JetBlue Bound for Port Columbus

Columbus travelers soon will have a new low-cost option for flying to the East Coast.

JetBlue Airways is set to announce today that it will launch nonstop service starting in October to Boston and New York's JFK Airport.

Airport officials have been working for several years to land JetBlue, which began flying in 2000, modeling its low-fare concept after the highly successful Southwest Airlines.

"Fares are going to go down, and the service bar is going to go up," said Michael Boyd, a Colorado-based industry analyst. "I always say Jet-Blue doesn't have passengers in New York (where the airline is based) -- they have groupies. They're known for their service, and people are very loyal to them."

For much of this decade, JetBlue has been one of the few carriers to perform well during a period in which the airline industry lost billions of dollars. It has faced some losses in recent months because of high fuel prices and aggressive expansion plans, but avoided the staggering losses that have driven major carriers into bankruptcy.

Airport officials expect the introduction of JetBlue to induce people from across Ohio and possibly border states to travel to Columbus to fly.

"We've seen that effect (with other airlines) in the past, and we'd expect to see that with JetBlue," said Rod Borden, senior vice president and chief operating officer for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority.

JetBlue will start with four daily flights to JFK airport and one daily flight to Boston. JetBlue spokesman Todd Burke said introductory fares will be $69 to $79 each way, with the highest walk-up fares topping out at just more than $200 roundtrip -- much less than the current full-fare cost on other carriers out of Port Columbus.

"We specialize in identifying markets that are underserved and overpriced," Burke said. "That's Columbus."

Delta -- Columbus' second largest airline in terms of passengers, behind Southwest -- is the only airline to offer daily nonstop flights to JFK. Delta and American Airlines fly nonstop to Boston from Columbus.

Yesterday, the base price quoted on the Web sites of both Delta and American for a coach ticket to fly roundtrip to Boston was $339 for tickets purchased in advance for flying in October, when JetBlue starts service.

Southwest Airlines has become the No. 1 airline in terms of passenger volume at Port Columbus by offering low fares to mostly second-tier cities. But Southwest does not fly into Boston or New York.

JetBlue has been a favorite in customer-satisfaction surveys. Within the past week, it topped all other low-cost carriers in a survey conducted by J.D. Power and Associates and was rated best domestic airline in a reader's poll in Travel + Leisure magazine.

JetBlue markets itself on providing low-cost service to major markets, while providing some perks not normally associated with budget carriers. Its 100-seat Embraer 190 jets feature leather seats along with 36 channels of live TV and XM Satellite Radio.

Pittsburgh is the closest airport to Columbus served by JetBlue. Burke said though the airline has no plans of additional routes from Columbus to announce at this point, "We do go into a market hoping to grow."

Burke said JetBlue expects to hire about 18 to 20 customerservice agents locally for its initial rollout. He said the company will begin accepting applications on JetBlue.com within the next several weeks.

Flights to New York begin Oct. 3, while service to Boston starts Oct. 18.

mrose@dispatch.com



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