It was more than a year and a half ago when I wrote this about JetBlue’s first big expansion of its Mint premium cabin beyond the usual transcon markets between New York and both LA and San Francisco:
So far JetBlue has had tremendous success with Mint, and with every success, it continues to try to bite off a little bit more. If you don’t think there’s someone at Delta watching this very closely, you’re nuts. If JetBlue continues to grow this and make it profitable, then the big guys are going to end up taking action as well. There’s too much at stake for JetBlue to have this opportunity to itself.
It sure took a long time, but Delta has finally admitted that hey, maybe JetBlue really is on to something. And to combat JetBlue’s advance, Delta is swapping international and domestic aircraft. [Update: I’m now told that these changes were independent of each other and it’s not a direct swap.] This not only frees up fancy flat beds for domestic routes to compete with JetBlue, but it lets Delta better compete internationally with the likes of Norwegian and WOW. This is an interesting test.
Starting next spring, Delta will bring the Delta One international premium cabin experience (read: flat beds in business) to routes from New York/JFK to San Diego, Seattle, and Las Vegas. It will also roll it out on the Boston-LA route. (It’s going on Honolulu flights to Atlanta and Minneapolis as well, but that’s just a branding thing. The beds are already on those flights.) These new transcon routes are indeed all routes operated with a Mint cabin by JetBlue today, though JetBlue will continue to have a premium cabin schedule advantage on all but the hub-to-hub route from JFK to Seattle. (I really don’t like the split operation here. Business travelers who are willing to pay for Delta One are also going to need flexibility, and that will require a huge downgrade here.)
|JFK – San Diego||1 with Delta One
|2 with Mint|
|JFK – Seattle||2 with Delta One
|2 with Mint|
|JFK – Las Vegas||1 with Delta One
|2 with Mint
|Boston – Los Angeles||2 with Delta One
|4 with Mint|
These routes join the two daily Boston-San Francisco flights, 8 daily New York/JFK-San Francisco, 10 daily New York/JFK-LA, and 1 daily Washington/National-LA flights that have Delta One today. But even they’ll be getting an enhancement. Upgrades will now be treated like regular domestic routes, free for elites if they’re available.
As I noted, Delta is not converting more 757s to be in an international configuration to fund this new flying, though that would have been nice. Instead, Delta is swapping out domestic 757s to fly three heavily-leisure overwater routes. Look for those domestic configurations flying from New York/JFK to Keflavik (Iceland), Shannon (Ireland), and Ponta Delgada (Azores).
It’s notable that JFK to Iceland is something of a bloodbath waiting to happen. Next summer, pioneering low cost carrier Icelandair will have two daily from JFK and 1 from Newark. Ultra low cost carrier WOW is already in Newark but announced it will also fly to JFK next year. Then there’s New York to Shannon, which is currently under assault by Norwegian’s 737 MAXs. It’s not a big market as it is, and it generally only works in the summer. But with Norwegian flying to Stewart (along with Aer Lingus from JFK and United from Newark), it’s ugly. As for Ponta Delgada, well, that’s probably just a really thin premium cabin market to start.
So with that kind of background, it’s no surprise that Delta is upping the density of the aircraft flying these routes.
|Business||Premium Select||Comfort+||Main Cabin||Total|
As you can see, that is not only a huge increase in the number of seats onboard (more seats = lower costs, and that means lower fares are more sustainable), but it’s also less premium-heavy for markets that don’t have the demand. This is a good move.
You may be a bit confused by that chart. Delta has no Premium Select (Delta’s name for premium economy) on its domestic 757s. And what about domestic First Class? Well, on those routes, Delta will actually sell the domestic First Class cabin as Premium Select instead of First or Delta One. That’s a notable change for Delta which has flown similarly long routes on 757s selling the cabin as First Class. (Atlanta-Quito comes to mind, just a couple hundred miles shorter than Keflavik.)
Could this be the beginning of a bigger change? I’m told that’s not likely. But I still dream that someday all domestic First Class gets sold as Premium Select. That way the product offering would be so much more consistent. Domestic First Class is rather similar to Premium Select internationally. In fact, Delta sells international Premium Select today with domestic connections sitting in First Class. Wouldn’t it be nice if this was Delta’s clear offering?
- Main Cabin – regular coach
- Comfort+ – regular coach with extra legroom and a few amenities
- Premium Select – premium economy/domestic First with better seat and amenities
- Delta One – flat beds
It would be so much easier to explain to people what they’re getting no matter where they fly on Delta, but I digress. What this is really about is trying to find a way to compete with JetBlue domestically and the European low cost carriers internationally. Look for more of this to come if next summer’s experiment works out as hoped.