American Airlines and JetBlue are moving forward with their Northeastern Alliance (NEA). However, that is ruffled plenty of feathers in the low-cost world. Spirit Airlines has already indicated its strong opposition to the (NEA). Recently, Spirit highlighted some requested changes in Ecuador frequencies by both American and JetBlue. Now, Eastern Airlines is getting involved as it wants more frequencies for flights to Ecuador.
Eastern Airlines wants more Ecuador flights
On April 27th, Eastern Airlines filed with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) asking for two US-Ecuador weekly frequencies to increase the airline’s flights between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport (GYE) in Guayaquil, Ecuador. It will then be able to offer six flights per week on the route.
The airline wants to get two weekly frequencies from JetBlue. Since JetBlue wants to cut seven weekly flights between Fort Lauderdale and Quito, Eastern believes that it can better use the frequencies on a year-round basis with larger aircraft than JetBlue’s.
Eastern Airlines wants to add two weekly flights on Wednesdays and Saturdays with the following schedule (all times are local) from June 12th:
- 2D322 departs JFK at 07:45 and arrives in GYE at 13:25
- 2D323 departs GYE at 15:25 and arrives in JFK at 23:05
Eastern Airlines gets in on the feud
In early April, before filing for more frequencies, Eastern Airlines filed with the DOT asking it to block JetBlue’s motion to add a second daily flight between New York-JFK and Guayaquil. Eastern Airlines cited JetBlue’s near-monopoly over the market if it were to operate two daily flights as against public interest.
Eastern Airlines already flies between New York and Guayaquil, but it only has four weekly flights on the route for several reasons. The airline flies widebody Boeing 767s between the two cities and offers approximately 920 weekly seats.
JetBlue will offer over 2,800 seats per week in the market if it gets to operate double-daily flights using 200-seat Airbus A321neo jets. Eastern believes this would completely swamp its operations and give JetBlue and American a larger share of the US-Ecuador market, which is another concern of Spirit.
In the filing, Eastern was concerned about the potential for JetBlue and American to dominate and largely cited issues with JetBlue providing little “evidentiary support” for why it wants to move its flights over to JFK.
JetBlue strikes back
In mid-April, after Eastern’s first filing, JetBlue responded to both the Eastern and Spirit filings. The airline unequivocally denied any coordination between American and JetBlue outside the strict protocols the DOT has mandated.
The biggest takeaway from JetBlue’s filing is why it wants a second daily New York to Guayaquil flight. Before the crisis hit, LATAM used to fly the route with a Boeing 767-300ER. In 2019, the airline offered 369 roundtrips offering 220 seats per departure. However, LATAM has exited that market.
With LATAM out of the market, JetBlue believes it has a good shot at filling up its 200-seat aircraft. It also cited “historical load factor data,” suggesting the market will be underserved and that its business model can give it success on the route.
Why is Ecuador an issue?
When altering flights or adding new flights, most carriers do not need to petition the DOT to approve schedule changes. This is because the US and other countries have open skies agreements in effect, allowing air carriers to decide when and how much to fly.
The US does not have an open skies agreement with Ecuador, which is why American and JetBlue need to file with the DOT to confirm schedule changes. The current maximum allotted service for US airlines to Ecuador is 120 roundtrips per week, which is a relatively limited amount.
For upstart carriers like Eastern seeking to gain a foothold in the market, the lack of an open skies agreement prevents it from operating as many frequencies as it believes the market demands. This leaves Eastern a smaller player in the market than other carriers.
The one thing JetBlue agrees on with Spirit is that the DOT should work with Ecuador to get more frequencies for US airlines.
What happens next?
The DOT is in a bit of a tough position. On the one hand, there is more appetite from airlines like Eastern to add new flights to Ecuador, while Spirit is concerned about broader cooperation between American and JetBlue. JetBlue and American are undeterred as they continue to push forward with the alliance.
When it comes to the matter at hand, JetBlue has provided a reason for why it wants to move its flights over to JFK. At the end of March, the DOT also approved American’s request to move frequencies from Dallas to Ecuador over to Miami.
There is the possibility that the DOT could allow JetBlue to fly five flights a week between JFK and Guayaquil and give Eastern the other two, but JetBlue will likely not want to lose out on two slots.
Ultimately, time will tell what the DOT does. There are clear arguments in favor of both sides, but Spirit’s concerns will likely be fleshed out separate from the Ecuador issues. With the summer season fast approaching, airlines want to be able to sell tickets and confirm the flights, and the deadline to do that is coming up soon.
What do you think the DOT should do? Let us know in the comments!