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Back in March, JetBlue announced it would be creating new premium cabins on its transcontinental flights between New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco to keep up with competition from American, Delta and United, all of which are updating their transcontinental fleets.
Today, I went to JetBlue’s New York headquarters to get a first look at the new business class seats and first class mini-suites, which JetBlue is calling “Mint,” as well as to hear from CEO Dave Barger about how the airline will begin rolling it out (it’s scheduled to go into service on June 15, 2014 on a flights between New York and Los Angeles), and the benefits premium flyers will enjoy.
The new premium cabins will be aboard the carrier’s 11 A321’s (scheduled for delivery by the end of this year), and will have 16 seats – 12 lie-flat regular business class seats and four that are “mini-suites” with privacy walls and doors.
The move was an interesting one for an airline that has prided itself on its all-economy egalitarian ethos for 14 years it has been operating, but it’s not terribly surprising considering that the 10% of flyers paying the highest fares (including last-minute business travelers) account for nearly a third of the revenue on these transcontinental routes, and JetBlue flyers who have experienced premium transcontinental cabins on other carriers including Delta and United, as well as flying them because of their larger route networks, and who have not been returning to JetBlue afterwards even for flights on the airline’s other routes.
The move is also meant to capture elite flyers on other airlines who never actually get upgraded on these transcontinental routes, which are among the country’s most heavily trafficked, and thus packed with high-tier elites who snatch up the few upgrades from mid- and low-tiers – although it’s interesting to note that most of the premium seats on these routes are actually paid fares, which is part of why they are so lucrative.
The tightrope that JetBlue will have to walk is wooing these premium flyers back without alienating its traditional base of economy flyers, though the airline is also updating its coach cabins.
One of the ways the airline will do so is by “shattering” transcontinental premium fare pricing. The airline has announced that one-way tickets in Mint from JFK to LAX will start at $599 each way – well below the market average (about 50% in many cases) on these routes – and they are actually on sale now for flights between June 15-18 for just $499 each way though they will sell out quickly.
JetBlue says its new first class suites will be the longest and widest on the transcontinental routes and will have walls and a “door” that can be shut for maximum privacy. Seats will be 6’8″ long and 22.3 inches wide with air cushions with adjustable firmness and a massage function plus shoe storage, dual 11-volt outlets with two USB ports and a “wake me for service” indicator light.
Seats will have 15-inch personal monitors with 100 channels DirecTV and SiriusXM Radio as part of their entertainment system, and flyers in this cabin will be treated to pre-takeoff drinks, an amuse bouche and cocktail once airborne, a choice of three to five tapas-style plates created by New York City-based restaurant Saxon + Parole, fresh espresso drinks from the first purpose-built airplane cappuccino machine, and his and hers Birchbox amenities kits with both products for use onboard and samples of things like lotion and shampoo.
The coach cabin on the A321’s will also be all-new with softer, roomier seats (JetBlue already has some of the most spacious coach seats in the sky with 34 inches of pitch standard) as well as new 10.1-inch personal entertainment screens, power outlets at every seat, and in-flight WiFi (finally!) that will be free. There will also be a self-service bar in the cabin with snacks and sodas.
The first flight to feature the service will be #223 departing New York JFK to LAX at 9:30 am on June 15, 2014. The plan is for all seven of the airline’s daily round-trip flights between JFK and LAX to have the new Mint premium section and updated coach by the fourth quarter of 2014 and to introduce it on flights between JFK and San Francisco before the end of the year with all five of those daily flights featuring the new service by the end of the first quarter of 2015.
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