Even with no end in sight to rising airfares, demand for air travel continues to be strong.
Robin Hayes, the CEO of JetBlue, told analysts on the company’s third-quarter earnings call this week that the travel industry’s post-pandemic rebound is still very much alive despite some expecting volume and demand to go down with increased pricing.
“We continue to see a very healthy revenue environment with no signs of slowing demand for air travel,” he said.
Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue president and COO, added that “we’re not seeing any cracks in underlying demand” and that consumers are still very strong heading into the fourth quarter “across all geographies.”
The comments echo what other carriers said this month, including United Airlines.
“Despite growing concerns about an economic slowdown, the ongoing COVID recovery trends at United continue to prevail and we remain optimistic that we’ll continue to deliver strong financial results in the fourth quarter, 2023, and beyond,” United CEO Scott Kirby said at the time.
For JetBlue, there are still some shifts, mainly, a shorter peak period for the Christmas holiday in December, but overall demand for Q4 and 2023 looks strong right now for JetBlue, a trend that includes corporate travel.
“We’re certainly pleased with the corporate travel trends we’ve seen in the last four to six weeks here,” David Clark, head of revenue planning for JetBlue, said on the call. He added that there is still some choppiness and room to grow as numbers are still below the 2019 peak, but corporate travel is generally 90% recovered from 2019.
Staffing, an issue that has challenged the aviation industry since the post-pandemic rebound, is also easing. JetBlue is on track to hire close to 1,000 pilots in 2022, and executives this week said that number “remains largely unchanged for 2023” inclusive of attrition.
“We've made excellent strides on hiring, and we're now at a point where we believe we are appropriately resourced from a staffing perspective, which in turn should translate to improved productivity,” Hayes said.
Northeast Alliance and Spirit Acquisition
JetBlue’s Northeast Alliance (NEA) with American Airlines has been up and running for more than a year and a half. Hayes said it is “fundamentally about growing capacity in consumer choice” and has done just that. Mainly, it has promoted competition with other carriers in New York and Boston.
“The NEA is doing what it set out to do, giving consumers more choice and better value. And we look forward to continuing to expand these benefits,” he said.
The NEA had reportedly been an issue for JetBlue’s acquisition of Spirit Airlines, a deal that was ultimately agreed to in July. That deal still needs regulatory approval, but JetBlue’s executive team was optimistic about its closing this week.
“I'm extremely pleased with the recent Spirit shareholder approval for our combination, which will create value for all of our stakeholders. Together, we'll build a low-fare challenger to the dominant Big Four airlines on a national scale and expand our compelling combination of award-winning service and low fares to more customers across more destinations,” Hayes said.
“Pursue the acquisition of Spirit to create a national low-fare challenger to the Big Four,” he added.