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JetBlue leaving Atlanta

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Citing competition, JetBlue will bid Atlanta farewell

By RUSSELL GRANTHAM

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Just six months after arriving, JetBlue Airways is leaving Atlanta.

The discount airline, known for a hip image and TVs at each seat, will end service between Atlanta and Long Beach and Oakland, Calif., on Dec. 4. Executives said they want out of an intensifying West Coast dogfight with Delta Air Lines and AirTran Airways.

"We just thought it was a little crazy," said JetBlue Chief Executive Officer David Neeleman.

Though it hadn't built a meaningful presence in Atlanta, JetBlue's launch of flights to the Los Angeles suburb of Long Beach in May marked the first nonstop service to the West Coast by a discount carrier. It challenged Delta's dominance on the route and prompted AirTran to launch its own flights.

Fares to the Los Angeles area plummeted. Sale fares for advance-purchase Long Beach flights run as low as $176 round-trip on JetBlue, and short-notice fares are less than half the $2,000-plus prices before competition heated up.

Business travel consultant Chris McGinnis termed Jet-

Blue's retreat "a bummer" but said he expects fares will stay down because AirTran still will compete with Delta to Los Angeles and San Francisco. But fewer seats may be offered at those prices, he said.

JetBlue already had pulled back, cutting its Long Beach schedule from three flights to one in September. It added an Oakland flight at the same time.

AirTran has two daily flights to Los Angeles International Airport. It will start one daily flight to San Francisco International on Nov. 12, with a second flight planned next spring.

Previously limited to East Coast and Midwest markets, AirTran also has added flights to Las Vegas and Denver this year. It has ordered longer-range jets and is expected to use some of them to bolster its presence in the West.

AirTran President Bob Fornaro said JetBlue was at a disadvantage because it didn't have an Atlanta hub feeding customers into its flights.

Fornaro said AirTran had planned West Coast flights even before JetBlue's entry.

After JetBlue announced its West Coast plans last winter, Delta matched the new airline's fares, offered triple frequent-flier miles and doubled its capacity to three Los Angeles airports by adding flights and bigger planes.

Delta added the flights "to meet anticipated demand," Delta spokesman John Kennedy said. Delta will "compete vigorously" in all its markets, he said.

"It became a kind of a war between AirTran and Delta," Neeleman told industry analysts Thursday in a conference call after releasing third-quarter earnings.

"We certainly with our cost structure could have stayed in there for a long time just to . . . prove a point, but we're not into proving points. We're just into making money," the Jet-

Blue CEO said.

JetBlue posted a third-quarter profit of $29 million. AirTran previously reported a $19.6 million profit, while Delta lost $164 million in the quarter.

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