A ceremony at Logan International Airport to announce the launch of nonstop flights between Boston and London this summer turned into an apology tour for JetBlue chief executive Robin Hayes.
After the unveiling, Hayes fielded questions from reporters not about the new routes but instead about what’s been on everyone’s minds and in the headlines — the hundreds of delays and cancellations that have stranded and infuriated customers up and down the East Coast since Friday.
“There were two significant weather events in Florida both Friday and Saturday that led to a significant number of delays. There were also air traffic control delays,” Hayes said in a one-on-one interview with the Globe. “It ground traffic across multiple Florida airports, which means you can’t land airplanes or take off airplanes.”
He added that “nearly 50 percent of our flights touch Florida, and once you’ve had that amount of disruption, you have a number of crews and airplanes out of position. And it takes you two to three days to really catch up.”
Hayes repeatedly apologized for the airline’s performance and pledged to do better in the future.
“I know if there’s 150 customers on that flight, there’s 150 reasons for travel. So we don’t want to cancel any flight,” Hayes said. “Obviously we are very incredibly sorry about what happened. We’ll definitely look for opportunities to do things better.”
The press conference to announce the new JetBlue routes from Boston to the Heathrow and Gatwick airports in London was planned weeks ago, and Hayes said there were no thoughts about canceling Tuesday’s event because of the recent delays and cancellations.
“We all needed something to look forward to after a challenging weekend,” he said.
Part of the challenge for JetBlue now is reestablishing good will with customers who were caught up in the mess of bad weather delays. In order to do that, Hayes said JetBlue will be reaching out to “many of the customers who were most impacted by this.” While staffing wasn’t an issue during this round of problems, he said the airline is currently looking to hire thousands of people so shortages don’t become a problem during the busy summer travel season.
“Our training center has steam coming out of its ears because we’ve been at full speed,” he said.
Even though demand for flights to and from Florida is surging, he said the airline will examine its schedule to make sure there is more time for “resiliency” during periods of bad weather.
The flights to London, which begin July 19 to Gatwick and Aug. 22 to London Heathrow, could be a helpful step toward restoring the airline’s reputation in Boston as a customer-friendly low-cost carrier with personal touches. The plan for UK flights was first announced in 2019, with flights scheduled to begin out of New York and Boston in 2021.
That plan was scuttled because of the pandemic, and flights out of Boston were delayed a year. The airline is offering introductory London fares of $1,949 round trip in Mint — the airline’s version of first class — and $499 round trip in the main cabin. Unlike on domestic flights, hot meals will be served throughout the plane. (Customers can order through touch screens on the plane.)
JetBlue has purchased narrow-body planes for its international flights. The Airbus A321 Long Range sports a cabin that looks remarkably different from domestic planes. The single-aisle A321 LR has 24 redesigned Mint seats — two are larger and called suites — plus 114 seats in the main cabin. It’s a spacious, bright plane. Domestic flights currently have 16 Mint seats.
Hayes said the airline decided to expand service from its main hubs in Boston and New York overseas because London is the largest nonstop market not currently served by JetBlue in Boston, and is among the most requested destinations.
Another key reason JetBlue decided to expand to London is to accommodate business travelers. That market has dropped precipitously since the start of the pandemic, but Hayes said he is confident demand for London will be strong among leisure travelers.
JetBlue currently services more flights out of Logan than any other airline, although it has faced increasing competition from Delta Air Lines since 2019. It began serving Logan in 2004 with 30 crew members. Now it has 150 daily departures to 70 nonstop destinations. Nationally, it flies to more than 100 destinations and employs 22,000 crew members and staff. Last month it announced two new routes from Boston: Milwaukee and Kansas City, Mo.
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther.