JetBlue’s Weak Operational Performance Impacts More Than Just the Northeast

When I looked at 2017 operational performance earlier this year, I told you I was going to drill down a bit on some of the problem children. My first victim airline is JetBlue. I had ideas about why JetBlue was performing so poorly. These were primarily centered around the airline’s concentration of flying in the crowded Northeast. After digging deeper, it looks like it’s not that easy to pin down a single geography. This appears to be a systemwide issue.

In that earlier post on 2017 performance, I focused primarily on year-over-year change. JetBlue hadn’t really seen a change in its on-time departures with fewer than 60 percent leaving on time. For arrivals, things had gotten somewhat worse with the numbers down to 73.5 percent. Today, I’m just going to look at 2017 numbers across the board, so let’s break out some charts showing how JetBlue shaped up last year. First up is the percentage of flights completed for the biggest US airlines.

And now let’s look at on-time performance.

As you can see, JetBlue lags on both. My initial assumption was probably the same as yours. JetBlue has its largest operations at JFK and Boston (about two-thirds of the system) in the congested Northeast corridor. In my mind, those had to be the places that were dragging down the rest of the system with miserable performance while the sunny operations from its other focus cities in Florida and Long Beach would be much better. With that, I drilled down on Boston and JFK to test the hypothesis. There were really two questions to be answered.

  1. Is performance in the Northeast dragging down the overall performance at JetBlue?

  2. Is JetBlue’s performance at those airports worse than competitors?

To answer the first question, I put together two charts comparing JetBlue’s systemwide numbers with those of Boston and New York. First, completion factor:

And then, on-time performance:

Looking here, you’d naturally assume New York is the problem child, especially when it comes to cancellations. And on the on-time performance side, flights to JFK really seemed to have trouble getting in the air on time. But JetBlue does make up for that by padding schedules. Arrivals within 14 minutes of schedule weren’t much different than the rest of the airline’s operation.

Looking at this, however, we have to remember that these are all bad numbers. Sure, Boston may look a little better, but nothing really was all that much different compared to the system average. That must mean that even isolating Boston and New York, you’re still looking at poor performance everywhere else. In other words, if JetBlue’s operation is suffering because of the Northeast, then it’s impacting the entire system.

On the other hand, maybe JetBlue just isn’t running a good operation in general and it’s not a Northeast issue at all. To get at that, I wanted to see how it performed at JFK and Boston versus others. That was tougher to compare, so I turned to masFlight to get some help on slicing and dicing this to make it fair. I focused in on American and Delta since those are the two other airlines with substantial presences at both airports. I, of course, included regional operations. Then I limited the search to flights within North America and the Caribbean so we could get only flying similar to what JetBlue did.

This might be a bit unfair to American and Delta. After all, they will give priority to long-haul flights in many cases, and that means narrowbody flights suffer. So if anything, this may dampen the results for Delta and American giving JetBlue an unfair boost.

The trends on flights going from and to each airport are similar, so let’s just look at flights into each. Here’s JFK.

As you can see, American is struggling the most in actually completing its flights (probably because long-haul gets priority there), but when it comes to flights operating on-time, JetBlue is the clear laggard. And Delta is the unsurprising leader. The biggest problem JetBlue has is actually getting its airplanes out of the gate on time, but the airline appears to have more padding than the rest so it makes up some of the numbers on the back-end. Still, it lags. Here’s Boston.

American performs better here in terms of running on-time, but JetBlue… it’s no better. And Delta still kicks butt. The trends are basically the same.

I could keep slicing and dicing the data, but I think the point is clear. JetBlue should know how to run a good operation in its focus cities, but it lags behind its main competitors in both Boston and at JFK. The underperformance, however, isn’t limited to just those cities or the aggregate systemwide performance would have been better. There appears to be a larger issue here.

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Muscat,  Oman
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