Friday, April 27, 2018

JetBlue reducing Long Beach flights, blames city for halting international plan

JetBlue Airways will curtail flight operations at Long Beach Airport, and last year’s decision by the city council to refuse international flights was a deciding factor.

“The majority of the change in Long Beach is being driven by the rejection of the Customs facility,” said Marty St. George, JetBlue’s executive vice president of commercial and planning operations.

JetBlue announced changes to their Southern California flight schedules Wednesday morning. Besides plans to reduce its take of daily flight slots at LGB to 23 from 35, the airline also announced preparations to add flights to new destinations in Colorado and Montana from Long Beach.

The airline also is moving to resume flight services at Ontario International Airport — something that hasn’t happened for nearly a decade — and to expand its operations at Hollywood Burbank Airport.

Long Beach officials said they expect other airlines to quickly snap up opportunities at LGB after JetBlue’s presence there decreases.

“We see this as an opportunity to create a better balance among the air carriers serving Long Beach Airport and one that will maintain our existing service, and in fact will likely lead to new markets in the very near future,” Airport Director Jess Romo said in a statement.

Responding to Long Beach’s “no”

The Long Beach City Council voted by an 8-to-1 margin in January 2017 to cease activities that could have led to the construction of a federal inspection facility, a necessity for any airport welcoming international travelers, at LGB.

The vote followed some two years’ worth of work and debate. Although city attorney Charles Parkin had advised city leaders that LGB could accommodate international flights without sacrificing the city’s strict airport noise control ordinance, a highly-vocal contingent of residents living near the airport’s flight paths strenuously objected to changing the status quo at LGB.

JetBlue senior vice president of government affairs Rob Land provided a statement in the immediate aftermath of that vote stating the airline was “profoundly disappointed” in the council’s decision and that JetBlue leaders would take a new look at their plans for Long Beach and Southern California.

The airline publicly disclosed the results of those evaluations Wednesday. Although JetBlue won’t abandon any destinations from its Long Beach schedule, the airline is set to reduce the frequencies of flights to Las Vegas, Oakland, San Francisco and other destinations.

JetBlue’s surrender of a dozen flight slots is set to be official Sept. 5, and its activity level at Long Beach will be essentially what it was in 2016, according to an airline announcement.

JetBlue executives had looked forward to the prospect of LGB becoming an international airport so that Long Beach could connect travelers visiting such destinations as Mexican beach cities, St. George said. Now that international flights are off the table, St. George said it doesn’t make sense for JetBlue to maintain its current frequency of flights.

The airline also plans to add a daytime flight from Long Beach to Boston in September, allowing for two departures from LGB to Boston Logan International Airport. Additional plans call for seasonal flights from Long Beach to Steamboat Springs, Colo., and Bozeman, Montana, which begin in mid-December.

Long Beach’s airport noise control law effectively limits airlines to 50 daily flight slots at LGB. Airlines can apply for unused slots after they become available, and JetBlue’s previously-confirmed plans to give up one of its 35 slots made it possible for Hawaiian Airlines to announce its plans to begin Long Beach-to-Honolulu flights as of June 1.

Airlines that do not operate at LGB get priority treatment whenever there are applications for open slots. Besides JetBlue, the other airlines operating at LGB are Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

Delta, Hawaiian and Southwest are already on the airport’s waiting list for additional slots, according to city government.

Inland Empire, Burbank arrivals

JetBlue dropped Ontario International Airport from its network in 2008, when it ceased offering daily flights to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. The airline blamed high fuel prices when it announced that decision.

Now, JetBlue executives view flying out of Ontario to be a more affordable proposition and will resume flights from ONT to JFK on Sept. 5.

“The airport has done a really good job of getting their costs down,” St. George said.

The Ontario International Airport Authority, a team-up between the Ontario’s city government and San Bernardino County, took control of ONT from Los Angeles World Airports in November 2016. The landing fees airlines are required to pay when flying to ONT have fallen from a high of $14.50 a passenger at a time when the airport was under Los Angeles’ control to below $10 by last October.

In addition to its announcements for Long Beach and Ontario, JetBlue also announced plans to begin a Burbank-to-Boston flight in September, while adding a second Burbank-to-New York flight to its schedule. JetBlue also plans to resume seasonal flights from Palm Springs International Airport to JFK on Oct. 10.

(Andrew Edwards - Long Beach Press Telegram)

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