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Beleagured Detroit Gets First New Airline in 9 Years in JetBlue and Fares Plummet

Mar 16, 2014 10:00 am

Skift Take

Competition is a beautiful thing. JetBlue has moved into Detroit, and all of the sudden Delta’s fares there nosedive. You have to feel the pain of travelers who must fly out of so many airports where there is no such competition.

— Dennis Schaal

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Lyle Ratliff  / Reuters

JetBlue has arrived in Detroit, the airport's first new carrier in nine years. Pictured, a JetBlue Airbus A320 sits on the tarmac at a ground breaking ceremony for the first Airbus U.S. assembly plant in Mobile, Alabama April 8, 2013. Lyle Ratliff / Reuters


Now that discount airline JetBlue has started flying out of Detroit Metro Airport, you have a job as a traveler.

Take a flight on it. Support its first route — Detroit to Boston, nonstop. Because in order for it to expand routes here and compete with Delta and American and United and Spirit and Southwest to keep fares low, it has to have customers. Same with Alaska Airlines when it comes in later this year to fly nonstop between Detroit and Seattle.

JetBlue is the first domestic airline to start service at Metro since AirTran nine years ago, so it is a big deal.

The day of its first flight on Monday, March 10, something more important than balloons and speeches and blue-frosted cupcakes occurred: Fares on competitor Delta plummeted from about $400 round-trip to as low as $158-$250 to match JetBlue on that Detroit-Boston route.

That’s the power of competition.

JetBlue, founded in 2000, flies to 85 cities. Joshua Powe, who manages the airline’s network, told me that if service between Detroit and Boston is successful, JetBlue likely will add more service from Metro, possibly from Detroit to Ft. Lauderdale and/or to Washington Reagan National.

With JetBlue’s new permanent counter and gate (D-15) at the North Terminal, “there is a lot of opportunity to expand,” he said. That is significant, because airline consolidation the past five years has pretty much meant shrinking choices for fliers and higher prices.

“We’d love to see them add service,” said Thomas Naughton, Wayne County Airport Authority CEO. That, believe me, is a giant understatement.

The Free Press bought a ticket on the first flight, which left at 11:55 a.m. The flight, on a 100-seat Embraer 190 jet, featured goodie bags for each traveler to mark the occasion, plus its normal service of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, chocolate chip cookies, free seat-back TV and a free first checked bag.

New service to Dubai

We landed uneventfully at the C Terminal at Boston Logan Airport. That makes it handy for travelers making connections at the international E Terminal for Boston’s new service to Dubai, which was also launched Monday by JetBlue partner Emirates Airlines.

“The concept is to coordinate so that the timing of JetBlue’s flights will allow for connections to Emirates’ evening flight to Dubai,” said Matthias Schmid, vice president of sales USA for Emirates. Michigan has a large Middle Eastern population and lots of travelers who fly to India through Dubai (www.emirates.com, 800-777-3999).

Hidden standby perk

Last week, I also found out that JetBlue (www.jetblue.com, 800-538-2583) provides one huge perk valuable to business travelers. The airline allows passengers to fly standby on the flight leaving before their scheduled flight without a fee. That used to be the case on all airlines, but now Delta and competitors charge $50 just to fly standby.

JetBlue flies round-trip between Detroit and Boston three times daily. So when I had to return home from Boston early Tuesday to beat a major snowstorm, I went to the airport early and was able to fly standby on the 7:30 a.m. flight instead of waiting until 4:55 p.m. No problem, no charge.

This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Send travel questions to Detroit Free Press Travel Writer Ellen Creager, the Michigan Traveler, at ecreager@freepress.com, 313-222-6498 or follow her on Twitter @ellencreager. ___

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