JetBlue offering nonstop flights to Fort Lauderdale, starting Oct. 29

For a good part of the last eight years, it has been a turbulent ride for JetBlue Airways in Pittsburgh.

The low point came in February 2013 when the carrier dropped its twice-daily nonstop service to New York City because it wasn't making money. That left JetBlue, which entered the market with great fanfare in June 2006, with service to only one city, Boston.

Some 16 month later, the airline not only has steadied itself but appears to be poised for growth.

JetBlue offering nonstop flights to Fort Lauderdale

JetBlue will start offering nonstop flights from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale on October 29. (Video by Nate Guidry; 7/9/2014)

Starting Oct. 29, it will offer a daily flight to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the first new destination it has added from Pittsburgh International Airport in its eight years here. The new flight was toasted by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Mayor Bill Peduto and other dignitaries during festivities at the county courthouse Wednesday.

“This is an important day for us as we continue to grow Pittsburgh,” said Josh Powe, JetBlue’s manager of route planning.

In addition, the Boston service that began with two flights a day to Logan International Airport now is up to four a day and has become a strong performer for the airline.

Mr. Powe said additional growth could be in the cards.

Depending on how well the Fort Lauderdale service does, JetBlue may consider adding a second flight. Fort Lauderdale not only is a popular leisure destination but serves as a JetBlue gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America.

In adding the service, JetBlue will be going head to head against another low-cost carrier, Southwest Airlines, which offers twice daily flights to Fort Lauderdale from Pittsburgh.

State Sen. Matt Smith, a county airport authority board member, said local officials are working hard to attract more service, whether it’s from JetBlue or another airline.

“We will continue to work every hour, every day to make sure we’re aggressively courting additional airlines,” he said.

JetBlue has two other potential routes on its radar — Orlando, Fla., and Washington, D.C.

The airline recently acquired 24 takeoff and landing slots at Washington Reagan National Airport that were surrendered as a result of the American-US Airways merger.

While JetBlue is using those slots to serve other markets, it is interested in acquiring more. If it does so, Pittsburgh could be in the mix of cities under consideration for flights from the nation’s capital, Mr. Powe said. The market now is dominated by American, formerly US Airways, with five flights a day to Reagan, and United, with four a day to Dulles International.

“We’re not there yet, but we are considering Washington,” Mr. Powe said.

Few would have predicted such growth 16 months ago when JetBlue dropped its flights to John F. Kennedy International Airport, causing fares to the Big Apple to skyrocket. Mr. Powe said the carrier had no choice. “The bottom line is that it just wasn’t profitable long term,” he said.

When JetBlue arrived in Pittsburgh in 2006 with flights to New York and Boston, average fares to the Big Apple and Beantown dropped by 46 percent and 62 percent, respectively. But many local travelers remained loyal to US Airways, which matched the fares, as JetBlue struggled to gain a foothold in Pittsburgh.

As soon as the carrier eliminated the flights to New York, fares jumped by hundreds of dollars.

Even in the darkest days, Mr. Powe said JetBlue never considered abandoning Pittsburgh. Its patience appears to be paying off.

“We have Pittsburgh in a very healthy place right now,” he said.

Max Radwin: 412 263 1280 or mradwin@post-gazette.con or via Twitter @MaxRadwin First Published July 9, 2014 12:00 AM

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