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JetBlue adds flights to capital

Reagan National trips put pressure on rivals

By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / April 29, 2010

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JetBlue Airways, which already flies from Boston to Virginia and Baltimore, is adding seven daily nonstop flights to the nation’s capital, heating up the battle among low-cost carriers from the Hub to the Washington, D.C., region.

The new service to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which begins Nov. 1, reflects low-cost carriers’ recent expansion of service between Logan International Airport and the Washington area.

JetBlue already offers flights from Boston to Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia, and the airline competes head-to-head with fellow low-cost carriers Southwest and AirTran Airways between the Hub and Baltimore.

Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com, a travel deals website based in Charlestown, said the new JetBlue service is good for Boston customers because it will put pressure on rival airlines to lower prices. Several legacy carriers, including United Airlines and Delta Airlines, fly direct from Boston to the Washington area.

“Anytime JetBlue or Southwest enters a market, it’s a good thing,’’ Banas said.

JetBlue, Logan’s top airline in terms of passengers, has expanded service recently from the airport to the Washington re gion. Last year, JetBlue began daily flights from Logan to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. And with the addition of the Reagan airport — it’s 36th destination from Logan — the airline will offer 18 flights to the Washington area.

With the new service, JetBlue is offering introductory one-way sale fares to Reagan starting at $39 for flights booked by May 5 for travel through Dec. 15. Blackout dates may apply.

The airline said the DC service will appeal to leisure travelers wanting to take weekend trips and road warriors alike, but the flights will not run every hour: The earliest flight will leave Boston at 7:30 a.m. and the latest will depart at 8:20 p.m.

“It’s a very popular route for our customers,’’ said Alison Croyle, a spokeswoman for the 10-year-old airline. “It is giving business travelers flexible options for the day when they can leave in the morning and come back in the afternoon.’’

JetBlue’s news comes a day after Southwest announced that it is establishing a bigger presence in the Hub by increasing its ground operations staff of customer service and ramp employees by 30 and beginning daily nonstop service to Phoenix Sept. 7, bringing its total number of daily flights from Logan to 26 from 10 last summer. Southwest launched service from Boston to Baltimore in August.

Paul Flaningan, a spokesman for Southwest, said the airline does not plan to add service to Washington from Boston. “I don’t think that is on the horizon,’’ said Flaningan. A 21-day advance one-way fare on Southwest from Boston to Baltimore starts at $77.

JetBlue, based in New York, also said yesterday that it was adding one daily nonstop flight each from Washington to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando beginning Nov. 1st. And next month, the airline will start service between New York and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and between Boston and San Jose, Calif.

The airline also recently formed a partnership with American Airlines to offer passengers connections to flights in and out of New York and Boston.

Separately, JetBlue yesterday reported that it lost $1 million, or a penny a share, in the first quarter, because of high fuel costs and other expenses.

The loss ends four straight quarters of net income for JetBlue, which flies mainly cross-country and to the Caribbean.

Material from Bloomberg News was included in this report. Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.