October 07, 2013
The airline world has become used to low-cost carriers offering more and more perks. Even some form of premium cabin is no longer uncommon. But JetBlue is taking that concept one step further. Or rather, two.
The airline last week revealed its plans for a new business-class cabin to be used on transcontinental routes. Dubbed Mint, the cabin will comprise 16 lie-flat seats, some of which include a movable partition to become a “mini-suite,” on a dedicated subfleet of Airbus A321s, compared to the Airbus A320 currently in use for transcontinental routes.
This is JetBlue's first foray into the premium-product market, signaling a dramatic shift from its signature single-class concept. Mint is also another iteration of the JetBlue business model. For the first time, the airline will be marketing two distinct products, an economy- and a business-class-type cabin.
In some way, it is also consequent. Even when JetBlue only offered an economy cabin, it gave its passengers more space than even most legacy carriers and essentially all of its domestic competitors. The airline never opted for maximum-asset use by putting as many seats into its aircraft as possible. The carrier was still at a product disadvantage when it came to coast-to-coast flying, where space and comfort matter most in the domestic market, because it did not offer lie-flat seats.
The decision is moving JetBlue even deeper into the legacy and premium field. The airline is betting it can generate more revenue per square inch with fewer passengers paying a higher fare than it would using its economy product. Per-seat costs are also going to rise significantly on its transcontinental routes, due to the investment needed and the less-economical use of space.
The new cabin will be offered on a dedicated fleet of A321s. Delivery of the first aircraft assigned to the Mint product role is set for February 2014. JetBlue has 30 orders for the A321, 11 of which will be assigned to the premium transcontinental role. The current A321 has some range limitations on winter westbound flights, but JetBlue expects this to be resolved with the introduction of sharklets, Airbus's marketing name for winglets. All JetBlue A321s will have the devices.
CEO David Barger noted that although his airline has not yet ordered the A321neo, he “would not be surprised” if an order was placed, adding, “We haven't ordered the 321neo yet . . . I think we will.”