Updated: January 14, 2022 11:58
A JetBlue arrival (File photo)
JetBlue’s decision to downgrade service to Bermuda comes as no surprise, two airline industry executives said yesterday.
Aaron Adderley, the chairman of airport operators Skyport, also pointed to the island’s strict travel restrictions to combat Covid-19 as an issue.
He said they were stricter than the rules of competing destinations and hindered the industry.
Mr Adderley added that JetBlue’s decision to make the island a summer-only destination from November underscored the urgent need for recovery.
He said JetBlue’s announcement this week was “disappointing” but not surprising.
Mr Adderley added: “Airlines are acting decisively amid the pandemic to readjust their networks and we can anticipate further adjustments in the future.”
He stressed that it was “imperative that we do everything we can in the meantime to boost our air passenger recovery rate”.
Mr Adderley said: “Total air passenger numbers in 2021 were less than a third of 2019 levels.
“It’s just not sustainable for the airport, hotels, restaurants and other businesses.”
He added: “Our airline partners have already reported that they have seen destinations like Bermuda, with strict Covid travel protocols, lagging far behind those with less prohibitive protocols in place.
“In addition to streamlining border entry requirements, bringing the Fairmont Southampton hotel property back online as soon as possible is absolutely essential for Bermuda to regain optimal air passenger numbers and ultimately account, protect our air service options.”
The government has already said the return to business of the Fairmont Southampton, which closed in 2020, was a key factor in boosting tourism to pre-pandemic levels by next year.
Lester Nelson, chief executive of the Bermuda Airport Authority, said JetBlue’s announcement was “a result of the pandemic and airline rebalancing”.
Mr Nelson added: “The other thing to consider is that JetBlue is focusing on Key West, Florida.
“Remember this is part of the continental United States, so there’s no customs, not the same medical exam.”
Key West was announced as the carrier’s off-season destination at the same time year-round service to Bermuda was axed.
Mr Nelson said: “This is the environment in which travelers – business and leisure – have not returned to pre-pandemic travel.”
But he added: “It is a temporary condition, although it has been going on for almost two years.
“Let’s hope this is the year that Covid is under control.”
Mr Nelson said the island’s air services development team was in regular contact with the airlines and that JetBlue remained an “airline partner” despite the cutback.
He added: “It’s not where we want it to be, but it’s not dark and gloomy. We are hopeful.
Mr Nelson said there would be an “announcement in the coming weeks” from the Department for Transport on air service to the island.