JetBlue and Alaska Airlines have a lot in common. Both are narrowbody-only operators with reputations for good customer service. Both have networks that combine lots of shorthaul northsouth coastal flying with longhaul transcontinental routes. Both are big on partnerships with foreign airlines. Both count Delta as their closest competitor. Both tried to buy Virgin America. And central to the success of both airlines are two cities, respectively, 2,500 miles apart yet similar in many ways.
Alaska’s home city Seattle, and JetBlue’s most profitable focus city Boston, are like two sides of the same coin, each with booming, knowledge-sector economies loaded with big-money corporate traffic. Just as Seattle finds itself tucked into America’s northwest corner, Boston is tucked into the country’s northeast corner. Both cities have thus never become major domestic hubs for the Big Three or their pre-consolidation predecessors. Yet both cities have more recently gained the attention of Delta, which six years ago made Seattle its seventh (but still smallest) hub. Boston, meanwhile, is now Delta’s ninth busiest airport systemwide, and one where it’s also strategically growing.
Seattle and Boston, furthermore, are both operationally difficult markets due to airport and airspace congestion. Neither is a particularly big market for ultra-LCCs—Spirit serves both but with limited offerings, Frontier serves Seattle but not Boston and Allegiant serves neither. Both cities do have alternative airports with some ultra-LCC service, specifically Bellingham north of Seattle and Providence south of Boston. Mighty Southwest, importantly, is not so mighty in Boston and Seattle, its 28th and 29th largest markets by seat capacity, according to Diio Mi schedule data for the current quarter. Southwest’s decision not to enter Boston about 15 years ago (at a time when the airport there was desperate for air service), content instead with its presence in peripheral markets like Providence and Manchester, was arguably one of the most important developments in JetBlue’s history—by the time Southwest finally entered Boston in 2009, it was already a JetBlue stronghold.
In Seattle, meanwhile, it’s not that Southwest never tried to challenge Alaska. But its efforts never amounted to much, and the…
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