October 8, 2013

Where in the world? The Airbus A321 network strategy

One of the most popular topics for customers and crewmembers alike is JetBlue’s network strategy. As an airline that continues to grow, even as other carriers are shrinking, it’s fun to try to guess which city we’ll fly to next – and even more fun to see a new “dot” appear on our route map. Will it be a new international destination?  Will it be my hometown?  Will it really surprise me?

The Airbus A321 has been no exception and we’ve been flooded with inquiries about where our newest fleet type will fly. We have already shared that the A321s configured with the Mint Experience will fly between JFK/LAX and JFK/SFO, so the only mystery remains with our all-core configuration. John Checketts, our Director of Route Planning, has all the answers – but before we reveal them, he wanted to make sure we have a full understand of what the A321 means for him and his team from a network perspective.

Again, looking at the all-core A321, our new aircraft is host to 190 total seats. This compares with 150 seats on our Airbus A320s and 100 seats on our Embraer 190s. This means the A321 will afford John the opportunity to very easily add more seats to any existing departure simply by using our new, larger airplane. But he breaks it down even further for us:

Some markets demand a lot of frequency, meaning the number of departures per day. An example is Boston/Newark which often carriers a large number of business travelers who need a lot of flexibility in their schedule. If their business meetings end a couple of hours earlier than planned, for example, they want to have other flight options to jump onto. The same is true if their business meetings run late. In these markets, Customers want to always have a flight within reach.

On the other hand, there are some markets that a lot of people want to fly to but the frequency of flights is less important. New York/Orlando is a great example of this kind of market. Most customers traveling between New York and Orlando are doing so for leisure, so they are less concerned about the frequency of departures and are less likely to change their reservations

Pop quiz: which one of these markets would be a good candidate for the new, all-core A321?  The answer is New York/Orlando. John is able to add more seats to this market with the A321 without adding any new departures.

And the benefits go even further. Because JetBlue flies to the cities our customers want to fly to, we are often constrained by the number of flights we can operate each day. Some airports only offer a limited number of “slots” to ensure air traffic flies at manageable levels. For John, slots constrain his ability to add new flights and “dots” on the route map when he wants to. But the A321 will help solve this.

Looking again at New York/Orlando, we fly an average of ten flights per day. But we don’t fly ten flights per day because our customers need ten flights per day – we do it because the demand calls for 1,500 seats. With the A321, John can substitute ten A320 flights, for example, with eight A321s – flying the same number of seats but on eight flights a day instead of ten. This opens up two “slots” for John to use for new cities.

The following chart breaks all this down easily:

What does the market demand?

What would John do?

What happens to capacity?

What happens to our slot portfolio?

Market wants more seats but needs current frequency

Keep frequency and upguage to larger A321

More seats in market

No change; we’re still maxed out on slots

Market demands lots of seats but doesn’t need high frequency

Reduce frequency and upguage to larger A321

Same number of seats in market

Slots are freed up and we can use them to expand other routes or open new BlueCities

Market is in a good place, both in terms of seats and frequency

Don’t upguage

Same number of seats in market

No change

So where will it fly?

John and his team are still finalizing the plan and adding new markets to the A321 roadmap, but here’s what we know so far:

  • New York (JFK)/Barbados (BGI)
  • New York (JFK)/San Juan (SJU)
  • New York (JFK)/Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
  • New York (JFK)/Aruba (AUA)
  • New York (JFK)/Santo Domingo (SDQ)
  • New York (JFK)/Santiago (STI)
  • New York (JFK)/Orlando (MCO)
  • New York (JFK)/Nassau (NAS)
  • New York (JFK)/Las Vegas (LAS)
  • New York (JFK)/Punta Cana (PUJ)
  • New York (JFK)/San Diego (SAN)
  • New York (JFK)/Seattle (SEA)

Note that with everything in network planning, this is scheduled to change!  Stay tuned for additional markets and cities.

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