JetBlue will roll-out its first “premium transcontinental” business class product on its New York JFK to Los Angeles route from June.
The fully-flat seating will first appear on the low-cost carrier’s 0930 departure from JFK to LAX on June 15. On October 26, it will debut on the airline’s San Francisco route.
By the end of the year, all seven daily flights between JFK and Los Angeles will have Mint, as will all five JFK to SFO flights by the end of the first quarter of 2015.
Installed on the front five rows of the carrier’s A321 aircraft, the 16 fully-flat seats, at six-foot eight-inches long and 22.3 inches wide, will be the first business class product to offer some passengers the option of having a fully-enclosed private suite thanks to a sliding door for extra privacy.
JetBlue president Robin Hayes said: “I am willing to say it is going to be the best business class product in the country. And at least for now, the mini suites won’t cost any extra.”
The product will be configured 2-2/1-1, with rows one, three and five offering 2-2 seating, and rows two and four fitted with 1-1 private suites, one each side of the aisle. (Watch a demo video above).
Other features will include adjustable air cushions, a massage function, a 15-inch entertainment screen, a “wake me up for service” indicator, men’s and women’s amenity kits by Birchbox, and super-fast wifi internet access at no extra charge (for now).
Hayes said: “We are using a satellite system that delivers up to 12 megabits per second per customer, so that’s much faster than 3G and pretty close to 4G-type speeds. It is on 24 or 25 aircraft now – we are rolling it out as we speak.”
Mint passengers will also get: a pre-departure drink, followed by a cocktail and an amuse bouche once cruising; a menu by New York restaurant Saxon + Parole featuring a choice of five tapas-style meals (customer select three) plus dessert; wine and other alcoholic drinks; and fresh coffee made by “the first purpose built cappuccino machine for a US airline”. There will also be a snack station.
Mint front row
What was the thinking behind launching Mint? Hayes said: “We had a segment of customers that flew us up and down the West Coast network but they flew with other airlines across the country, so when we drilled down into that, we found we needed to upgrade our product.
“We then asked how can we reinvent the business model to offer a really compelling product but at a much lower price point. If people are paying US$2,000 a ticket we think that’s too much, we think the general public are getting gouged on New York to California.
“So we launched Mint fares at US$599 one way, though now they are US$699. We think at that price point we can stimulate a new market – there have been a lot of people paying US$700 for coach fares and now they can fly business.”
Hayes explained that it is the introduction of new A321 aircraft — its current fleet is only made up of A320s and Embraer 190s — that “has made it possible”.
He said: “We are taking a new delivery of nine planes, and using that extra bit of real estate between door one and door two to turn it into a premium cabin.
“Even then we still have 143 core economy seats, and the good news is we haven’t just upgraded the premium experience but the rest of the aircraft as well. There is a new economy seat, we have protected the extra legroom, we have a new TV system going in with larger screens and 100 channels of live TV.”
He adds: “We take a unique position in the US in that we are not a network carrier and we are not an ultra low-cost carrier. We are serving the underserved – we are not targeting the platinum-status road warriors with a million miles, they get very well taken care of by the network carriers.
“And we are not servicing the ultra price-sensitive person who will choose Ryanair or Spirit over anyone else because they are much cheaper. Instead, we serve the market in the middle, which is huge.”
Mint private suite
Last month, JetBlue announced that it was expanding its codeshare agreement with Japan Airlines from the end of March, with routes including US domestic services such as San Francisco to Austin and New York to Buffalo, along with Japan to US schedules between Tokyo Narita and New York, Tokyo Haneda and San Francisco, and Tokyo Narita and Boston.
Hayes said: “We have 32 airline partners now and we have codeshares with a handful of them. Our growth in Boston has been really significant and it has allowed us to encourage international airlines to look at the city in a different way.
“Boston is the second-largest market that we fly after JFK and a lot of airlines like JAL, Turkish, Hainan Airlines and Emirates are coming in because they can partner with us for onward feed. We will continue to deepen our codeshare partnerships – last year we generated US$120 million in revenue through them.”
What JetBlue isn’t planning to do is to join any of the airline alliances. Why?
“We like being independent, we don’t take sides,” said Hayes. He added: “We have bilateral partnerships with other airlines, some of which are deeper than others and we treasure those, but we are much more interested on the right bilateral discussions, as joining an alliance would impact our relationships with our partner airlines in other alliances.”
Hayes concluded: “We have grown to six focus cities, New York, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, LA and San Juan, and will have 203 aircraft in our fleet by the end of the year. I think the US industry is in very good shape at the moment.
“The economy has recovered somewhat since the crash, but more importantly in the consolidation that has been taking place — Delta and Northwest, American and US, United and Continental — and that has taken a lot of capacity out of the market.
“We are all making money, and if the economy continues to improve and energy prices don’t have any surprises the industry should have a good few years ahead of it.”