JetBlue announced Thursday that it is pulling operations from Long Beach Airport effective Oct. 6 and expanding service at Los Angeles International Airport.

The move will significantly impact operations at LGB, which served for years as the largest carrier and hub of operations in Southern California for JetBlue. An airport spokesperson said the airline informed Long Beach of its intentions Thursday morning.

The airline has been slowly ebbing service at Long Beach, announcing in February it would eliminate flights to Oakland and reduce flights to Sacramento, San Jose and Las Vegas.

The friction with Long Beach began in early 2017 after the city leaders killed a plan to allow a customs facility at the request of JetBlue, which would have allowed the airline to fly to Mexico and other cities outside the United States.

JetBlue, which has operated at LGB since 2001, and the city have also battled over slot utilization at Long Beach and late night flight activity by the airline, which violated the airport’s strict noise ordinance and had neighboring residents complaining to elected officials over the late night and early morning landings and takeoffs.

JetBlue in its announcement Thursday said it would eventually expand flights, both domestically and internationally, at LAX to as many as 70 per day by 2025.

The company said it would move all maintenance and support staff from Long Beach to LAX in early October. JetBlue crew members will be given the opportunity to transfer to LAX or other airports, the company said.

Operations will continue at other Southern California airports, including Burbank and Ontario.

More than 150 JetBlue crew members are based at LAX, with the number expected to grow to nearly 700 with the additional fights and the move of crew and maintenance bases from Long Beach to LAX, officials said.

“LAX is one of JetBlue’s most successful markets and offers the valuable opportunity to grow significantly both domestically and internally while introducing our low fares on more routes,” Scott Laurence, head of revenue for JetBlue, said in a statement. “The transition to LAX, serving as the anchor of our focus city strategy on the West Coast, sets JetBlue up for success in Southern California. We continue to seize on opportunities to emerge from this pandemic a strong competitive  force in the industry.”

As service from JetBlue has slowed at LGB, Southwest has picked up more flight slots. As of April, each airline held rights to 17 flight slots at the local airport. A total of 41 permanent are available.

The 17 flight slots freed up by JetBlue’s departure will be allocated to other airlines according to a priority list, airport officials said. In the last round of allocations, Southwest tried to claim all seven slots that were open at the time, but were only allowed to claim three. Delta and Hawaiian Airlines also added slots (Hawaiian is a partner airline of JetBlue).

Any certified airline, including those that don’t already operate at Long Beach, can petition to be put on the slot allocation priority list.

In a statement, Southwest praised its relationship with the airport and noted that it will be adding flights to Austin and Phoenix in November, though officials did not commit to wanting to fill the soon-to-be open slots after JetBlue leaves.

“We know there’s additional demand for our service among Californians who prefer either a shorter drive to, or the intimate convenience of Long Beach Airport,” the statement said.

LGB Executive Director Cynthia Guidry said in a statement that the airport will “always be grateful for the investment JetBlue made in our community and the tremendous service they offered our passengers.

“We understand that the aviation industry—now more than ever—is constantly changing and airlines nationwide are making difficult business decisions to stay competitive in light of the pandemic. We expect strong interest in the slots as they become available.”

Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, who represents the area of the city where the airport is located, said the JetBlue’s decision could have been financial as airlines across the country have seen demand drop due to the health pandemic. Earlier this year, JetBlue and Delta announced they were suspending service to Long Beach due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s dramatic impact on passenger traffic.

“Airlines across the world have been impacted by this crisis,” Mungo said. “Long Beach is not immune. We will work hard to support the remaining airlines and their their service of safe travel and look forward to rebuilding.”

A spokesperson from JetBlue noted the struggles brought on by COVID-19 but also said that Long Beach had continued to “underperform in our network despite various efforts through the years—including seeking to bring international flights—in order to make the airport succeed.”

“The move to LAX will help increase our revenue, which is essential as we work through a long and challenging coronavirus recovery,” they said in a statement. “With LAX serving as the anchor of our Los Angeles focus city we can fulfill our growth ambitions in greater LA and, in the longer term, offer international flying that is not possible in Long Beach.”

JetBlue said some changes will be made to flights when the move to LAX occurs:

  • Flights to Portland will not continue; JetBlue will serve this airport from New York-JFK, Boston and Fort Lauderdale.
  • Seven new markets will be added to JetBlue nonstop service from LAX in October: Austin-Bergstrom, Bozeman Yellowstone, Las Vegas, Reno-Tahoe, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Seattle-Tacoma.

[Editors note: the story has been updated with statements from both JetBlue and Southwest Airlines.]

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.