I’m not saying that JetBlue wants Norwegian to collapse…but let’s just say that the new marriage of convenience raises some questions.
A friend of mine, around 30 at the time, once was asked who he was looking for in a marriage partner. Very bluntly, he said:
And old, rich woman–preferably with a very bad cough.
He goes by the motto, “It’s better to want what you don’t have than have what you don’t want.”
New Partnership Between JetBlue and Norwegian
Today, JetBlue and Norwegian announced their intention to create an interline agreement. This will include connecting JetBlue flights available for purchase on the Norwegian website and Norwegian connecting transatlantic flights available on the JetBlue website.
The focus will be on three JetBlue hubs:
- Boston (BOS)
- Ft. Lauderdale (FLL)
- New York (JFK)
Tickets will go on sale early next year for flights in the summer of 2020. Norwegian serves all three cities.
Tell-Tale Signs From the CEOs
The Norwegian model and JetBlue model differ greatly. Both are technically low-cost-carriers, but JetBlue emphasizes its full service experience, with competitive legroom, free wi-fi and snacks, and friendly service. Increasingly, that is more an illusion than reality, but these are not two airlines cut from the same cloth. Norwegian may have seat-back screens, but does not try to hide from its a la carte model.
It is instructive to look at what the CEOs are saying about today’s news.
JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said:
Norwegian shares our belief that customers benefit when we can bring competition and low fares to the transatlantic market currently dominated by joint ventures, legacy alliances and sky-high ticket prices.
Notice that such a statement is not even a commitment to Norwegian, simply a commitment to one value that the two carriers happen to share.
Meanwhile, Geir Karlsen, Norwegian’s Acting CEO clearly emphasized the ties with JetBlue:
We are very excited to partner with JetBlue as this will make international travel even smoother and more available for our customers. JetBlue is the largest airline at several of our key gateways in the United States, specifically New York JFK, Boston and Fort Lauderdale, and this partnership will create a plethora of new route connections for customers on both sides of the Atlantic.
The dichotomy raises an interesting question over JetBlue’s true intentions in this new interline agreement.
Competing Models But Mutually Beneficial Partnership
Both carriers will see an upside to this partnership. The feeder traffic from one carrier to the other will result in increased ticket sales. It will also introduce JetBlue customers to Norwegian and Norwegian customers to JetBlue. For JetBlue, that may be particularly instrumental since it plans to begin its own transatlantic flights to London in 2021.
Passengers will appreciate that their bags can be checked through and do not have to be collected again when departing a U.S. gateway for Europe. Passengers connecting from Norwegian to JetBlue will also like the pressure of on-time performance being lifted. Norwegian flights often run late. Currently, if you book a connecting flight in the USA and you Norwegian flight arrives late, you are out of luck and may have to buy a whole new ticket. Having a JetBlue connection on a single ticket will protect those connections from unforeseen delays.
JetBlue’s Secret Hope?
Norwegian is a troubled carrier. It has nearly collapsed on several occasions due to liquidity issues and always seems to be hanging on for dear life.
Meanwhile, JetBlue has no slots for its planned London flights from Boston and New York in 2021.
Were something to happen to Norwegian, this partnership could position JetBlue to be the beneficiary of a number of slots, not just in London, but throughout Europe.
Even if Norwegian managed to hang on, JetBlue positions itself to acquire at least a couple slots from Norwegian, especially if the interline agreement proves lucrative for Norwegian. After all, the partnership could become a source of leverage for JetBlue, especially there exists any imbalance in booking source.
Thus, JetBlue stands to benefit no matter what happens to Norwegian. In fact, I wonder if such a contingency is already worked into the undisclosed letter of intent signed today?
It may be too crass to say that JetBlue is hoping for Norwegian to fail, but it could certainly prove convenient. Despite a number of logistical hurdles that must be worked out, I think the partnership will be successful for both parties…as long as Norwegian hangs on.
Are you excited about the new JetBlue – Norwegian partnership? // image: Norwegian