Nantucket saw its first JetBlue arrival of the summer last week, marking the official beginning of the upcoming summer season at Nantucket Memorial Airport. It should come as no surprise that the four large commercial airlines of JetBlue, American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines are continuing to prioritize the island during the summer, however airport manager Noah Karberg said he expects this season to be more efficient as airlines prioritize load factors on flights over quantity of flights coming to and from the island.
“The word for this year is efficiency, or load factor is what we use in aviation,” Karberg said. “Your load factor if you are operating an aircraft is the percentage of seats you have filled. We have seen increasing load factors across our market. A lot of people may think that aviation is a volume game and to some extent that is true. The airport does want to see a certain number of planes coming and going from here, but we are all better off when we see JetBlue moving up to a 70 percent load factor from a 55 percent load factor a few years ago. That means they are operating fewer aircraft, there is less noise, less emissions, but you are moving more or the same amount of people - it is just happening more efficiently.”
Nantucket Airport is the second busiest airport in Massachusetts. Even with slightly fewer aircraft operations, the current schedule of flights as it stands right now indicates another busy summer similar to last year and an extension of commercial services all the way into late October.
Delta will be the next airline to return for the summer, with their first scheduled flights on Thursday, May 25. United Airlines will return on Friday, June 2. American Airlines will be the last airline to start back up, with their first scheduled flights to be Friday, June 23
At its peak in the middle of the summer, JetBlue is scheduled to operate eight daily flights. The destinations will be Logan Airport in Boston, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Westchester County Airport in White Plains, NY, LaGuardia Airport in Queens, NY, and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington D.C.
“JetBlue at their peak a few years ago would operate as many as 11 flights per day but they are down from that a bit,” Karberg said. “Things are always subject to change, but at their peak it is eight daily flights for now. But like I said, they are filling a greater portion of their seats now so passenger volume is staying the same, just fewer aircraft.”
American Airlines is scheduled to operate six daily flights at its peak to Washington D.C., Philadelphia International Airport (Pennsylvania), Charlotte Douglas International Airport (North Carolina), and O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. American and JetBlue are co-chairing a LaGuardia flight meaning that the flight can be booked through either airline.
“American’s peak day is Saturday. They still target weekly clients and the changeover week,” Karberg said. “We have that Chicago flight which is amazing to have. Chicago is a long flight, but it makes sense. A majority of Nantucket aviation visitors don’t come from metro Boston, metro New York, or metro Philadelphia – they come from everywhere else. Airlines route through their hub networks and Chicago is a hub so Chicago is collecting those people from everywhere else from the Midwest to the west to even internationally. Before, people were probably taking two or three flights to get to Nantucket.”
Delta will have four flights – two to LaGuardia and two to JFK as they go toe-to-toe with JetBlue jockeying for that New York market.
“We see continual upgauging across the industry and this year it is Delta,” Karberg said. “Both of their routes are going head-to-head with JetBlue in those New York markets and Delta has upgraded to the Embraer E-175 (69 seats). They have increased their presence on Nantucket. These are the planes American Airlines has operated these past few years, so it is something we are comfortable with, and it will carry more people efficiently.”
United Airlines will three daily flights to Newark. The airline did however drop their Dulles International Airport route. Dulles Airport is approximately 26 miles from Washington D.C. in suburban Virginia. Karberg said United would connect passengers in Dulles as well as Newark and that the Dulles flight was a frequent buyer of fuel as opposed to other airlines and operations that opt to refuel off-island at other destinations such as Boston or New York.
Once you get past security screenings, The Flying Minnow will once again be open. Karberg said the 12 x 12 concession, which is leased out to Rebecca Chappa, is also expected to have a seasonal beer and wine permit again this year.
“She does a great job,” Karberg said. “I think she has a lot of offerings for a 12 by 12 space and it is great for passengers on a hot day.”
Terminal’s B and C are connected now at Logan Airport, meaning that passengers who fly from Nantucket to Logan do not need to go through security screening again in Boston to board a connecting flight.
Delta will be the first airline to end seasonal operations, with their last scheduled flights currently on Labor Day, September 4. American is right behind them with their last scheduled flights currently on Tuesday, September 5.
The schedules of United and JetBlue will extend well into the shoulder seasons however. United has flights scheduled until September 28 and JetBlue has seven daily flights scheduled throughout September and all the way until Tuesday, October 10. They have at least two daily flights scheduled until October 27 and one flight scheduled for October 28.
As for Cape Air, Karberg said they will have their typical high summer frequency from Boston to the island. With Southern Airways Express opting to end their operations on the island in an announcement made in March, it remains to be seen whether those flights are replaced.
When the Current reached out to Cape Air following Southern’s announcement, we did not receive an immediate reply when we asked the airline whether they would look to increase the number of flights to and from Hyannis and Nantucket. Southern, just last year, added 26 Hyannis-Nantucket weekly flights.
“The pilot shortage is such a big issue, and it hasn’t gone away. It just isn’t being talked about as much,” Karberg said when asked about the decrease in flights. “Their load factor has also gone up on the Boston flight with fewer flights. It is a healthy route, just not the overall Cape Air frequency the island saw for the past 10-15 years.”