JetBlue has filed a complaint with the US Department of Transportation (DOT), complaining of the difficulty in obtaining slots in London. The carrier is very interested in starting up operations across the Atlantic to the UK’s largest cities. However, the airline has had difficulties getting slots in London.
JetBlue complains of London slot difficulties
In a complaint to the DOT, JetBlue complained about the difficulty in obtaining slots in London, even as the crisis means carriers pull services out of the city. A recovery seems uncertain and far away.
The airline really wants to fly to either London-Heathrow (LHR) or London Gatwick Airport (LGW). But, the carrier has been unable to secure slots at either airport for transatlantic operations. The airline noted that carriers have reduced schedules out of Heathrow, but new entrants have not been able to secure any slots.
Meanwhile, for Gatwick, the airline was quite critical about the lack of slots available there. The airline specifically called out Virgin Atlantic for ceasing operations out of the airport altogether while Norwegian has announced it will no longer be flying in the transatlantic market.
However, both Virgin Atlantic and Norwegian continue to hold their slots at Gatwick, even as Virgin Atlantic has not outlined firm plans for returning to the airport. JetBlue was blunt and stated the following in the filing:
“At the same time, carriers like JetBlue, poised to enter the transatlantic market and disrupt the status quo and fulfill a crucial need for lowcost carrier transatlantic service, are unable to sufficiently secure LHR slots or consistently timed LGW slots because of the fiction that carriers are going to return to the pre-COVID-19 status quo. They are not, and the UK Government needs to address this reality immediately.”
JetBlue wants the DOT to strongly urge the UK government to honor the commitments to slot transparency signed under the new US-UK Open-Skies Agreement.
JetBlue did appear to secure slots out of Gatwick, so it presumably wants more slots out of Gatwick to round out that service or transfer all slots to Heathrow.
Why JetBlue should get the slots
There are arguments for giving JetBlue the slots out of London-Heathrow, but especially out of London-Gatwick. Norwegian is no longer going to fly transatlantic missions, and it was a massive carrier out of Gatwick and a large player in the overall transatlantic market.
Norwegian’s exit from the market sent waves through the industry. In fact, United Airlines highlighted Norwegian’s exit as one reason the carrier felt pretty confident with its international exposure.
JetBlue has a strong argument for letting it come into the market. The airline would be able to replenish some, although a small percentage, of Norwegian’s capacity on the transatlantic market. The airline also does have a history of charging some lower fares than its competitors.
London, in general, is seeing severely reduced overall air traffic. Heathrow remains busy, but most other airports are pretty quiet.
The case for keeping things the same
As usual, there is also a case for JetBlue to not get the slots. First, no one knows what the outlook of the crisis is. The recovery could come by late 2022, or it could not come. There is more demand for short-haul travel, which Norwegian will continue to do.
So, if travel rebounds again, the airline could use up those slots to grow Gatwick’s short-haul portfolio. It depends on if the UK wants to keep Gatwick running that way.
In addition, Virgin Atlantic has not completely ruled out ever flying out of Gatwick, which means the carrier could decide to come back to the airport and conduct its full set of operations. Though unlikely in the current environment, a recovery in travel demand could jumpstart this.
Ultimately, the DOT does not have much of a say in who gets how many slots in London. But, JetBlue has made it clear it is not happy with its somewhat undesirable slots at Stansted.