Intrigue at Long Beach as Southwest describes JetBlue’s slot relinquishment as ‘welcome news’ 

Long Beach airport, which is roughly 35km from the behemoth that is Los Angeles International, saw its passenger numbers jump roughly 33% year-on-year in 2017 thanks to an expansion of a slot pool that ushered in new Southwest Airlines service at the airport. And now Southwest could be eyeing additional flights as JetBlue right-sizes its operations after having its hopes of launching international flights from Long Beach dashed.


Summary: 

  • Southwest Airlines launched flights from Long Beach in 2016 and is now eyeing growth opportunities as JetBlue Airways restructures its own operations at the California airport;
  • JetBlue Airways has operated from Long Beach since 2001, but has announced cuts after it failed to secure approval for planned international flights;
  • JetBlue Airways is dropping daily Long Beach flights from 35 to 23 (the number it operated in 2016), largely through frequency reductions;
  •  JetBlue’s decision means there are a dozen slots available for other airlines and Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Air and Southwest Airlines are on the waiting lit.

Southwest in 2016 opted to launch flights from Long Beach after studies concluded the airport could increase its available slot pool from 41 to 50.  The airline operates flights from Long Beach to Denver, Las Vegas, Sacramento and Oakland.

JetBlue launched service from Long Beach in 2001, and since that time the airline has built the airport into one of its key focus cities. Presently, JetBlue represents nearly 71% of the airport’s departing frequencies.

CHART – JetBlue Airways is currently the dominant operator out of Long Beach and accounts for more than three quarters of the departing capacity from the airportSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG (data: w/c 15-May-2018)

With Los Angeles International airport’s fragmentation and gate constraints, JetBlue had hoped to launch international service from Long Beach to near international destinations  in Mexico and possibly Central America. The airline aimed to construct a customs facility at Long Beach to support its international aspirations.

But in a highly politicised campaign, local opponents were successful in blocking JetBlue’s ambitions, citing noise as a big issue in their challenge against the launch of international service from the airport.

Now JetBlue, which had been building up Long Beach to maximise connections to international destinations, is pulling back at the airport. It is dropping daily flights from 35 to 23 (the number it operated in 2016), largely through frequency reductions. JetBlue is opting to add some seasonal service from Long Beach to Steamboat Springs, Colorado and Bozeman, Montana.

CHART – Long Beach airport has seen a mixed performance this decade with modest traffic growth (2010-2012) being followed by declines (2013-2015) and a return to subsequent growth (2016) and a massive 33.2% year-over-year increase in 2017Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG

JetBlue’s decision to scale back Long Beach means there are a dozen slots available for other airlines. Delta, Hawaiian and Southwest are on the waiting list. JetBlue allotted Hawaiian a slot to launch service to Honolulu in Jun-2018, but Hawaiian’s aspirations from Long Beach are not likely to become too ambitious.

Obviously, Southwest could be interested in some of the slots to serve some of its larger focus cities and strengthen its presence at the airport. Company CEO Gary Kelly recently declared the airline has been hobbled in not having more access to Long Beach, noting its modest presence at the airport. He said the freeing up of additional slots was “welcome news”. Stay tuned to how Southwest intends to use that welcome news to its advantage.