JetBlue’s Suite Seats, and how they compete in the transcon premium market


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?

JetBlue's transcon premium seats
JetBlue’s transcon premium seats, rendering courtesy of JetBlue

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:

image

Is the better seat enough to entice you away from your legacy program?

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

16 Comments

    1. Yes, Gary, it is basically the same seat plus the doors. Much like the staggered Swiss product I expect more “table” space in the single seats so there is a bit more to it than just the seat and the doors, but at the end of the day it will be quite similar.

      That’s just the hard product; no word yet on if the soft product will be different.

      1. I quite enjoy flying on JetBlue. The product is one of the most comfortable options out there. The loyalty program isn’t easily gamed like those of legacy airlines, but the travel experience is decidedly better.

        I suppose that makes me a “kettle” huh?

  1. Does the LH stake in JetBlue has anything to do with this? Theoretically LH could drive some of their premium connecting pax to JetBlue which would impact United, but I don’t think that’s something they’d want considering LH and UA are part of the same alliance.

    Either way I think they’re just looking ahead and betting on economic recovery. With all the mergers and capacity reduction over the last few years as the economy improves they should be able to get enough premium pax.

    1. I don’t think the Lufthansa stake plays a role in this decision. Lufthansa can already put customers in to LAX or SFO on their own metal or UA metal in a premium cabin where there is a ATI/JV to share profits. That’s the smart move. They don’t even codeshare with JetBlue.

    1. I guess they do have the code-share; I didn’t think it was there. Looking at that list of destinations, however, it is not for the premium plane: Austin, Buffalo, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Raleigh-Durham, Rochester, San Juan, Syracuse, Tampa and West Palm Beach.

  2. I fully admit it could me just being spacially challenged, but the renderings actually make it look like the window seats don’t have any aisle access the way the center console is configured.

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