JetBlue slices flights from Pittsburgh to Big Apple

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The airline most responsible for lowering fares between Pittsburgh and New York City won't be flying the route much longer.

After struggling for six years to turn a profit on the route, JetBlue Airways will end its twice-daily, nonstop service to the Big Apple from Pittsburgh International Airport after the last flight on Feb. 27.

While JetBlue is credited with driving down fares to New York by 20 percent since entering the market in June 2006, it wasn't able to make money on the route, spokesman Bryan Baldwin said Wednesday.

"Even though we've been in the market quite a few years, it has not performed profitably," he said.

JetBlue originally launched service to New York with four direct flights a day to John F. Kennedy International Airport and later tapered that to two when demand lagged.

Mr. Baldwin said the carrier tried a number of tactics, from the adjustments in flight frequency to the timing of the daily flights, in an effort to boost service, but never was able to find the right formula.

"Nothing we did moved the needle like we wanted it to," he said.

In this day and age, "every aircraft and every route in the network has to earn the right to be part of the system," he added. "Ending flights is always a very tough decision for us. It's never something we want to do. It's only an option as a last resort after we've tried to explore many other avenues to make a route work."

JoAnn Jenny, airport spokeswoman, said one of the problems with the service was that JetBlue, because of slot restrictions at JFK, was never able to sequence the flights in a way that made it easy for business travelers to fly to New York and return to Pittsburgh the same day.

The slot restrictions, she said, made it difficult for JetBlue to be as flexible as it wanted and needed to be.

"I would have to say that from the airport authority's perspective, it's a disappointment to lose that route," she said.

A study of discount carriers released by the Allegheny County Airport Authority in January highlighted the impact the arrival of JetBlue has had on fares to New York and Boston, a route where prices have fallen by an average of 42 percent since the carrier launched service.

Round-trip fares to Philadelphia soared from $118 to $698 after Southwest Airlines dropped nonstop service to the city in January, leaving US Airways as the sole carrier to the market.

But Ms. Jenny said she isn't expecting such a dramatic increase in the fares to New York, noting that Delta, American and US Airways all fly to Gotham from Pittsburgh.

"They may increase, but it's not going to be like we saw on the Philadelphia route," Ms. Jenny said. "Our perception is that Delta [with six flights a day to LaGuardia Airport] is going to do a great deal controlling the fares between Pittsburgh and New York."

JetBlue still flies two to three times a day to Boston from Pittsburgh. Mr. Baldwin said the airline has no plans to discontinue that route.

"Our Boston service is performing well. We've seen some really good improvements in that route over the last year," he said. "We do not plan at this point to make any reductions to our Boston service. We are planning to maintain that route."

Despite the loss of the New York route, Ms. Jenny said the airport authority is hoping JetBlue will consider other destinations from Pittsburgh.

"I think they see opportunities in the Pittsburgh market. They had success with the Boston route. I think they're always looking and analyzing their routes on a continuous basis," she said.

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Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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