JetBlue by the Numbers

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