- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 20, 2002

ISLIP, N.Y. — Low-fare carriers JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines are increasingly tiptoeing on each other's turf as they expand into new markets. Is this a budding rivalry between JetBlue, an upstart, and Southwest, a stalwart, or just a natural overlap between airlines pursuing entirely diffe-
rent business strategies? The answer, it seems, is a little of both.
"After a while, there are only so many places to grow. Frankly, I don't see how you avoid it," said Helane Becker, an analyst at Buckingham Research Group in New York.
Still, she said JetBlue and Southwest are not pursuing a head-to-head competition yet.
Whatever the case may be, as JetBlue and Southwest fly a growing number of routes along the coasts and across the continent, frugal travelers are finding more opportunities to choose between them.
Brian Rowland, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said he remains loyal to Southwest when he visits his mother in New York because the Dallas-based carrier flies into the town of Islip's MacArthur Airport on Long Island, 50 miles outside of New York and much closer to her home.
"I haven't flown JetBlue," whose hub at John F. Kennedy International Airport is closer to the city, said Mr. Rowland, a 55-year-old student counselor.
Mike Eberson, of Commack, N.Y., though, fancies JetBlue over Southwest when flying to Fort Lauderdale, despite paying up to $50 more per trip. The 29-year-old party planner said the free satellite TV and JetBlue's "young, cool" flight crews make the difference.
Dave Lakhani, a vice president at VersaPOS, an El Segundo, Calif., software company, said he prefers Southwest when flying inside California and throughout the West because of the frequency of its short-haul routes. But Mr. Lakhani favors JetBlue on cross-country trips because he can "get coast-to-coast without having two or three stops in the middle."
Indeed, the companies have distinct business philosophies.
Southwest was created more than 30 years ago as the penny-wise but no-frills alternative to automotive travel. The Dallas-based carrier offers frequent service, primarily over short distances, on Boeing 737s, a relatively small jet. It traditionally has targeted airports that are outside of major cities to ensure rapid fleet turnaround.
JetBlue, on the other hand, was begun two years ago with a focus on prying customers away from hub-and-spoke carriers like American Airlines in major markets. Blue leather seats and onboard satellite TV underpin its hip image. JetBlue flies Airbus 320s, which are about 20 percent larger than Southwest's jets, although JetBlue's service is not as frequent.
That said, the distinctions are beginning to blur so much that even if neither company claims to be intentionally muscling in on the other's territory, the result is basically the same.
In September, Southwest will begin nonstop service between Los Angeles International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Airport low-cost substitutes for JetBlue's service between Long Beach, Calif., and Washington Dulles International Airport.
Also in the fall, JetBlue plans to add more flights between Northern and Southern California and a host of Western cities such as Salt Lake City and Las Vegas a bold move into one of Southwest's strongholds.
"Although [Southwest] has talked about its coast-to-coast service as the competitive antidote to the big guys attacking them [on shorter-haul routes], I actually think a lot of it is experimenting to see how they can do against JetBlue," said Michael E. Levine, a business professor at Yale University and a former airline executive.
Southwest's chief financial officer, Gary Kelly, described JetBlue as a "formidable competitor," although it is one-tenth the size of Southwest. "In the end, an airline like JetBlue will only make Southwest better," he said.
Mr. Kelly said Southwest plans to add more longer routes [it already flies routes such as Providence, R.I., to Phoenix and Chicago to Seattle] because short-haul air travel is under pressure these days from auto and train travel an outgrowth of longer airport check-in times and new security procedures initiated after September 11.
"The perception right now is that going to the airport is a hassle," he said. "We think the lower risk is adding flights in the medium-haul to longer-haul markets."
JetBlue's founder and chief executive, David Neeleman, downplayed the effect Southwest's expansion would have on his company. "I don't see Baltimore as competition for Dulles."
But Ron Stewart, the head consultant at Accenture Ltd.'s transportation division, said whether JetBlue and Southwest are seen as competitors is ultimately "up to the consumers."
"People are extremely sensitive to costs and they're willing to drive that extra 50 or 60 miles to another airport," he said.


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