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JetBlue plans Atlanta flights in ‘17

JetBlue Airways plans to return to Atlanta.

The New York-based low-cost carrier has long been missing from the world’s busiest airport. But JetBlue last week sent a letter of interest to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, saying it plans to renew service to Atlanta in September 2017.

The airline said it plans 16 daily flights as long as it can get access to two gates suitable for large aircraft “and higher end business and leisure travelers that JetBlue is targeting in the Atlanta market.”

“We believe that the Atlanta air market is currently overpriced and suffering from insufficient competition,” JetBlue vice president of network planning, Dave Clark, wrote in a letter to Hartsfield-Jackson interim general manager Roosevelt Council.

“For example, during 2015 customers traveling between Atlanta and metro New York paid fares 25 percent higher than JetBlue customers paid to fly non-stop between metro New York and Fort Lauderdale.”

The letter didn’t specify destinations.

Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman Reese McCranie said JetBlue’s letter of intent “underscores our commitment to attracting new service to Atlanta and increasing competition.”

“We are always looking to expand and fly to the places people want to go,” JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart said in a written statement, while adding that the airline has no specific decisions to announce on Atlanta at this time.

JetBlue has been the highest-ranked carrier in J.D. Power’s North American airline satisfaction study for 12 years in a row. The airport and airline have been in conversation for months.

It has been nearly 13 years since JetBlue last attempted to fly into Atlanta.

In 2003, then-Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin christened a JetBlue Airbus A320 with bottles of Coca-Cola before the plane took off for its inaugural route to Long Beach, Calif. Passengers at the time paid as little as $99 each way, bringing significant fare competition to Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines.

But JetBlue pulled out of Hartsfield-Jackson just six months later. Low-cost carrier AirTran Airways, the No. 2 carrier in Atlanta, had launched its own flights to the West Coast. Fares plummeted and JetBlue faced a dogfight with both AirTran and Delta.

Now, AirTran has been absorbed by Southwest Airlines. Delta has shifted its strategy over the years and remade itself through bankruptcy restructuring and a sharper focus on high-spending business travelers.

Clark wrote in the letter to Council that the airport’s existing “common use” gates on Concourse D “are not satisfactory” for its large aircraft and the market it wants to serve.

“We look forward to continuing the on-going dialogue and hope to come to an agreement soon for two preferential gates that are suitable for both JetBlue and the airport and enable a September 2017 commencement of JetBlue service.”

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