In what one company official describes as “one of our worst-kept secrets,” JetBlue is nearing a decision on whether to jump into one of the most competitive markets in the world: the skies over the North Atlantic.
And while those skies are currently crowded with budget airlines like Norwegian and Wow, JetBlue’s arrival would herald something different, bringing its popular Mint product to a market where there is strong demand for a true premium product.
The move would depend on whether JetBlue exercises options to acquire the long-range version of the Airbus A321 Neo, a highly efficient narrow-body that would give it the range to make the hop across the pond.
JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes has already said that if the company does start service to Europe, it is likely that it would configure the new A321s with a larger Mint cabin, which is currently configured to hold 16 seats on domestic and Caribbean routes. Mint features lie-flat seats and compartments with sliding doors, as well as upscale food and beverage offerings. The carrier had intended to announce its fleet renewal plan sometime late last year, but it is still weighing its choices, according to carrier sources.
Among those choices is whether to phase out the Embraer 190 regional jets that fly shorter and less-trafficked routes; the Brazilian-made jets filled an important niche for the airline as it grew, but they are now considered less efficient than others in the market.
Among the replacements JetBlue is considering is Bombardier’s CS-300 series, which hold about 110 passengers, depending on the configuration. Delta placed a large order for more than 75 of the jets two years ago, but delivery has been held up due to a trade dispute centering on whether Bombardier is unfairly subsidized by the government of Canada, where the jets are made. Separately, deliveries of the new Airbus jets are due to begin in 2019.
Any decision to fly to Europe would be a big leap for the 18-year-old carrier. JetBlue serves 101 cities, all of them in North America and the Caribbean, and longer international routes would introduce complexity and additional challenges to its existing route structure.
Still, even with upstarts like Norwegian muscling in on the turf of the legacy airlines, airfares from the U.S. to Europe remain relatively high, presenting an opportunity for a value carrier like JetBlue.
“Europe suffers from the same lack of competition and high fares as transcontinental routes have,” a JetBlue spokesperson was quoted as saying in the Consumerist last year, adding “that is certainly an environment that JetBlue competes well in.”