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JetBlue set to boost trips from Logan to Caribbean

By Katie Johnston Chase
Globe Staff / December 2, 2009

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JetBlue plans to announce today that it will increase flights from Boston to the Caribbean by 25 percent. The news, which comes a month after the low-cost carrier revealed plans to increase its total number of flights out of Logan International Airport by 30 percent, positions it to become the biggest airline flying out of Boston.

Starting May 3, JetBlue will add weekly flights year-round to Aruba; Cancún, Mexico; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Montego Bay, Jamaica, and continue its daily service to Bermuda and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Adding Caribbean destinations in May isn’t ideal timing, said Daniel Kasper, head of the transportation practice at the Cambridge office of LECG, an economic and financial consulting firm. But he said it shows that JetBlue plans to grab openings in the market quickly to try to keep low-cost competitors Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways at bay.

“I think what they’re trying to do is really carve out some space for themselves in Boston,’’ Kasper said.

Last month, the airline also added flights to destinations outside of the Caribbean, including Chicago, Denver, and San Francisco. With all the additions, JetBlue will operate an average of 70 flights a day to 33 destinations.

That makes JetBlue the airline with the most flights out of Logan and puts it in line to become the top carrier in terms of number of passengers out of Boston, said Edward Freni, director of aviation at the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan. JetBlue, which already has the most destinations flying from Logan, currently is tied with American Airlines for the most passengers out of the airport, at about 3 million a year.

“This latest announcement is really gratifying for everybody here because they’ve basically backfilled destinations that other airlines have shed,’’ Freni said.

Indeed, JetBlue’s announcement comes after US Airways recently said that it would drop six of its eight Caribbean destinations next winter - including San Juan, Montego Bay, and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic - and shut down its 327-person Boston crew base on May 2.

JetBlue, which stepped in to fill the gap left by US Airways, will continue to grow, said Scott Laurence, the airline’s vice president of route planning. “I think there’s more to come,’’ he said.

Ned Raynolds, a spokesman for American Airlines, which has 18 destinations and an average of 64 daily flights out of Logan, said the carrier isn’t concerned about JetBlue’s growing niche. “What is important for American Airlines is the quality of service and having the best route system that meets the needs of our New England customers,’’ he said.

Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at johnstonchase@globe.com.