New York’s JetBlue considers move to Florida, where it has key bases in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale

Kevin Spear, Orlando Sentinel
·4 min read

For the second time in little more than a decade, JetBlue Airways is considering a major relocation to Florida from its longtime home in New York and expects “to have a plan in place later this year.”

The 6th largest airline in the U.S. has key bases in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, and already is slated to have a premier role as the first, major tenant of Orlando International Airport’s $2.8 billion south terminal under construction.

The airline’s lease, in the Long Island City community of the New York City borough of Queens, lapses in two years, an airline spokesman said. More

“We are now reviewing our options in the current real estate market and considering how our space requirements may evolve in a hybrid work environment post-pandemic,” said Derek Dombrowski, manager of JetBlue corporate communications.

“We have terrific options in both New York and Florida, and are exploring a number of paths, including staying in Long Island City, moving to another space in New York City, and/or shifting a to-be-determined number of New York-based roles to our existing campuses in Florida,” Dombrowski said.

Orlando airport director Phil Brown said, “Orlando is a great location for JetBlue’s headquarters” but declined to be interviewed for further comment.

In 2010, JetBlue turned down what it deemed a “very competitive” offering of financial incentives from the Orlando community to move its headquarters to Orlando International Airport. The airline opted to accept incentives from New York to build a new headquarters.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said then that the city had made a “considerable effort” to recruit JetBlue.

“You don’t bat 1,000 in these corporate relocations,” Dyer said. “So we’ll be ready for the next one when it comes our way.”

But Orlando may have been caught flatfooted by JetBlue’s announcement.

Reached Thursday afternoon, Dyer’s spokeswoman said city leaders have not had negotiations with the airline.

“However, with that said, we have had a great relationship with JetBlue and would welcome and look forward to an increased business presence from them and the opportunity to create more jobs for our residents,” spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser said.

JetBlue has more than 1,300 employees at its headquarters. Hosting part or all of the airline’s corporate presence could be a game-changer for Orlando International Airport and its managing agency, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

Before being beaten down by the pandemic, the airport had been the nation’s 10th busiest, serving more than 50 million passengers annually, but saw its count drop to less than half of that during the past year.

During the holidays and the month of February, Orlando International often led the nation’s airports in daily numbers of passengers being screened by the Transportation Security Administration for outbound flights. Tourism and leisure travel nationally has vastly outpaced the resumption of business trips.

But airport leaders have warned that the coming years are likely to marked by a slow, clawing back of previous levels of activity, and that they are considering recruiting new industry, including cargo operations for an airport that quickly went from overcrowded to having a surplus of space.

One of the most costly public works project in the region’s history, the enormous south terminal is to be completed next year, with an initial 15 gates and room for more than another 100 gates.

JetBlue is the 5th busiest carrier this month at Orlando International Airport, following Southwest, South Florida-based Spirit, Delta and Frontier in that order.

But the airline has a large presence with its JetBlue University training campus at the north side of Orlando’s airport, which includes a 200-room hotel and trains thousands of employees annually.

JetBlue’s first, paying-passenger flight was in 2000 from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City to Fort Lauderdale, where the airline now bases a subsidiary of JetBlue Travel Products.

The airline maintains its largest presence in the focus cities of Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

New York’s U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer reportedly has pressured JetBlue to remain in the Big Apple.

“We’ve called New York home for more than 20 years and are proud to be the only passenger airline based here,” said JetBlue’s spokesman, Dombrowski. “Regardless of our support team footprint in New York, we remain committed to our ambitious growth plans at LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark.”

kspear@orlandosentinel.com