MIAMI — Much of the buzz in the aviation world over the past weekend was generated over a Vimeo video first reported by Jason Rabinowitz of NYCA via JetBlue’s official Vimeo account that detailed the sleek and impressive new interior design for JetBlue’s fleet of Airbus A321 aircraft for transcontinental markets (JFK-LAX/SFO), though markets could be expanded to other long-haul premium segments should this work.
Countering recent upgrade efforts by American, Delta, and United, B6’s new “Premium A321s” will be configured with a new premium cabin (not branded “First” or “Business” at this point) featuring 6’8″ cabin lie-flat bed seats built by Thompson Aero Seating, seat-back power and USB connections, as well as a a next generation IFE with over 100 DirecTV channels projected on a 15″ screen, and the long awaited Jet-Fi satellite wi-fi product – a first for domestic flights of any US carrier. 4 of the 16 premium seats, as had been rumored for months, will incorporate private “mini-suite” partitions in a 1/1 layout while the remaining 12 seats will be in a 2/2 configuration. Hot meals and free alcoholic drinks will be offered as well, a first for the airline as well.
JetBlue has not announced pricing but says it will be below the premium cabin rates of its competitors catering to small business owners and high-end leisure passengers. There will be a revised economy cabin seating as well incorporating the new IFE and new seating from B/E Pinnacle. These 11 aircraft will debut in May 2014 are the first use of a premium cabin from the “egalitarian” Jet Blue and are a harbinger of the first major updates to the JetBlue cabin experience since the airline first took to the skies in February 2000.
Though JetBlue is among the largest operators at New York JFK, it has 14% of the seats from JFK to LAX, placing it fourth behind AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, Delta Air Lines Inc., and United. JetBlue ranks fifth in capacity from JFK to SFO, according to market-research firm Innovata LLC. According to a JetBlue press release. “On an industry-wide basis, revenue from the New York JFK-Los Angeles and JFK-San Francisco markets is more than 50% higher than any other route in the United States, as airlines have dedicated more premium seats and charged much higher fares on these routes on a per-mile basis. There are more than 6,000 passengers each day on the two routes combined, independent Diio data show.”
Seth Miller, who broke the story early has additional details of the new configuration on the APEX Editors Blog.
However, quietly over the weekend, JetBlue also uploaded the initial schedule for its non-premium fleet of Airbus A321 aircraft. These new aircraft will be outfitted with 190 seats in a 2 class configuration, featuring 41 “Even More Space” seats and 149 regular economy class seats. It is widely expected that elements of the new A321-200 economy cabin and IFE will be adopted on the new A321-200s, newly delivered A320s and retrofitted through the fleet though exact details haven’t been confirmed yet. JetBlue is saying the first 4 A321-200s will have the “core product”.
The first 3 routes for the new non-premium A321s are from New York JFK to San Juan (SJU – 12 flights/week), Barbados (BGI – daily), and Fort Lauderdale (FLL – Daily). The flights begin December 19th, and schedules are loaded until early January onto the global distribution system (GDS). Flights are all bookable on JetBlue.com and the online timetable shows the following schedule for the flights:
The new schedule calls for 2 A321 aircraft that will operate 52 weekly cycles (or flights) with an average daily utilization of 14 hours and 38 minutes! By comparison, the US industry average for narrow-body aircraft is 9-11 block hours per day. The average cycle length is 3 hours and 56 minutes.
Aircraft #1 will begin its day at New York’s John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport at 7:05 am and fly nonstop to San Juan as JetBlue Flight 3, arriving at 11:56 am. After a one hour turnaround, it will depart as JetBlue Flight 4 at 12:56 am, arriving at JFK at 3:58 PM. After a 1 hour 2 minute turnaround, it will then operate JetBlue Flight 1601 to Fort Lauderdale at 5:00 pm, arriving in South Flordia at 8:11 pm. A final 1 hour 1 minute turnaround will depart Fort Lauderdale at 9:12 pm each night as JetBlue Flight 1802 and arrive at JFK at 11:51 pm to overnight.
Aircraft #2 will also begin its day at JFK flying JetBlue Flight 661 to Barbados departing at 8:20 am and arriving at 2:02 pm. The return flight, JetBlue Flight 662, takes off after a 58 minute turnaround at 3:00 pm and arrives back at JFK airport at 7:18 pm. After a longer 1 hour 41 minute turnaround, the aircraft operates a red-eye as JetBlue Flight 1103 departing at 8:59 pm and arriving at 1:52 am in the early morning the next day. A final 1 hour 12 minute turn around sees the aircraft returning to JFK as JetBlue Flight 1204, departing at 3:34 am and arriving at 5:59 am.
Critically, JetBlue has built a little bit of “slack,” or downtime, into the aircraft’s early schedule. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, the aircraft gets to spend an extra 4 hours on the ground as the red-eye JFK – San Juan flight only operates five times per week. This extra downtime is critical for JetBlue as it allows them to perform routine maintenance. And given that JetBlue plans to fly these A321s at a heavy utilization and that the A321 is a new type for JetBlue, it helps to have some slack in the initial schedule to deal with teething issues.
Aircraft #s 1 and 2 can be switched onto their respective schedules by having the 5:59 am arrival from San Juan turn around quicker onto the 7:05 am departure back to San Juan, and letting the aircraft that overnighted at JFK airport operate the 8:20 am departure to Barbados.
JetBlue has 30 Airbus A321s on order (as well as 21 additional A320 orders that can be converted to A321s), but it is unclear how many of these aircraft will be configured with the 159 seat, 4-class trans-continental configuration including 4 business class “suites” with sliding doors, 12 other lie-flat business class seats, and 143 economy class seats split between standard seating and Even More Space. These aircraft will initially be deployed from JetBlue’s main hub at New York JFK to San Francisco and Los Angeles, and will reportedly be slowly rolled out across the carrier’s entire trans-continental route network from Boston, New York JFK, and Fort Lauderdale.
The A321 is the first new model to join the JetBlue fleet since the 2004 arrival of the Embraer ERJ190.
But the remaining A321s will be configured in the higher density 190 seat configuration, and are certainly more in line with JetBlue’s traditional “egalitarian” business image. The A321s will help drive down unit costs for JetBlue thanks to increased gauge – JetBlue has seen its cost per available seat mile (CASM) nearly double since 2005 to 11.42 cents in 2012. And JetBlue is dealing with an aging fleet of A320s and Embraer E190s, as well as a maturing employee base that are both contributing to ever rising costs.
Much as Southwest did with the 737-800, JetBlue has turned to the A321 in hopes of reversing this upwards trend in CASM. It also helps them add more capacity and growth on trunk routes out of their largest hubs. New York JFK is slot controlled (at least at peak times), while Boston faces terminal space constraints. Replacing some A320 flights with the larger A321 could allow JetBlue to add new flights to other destinations by consolidating existing operations onto fewer A321s and help cope with demand on trunk routes to places like Cancun and San Juan.
JetBlue’s first A321s will be arriving in the fourth quarter of this year. The carrier has 91 Airbus narrow-bodies on order including 30 A321s, 21 A320s, and 40 A320neos (new engine option), as well as 22 outstanding orders for the smaller Embraer E190.
The Airbus A321 has been picking up steam in the U.S. market with American, Hawaiian, and JetBlue adding them to the fleet, joining Spirit and USAirways as operators.