JetBlue Airways may want to add flights in Long Beach. But is it possible?

JetBlue wants to add more flights at Long Beach Airport - but it won't be easy. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova/Staff Photographer.

JetBlue wants to add more flights at Long Beach Airport – but it won’t be easy. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova/Staff Photographer.

Last week, I wrote about how JetBlue wants a U.S. Customs facility at Long Beach Airport so it can add international flights there.

But that’s not the only thing on JetBlue’s Long Beach wish list. The airline also continues to want the rights to add more daily flights out of LGB, one of a handful of airports nationwide with daily departure caps. Long Beach allows 41 daily departures for planes heavier than 75,000 pounds, and JetBlue owns the rights to 32 of those flights.

The basic idea is this: If JetBlue someday gains the ability to fly to Central and South America from Long Beach, it would still want to fly to many of the markets it serves today – like Seattle, Portland, Austin, San Francisco and Salt Lake City. In the right scenario, passengers originating from many of those cities would switch planes in Long Beach and connect to an international flight.

But it’s very hard – perhaps impossible – to run a vibrant domestic and international operation with 32 flights a day. So JetBlue may ask city officials, who tend to be sensitive about new flights due to noise issues, for the right to operate more flights. The airline has made some past overtures, but apparently has never made a formal request – at least one that has been made public. 

Here’s what could happen. By city rules, Long Beach allows an additional flights 25 daily flights on commuter jets – defined as planes weighing less than 75,000 pounds, such as the CRJ-700 and CRJ-200. JetBlue doesn’t have any planes that light, but it does fly the Embraer ERJ-190, with a maximum takeoff weight of 105,359 pounds, according to the manufacturer.  JetBlue would like its E-190s to count in the small jet category, so it can add flights from LGB. (Other airlines are operating far fewer than 25 small jet flights from the airport, so there is available space in the category.)

“The E-190s are a very friendly airplanes,” said Scott Laurence, JetBlue’s vice president for network planning. “They’re quiet. It is very much fits what was intended with those commuter slots.”

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JetBlue Airways interested in international flights from Long Beach Airport

JetBlue Airways wants to add international flights at Long Beach Airport.

JetBlue Airways wants to add international flights at Long Beach Airport.

JetBlue Airways wants to add international flights – perhaps to Mexico or South America – from Long Beach Airport.

But for now, there’s a problem. Long Beach lacks an international arrivals facility staffed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. Until one is built, no major international expansion can occur.

I asked airport executive director Mario Rodriguez whether Long Beach might build the facility for JetBlue. He signaled that it is possible, though he said JetBlue would almost certainly have to pay the cost, which he estimated at more than $10 million. He pointed to Houston Hobby Airport, where Southwest is paying for costs related to the construction of a new customs facility.

“We’re looking into it,” Rodriguez said. “We are going to be studying it pretty soon. It’s a question of whether a (customs facility) is financially viable in an airport of this size. (Customs facilities) are viable in very large airports that have large volumes going through them. We have to look at it objectively. That would be a policy decision by the (city) council.”

Long Beach is a relatively small airport, and its commercial operation is tightly controlled according to guidelines set by the Long Beach City Council. The airport has 41 available daily slots for large jet aircraft like the A320, A321 and Boeing 737. JetBlue has rights to 32 of those departures.  The airport has an additional 25 slots for commuter planes, though the majority of those are unused. (Some of those had been held by ExpressJet before it pulled out of the market in 2008.)

Scott Laurence, JetBlue’s vice president for network planning, told me about a third of the carrier’s overall capacity is now on international flights. That flying is done from East Coast cities, like New York and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Laurence said he thinks Long Beach could be a strong international market and noted that the airline’s government affairs team is discussing possibilities with Long Beach officials.

“I am very excited about the potential that Long Beach has as an international gateway,” Laurence said in a recent interview. “Having a gateway from the west and specifically form the L.A. Basin seems to have a ton of possibility for us.”

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Frequent flier proposes to girlfriend on Long Beach-bound Jet Blue flight

Here’s a heartwarming tale of young love and one pretty darn cool marriage proposal, courtesy of JetBlue Airways.

According to an account on the airline’s blog, frequent flier Adam enlisted JetBlue employees to plan a first-rate engagement during a flight from San Francisco to Long Beach.

The programming started 28 minutes when JetBlue played — on personal TVs at every seat in the plane — an elaborate four-minute engagement video produced by Adam. Soon after, Adam knelt down near a seat and popped the question. Of course, she said yes.

Afterward, JetBlue threw a party for the happy couple and everyone on flight 1437.

Curious about that video that played on every screen? Here it is:

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