Jet Blue to Europe?

Is JetBlue laying the groundwork to fly to Europe?

The New York-based low-cost carrier hinted at that possibility Tuesday morning, revealing details of an aircraft order that could pave the way for trans-Atlantic service. The details came amid JetBlue’s second-quarter earnings report.

JetBlue said it would amend a purchase agreement with Airbus to bring 30 more A321 aircraft into its fleet over seven years. Of those, 15 A321 aircraft will begin arriving next year. Another 15 A321neo aircraft will start arriving in 2020.

JetBlue said it would use the new A321 aircraft to expand its new Mint lie-flat seats and service that it markets to corporate and high-spending fliers.

But a new long-range variant of the A321 could also allow the carrier to begin flying across the Atlantic for the first time.

Starting in 2019, JetBlue will have the option to convert  A321neo orders into the long-range A321-LR (long range) version of the plane, JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said during the company’s second quarter earnings call.

“This enhanced airplane type could well be a game-changer for us and provide us the ability for JetBlue flights Europe from other East Coast focused cities, should we choose to do so,” Hayes said.

“As Robin alluded, the 321-LR could be the leap allowing us to leverage our relevance in the East Coast focused cities and accelerate launching service to Europe,” said Marty St. George, executive vice president for commercial and planning, added during the call. “While we are not formally committing to  this fleet type, and we are not ready to announce anything today, we are excited about the optionality and the potential opportunity.”

Even before the call, but JetBlue made an ever-so-subtle suggestion about Europe in a graphic it put out related to its aircraft deal. The image mostly addresses plans for the airline’s domestic transcontinental service. But, at the bottom right of the image, JetBlue shows an arrow appearing to point east toward Europe with the text: “New possibilities with A321LR option.”

JetBlue wouldn’t be the first to do so with narrowbody A321s. Iceland budget carrier WOW, for example, is now flying A321s from some East Coast cities to the short route to Iceland. And Portuguese carrier TAP is considering trans-Atlantic routes from several East Coast cities with the new A321s it’s slated to get later this decade, co-owner David Neeleman told Today in the Sky in June.

JetBlue’s Terminal 5 lobby at JFK Airport gets a high-tech makeover with new kiosks for check in, repacking stations and self-service baggage drop.

JetBlue’s Hayes was asked during the earnings call whether the announcement about potentially flying to Europe was just to gauge reaction from competitors. But Hayes said the announcement wasn’t to be “cute” or “clever,” but for transparency about the change in the aircraft order, which had to be disclosed.

“It does beg the next question: what are you going to do with it?” Hayes said of the possibility of option to take the long-range variant. “We don’t need to make a decision until the end of 2017.”

St. George said the study of potential  European flights is because, despite a number of airlines crossing the Atlantic, 87% of the capacity is under the three big alliances.

“What that has created is a very high-fare environment,” he said of the Boston market in particular. “We think that has great opportunities for us.”

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