Aer Lingus-JetBlue Deal to Open 51 Routes to Irish Carrier

Aer Lingus has signed a strategic partnership with JetBlue, a low-cost American airline, that will allow passengers access to 51 routes across the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Set to launch in August, the deal is designed to give Aer Lingus passengers travelling to New York JFK and Boston the opportunity to connect with JetBlue flights to destinations across the US, to Cancun in Mexico and to the Caribbean islands of Aruba, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.

At present, Aer Lingus carries about one million passengers annually to four "gateway destinations" - New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. The airline said it would continue to operate these routes but passengers would now be able to link seamlessly with JetBlue's services. These flights will only be available through the Aer Lingus and JetBlue websites. About 75 per cent of Aer Lingus's bookings are made online.

Aer Lingus chief executive Dermot Mannion said the deal would offer a "seamless transportation product" for its passengers.

"This will enable us to grow our revenues and grow our passenger numbers." The Aer Lingus chief executive was unwilling to say how many passengers the airline expected to carry or what revenues the deal would generate.

The Aer Lingus announcement also seemed to catch JetBlue on the hop. The American airline, which was founded in 1999 by David Neeleman, said that no deal had yet been agreed but it was hoped to conclude negotiations by the end of the year.

In response, Mr Mannion said: "There are details that still need to be worked out but the agreement is there."

Aer Lingus said pricing and the revenue-sharing arrangements have yet to be finalised. In addition, the two airlines still have to agree on various customer services issues, including the checking-in of baggage from Dublin or Shannon to a final destination in the US or elsewhere.

Aer Lingus said it was in talks with "fewer than five" other airlines in America to add more destinations to its network.

One analyst, who asked not to be named, was sceptical about the benefits to Aer Lingus. "I can't see any great revenue-generating opportunity in the short term," he said.

"The fact is that Aer Lingus's biggest challenge right now is Ryanair's expansion of services from Dublin, which is a big threat to the company."

The deal comes against a backdrop of increased transatlantic competition. Delta and American Airlines are all adding capacity to their Irish routes while Flyglobespan last week agreed a deal to offer services to New York from Knock airport.

Aer Lingus is set to add two new 315-seat aircraft to its transatlantic services in April and May. Its load factor on flights to the US is 80.6 per cent, a figure that declined in 2006.