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JetBlue to leave Long Beach Airport, will move to LAX

JetBlue planes at Long Beach Airport in 2013. The New York-based airline plans to move its hub to LAX.
New York-based JetBlue plans to move its hub from Long Beach to Los Angeles International Airport.
(Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg)

JetBlue Airways, once the dominant airline at Long Beach Airport, announced plans to relocate its Southern California hub to Los Angeles International Airport, with an eye to expanding service over the next five years.

The New York-based airline plans to begin the relocation to LAX in October. JetBlue Airways Corp.'s last day of operation in Long Beach will be Oct. 6.

JetBlue put part of the blame for the move on the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the financial hit caused by the pandemic has made the airline reconsider its future in Long Beach.

“The impact of COVID-19 on our industry has forced us to take a hard look at our remaining Long Beach Airport operation, which continues to financially underperform our network despite various efforts through the years — including seeking to bring international flights — in order to make our operation at the airport succeed,” JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart said, referring to a decision by Long Beach lawmakers in 2017 to kill a proposal to allow international flights.

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In Long Beach, JetBlue was popular as a low-cost carrier that served smaller, less-crowded airports. Its biggest rival, Southwest Airlines, has over the years increased the number of flights out of Long Beach, with plans to dominate that niche on the West Coast.

In the last few years, the relationship between JetBlue and Long Beach has been rocky.

JetBlue had proposed adding international flights from Long Beach to Mexico and other Latin American destinations, but the idea was rejected by local lawmakers and residents who feared the addition of international flights would lead to more traffic, air pollution, a drop in property values and pressure to lift the city’s restrictive noise limits.

About a year ago, Long Beach Airport forced JetBlue to give up nearly a third of its gate slots after being warned that it was in danger of violating new city regulations designed to prevent airlines from sitting on underused slots to keep competitors out.

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Several of its competitors, including Southwest Airlines, picked up most of the slots JetBlue gave up.

At Long Beach Airport, JetBlue now accounts for 17 of 41 permanent flight slots, which airport officials say are likely to be taken over quickly by other carriers.

“We understand that the aviation industry — now more than ever — is constantly changing and airlines nationwide are making difficult business decisions to stay competitive in light of the pandemic,” Long Beach Airport Director Cynthia Guidry said in a statement. “We expect strong interest in the [JetBlue] slots as they become available.”

In addition to consolidating its transcontinental flights to LAX, JetBlue says it plans to embark on an expansion to about 70 flights per day by 2025, including international flights. JetBlue now flies about 20 daily takeoffs from LAX.

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“While we recognize it is bittersweet to say farewell to a community that’s been part of our company’s story from our earliest days, this move is the right one for JetBlue and our future as we think about our next decade of growth,” Stewart said.


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