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JetBlue 'confident' of accessing London airports

JetBlue Airways says it is confident of gaining access to slot-constrained airports in London, as it commits to launching service across the Atlantic in 2021.

The New York-based carrier says it is evaluating "multiple" airports in London for its service. "For commercial reasons we will hold that a bit closer to the vest, but we are confident we have a path into multiple London airports," JetBlue chief commercial officer Marty St George tells FlightGlobal.

JetBlue announced earlier today it will convert 13 A321neos in its orderbook to A321LRs, to begin flights to London from both Boston Logan and New York John F Kennedy in 2021. The airline has said London is the largest market it currently does not serve from the US northeast.

While airlines typically prefer to locate operations at a single airport in a city, the slot constraints around London's airports are keeping JetBlue's mind open, St George indicates.

"If we can get acceptable accommodations at multiple airports, it's something we've thought about," he says, adding that one should not "assume as a given" that JetBlue will operate to only one airport in London.

All three US airlines that currently operate to London – American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines – serve London Heathrow, Cirium schedules data show. Delta, however, announced earlier this month it will return to London Gatwick from 2020, operating from Boston and New York JFK in partnership with Virgin Atlantic.

Among the carriers that currently operate to London from New York City, only British Airways operates to more than one airport in London, serving Heathrow, Gatwick and London City, all from JFK.

JetBlue has not firmed flight frequencies of the London routes, although St George says JetBlue is "excited" about the A321LR being able to support multiple frequencies.

"It's a relatively small airplane, it's a platform that can support multiple frequencies," he says. "If you look at New York-Los Angeles, we are flying in the peak 11 New York-LA flights."

JetBlue operates A321s configured with the Mint premium cabin on the New York-Los Angeles route.

Even ahead of JetBlue committing to serve London, the airline has been vocal about the challenges faced by smaller airlines when it comes to access to slot-constrained airports. JetBlue chief executive Robin Hayes has repeatedly called on regulators to exercise more oversight over US legacy airlines and their international joint ventures, which results in these JVs controlling a significant amount of slots at important airports.

Recently, JetBlue urged the US Department of Transportation to stop Delta Air Lines and its transatlantic partners from continuing to use London Heathrow remedy slots obtained from previous antitrust proceedings. Delta and its European partners Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic Airways had applied for antitrust immunity for an expanded joint venture. JetBlue had argued that the acquisition of UK carrier Flybe by a consortium including Virgin Atlantic will only grow the number of Heathrow slots controlled by Virgin Atlantic.

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