MIAMI — JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines are the two most important carriers at Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport, and accordingly the contest between them will define the next five years at South Florida’s second busiest airport.

Southwest Is a Domestic Powerhouse in Legacy Market

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Southwest’s FLL operation is smaller than one might expect, with 386 weekly departures (~55 per day) to 25 domestic destinations, especially given Southwest’s 150+ daily departures at many of its hubs and ~110 daily departures up the road in Orlando, a similar market in its leisure profile (though Orlando’s origin and destination (O&D) demand is not as centered on the Northeast US as FLL’s). Still, the carrier offers high frequency (at least daily) service to several key domestic destinations that span most of the major O&D demand centers for the South Florida metropolis save for Boston (partially offset by offering service to Providence), Charlotte, Phoenix, Seattle, Minneapolis, Detroit, and San Francisco.

It will be interesting to see what role, if any, Fort Lauderdale plays in Southwest’s growing international ambitions. While it has already earmarked Houston Hobby as a gateway to Central America (a role FLL [and to be fair Houston Bush] serves in Spirit’s network), as of yet, it does not have a major gateway to the Caribbean. At present, Southwest’s Caribbean portfolio is small, consisting of San Juan, Punta Cana, Nassau, and Montego Bay. As such, it can afford a mostly point-to-point (p2p) operation to the Caribbean. But expansion into the bread and butter, high-yielding network carrier routes to places like St. Maarten and Barbados would require a more connections-oriented gateway. Orlando lacks strong O&D to most Caribbean destinations (and indeed competes as a vacation destination with many of them), and between targeted adds over time to Caribbean islands and ethnic markets, as well as additional destinations for domestic feed, it’s not hard to see Southwest settling around 70 daily departures in Fort Lauderdale with 3-4 more domestic destinations and 8-10 Caribbean destinations in all.

(Credits: Southwest Airlines)
(Credits: Southwest Airlines)

JetBlue Is Building a Latin American Gateway that Mirrors American’s 

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JetBlue’s FLL operation is much larger, at 632 flights per week (~90 per day) to 39 destinations, including 13 international ones. The domestic service profile is a mix of high frequency service to Washington DC, Boston, NYC, and San Juan, with single daily flights to smaller destinations all along the Atlantic seaboard. Internationally, JetBlue operates to a mix of ethnic/business markets and tourist destinations in the Caribbean. Also of note is that JetBlue will be launching nonstop service to Quito, Ecuador in early 2016, its fourth South American destination at FLL.

Overall, JetBlue’s ambitions in Fort Lauderdale are pretty clear; it wants to turn FLL into a Latin American gateway. A presentation at JetBlue’s Investor Day in 2013 outlined potential growth markets for JetBlue from FLL including, Freeport, St. Thomas, Santiago (DR), Havana, Aruba, Monterrey, Caracas, Maracaibo, Georgetown (Guyana), Panama City, Guatemala City, and San Pedro Sula. Obviously the paralyzed state of the Venezuelan economy would largely preclude service to Caracas and Maracaibo for the time being. Beyond that, Guayaquil, Ecuador, Barranquilla, Colombia, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Guadalajara, Mexico, Belize City, Belize, San Salvador, El Salvador, St. Maarten, Barbados, Providenciales, Grand Cayman, and St. Croix also have strong demand and fit easily into the range of JetBlue’s existing fleet of Airbus A320s.

Once JetBlue adds Airbus A321neo or A321neoLR to its fleet in the latter half of the decade, much of the remainder of South America opens up as well. Given the initial positive response to JetBlue’s Mint product in the New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco markets, and its recent decision to add Mint on Boston to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and expansion of the flatbed business class product at FLL could be on the cards. Colombian and Ecuadorian flights are too short (at roughly 4 hours) to justify a flatbed product, but the existing flight to Lima makes sense for Mint.

Once the A321neo/neoLR join, JetBlue will likely add Santiago, Chile, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and Buenos Aires, Argentina to the network. Other potential destinations further out include Recife, Manaus, Fortaleza (all three possible with the A320neo), Belo Horizonte, and Brasilia, Brazil. In short, JetBlue could by 2020 conceivably have a narrowbody-based facsimile of American Airlines’ much larger Latin American gateway at Miami. And feeding this Latin American gateway will require a corresponding boost in domestic feed. Big holes at the moment include Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and Denver. An argument can also be made for Phoenix, Seattle, San Diego and Portland. Within JetBlue’s existing East Coast network, Charlotte and New Orleans seem like immediate adds, and as JetBlue continues its push into Midwest business markets, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Cincinnati all would hold merit as well. But at Fort Lauderdale, international service will be the star


Can FLL Rival Miami As a Latin American Gateway?

For the moment, the answer is no, given that the new international terminal and current FIS facilities would be too small to handle anything resembling the 230+ daily departures to Latin America in the winter peak at Miami. Adding FIS at JetBlue’s Terminal 3 would alleviate some of the pressure, but not enough. But there’s a chance that FLL could close the gap with Miami in terms of destinations offered (i.e. in network breadth), even if it cannot in terms of frequency (network depth).

To unpack this further, there are two key components to Miami’s breathtaking Latin America service profile: American’s hub and service from foreign flag carriers. American’s hub is of course massive, with 874 weekly departures (~125 per day) to 66 destinations, including 639 to 44 in Central America/the Caribbean, and 235 to 22 in South America. There’s no way JetBlue comes close to that at FLL in the next decade, they simply don’t have the network structure or knowledge of Latin American markets. But 250-300 weekly departures to 25-30 destinations across Latin America are possible by 2020, and that would tick most of the major boxes.

In terms of foreign flag carriers, already some are recognizing the dispersal of demand across the South Florida metropolitan area and offering service at Fort Lauderdale to complement existing offerings at Miami such as Copa Airlines and Avianca. Fort Lauderdale could also become a home for low cost and alternative airlines from Latin America (a role it already plays for Azul and TAME [Ecuador]). As Latin America’s airline sector develops and matures, this type of activity should only grow, especially if Miami grows as expensive as projections indicate. So between domestic and international service, FLL is well positioned for growth.