Lufthansa’s New York switcheroo

Lufthansa has two big partners in New York – the city’s hometown airline JetBlue Airways and its long-standing partner United Airlines.

JetBlue became a partner in 2008 after the German carrier invested $300 million in the airline in order to fill the gap in United’s network, while the latter became a big player in the New York area only after its merger with Continental Airlines in 2010.

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Edward Russell

“That big gap we always suffered from in the United-Lufthansa relationship was suddenly filled with the Continental operation at Newark,” says Carsten Spohr, chief executive of Lufthansa German Airlines, in an interview with Airline Business in Frankfurt on 31 May. “That downplayed somewhat the need to rely on JetBlue on our side.”

As a result, Lufthansa never pushed to expand its relationship with JetBlue beyond a seat on its board and a one-way codeshare that allows its passengers to connect to select JetBlue flights over New York. In addition, JetBlue never pushed to expand the relationship either, instead using its position as the largest domestic airline at New York’s John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport to expand its list of partners.

The German carrier is now in the process of divesting its JetBlue shares through a €234.4 million ($306.7 million) five-year convertible bond that allows investors to convert their notes to JetBlue shares.

Spohr does not comment on the future of Lufthansa’s codeshare with JetBlue, though he says that everything was “fine as ever” in recent discussions with JetBlue chief executive Dave Barger.

Considering the carriers’ existing relationship and JetBlue’s desire for multiple partner airlines, it is entirely feasible that the codeshare will remain in place even after the stake sale.

Lufthansa remains larger at JFK than Newark, despite its alliance shifts. It operates twice daily between Frankfurt and JFK compared to once daily to Newark, however, the latter also has two daily United flights that operate under the two carriers’ metal neutral joint venture, Innovata schedules show.

Sadly, neither New York airport has regularly scheduled service on the carrier’s new Airbus A380s or Boeing 747-8s. Lufthansa says that it moves the aircraft around based on seasonal demand so the widebody flagships could come back to New York anytime.

We can only hope that they come sooner rather than later.

Note: An earlier version of this post attributed the quotes to Christoph Franz, chief executive of Lufthansa Group.

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