Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Flying to Florida: Local officials hope to change JetBlue's mind - Airport officials say they'll do what they can to keep JetBlue from cutting direct flights to Orlando

JetBlue announced in early July it will cut the daily non-stop connection between Burlington and Orlando Nov. 27 

Local officials will meet with JetBlue representatives Thursday afternoon to try to understand the decision and if possible reverse it. Expected to attend are Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, Secretary of Transportation Brian Searles, Interim Airport Manager Gene Richards, Airport Commission Chairman Jeff Munger representatives of Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch, and Burlington City Councilors.

“We’re unsure why we lost the route,” Richards said. The Vermont group, Richards said, would try to impress JetBlue with the importance of the route to the airport and regional travelers.

He said that while other Burlington International Airport carriers fly to Orlando and while JetBlue flights through JFK airport in New York will still be available, the direct flight was popular.

“We run 85 to 92 percent full,” Richards said.

Airport Commission Chairman Munger sounded a similar note.

“We need an explanation of why this very, very popular flight was discontinued given its popularity and apparent profitability,” he said. “Burlington to Orlando was a flight that flew pretty much full planes.”

“JetBlue is an important partner, providing key air service between Vermont and the country,” Mayor Weinberger said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “Thursday’s meeting will be a good opportunity for airport leadership and JetBlue officials to discuss the future of the (airport) and ensure that all possible collaborations are being explored.

“Direct service to Orlando has been a popular route,” the mayor continued, “especially in the winter. The airport is working hard to see this travel need met.”

Transportation Secretary Searles didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment.

In July, JetBlue spokeswoman Alison Croyle said the daily flights didn’t fill enough seats to “generate sustainable profits.”

Wednesday, JetBlue spokeswoman Allison Steinberg said that “many variables ... go into determining the success of a route, including load factors, fares and operating costs.”

She said she was unable immediately to confirm the airport’s numbers on filled seats for the route, and she declined comment on what JetBlue anticipates from Thursday’s meeting

“We’re committed to our presence in Vermont,” she said.

She said that any route “earns its way onto our network. This particular route hasn’t done well enough to earn its continued existence.”

Richards said many airlines are making route cuts across the country, “trying to find a way to survive,” but the airport is willing to do what it can to change the JetBlue decision.

The prospects?

“I’m feeling optimistic,” Richards said, “but we won’t know until we get in the meeting. The relationship (between JetBlue and the airport) is strong, and we’ll have all the right people in the office.

“We’re there to listen,” he said. “Maybe there’s something we can do different.” He said JetBlue has made no requests in this regard of the airport.

He called the direct flight “very important.”

“Orlando is our second destination, behind JFK,” he said, “so, by losing a direct flight, it will have an impact and we’re concerned about that.”

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