By Tracy Rucinski
CHICAGO, July 16 (Reuters) - American Airlines AAL.O and JetBlue Airways JBLU.O said on Thursday they had agreed a strategic partnership to boost flying options in New York and Boston and create what executives called a "growth engine" to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
The deal will include reciprocal codeshare flights on more than 60 routes operated by American and 130 by JetBlue that can be booked on either website. Customers can exchange frequent-flyer benefits, meaning they can earn miles on one airline and use them on the other.
As a result of the agreement, American will launch service from New York (JFK) to Tel Aviv, Athens and Rio de Janeiro in 2021 and continue to serve London and Madrid, giving JetBlue customers access to international markets.
JetBlue will add flights at all three New York area airports including its home base, JFK.
"This allows us to recover more quickly," Scott Laurence, JetBlue's head of revenue and planning, told Reuters. "It means that airplanes that would otherwise have been in a desert, they're going to be flying and generating revenue."
Discussions began before the coronavirus pandemic nearly ground the aviation industry to a halt this year, but accelerated as a result of the crisis, he said.
The deal - subject to final documentation and governmental review - will help American, which has a significant presence across the middle of the country, gain relevance in New York and Boston, said American's chief revenue officer, Vasu Raja.
It follows American's revived partnership with Seattle-based Alaska Airlines ALKAIR.UL in February to boost expansion opportunities out of the West Coast.
Alaska is due to join the oneworld alliance by summer 2021, but JetBlue is not joining oneworld - which includes carriers like British Airways and Japan Airlines - and still plans to independently launch and operate transatlantic flights to London in 2021.
(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski. Editing by Gerry Doyle)
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