JetBlue Rolls Out Its Next Generation Cabin

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.

JetBlue New Coach Seats

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.

JetBlue New Premium Seats

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?

31 Responses to JetBlue Rolls Out Its Next Generation Cabin

  1. Sanjeev M says:

    This is very similar to the British Airways (BMI) midhaul A321 that is flying LHR-TLV.

    Remains to see what the onboard soft product will be. But overall good for JetBlue to upgrade the entire fleet.There’s probably room in the market for a new type of premium product so hope its not just a carbon copy of everyone else.

    Virgin America…watch out.

  2. Ron says:

    Just LAX? No LGB/BUR?

    • SEAN says:

      Or SAN, SEA& PDX?

      • Scott says:

        The A321 can’t operate BUR-JFK (the A320 can’t even do it fully-loaded). As for the others… I think if this experiment is successful in the core business market LAX-JFK, it’s possible B6 could expand the product to other markets. One step at a time…

        • agreed. Its a tough sell to give up so many economy seats (30+). Just not sure if the revenue premium is there for LGB, BUR, LAS, or others. If the business case works out, I see the program expanding, but it may be the only domestic route. But does this bode well for a future expansion to western europe?

    • CF says:

      Like Noah, I think it’ll be tough to give up that many economy seats on most routes. JFK-LAX/SFO are special in that a ton of people actually buy premium seats. No other domestic market comes even close.

      As for western Europe, I’d be surprised. I don’t think the A321 can really make it. That might have to wait for the neos.

      • I was thinking europe in 5-7 years, when NEOs are around, but using this as a test to iron out things like meals and long haul product.

        I wonder if JFK-SEA could be viable. I know DL is putting its businesselite seats on it, but not sure if that is because of same subfleet of 75E, SEA strategic importance to them, or if the market may be able to support it

  3. SubwayNut says:

    At least on my last trans-con flight, the old pre-flat bed United P.S. plans definitely have too many buissiness/first seats and United was overselling economy. This June I flew JFK-SFO on a deeply discounted (like $160) one-way economy ticket and got to the gate and bumped up to Buissiness Class. I have no status on United (hadn’t flown them in two years) except I am Amtrak Guest Rewards Select+ which get me into UnitedClubs. UnitedClub members can use ClubAcelas too.

    In New York every time I turn on the TV it seems like I see one of the ads from United for the new lie-flat P.S. transcon service.

    • CF says:

      SubwayNut – You may have just gotten lucky. There are a lot of seats sold on those flights, but United is also decreasing the number of seats. The new config has 28 premium seat vs 38 on the original ps config.

  4. What’s the big deal about a private sliding door, to keep people crawling down the aisle from looking at you? People walking by can still look down and see you, so what is there to be private about.

  5. Oliver says:

    “It may have the best coach product, but people still love their upgrades. And JetBlue doesn?t have that option today.”

    Are they going to offer upgrades?

    • Scott says:

      That’s the big question. And, if so, how will it work with those upgrades only applicable on a tiny percentage of flights (at least initially)? I find it hard to believe that there’s a strong market for purchased front-cabin service on transcon flights. I have always assumed that — like most other domestic flights — the front cabin is full of elites or last-min travelers (who likely would have paid nearly the same fare for full-fare coach at the time of purchase anyway if no premium option existed).

    • I doubt it. They have said publicly that the legacy status model has been detrimental to many airlines as it takes the people who have a higher willingness to pay and give them a seat for free. Jetblue is positioning as value for what you pay. As long as Mosaic members can’t get Even More Space for free, I doubt we will see F-upgrades any time soon. (though maybe a better price or point redemption…)

    • CF says:

      Oliver – Nobody has said anything about upgrades or pricing, but I would be surprised if they actually have them for free. I would think Mosaic members would be able to get preferential if not discounted access, similar to what Virgin America offers. Just having the opportunity would make a difference.

  6. Oliver says:

    Nice video. And it looks like a very nice cabin.

    At the end of the video, the lie-flat seats look like they are slightly angled.

    • CF says:

      Oliver – I’ve heard a lot of talk about how these are angled, but JetBlue is adamant that they are fully flat. This is just a computer-generated video so I guess we’ll see when they’re actually on an airplane. (Though I believe they have mocks at GBTA this week.)

  7. DRG says:

    I suspect that this has a lot to do with “elevating the brand,” as Lufthansa and others have alluded to vis a vis their first class offerings.

    There’s also an interesting phenomena among frequent flyers in that the upper class offerings are deemed important even by those travellers who don’t fly in them very often because one aspires to in the future.

  8. Jon M says:

    Flatbeds on a 5-hour flight? Does not make any sense to me. Maybe on a red-eye. Jet Blue has a pretty good business model. Maybe they’ve forgotten about People’s Express.

  9. Scott @ DTW says:

    I think the real question now is what this move means for Virgin America… which will soon go from offering the premier transcon premium product to the least-impressive (with similar enhancements also by UA, DL and AA). For an airline that’s already struggling, that can’t be good news for VX. :-/

    • CF says:

      Scott @ DTW – Definitely. In JFK-LAX/SFO, Virgin America goes to having the worst seat in the market. But in every other US market, Virgin America still has the best.

  10. Arubaman says:

    JetBlue has vacated its roots, but the customer loyalty in New York and Boston remains strong. They are underperforming financially, primarily due to maintenance issues on the E-190 powerplant. Like WN, they are being pressured by the ultra-low-cost carriers beneath them and the mega-carriers above them
    . A prediction: Indigo Partners will divest itself of Spirit, buy Frontier, buy JetBlue and pick over the remains of VX.

  11. These kinds of improvements are made possible by sustained profitability. It’s much easier for an airline, or any business, to justify capital expenditures when it’s consistently making money instead of struggling to survive.

  12. Kyle says:

    What other kind of service is expected? Hot meals up front? Don’t tell me they have a first class type of product where all you get is a box of animal crackers and wine served in a plastic cup..

    • CF says:

      Kyle – No details on the service have been released, but there has to be hot meals. I can’t imagine it any other way.

  13. Don says:

    I think they have to have hot meals with the cabin they are presenting. I couldn’t imagine paying a lot of money to snack on Blue Chips. I think they’ll make it work; especially on those routes and connecting international customers. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see their A320’s start taking on this new configuration in the distant future. They probably wabt to see how profitable this is and if it works.

    But one thing concerns me that someone else brought up. The new 1 x 1 personal cabin. The sliding door is only good to block the aisle. You can walk by and still see in there. I wouldn’t call it a personal cabin at all. Yes it is a step up, but by no means personal when all you have to do is look down while you walk by and there goes your privacy.

  14. tharanga says:

    Is there any aisle access at all for the window lieflat seat?

  15. I am most excited about the cup holders!!

  16. Jonathan says:

    I love what you do but I can’t help but wonder if 75,000 miles had you soft-pedaling the lesser seat pitch in coach. I think that’s bigger news than premium seating, which will only impact a very small percentage of fliers. The reduced coach pitch will affect many more people. I know it’s still better than most but when JetBlue makes a move like this, you wonder where it will end. I want to hear much more about this, not about their premium seating.

    • CF says:

      Jonathan – Soft-pedaling? I didn’t hide the information – put it right up front. I didn’t spend more time on it because I just don’t care about the inch reduction when it’s still 33 inches. But I also like to see what it’s like for myself. They are using those slimmer seats that in theory mean more legroom. But I don’t believe any of that until I actually sit in it anyway.

  17. Pingback: JetBlue’s New Mint Premium Cabin Starts Flying Next June - >> The Cranky Flier

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