By Tracy Rucinski
(Reuters) - JetBlue Airways Corp hopes to break into the low-fare, transatlantic travel market beginning in 2021 with multiple daily flights from New York and Boston to London, its first European destination, the carrier said on Wednesday.
The idea is to offer customers a fresh choice on routes where JetBlue President Joanna Geraghty said current competitor fares "are enough to make you blush."
New York-based JetBlue said it is still evaluating which London airports it will serve.
To service the routes, the sixth largest U.S. carrier will convert 13 aircraft in its existing order book for Airbus A321 jets to the longer-range LR version featuring a tailored version of JetBlue's Mint business class product for the single-aisle planes.
The company, which has built a reputation in the United States for more coach leg room than competitors and free broadband internet, has argued for regulators to force slot divestitures at congested airports like London's Heathrow to create a level playing field for new entrants.
JetBlue will compete against American Airlines Group Inc, Delta Air Lines Inc and United Airlines, which are each part of global airline alliances that largely control the transatlantic market.
The three carriers also have joint ventures with member airlines in Europe that allow them to coordinate prices and schedules and share revenues. They also offer more frequencies and seats than JetBlue envisions, allowing greater flexibility.
A handful of Europe-based budget carriers have tried to penetrate the transatlantic market in recent years, but only cash-strapped Norwegian Air is still standing.
Iceland's WOW, PrimeraAir Nordic, Britain's Flybmi and Monarch Airlines, and Cypriot carrier Cobalt have all ceased operations in a sector grappling with over-capacity and high fuel costs.
JetBlue has argued in the past that its version of business class, Mint, has driven a 50 percent decline in premium fares on some competing U.S. routes.
"We've always competed against the large legacy competitors and have shown we can do quite well," Geraghty told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Cowen and Co analyst Helane Becker said JetBlue's Mint product suits the Atlantic market, but noted the importance of gaining access at major international airports like London Heathrow, which captures the bulk of transatlantic business travel.
"We believe the A321 long range has a flexible platform and economics that would work in multiple airports," Geraghty said, pointing to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam as possible European destinations after London.
(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; editing by G Crosse and Leslie Adler)