JetBlue shifts winter service away from Puerto Rico

Key Points
  • Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, forcing scores of hotels to close.
  • Infrastructure is also badly damaged on the island, including at the airport.
  • JetBlue expects to return to its Puerto Rico flight schedule by the end of 2018.
  • The airline says it will deploy flight capacity to other leisure destinations.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

JetBlue on Tuesday said it is reducing service to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the popular vacation destination last month. Instead, the airline plans to add flight capacity to other leisure destinations as it scrambles to capture sun-seekers' bookings.

Puerto Rico's tourism industry is struggling as infrastructure and scores of hotels were damaged in the storm, and much of the island remains without power.

"For 2018, we expect to redeploy leisure capacity earlier in the year and then gradually shift capacity back as resorts and hotels reopen," JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said on an earnings call. "We expect that to return to a full operation by the end of next year."

In September, Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the Caribbean and Florida, which are both important markets for JetBlue. The storms knocked about 6 cents off the carrier's quarterly per-share earnings of 55 cents, down from 58 cents a share in the year-earlier quarter, the airline said.

The two storms cost JetBlue $44 million in revenue in the three months ended Sept. 30, and will reduce revenue by $70 million to $90 million in the last three months of the year, the airline said.

Other routes with increased service could include Florida and less-damaged destinations in the Caribbean, particularly in the southern Caribbean. The airline will add capacity on its existing leisure routes, Martin St. George, JetBlue's executive vice president, said on the call.

The changes are meant to more closely match demand from travelers visiting friends and relatives on the island, which St. George pegged at two-thirds of the traffic to Puerto Rico.

Delta Air Lines earlier this month said it had also reduced capacity out of damaged destinations in the Caribbean.