MIAMI — JetBlue is expanding routes for its Mint premium cabin service, but not where most had been predicting (or hoping). The Airbus A321 planes, fitted with 16 lie-flat business class seats, will serve the Caribbean markets of Aruba and Barbados during the 2015-2016 winter season. The flights will be Saturday-only from New York’s JFK airport to each island from November 7 – April 30, but the airline will operate the flights daily between December 19 – January 4. In total, JetBlue will fly 80 round-trip flights to the islands will operate using the premium configuration.
In a New York Times story Marty St. George, EVP Commercial and Planning notes that the markets “have high-end leisure premium demand,” and no doubt that drives some of the decision. But the Mint fleet is limited and making this swap means pulling planes off of previously designated routes, namely Los Angeles and San Francisco. Saturday service is already lighter in the transcon markets which helps free up two airframes to run the six months of weekly service. And during the holiday season San Francisco drops from 5x daily to 4x daily flights, helping to make the service shift viable.
Beyond shifting the capacity around, there is also the question of whether this move is truly answering consumer demand or simply maximizing fleet utilization. Or something in between. JetBlue already operates the A321 to Barbados as often as twice daily during the winter season so there is clearly capacity demand in the market. Pushing some of those passengers into premium fares might help drive the yield curve for the flights. For Aruba the seasonal schedule shifts from daily A321 service to a mix of A320/A321 up to 3x daily during the peak holiday weeks including a Mint A321, a Core A321 and a Core A320. The increased capacity in the belly of the A321s is likely also part of the drive for this service, especially as the holidays mean more passengers with more and heavier checked bags on board. At the range of the Barbados and Aruba flights the A321 with fewer main cabin seats is well suited to carry the extra load.
As for the theoretical Mint service everyone has been talking about – transcon flights from Boston to the West Coast – well, that has to wait a bit. That’s not the sort of market where seasonal service would work and it seems unlikely that JetBlue will shift capacity out of New York City to Boston to make it happen. Barring that the move would require additional aircraft in the Mint configuration, something which the company has not publicly announced as ordered. Still, there are some 20+ A321ceo planes on order and a few could probably be converted to a Mint layout if desired. But that’s not here yet.