These tricks do not translate well to long-haul travel. Sweating costly assets is harder on a ten-hour journey crossing several time zones than when darting around a region with fast turnaround times. That makes it difficult to schedule flights to take off and land at those odder, cheaper times. And exhausted crew must be accommodated in hotels rather than being immediately rostered back to their own beds at the end of the day.
JetBlue thinks it can overcome these obstacles. In contrast to Norse Atlantic, a new carrier that thinks it can make better use of the wide-body Boeing 787 Dreamliner, 15 of which it is now leasing, the American airline is using a new breed of aircraft, the Airbus A321LR. This is a long-range version of the European planemaker’s single-aisle short-haul workhorse. These are cheaper than wide-body jets. They are also smaller, and so easier to fill.
And JetBlue has another card to play. The standard business of long-haul flying makes competing on price difficult. Full-service airlines rely on selling lucrative business-class seats at the front of the plane for the bulk of their revenues and profits. As a result, they can afford to sell economy seats relatively cheaply. Unlike most earlier low-cost efforts, JetBlue’s planes will include 24 business seats which should plump up margins. To attract business passengers it has steered clear of remote airports that executives dislike and picked up slots at Heathrow freed up by pandemic flight cuts.
JetBlue plans a further service to London Gatwick starting in September and from Boston to London next summer. Norse intends to fly between several European and American destinations. But full-service carriers will not take the challenge on their most lucrative routes lying down. American carriers succeeded in lobbying their domestic regulators to slow Norwegian’s expansion. Incumbents including IAG, owner of British Airways, have launched their own low-cost-long-haul subsidiaries. Laker offers a sobering lesson. He successfully sued several legacy airlines for predatory pricing — but only after he had been forced out of business.