This week is the Global Business Travel Association’s (GBTA) big annual convention. Every year, the big corporate travel buyers and travel management companies come together to talk shop, and airlines drool over them. This year, American even flew a brand new 777-300ER to San Diego to show it off to attendees. These people represent the big money corporate traveler, so airlines fall all over themselves trying to move market share. This year, JetBlue has decided that GBTA was the perfect opportunity to make a big announcement about its new onboard offerings.
I was hoping to head down to GBTA this week, but with the new baby, it’s just not going to happen. So I’m at home watching the news trickle in. With JetBlue, I actually had a little advance notice. I was recently asked to sit on the airline’s New Onboard Experience Advisory Board. I had nothing to do with the hard product that’s being announced today, but I will be helping to provide input on the soft product in the next couple of months. (Full disclosure: I’m getting 75,000 TrueBlue points for my participation.)
So what is it that JetBlue has actually announced? The airline is rolling out a brand new cabin interior including a premium class on a small sub-fleet. The airline is getting 30 A321 aircraft to complement its A320 and Embraer 190 fleet and those will get the new interior first. Those start arriving in October with first services from New York to Ft Lauderdale, Barbados, and San Juan in December. The A320s will be retrofitted after.
Nineteen of these airplanes will still be in an all-coach configuration with 190 seats, as the rest of the fleet is today. Forty-one of those will be Even More Space seats. Instead of being congregated up at the front, one row will be up front, four behind the second exit, and 2 behind the third. But things in all of coach will get nicer, not just in the extra legroom seats. This is what’s changing:
- A new seat with movable headrests
- One inch less seat pitch but still a couple inches above what everyone else has (33 inches in regular coach)
- A cup holder in each seatback (so you don’t have to bring the tray table down)
- Bigger 10.1″ screens (originally 6.8″ and then 8″)
- The newer DirecTV experience with a lot more channels and easier navigation
- Satellite-based wifi which is supposed to be really fast (we’ll see)
- In-seat power (one per seat in Even More Space seats, two per three seats in regular coach)
There is more coming, and I’m looking forward to being able to help shape the new offerings, but as it is, this will clearly be the best coach product flying in the US, especially if you’re tall and need more legroom.
Now what about the other 11 A321s? Those will be getting the super duper fancy pants transcontinental configuration. The 143 coach and Even More Space seats will look as they do on the other A321s, but on these airplanes, there will also be a true premium class cabin with 16 seats. This fleet will start out only being used on the JFK to LAX and San Francisco routes to compete with everyone else. But it remains to be seen if other routes will be added down the line.
You can watch this 1m37s digital mockup preview of what the new transcon product will look like (the coach seats are the same as on the non-transcon planes).
I’m guessing those premium cabin seats caught your eye. It’s almost like having a regular business class with an Even More Space option. The first, third, and fifth rows have 2-2 seating across while the second and fourth rows have only 1-1 across. Those rows have private sliding doors as well so I would imagine that there will be a premium charged to sit in them.
Why do that? Well that way, the seats can go underneath the side tables in front of them, meaning they don’t need to have as much room between the rows. This is a pretty common configuration we’ve seen on a lot of international airlines but we haven’t seen it domestically yet.
All the premium seats themselves will be the same. They will go fully flat into a 6’8″ bed. The seats have air cushions, which I imagine will be something like what Swiss has on its airplanes. This allows you to adjust the firmness of the cushion. Oh, and there’s a massage function in there as well. There will be a much larger 15″ video screen with the LiveTV options, and each seat will have two power outlets.
I wrote about how I think the race to flat beds on transcontinental flying is overkill on PlaneBusiness Banter (subscription required) a couple weeks ago, and I haven’t changed my mind. But JetBlue seems convinced that it needs to play in the premium market if it really wants to get those top dollar travelers. It may have the best coach product, but people still love their upgrades. And JetBlue doesn’t have that option today.
Of course, this new interior won’t change that except on just a couple of important routes, but it does make coach seating more productive. Power outlets, fast wifi, etc all mean that in coach, you can keep working unlike today. Is this going to be enough to get JetBlue’s profits up? Will business travelers flock to the airline in the hotly competitive New York market? That remains to be seen. What’s your guess?