JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes pledged on Tuesday to take “swift and meaningful action” to get the airline’s cancellation-ridden operation back on track for the summer flying season.
JetBlue canceled 10% of its scheduled flights in the first three weeks of April. And schedule disruptions this month will weigh 6% on JetBlue’s pretax revenue margin for the second quarter, the airline said in an earnings call Tuesday. As a result, JetBlue will not achieve profitability this quarter, although it expects June to be a profitable month.
During the call, JetBlue President Joanna Geraghty attributed the troubled operation to a combination of high pilot attrition; pilot training halted during winter omicron surge; staffing shortages among air traffic control and airline contractors; and severe weather in the Northeast and Florida.
Reduction of capacity growth plans
Two weeks ago, JetBlue announced it would cut its hours by 8-10% over the summer to help improve operations. The carrier was more specific on Tuesday, issuing a revised full-year capacity forecast of 3% more than in 2019, compared to its earlier forecast of an 11% to 15% increase from 2019.
The reduced capacity, JetBlue said, will add more buffer space throughout the day to offset operational difficulties and put less strain on crew resources. Additionally, Hayes said JetBlue will build resilience and redundancy into its operations at New York JFK, where it will operate approximately 190 flights per day this summer.
Also at JFK, JetBlue said it will redevelop part of its Terminal 5 concourse to add more kiosks and open up additional space for customers.
Teaching the use of airplanes
With reduced system capacity, JetBlue expects to reduce its aircraft utilization by double digits for the remainder of the year, Chief Financial Officer Ursula Hurley said. It plans to use the added flexibility of the fleet to have more spare aircraft ready for use in the event of disruptions and to anticipate scheduled aircraft maintenance.
Investing in technology to improve wait times
JetBlue also promised to reduce call center wait times by investing in online chat capabilities and support through Apple’s iMessage and improving self-service capabilities on its website. Additionally, he said he would have his largest customer support team in place this summer.
A commitment to improving Newark
Finally, JetBlue said it cut some of its planned growth in Newark to ease congestion there.
Scott Kirby, CEO of Newark hub heavyweight United, called out JetBlue and Spirit in particular last week, saying their operational failures in Newark made it harder for other airlines to meet their own schedules at the limited-capacity airport.
Some details about the Spirit fusion
During the earnings call, Hayes made few comments on the progress of negotiations with Spirit on a possible merger.
“Our team is working very diligently and very hard to get things done with Spirit,” he said, before saying he wouldn’t say more on the subject.
JetBlue announced a net loss of $255 million for the first quarter. The carrier’s first-quarter revenue of $1.74 billion was in line with analysts’ expectations, according to investment site Seeking Alpha.
JetBlue shares had fallen nearly 9% by early afternoon.