JetBlue takes new approach to premium travel with private option on Airbus A321s

n.b. – This story first appeared in the APEX Editors blog on 4 August 2013

Just two months ago it was revealed that JetBlue would install mini-suites on its Airbus A321 planes serving premium transcon routes beginning in May 2014. Since that time there has been much speculation about what the seats will actually look like and what other features the service might offer. Some of the answers were given today, just as the Global Business Travel Association conference in San Diego was set to kick off.

The new seats, designed in cooperation with Thompson Aero, will offer two different levels of business class seating within the same cabin. They are based on the Vantage Suite product but feature some differences from the stock product, namely in the form of sliding doors offered on “mini-suites” that allow for true privacy. Similar versions of the Vantage Suite seats are currently in use on several international airlines including Swiss and Brussels Airlines.

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Citing customer demand for a lower priced premium product JetBlue CEO Dave Barger noted that JetBlue is not taking a traditional approach to the premium market. “We decided to enter the premium transcontinental market in a way that only JetBlue can: with an intense focus on offering the best possible product for the best possible price,” he said.

JetBlue sees the move in to the premium service market – a significant shift from their current approach to the industry – as a natural progression and a targeted move. The seats will be available on only 11 planes serving two routes, JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Barger sees an opportunity to capture a greater share of personal and small business travel budgets in the premium transcon space: “[W]e are targeting the under-served in the premium market. This includes small business owners and those paying for travel themselves.”

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JetBlue is not approaching the premium cabin layout in the same way as other airlines, which segregate the first class seats from business class. Rather, the seats are staggered in the same space allowing the airline to maximize cabin density while still offering a 6’ 8” flat bed to all customers in that cabin. In addition to the spacious seat the business class offering will include a 15” touch-screen TV with more than 100 channels of DirecTV, in-seat power (2x 110v plus 2x USB at each seat) and Fly-Fi, JetBlue’s satellite-based WiFi connection which will offer the most bandwidth of any in-flight connectivity option. And the amount of personal space afforded to customers, particularly in the suites, is huge.

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Today’s announcement also includes an introduction to the economy class product which will also be new on the A321 aircraft. The economy section will feature new seats from B/E Pinnacle offering 33” of pitch at a minimum; the Even More Space seats will feature 37” pitch. These numbers, while one inch lower than JetBlue’s A320 configuration, will still exceed options available from any other domestic carrier. The seats will offer a 10.1” in-seat IFE screen with DirecTV and both 110v and USB power in every row.

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The new premium offering is about more than just the seat. JetBlue is not releasing details yet and one part of the new seat map is still marked “secret.”

In an email to in-flight crew chief commercial officer Robin Hayes noted, “[S]eats are simply hardware. We’ll have plenty more to share in the coming months around plans for inflight dining and other amenities that will take the transcon premium experience to new heights with your great service.”

Based on the information we do have it appears that the business class offering is, at worst, tied with the legacy carriers in terms of providing a fully flat bed. And as the only carrier with a closing door JetBlue’s offering may be the most private option in the domestic US skies, even if it is mixed in with the rest of the business class seats.

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Ultimately JetBlue will need to find its way in to more corporate contracts to drive demand and revenue from the premium seats. Just having the longest bed or the most privacy won’t be sufficient. And the competition in the market is stronger than ever, with five carriers fighting in the market now. That’s great news for customers as the airlines compete for their airfare dollars.

See a video of JetBlue’s new products below.

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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, and LinkedIn.