California-dreaming Washingtonians will get a low-fare alternative Oct. 8, when JetBlue Airways plans to add service out of Washington Dulles International Airport.
The New York-based airline claims to cut as much as 75 percent off the price of a round-trip ticket to Los Angeles or San Francisco, compared with bigger competitors, such as United Airlines and American Airlines.
Although the Washington market already is crowded with major airlines and low-fare carriers, JetBlue officials believe they have found an underserved niche in coast-to-coast discount service. They insist that they are not trying to take customers away from major airlines.
“Our business plan relies on stimulating traffic,” said Gareth Edmondson-Jones, JetBlue spokesman. “When the fare is low enough, you stimulate traffic that wouldn’t be there otherwise. It’s a matter of taking people off the trains and off the highways. We’re not looking to steal American or United’s customers; we’re going to expand the pie.”
Mr. Edmondson-Jones cited JetBlue’s service from New York City to Buffalo, N.Y. Since the airline started flying 18 months ago, the number of travelers between those cities has nearly doubled. Mr. Edmondson-Jones attributed the increase to travelers who otherwise would have driven cars or taken trains.
United officials said it is too soon to gauge JetBlue’s effect on airline competition in the Washington area, but they said they were not concerned.
“We welcome competition and we think we have a competitive product in the market,” said United spokeswoman Whitney Staley.
However, James Wilding, president of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said, “I’m sure they’d be just as happy if the competition wasn’t there. That’s the world they live in.”
Low-fare carriers AirTran, Delta Express and US Airways’ MetroJet already offer frequent service out of Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, “but not to the West Coast,” Mr. Edmondson-Jones said. “We’re the only low-fare that’s doing the West Coast from Dulles.”
When JetBlue begins service Oct. 8, it will have daily, nonstop service connecting Northern Virginia to both Long Beach and Oakland, Calif. Long Beach is a Los Angeles suburb. Oakland is adjacent to San Francisco.
JetBlue’s standard round-trip fare between Dulles and Long Beach will be $598, compared with $1,210 on United or American Airlines’ flights into Los Angeles.
The flights will be the first that do not connect to JetBlue’s hub at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. JetBlue now operates 15 airplanes on 76 flights each day. By this time next year, the company plans to operate 32 airplanes.
“The new service from Washington is integral to our continued expansion of service to and from the West Coast,” said David Neeleman, JetBlue’s chief executive officer.
The startup airline has carved out a niche serving less-crowded or secondary airports. It uses only Airbus A320 jets, all of which have seats equipped with 24-channel satellite-television service.
Later this year, JetBlue plans to begin service between Dulles and JFK International.