JetBlue sticking with Boston, Caribbean focus

In the Caribbean, JetBlue is appealing to the customers that other airlines have pulled away from: vacationers to the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Barbados.

NEW YORK  _ JetBlue thinks it’s found the right combination for growth in the airline industry: The Red Sox and white sand beaches.

The airline said Thursday it will continue its rapid expansion in Boston and the Caribbean while cutting back in other places.

It also said maintained its plan to go down that road alone, instead of tying up with another airline.

In Boston, JetBlue is looking for more business travelers who will pay higher fares. In the Caribbean, it’s appealing to the customers that other airlines have pulled away from: vacationers to the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Barbados.

JetBlue plans to add 25 new flights from Boston by next year, bringing its total to 100. It recently announced its 17th Caribbean destination – Turks and Caicos. The airline will start flying there next May.

More flights and higher fares quadrupled JetBlue’s third-quarter earnings. Income in that quarter alone topped what it made all of last year.

The company earned $59 million, or 18 cents per share in the three months ended Sept. 30 – usually the best quarter of the year because it includes the busy summer travel season. A year ago, JetBlue earned $15 million, or 5 cents per share.

Although discounters like JetBlue and Southwest fared better than Delta, United and American in 2008 and 2009, they still felt the impact of slumping travel demand. Now, all U.S. airlines are posting their best third-quarter results in several years as more passengers return to the skies.

JetBlue said revenue rose 21 percent to $1.03 billion. It flew 9 percent more passengers this summer than a year earlier. An average one-way fare cost about $142 in the third quarter, 11.6 percent higher than last year. JetBlue said its efforts to get more higher-paying business travelers are paying off, but it wants more. That goal has become more important since its two main low-cost rivals, Southwest and AirTran, announced plans to combine.

JetBlue has shifted some flights to more convenient flying times for business travelers, in the morning and evening, and added more service to important East Coast hubs. The 10-year-old airline has traditionally favored off-hours, when there is less airport traffic and flights can get in and out of gates quicker.

JetBlue, based in the New York City borough of Queens, expects to increase its capacity – the number of available seats – by eight to ten percent in the fourth quarter as it continues to deploy new planes in its growing Boston and Caribbean markets. At the same time, it plans to delay some plane deliveries to control its overall growth.

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