Just as air travel is roaring back to pre-pandemic levels,due to Russia's ongoing . Experts say the surge in costs is causing airlines to pull back on leisure routes introduced during the pandemic as longer-haul routes that consume more jet fuel start to make less financial sense for carriers.
JetBlue is cutting or suspending 27 routes this summer, according to data from Cirium, aviation news outlet Simple Flying first reported. The airline is cutting two routes permanently: Austin to Cancun and Nashville to Cancun. The remaining routes, including many to destinations in Florida, are slated to return in the fall.
JetBlue's Boston to Key West, Florida route will temporarily end on May 1 and return October 30. Its flight from JFK airport in New York to Key West follows the same schedule.
Trimming these routes makes practical business sense, according to industry experts.
"When fuel prices are high, it makes some routes unprofitable or not worth flying," said Andrew Didora, an airline analyst at Bank of America. "When some capacity comes out of the market, it makes for better supply-demand dynamics."
He added that if oil prices remain high, he expects a further "culling of seats around the margin in off-peak periods." When consumer demand is strong, airlines will not cut flights that run at peak times on popular routes, according to Didora.
JetBlue confirmed the airline "is taking actions to respond to the current fuel environment."
"Through the summer, we will temporarily suspend flying on a number of routes to support our fuel initiatives and further improve our operational performance," the company said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch. "Many of these routes were chosen as they fall into one of three categories: long haul routes that burn more fuel; routes that don't make financial sense at high fuel prices; or routes that present specific operational challenges."
Routes JetBlue is suspending
- Boston - Key West
- Fort Lauderdale - Cartagena
- Fort Lauderdale - Chicago (O'Hare)
- Fort Lauderdale - Cleveland
- Fort Lauderdale - Grand Cayman
- Fort Lauderdale - Portland, Oregon
- Fort Lauderdale - Port of Spain
- Fort Lauderdale - Providenciales
- Fort Lauderdale - Seattle
- Fort Lauderdale - St. Maarten
- Hartford - Las Vegas
- Hartford - San Francisco
- New York (JFK) - Key West
- Los Angeles - Austin
- Los Angeles - Raleigh Durham
- Los Angeles - San Jose
- Los Angeles - West Palm Beach
- Newark - Atlanta
- Newark - Austin
- Newark - Charleston
- Newark - Jacksonville
- Newark - Las Vegas
- Newark - Phoenix
- Newark - Raleigh Durham
- Newark - San Diego
Fewer flights to party-spot Cancun
JetBlue added leisure routes to destinations like Cancun, Mexico, and Fort Lauderdale in Florida during the first phase of the pandemic, when little business travel took place, according to Willis Orlando, a flights specialist at Scott's Cheap Flights, a deal-tracking website.
"They still have more routes than they did in 2019, and big picture, they're moving back to where they were. During the pandemic, demand was really concentrated among U.S. passengers to warm weather, short-haul destinations like Florida, New Orleans, Cancun and Costa Rica," Orlando told CBS MoneyWatch.
These days, passengers are more inclined to visit cities in Europe and elsewhere, as COVID-19 case numbers decline and pandemic restrictions disappear.
"Demand to these places is waning as people feel more comfortable going to cities. If I were in the pricing department of an airline deciding what routes are profitable, I would say maybe we don't need to double down quite so hard on South Florida," Orlando added.
Ongoing staffing challenges
Orlando thinks fuel costs, as well as persistent staffing issues, is factoring into the schedule tweaks.
"Staffing issues have been an ongoing drama throughout the pandemic for airlines. We're anticipating a summer as strong or stronger than 2019 in terms of demand and no airline wants to be the one that has a mid-summer meltdown when they're cancelling tons of flights because they can't get staff in place," he said.
Airfare has climbed this year, according to a report from Adobe Analytics, but that has not dampened their appetite for travel. "We already saw increases in February relative to January, and so far consumers have been able to manage the hikes because there is a lot of enthusiasm for travel," said Vivek Pandya, lead analyst for Adobe Digital Insights.
Airlines need to be savvy if they're going to capitalize on this pent-up demand, he added. "They are optimizing routes and making sure they're working with prices so they can absorb some fuel costs and manage demand so they can keep the momentum going and have a strong, successful year," Pandya said. "They're making decisions around what they can afford and weighing that against how deep consumers' desire to travel is."
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