JetBlue Seeking International Alliances

March 13, 2006
JetBlue Airways Corp. is talking with international airlines about forming partnerships to provide seamless overseas air service, including for Richmond-based travelers.

Mar. 11 -- JetBlue Airways Corp. is talking with international airlines about forming partnerships to provide seamless overseas air service, including for Richmond-based travelers, an airline official said yesterday.

JetBlue, a low-fare carrier that generally flies within the United States and the Caribbean, is trying to leverage power at its hub airport -- New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

It will start serving Richmond on March 31 with four flights a day to New York, followed a week later with two flights a day to Boston.

But even before the late March liftoff,

JetBlue is following a new corporate flight path that could simplify travel options for Virginia fliers.

"We are actually in the very early stages of figuring out a way for customers to [fly] with any international airline that wants to partner with us," spokeswoman Jenny Dervin said.

Dervin would not name the carriers involved in the talks, but there are more than 100 international carriers at JFK. She stressed that any new partnerships would be different than traditional strategic alliances many American carriers have for overseas service. Those allow passengers to book flights on one airline yet transfer to a second airline for overseas destinations.

"We're working on a new way to make it as seamless as possible," she said.

Currently, travelers flying into JetBlue's terminal at JFK must collect their bags before going to another terminal for an international flight.

Her comments appeared to be the first remarks about JetBlue's partnering plans since late January, when the airline's top executive commented on the topic.

"There are a lot of people interested in our network," JetBlue chief David Neeleman told the Raymond James Growth Airline Conference in New York. "We could have something by the end of 2006."

Neeleman's timetable may have moved up after Delta Air Line this week announced new connections to 17 cities, including Richmond, from JFK.

Asked if JetBlue wants to have its transatlantic partnerships in place before Delta's expansion here in September, Dervin said, "That's definitely a date on the calendar that's interesting to us."

Airline analysts and airport officials said JetBlue appears to be trying a new approach to the traditional airline alliances, which have had mixed results. Some shared arrangements have increased overhead costs without bringing in adequate return, according to airline experts.

"I'd believe JetBlue would not enter a traditional 'code share'" with other airlines, said Darryl Jenkins, an airport consultant and former director of the Aviation Institute at George Washington University. "The term in use is 'marketing alliance.' You do things to increase traffic but not increase cost."

JetBlue is "the 800-pound gorilla" at JFK, he said, so "anything they do beyond that on international flights is really gravy to them."

Airlines including Virgin Atlantic, Maxjet and Air India "all want to feed on both sides of the Atlantic," Jenkins said of JetBlue's potential. "It increases their traffic immediately."

Richmond International Airport spokesman Troy Bell had not been informed of JetBlue's plans yesterday.

"If JetBlue can make it an easier process" for foreign-bound travelers, Bell said, "at the end of the day it's going to result in more customers and more revenue."

Dan Smith, a co-owner of Crossroads Travel/American Express in Richmond, said JetBlue will have to convince him that his bags won't get lost under any new airline partnership.

"If I'm going to Europe for two weeks," Smith said, "I want to be as cautious as I can."

He also questioned whether JetBlue's prices to JFK, which have been advertised as low as $59 one-way, will be available for most seats.

Checking for a client in September, he said, "the cheapest thing I could get on JetBlue was $100 each way -- or $200 for a round trip."

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