NEW YORK — JetBlue unveiled their new transcontinental premium seating in the flesh on the roof of their company’s headquarters in New York City on Monday. The new product represents a substantial shift in the carrier’s heretofore commitment to a single cabin in which all passengers received the same level of service. In fact, it is the first major change to the passenger experience since the airline began service in February 2000. It also shakes up the popular high-yield New York–Los Angeles route, which has seen increasing competition in the premium cabin, by offering the price at a current flat rate of $599 one way.
The new service, dubbed Mint, will offer sixteen lie-flat beds and four private suites on the carrier’s new Airbus A321 airplanes. The service will only be available on flights between New York-Los Angeles and later New York-San Francisco. Mint service will also feature a tapas-style menu designed by popular NoHo restaurant Saxon + Parole, as well as a premium amenity kit from Birchbox that will feature customized offerings for both men and women. Each Mint seat will have a 15-inch flat screen TV, two power outlets, and sit at 22.3-inches wide with built-in massage function and firmness adjustability
The 143 seats in the rear of the aircraft will also see a refresher. Seat-back TV screens on which to watch JetBlue’s well known core product of DirecTV and SiriusXM radio will be expanded to 10.1-inches. The new seats will be slimmed down allowing for more legroom, according to the carrier, and come with in-seat power for all (a HUGE plus). The airline has gone the distance with a heap of pockets instead of just the usual large pocket, and even features a separate cup or bottle holder. Complimentary snacks, including the self-serve station now known as the Marketplace, along with complimentary Fly-Fi WiFi service will be available to everyone.
JetBlue’s new Fly-Fi WiFi service utilizes satellite-based Ka-band technology versus air-to-ground services like GoGo, or Ku-band services like Row44. The result is a service that has more bandwidth on a seat-to-seat basis than other providers feature for an entire aircraft. All A320s will be retrofitted with Fly-Fi by 2015, and all new A321s will feature Fly-Fi on delivery. A timeline has not been established for installation on the JetBlue’s Embraer 190 fleet, but the airline indicates it does plan to retrofit those aircraft.
JetBlue’s first A321 (VIDEO of flight test in Germany) is due to arrive later this week from the factory in Hamburg following the initial order of thirty airplanes placed in June of 2011. It is worth noting that the first airplanes will not have functioning LiveTV prior to late April 2014 as the system comes online. The carrier announced that they would waive change fees or give a $15 credit for passengers on these flights. The first high-density A321 flight, which does not feature the Mint premium product, will be operated between New York JFK and San Jose, PR on December 19.
Only A321s operating the above transcontinental routes will feature JetBlue’s new Mint product. Even though the bulk of the fleet will not see the new Mint cabin, the introduction of the premium service at all is a huge departure for JetBlue. The carrier has worked hard to create a populist style image, focusing on a single style of cabin and service. While other carriers have added increasingly swank front ends for premium passengers, JetBlue only added options for a few extra inches of legroom. Now that some passengers are not just more important but literally sitting in their own cloistered mini-suite the image of high quality, some have questioned where JetBlue’s priorities lie.
SEAT MAPS: A321 Transcontinental vs A321 Core vs A320 Core**
Green=Mint Orange=Even More Space Blue=Economy/Coach
JetBlue CEO David Barger was quick to reassure that the “Mint experience cannot compromise the core offering. When JetBlue introduced their then-unnamed premium product earlier this summer, many speculated that they had developed a higher-end offering to better compete with the legacy carriers who currently deploy premium products on high-value transcontinental routes. Barger says that that assumption is largely incorrect. “In a commodity business, people pay a premium to fly JetBlue.” JetBlue is catering to the “small business owner and the high-end leisure traveler” with the Mint offering, says Barger, “not corporate contracts.”
JetBlue’s premium addition to the high-value transcontinental market is yet another choice for consumers already facing a myriad of options. Other carriers on the premium routes of NYC-LA and NYC-SF have rolled out extensive premium cabin upgrades to attract new corporate accounts and business travelers. United recently rolled out a new service, while American and Delta both plan to roll out their own fresh premium cabins with lie flat seats over the next six months. Mint will be available at a comparatively dirt cheap intro price of $499, though it bumps up to only $599 after that, and tops out at $999. Initially, it appears that the Mint suites and standard seats are available at the same cost, which certainly would attract customers despite being offered on only one flight daily. When asked about the price point, Barger says the airline doesn’t “look at as ‘at what fare can we make money?’” According to their CEO, the goal is to “achieve unit revenue parity with other carriers without the complexity of legacy ops.”
Despite the risk to its image, JetBlue has argued that the change was necessary to stay in the game. In the New York City market, says Barger, you either have to “get in big time, or get out. JetBlue has chosen to be in in a major way.” There is “no doubt” that JetBlue’s Mint product can achieve unit revenue parity with legacy carriers, says Barger. For JetBlue, the “16-seat geography is worth the 40 seats we’re giving up.”
The airline is also keen not to see service falter in the core main cabin. The product is also being improved with new seats, IFE, wi-fi. “The percentage of Mint seas are small when you look throughout the entire JetBlue system. Economy passengers are receiving huge upgrades to their experience as well. Mint is not a means of replacing the economy passengers that flock to JetBlue, but rather ensure that loyal JetBlue customers are retained on select premium routes,” Barger remarked.
Strategically from a revenue standpoint the company’s goal is to achieve “unit revenue parity” with the USA legacies without all the complexities of their alliances, operations, and costs.
On a lesser note, the new branding name helps explain the addition of a prominent amount of green to the tail. The addition of the color had sent the enthusiast world into a tizzy trying to figure out what exactly it meant. And now we know.
Airchive has booked a Mint seat on the first Mint configured flight aboard JetBlue 223 on June 15, 2014 along with a return flight back on the same day in Extended Legroom. We will be reporting live from the airplane. Make sure to mark your calendars now!