Unpacked: How We Choose New Cities


Welcome to Unpacked, where we demystify hot topics in the airline industry! This time around we’re unpacking how we choose new cities to add to our growing network.

At any given point we’re evaluating multiple destinations and considering new ones. The timeline for adding a new destination, including analysis, planning and execution, generally ranges from eight months to three years. There are many steps in the process to determine what cities are feasible for us to add to our growing network. To date, we fly to 70 destinations (Dallas/Fort Worth marks 71 when we launch service on May 1).

Our overall strategy for growing our network is one of sustainability. We often say that we “earn our right to grow,” which means that we deliberately limit our growth and select only the most attractive opportunities that are most fitting with our current strategy, resulting in a solid network that we can defend and build up, little by little, even in the face of economic challenges like high fuel prices.

We undergo a thorough process to ensure, where possible, a new destination or route will be sustainable for the long-term. Our Network Planning team leads the way, conducting an in-depth analysis of metrics and costs. A forecast is created using U.S. Department of Transportation traffic data, the number of passengers who travel the route each day and an analysis of existing fares and service. Our System Planning and Analysis team calculates our payload capacity on each route given the airport environment. We also work with the fuel and supply chain teams, especially on international destinations. Approval from supporting groups at JetBlue including Corporate Real Estate, Safety, Security, Marketing, Finance, Airports, Flight, Inflight and Tech Ops help to determine if the route is operationally feasible. We seek additional input from our local crewmembers that may have insight about the region and travel patterns. We also meet with local representatives like tourism industry officials, airport development teams, and private stakeholders.

The entire package is then presented to our Executive Leadership Team for review and signoff. With this final layer of approval, the plan is put into action. Assistance is provided from departments company-wide, including Revenue Management, Government Affairs, Legal, and Corporate Communications among others. A concept for new service that began with one department ultimately broadens to include the entire company working together to support the exciting initiative. It really does take a village (AKA, company) to raise a new baby (AKA, city)!

An important factor in evaluating a potential new city is consideration of the competitive dynamic. The airline industry is extremely competitive and we only enter markets where we are willing to fight for our share and are able to win the loyalty of more customers in the new city.

Once we’ve decided that we’d like to fly to a new destination, we generally keep our new service plans hush-hush until we have the proper approval from those involved in the process. Since there are often many players involved, it’s not uncommon that the information leaks, whether the source is an excited crewmember, customer, business partner, or member of the local community.

Our CEO Dave is also active on Twitter and gets so excited about meetings or visits to potential new stations that he tweets about it, which sometimes causes a flurry of activity and calls from news outlets wanting to know if we’re announcing new service plans (sorry folks, no ISP plans in our near future).

Sometimes others want us to come to their city so badly that they announce we’re in meetings with them before we’ve made a decision or announced our plans (which don’t change the steps we always take when evaluating new cities, but we’re flattered that we’re wanted!).

We also see plenty of suggestions from our loyal customers (and wanna-be customers) about where we should fly to next, and we do pay attention to those. After all, our growth is based on demand: we want to fly where the people are! We encourage all new city suggestions be routed via our Speak Up section on jetblue.com.

As an airline that likes to have fun, we sometimes reach out publicly in advance of our formal announcement to have folks guess where we might be flying to next, like we did with our recent addition of Liberia, Costa Rica to our network.

As New York’s Hometown Airline, we’ve carved out a successful footprint in New York, and our strong presence as Boston’s largest airline is evidenced by reaching 100 daily departures for the first time in April 2011. Most of our capacity is in the Northeast, but we have a strong presence in the Caribbean (we’re the largest airline in both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic), and we are looking to grow in all of the aforementioned regions as well as in and around our other “focus cities,” of Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, and Orlando.

Check out our previous editions of Unpacked and stay tuned for the next up!