Today’s the day JetBlue introduces their new flat bed business class and mini-suites products to the world. The unveiling will come at the GBTA conference in San Diego this afternoon but the story went live yesterday as a video rendering came online and various outlets picked up the story. My take on the seats – one of the first which has the real details not just guesses based on the video renderings – is online over at the APEX Editor’s Blog. That covers the details behind the seats and their specs. And I think the seats are fantastic. The seats – 6’8” flat beds, some with privacy doors – will put JetBlue at least on par with the best business class offerings in the transcon market, at least from the hard product perspective. But is that enough to take a chunk of business away from the competitors? And who is likely to suffer most from the new competition?
There are five airlines flying in the transcon market between JFK and LAX/SFO. And, over the next couple years all of the players are expecting to upgrade their offering, save for Virgin America. Yes, their first class seat is better than the typical domestic F product but in this market – arguably the only one where truly high yields can be realized in the premium cabin – the Virgin America product suddenly looks quite quaint. The leather recliner seat is nice, at least it was the once I got to fly it LAX-JFK. But at some point it becomes quite difficult to win business share just by claiming to be “cooler” than the others, especially when the product is weaker. American Airlines and United Airlines will soon have the same business class seat on board their transcon flights, a flat bed in a 2-2 layout. It is shorter than the JetBlue bed but at least they have a stable of corporate contracts to pull business from. Similarly, Delta has a mix of 752s and 763s on the routes today but by the time the JetBlue seats are in service Delta should be to nearly all flat beds as well. And Delta also has the corporate contracts. One big difference is that Delta and American offer complimentary upgrades to their top-tier elites while Virgin America, JetBlue and United do not. That could play a role in the market as well.
And so, in many ways, the question becomes “Can JetBlue attract the corporate customers?” In a press release about the new seats CEO Dave Barger notes that the corporate contracts aren’t their target market; he wants to serve “small business owners and those paying for travel themselves” with the new seats. And I suppose it wouldn’t be too hard to simply price the seats at or near the same point the discounts get the corporate customers and just sell to anyone at those rates. After all, it is unlikely that the legacies are selling many of the seats at the list price anyways. If the net price is the same and the seat is better, might some corporate customers start to stray from the legacies?
The other HUGE open question right now is what else, other than the new seats, will be in play on the JetBlue product. And, for now, JetBlue is silent on that topic. Well, almost silent. They’re teasing the heck out of the situation with promises of “plans for inflight dining and other amenities that will take the transcon premium experience to new heights” but no details yet.
Oh, and the seat map I imagined up was so very, very, very wrong. Here’s what it actually looks like:
Is the better seat enough to entice you away from your legacy program?
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