JetBlue adding suites with doors on transcons?!

Back in March I posted about JetBlue’s announcement at an investor’s meeting that they’d be adding premium seating on their transcontinental flights between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco sometime next year.

JetBlue already offers “Even More Space” seating, which I’d say is almost on par with the first class products offered by many airlines domestically. So my first thought was that maybe they would offer a product similar to that of European airlines in business class, where they block the middle seat and have an enhanced meal service. That would make sense, since it would allow them a lot of flexibility in terms of meeting demand for their premium product.

Boy, was I off. Way off. Via APEX, JetBlue seems to have totally different plans:

“The cabin proposed for the Jet Blue Airlines A321 (U.S. operator) is a two class layout, with 16 business class seats and 143 economy class seats (159 passengers),” says Airbus.

“The Business Class includes 4 single seats that are ‘mini-suites’ types. These mini-suites consist in a seat with surrounding furniture’s, intending to provide privacy to the occupants. Typically, the complete closure of the single mini-suites is possible by means of a sliding element, moving parallel to the aircraft longitudinal axis.”

I had to read that about a dozen times before I believed my eyes. So it seems JetBlue plans on installing 16 business class seats, four of which will be mini-suites with doors. I was first shocked when I read they’d have 16 business class seats, but even more shocked when I read that they’d have two types of business class.

So if JetBlue follows through with this they’ll probably have the most premium product in the market, even better than American’s A321s. It’s a bit ironic, because they’re going from having the least “premium” product in the market to potentially having the most premium product, while United eliminates first class on the route altogether.

But I can’t help but think they’re missing the mark here and should stick to the core of what they do well. Southwest, JetBlue, etc., are doing well because they run a lean, consistent operation. Conversely, Virgin America kind of tries to go after all parts of the market, and they still haven’t turned a profit.

The thing is that even if JetBlue did have the best premium transcontinental product, I don’t think they could make it work profitably. On one hand they have an opportunity to steal market share from United, which is cutting first class on the route, but at the same time could JetBlue ever pick up a Hollywood contract, if for no other reason than their reputation (not that they have a bad reputation, but just not one for a premium airline)? They don’t have a lounge or anything, so unless they add that they’re really still not competitive.

In the back of my mind I wonder whether this has something to do with JetBlue’s partnerships with some premium airlines, like Emirates, Lufthansa, Qatar, and Singapore. Do they think they’ll pick up traffic from passengers connecting in New York? I can’t imagine that’s the case when Emirates, Lufthansa, and Singapore already fly directly to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and I have to imagine Qatar would still choose American over JetBlue for codesharing to the west coast given that they’ll join OneWorld soon.

To sum it up, WTF JetBlue? Can anyone make more sense of this than I can?

Comments

  1. “Can anyone make more sense of this than I can?” I bet Seth Miller could. Way to quote his story without really crediting him. (Yeah, I know you linked to the apex entry, but he is a fellow boardingarea blogger, would it really be that hard to give him a tip of the hat?)

  2. @ downhillcrasher — I linked to his post on it, not sure what more I should do? If I find something somewhere else I’ll either link to the post or tip the hat to them. Doing both is just redundant.

  3. I can’t wait to see this product! Though I live in Florida, now, and usually fly MCO-HPN/LGA/JFK, if I still lived in NY, I’d be thrilled to fly B6 in a good premium product to LAX (or SFO, though I did that less often.)

    Lounge or no lounge, B6’s terminal at JFK is my favorite in the country, especially for food and drink, their on-board personnel are generally fantastic, and they’ve got a caché that makes them desirable, even for a Hollywood-type.

    Their only drawback is the FF program, which has so few international redemption options. If they are able to expand their reciprocal relationship with AAdvantage, which their CEO wants to do (http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2013-03-04/jetblue-ceo-wants-closer-ties-with-american) then it would be a no-brainer for me.

  4. They want to serve the most prestigious guests connecting from Emirates I guess! 😉

  5. keep in mind that JETBLUE is 20% owned by Lufthansa. and its main hubs in NY and Boston are both key premium markets. so it totally makes sense. additionally, these specialty aircraft are running equivalence of ‘Jetblue P.S.’ service on special routes, not fleet wide. so i think it makes sense.

  6. If I’m paying for a ticket I fly almost exclusively Jetblue and don’t hesitate to pay for extra room if the load if full or it’s a long flight. I like their product but suites? As you mention they don’t have lounges, the FAs are capable but more SWA-like than solicitous, and their flights sure have a lot of kids and noise sometimes – not something I associate with a premium flight experience. Terra Chips are tasty, but wonder how they’ll handle food/booze for the suites.

  7. With the number of seats being discussed for the premium product it wouldn’t be hard to fully contain it in the “mini-cabin” at the front of the A321; it should take up about the same amount of space as the 10 F seats AA is putting in.

    Beyond that, an AirSpace lounge is going in at JetBlue’s terminal in JFK T5 right now (it was supposed to be done already but, like many construction projects, is delayed a bit). That covers at least part of the lounge situation. I’m sure they can contract out the service in SFO or LAX if desired.

    As for the traffic target, I think they’re looking at O/D passengers, not connections. Just like what AA and UA are trying to serve.

  8. Wouldn’t that make it 3 class really? You want to be able to hold back the suite seats for a premium. There is a big opening to capture the market for those that cant pay for a private jet but willing to pay for privacy and the frequency of commercial flights. The risk is you leave a chunk of empty space on flights you cant sell the suites.

  9. Until B6 gets some interline agreements to cover their arse in the case of irrops, nothing else matters much.

    After one flight cancellation, I’ve been told by B6 that ‘we can’t get you out (of BOS) until Sunday’ which isn’t very useful when you’re just doing a weekend trip!

    A buddy of mine got screwed by them out of SF once. They cancelled the flight and told him it would be 3 days before they could get him home. He said that wasn’t good enough, so they gave him his money back. OK, that’s nice, but then what? He ended up having to buy an F ticket on NW.

    B6: a fine airline to fly…. when the sun is shining.

    Obviously, all this was 3-4 years ago. Has anything changed?

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