JetBlue is coming to the Twin Cities, bringing a new airline choice to Minnesota travelers.
The New York-based airline announced Tuesday it will begin operating three daily nonstop flights between Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Boston Logan International Airport in May, raising the competition on a popular route.
MSP officials have been courting the airline for several years; the Twin Cities is the largest U.S. market currently not served by the low-cost carrier.
JetBlue is the nation’s sixth largest airline, serving more than 100 cities in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America.
Brian Ryks, executive director and chief executive of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), welcomed the news.
“We have been pursuing air service from JetBlue for several years and couldn’t be more pleased with their decision to add Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to their route map in 2018,” Ryks said in a news release.
JetBlue is the largest carrier at Boston Logan, with Minneapolis-St. Paul marking its 65th nonstop destination from that airport. The airline has been focusing much of its growth at Boston in recent years.
“We are answering calls from our customers who have long asked us to offer our great service and low fares on this important route,” John Checketts, JetBlue’s vice president of network planning, said in a statement.
The airline has a reputation not only for lower airfares but good value, said George Hobica, president and founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, an air travel consumer website.
“They give you free Wi-Fi, they offer free snacks, they give you extra legroom without paying for it — they even have more legroom in the back of the plane than Delta,” Hobica said. “And, I do often see them go into a new market and keep the fares down.”
JetBlue’s entry brings the total number of airlines at MSP to 16. More airline service often translates into lower prices on competitive routes.
“It’s a win for passengers in that it brings another airline to the market, which only puts downward pressure on airfares,” said Brian Peters, assistant director of air service business development for MAC. “We win, everyone wins.”
Delta Air Lines, the dominant carrier at MSP, offers six daily nonstop flights between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Boston Logan. Eagan-based Sun Country Airlines offers between one and two daily nonstop flights throughout the year, said Peters. Spirit Airlines offers seasonal summer service on the route.
“Adding Minneapolis-St. Paul to our map will give Twin Cities travelers a refreshing new choice in the air with JetBlue’s long list of perks not matched by any other airline in the market,” Checketts said.
JetBlue ranked in the middle of the pack among the largest U.S. airlines for the rate of customer complaints in August, according to the U.S. Transportation Department, which includes flight delays, mishandled baggage and overbooked flights. The airline ranked No. 2, nudged out by Southwest Airlines, in the low-cost category of J.D. Power’s 2017 North America Airline Satisfaction Survey.
The airline is much larger than Sun Country, but often attracts similar, value-oriented customers looking for a good price, but also some included amenities. Sun Country’s new CEO recently announced some plans for its long-term growth, including trimming back a few perks like free carry-on bags, and expanding its network in large U.S. cities like New York, San Francisco and Boston.
Hobica said news of JetBlue’s arrival should bode well for MSP passengers, so long as they support the route.
“It’s really good news. Minneapolis definitely needs more competition,” he said. “It’s really a Delta stronghold.”
Peters said attracting JetBlue has been a focus for a number of years and that the news shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of the competitor airlines. He rebuffed the notion often raised by outside observers suggesting Delta’s influence over MSP’s air service.
“Delta fully understands that our goals and our missions are independent of what Delta’s goals and missions are,” Peters said. “Delta is not surprised by this announcement. In fact, if you asked them, they probably thought this should’ve happened years ago.”
Peters believes it took awhile to land JetBlue’s business because of the competitive landscape at MSP. “I think they finally realized we are a large enough market with enough corporate demand that they were finally ready to pull the trigger and announce service.”
In announcing the decision to serve MSP, JetBlue touted the Twin Cities’ robust business community, with more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, as well as its high marks in education, jobs and quality of life. Nearly 40 million travelers pass through MSP each year.
JetBlue will service the route using an Airbus A320, an aircraft often used by several airlines for U.S. domestic routes, and will fly in and out of MSP’s smaller Terminal 2.
Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767