Beginning Jan. 17, JetBlue will tackle the competitive Washington market, the second-biggest destination for Boston air travelers, after New York. The low-fare carrier is rushing to replace Independence Air, which sought bankruptcy protection this month and is expected to sell off assets and shut down within weeks. Independence, a discount airline, currently is the sole alternative to dominant United Airlines on the Logan-Dulles route.
Those prices would represent huge discounts from typical tickets today. Harrell Associates, a New York consulting firm that studies air fares, said that during the last two weeks of October, leisure travelers paid an average of $ 322 round-trip to fly from Boston to Washington, more than double the price of a year earlier.
Business travelers, including those flying first-class and paying premium last-minute walk-up fares, paid an average of $ 820 for a round trip, according to Harrell data, which include both Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Average fares soared as Independence Air's financial woes mounted.
Metropolitan New York represents the biggest destination from Logan, but the Greater Washington market is bigger if Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is factored in, according to BACK Aviation Solutions Inc., a New Haven consulting firm. Last year, Greater New York's three airports attracted 10.6 percent of Logan's travelers, compared to Dulles and Reagan National's 9.2 percent and BWI's 2.5 percent, BACK data show.
JetBlue's eight daily round trips between Boston and JFK, made with 100-seat jets featuring satellite television, have usually been operating at 75 or 85 percent of capacity and have sold out several times, Dervin said. "Boston, for JetBlue, is an absolute gold mine of opportunity," she said.
Rivals including Delta Air Lines Inc. and American Airlines have often cut fares 50 to 80 percent to match JetBlue between Boston and JFK. But Bob Harrell, principal of Harrell Associates, said the fare war hasn't spilled over to Newark Liberty International Airport or LaGuardia Airport in Queens, home of the Delta and US Airways shuttles. Average round-trip business fares between those markets have held steady since October at $ 550 to $ 600, Harrell said.
Although Jet Blue's move will probably put pressure on United to match fares between Logan and Dulles, its effect on the total Boston-Washington market may be muted, as it has been on the total Boston-New York market. Reagan National, just across the Potomac River from the heart of D.C., is, like LaGuardia in New York, the preferred airport for business travelers willing to pay a premium. Dulles, like JFK in New York, is usually a 45-minute drive from the heart of the city.
JetBlue plans six weekday flights to Dulles from Logan between 6:45 a.m. and 9:45 p.m., and five on weekends, with an equal number from Dulles to Boston. JetBlue will expand to 11 gates from six at Logan's Terminal C by 2007. By April, it will offer 50 daily flights from Logan. It will add service to Austin, Texas, in January; Nassau, Bahamas, in February; and Richmond, Va., in late March.
Logan Airport officials say passengers clamor for more service from lower-fare carriers.
"There isn't a place I go where people don't ask me, 'When is Song going to fly here?' and 'When is JetBlue going to fly here?'" Massport Aviation Director Thomas J. Kinton Jr. said recently.
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