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JetBlue caught squatting? Long Beach cracks down on hoarding of airport gate slots

JetBlue caught squatting? Long Beach cracks down on hoarding of airport gate slots
Passengers disembark from a JetBlue Airways plane in Long Beach. The city wants to put an end to underused gate slots. (Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images)

The city of Long Beach is moving to end an airline hoarding practice known as “slot squat,” and that has JetBlue Airways seeing red.

Long Beach Airport officials say some gate slots — the scheduled times that a plane can land or depart — are being underused, and they worry that some airlines may be doing this on purpose to take up space and keep competitors out of the airport.

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To address the problem, the Long Beach City Council unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday requiring that all airlines increase the average use of each slot for takeoffs and landings from 57% over a 180-day stretch to a minimum of 60% for every calendar month, 70% per three-month quarter and 85% per calendar year.

In a letter to the City Council, Long Beach Airport Director Jess Romo said he was worried that “air carriers have the ability to essentially ‘slot squat’ on flights without permanently returning the underutilized flight slots.”

The resolution calls for penalties for airlines that don’t meet the minimum slot use, such as cutting back on the slots allocated to those violators. Long Beach officials say the proposed utilization averages are similar to those at nearby John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana.

But JetBlue, the largest carrier at Long Beach with about 70% of all flights at the airport, opposes the change, calling the new rules punitive and unfair and accusing the city of targeting JetBlue.

“Such unjustified and unnecessary changes as the ones yet again proposed appear to be nothing more than punitive and discriminatory to JetBlue,” said JetBlue Associate General Counsel Robert Land in a letter to the city.

Southwest Airlines, which began serving Long Beach in 2016 and now operates about 14% of flights there, supports the change.

“An increased utilization requirement at [Long Beach] would not only enhance the efficient use of these scarce assets but would also be consistent with FAA utilization policies at its own slot-controlled airports,” wrote Southwest Associate General Counsel Barry Brown in a letter to the city.

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