United Airlines will add service between Boston and London, beating JetBlue to the punch and marking the first act of retaliation for JetBlue’s expansion at Newark.
In Retaliation Against JetBlue, United Airlines Adds Boston – London Service
Yesterday, JetBlue announced 10 new routes from Newark (EWR), most of which compete directly with United Airlines. JetBlue moved into Newark in 2020 with new transcontinental service to Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO), another challenge to United’s dominance at its EWR fortress hub.
In writing about the new routes, I predicted:
I expect that United will match JetBlue at every turn in Newark, spurring a price war in an attempt to preserve its dominance. I would also expect additional United routes at Boston or New York JFK.
Sure enough, United has already responded. Today, United Airlines announced it would add new service between Boston (BOS) and London Heathrow (LHR). Of the big three legacy carriers (American, Delta, United), United has the smallest presence in Boston. So why Boston? Because JetBlue plans service between London and Boston later this year. It’s a counterattack. Simple as that.
Not that United will admit it. Patrick Quayle, United’s Vice President of International Network and Alliances, noted:
“We are thrilled to offer travelers a convenient, non-stop option between Boston and London with this addition to our global network. We will continue to monitor the demand recovery and travel restrictions as we finalize a start date for this service later in 2021.”
I pressed United for when that start date would be and was referred to Quayle’s statement.
This service is technically a resumption, as United operated BOS-LHR service from late 1999 until after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
United will utilize a Boeing 767-300 on the route with a premium-heavy configuration featuring:
- 46 United Polaris (Business Class) seats
- 22 United Premium Plus (Premium Economy) seats
- 43 United Economy Plus (extra legroom) seats
- 56 United Economy Seats
The aircraft features the highest proportion of premium seats on any widebody aircraft operated by a U.S. carrier between London and the United States.
The route will operate according to the following schedule:
|London||10:00 p.m.||9:35 a.m.+1||Daily||
|London||Boston||5:00 p.m.||7:30 p.m.||Daily||
What Should We Make Of United’s Move?
Note the flight times above. They are geared toward local travelers, particularly in the return direction. While United may be able to offer theoretical connectivity from Florida and its hubs, those other hubs will already have nonstop Heathrow service.
Boston residents will enjoy the extra choice, but British Airways, Delta, and Virgin Atlantic already offer service and have partners on both sides of the pond to offer onward connectivity.
JetBlue will likely time its Boston – London flights to maximize its substantial northeast network of feeder traffic. Furthermore, JetBlue will use A321LR with 20 seats in Mint Class, offering greater capacity constraints than United’s 46-seat business class cabin.
In short, the route doesn’t make sense for United if you just look at Boston – London. But you cannot look at that route alone.
United is sending a strong message to JetBlue: it will flood the market until JetBlue retreats from Newark.
It may be that JetBlue has a loyal customer base that will pay more to fly JetBlue. More likely, United may price premium seats between Boston and London so low that JetBlue’s revenue forecasts will require substantial adjustments. JetBlue will match United in pricing and only consumers will win.
The goal is simple: place as much pressure as possible on JetBlue to abandon its Newark ambitions. Will it work? In this coronavirus world, I will stop short of making a prediction on that. To some extent, network planning has become throwing darts with blindfolds on.
United is adding new service between Boston and London in response to JetBlue’s intentions to grow in Newark. Will the flight actually operate? Until JetBlue pulls back in Newark, the answer is likely yes.