JetBlue Opens A321 Reservations but There's More to Come

US low-fare carrier JetBlue Airways has this past weekend opened reservations for its new Airbus 321-200s, but the initial three destinations do not represent the core transcontinental operation the aircraft type has been acquired to serve.  The airline has confirmed a December 19, 2013 debut for its ‘core JetBlue Experience’ version of the aircraft, a 192-seat version of the A321 which will have 150 Economy and 42 ‘Even More Space’ seats, on routes from New York to Barbados, Fort Lauderdale and San Juan.

However, it is the arrival of its ‘premium’ version of the aircraft that will get the most attention and drive change in the US domestic transcontinental market.  JetBlue has remained tight-lipped over its configuration plans for the aircraft but a recently leaked video promotion and an official filling from Airbus with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requesting a deviation from standard seating arrangements, has given some idea on its plans.

This week the carrier has now revealed a new business proposition for the carrier and how it plans to reinvent transcontinental premium travel in the US and compete with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines with the new equipment.  At the Global Business Travel Association convention in San Diego, JetBlue confirmed that following the arrival of an initial four 190-seat A321s from the end of this year, JetBlue in 2014 will introduce a new premium arrangement with 16 lie-flat seats, four of which are the private suites, and 143 core JetBlue Experience seats (Economy and ‘Even More Space’ seats).  Although this is effectively a two-class cabin it is more of a three to four class product.

The Economy section will be split between the carrier’s normal and ‘Even More Space’ seats but the Business Class offering will represent a massive deviation from the current JetBlue product.  Alongside three rows of two by two Business Class seats there will four (two rows of 1-1) single seats that are described as ‘mini Suites’ and effectively offer a further enhanced product with added privacy.

“Our customers have requested more premium options on our transcontinental flights and we listened.  We decided to enter the premium transcontinental market in a way that only JetBlue can: with an intense focus on offering the best possible product for the best possible price.”

Dave Barger
Chief Executive Officer, JetBlue Airways

According to JetBlue this version of the aircraft will initially be used on flights between New York’s John F Kennedy Airport and the west coast markets Los Angeles and San Francisco from the second quarter of 2014 but eventually on routes from the US west coast to Boston and Fort Lauderdale.  American Airlines will also be offering flat-bed seats in both First Class and Business Class on the A321s it will use on similar routes while Delta and United Airlines have flat-bed Business Class seats.

"Our customers have requested more premium options on our transcontinental flights and we listened," said Dave Barger, Chief Executive Officer, JetBlue Airways.  "We decided to enter the premium transcontinental market in a way that only JetBlue can: with an intense focus on offering the best possible product for the best possible price."

The new lie-flat seat, created in a partnership with Northern Ireland-based Thompson Aero Seating, will be displayed in a unique 2-1 configuration.  Rows 1, 3 and 5 will offer 2-by-2 seating, and rows 2 and 4 will offer private suites, with one seat on each side of the aisle.

"Transcontinental routes have had high premium fares we believe we can beat," added Barger.  "By offering our own, unique seats and enriched service elements that will include some soon-to-be-announced partnerships, we are creating a one-of-a-kind experience that will serve this market in a way only JetBlue can."

JetBlue expects to increase frequencies on the New York – Los Angeles and New York – San Francisco routes with new A321s from next year to offer even more options, convenience and comfort for customers.  There will be a dedicated sub-fleet of eleven aircraft initially used for the two core transcontinental routes but as suggested earlier, additional markets are possible, based on customer response and demand for more service.

"We expect to invigorate the market with our competitive price," said Barger.  "Building on our original strategy of serving the under-served with a unique product and service-focused culture, we believe this new product will be very popular with current coast-to-coast customers, and may motivate new customers to choose JetBlue."

“We expect to invigorate the market with our competitive price.  Building on our original strategy of serving the under-served with a unique product and service-focused culture, we believe this new product will be very popular with current coast-to-coast customers, and may motivate new customers to choose JetBlue.”

Dave Barger
Chief Executive Officer, JetBlue Airways

On an industry-wide basis, revenue from the New York JFK - Los Angeles and New York JFK - San Francisco markets is more than 50 per cent 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 shows.

The decision to place the larger capacity ‘core JetBlue Experience’ A321s on the routes to Barbados, Fort Lauderdale and San Juan is no real surprise – Fort Lauderdale and San Juan are hubs in their own rights while JetBlue is one of only a few carriers to provide direct air services between the US and Barbados, a market that is particularly busy from December.

While around 988,000 bi-directional O&D passengers are flying between New York and San Juan each year and approximately 845,000 between New York and Fort Lauderdale, demand on the two transcontinental markets to be initially served by the new ‘premium’ configured aircraft is on another level.  In 2012 an estimated 2.32 million bi-directional O&D passengers flew between New York and Los Angeles and around 1.55 million passengers flew between New York and San Francisco. 

In the table below we look in greater detail at these two transcontinental markets and the breakdown of O&D demand by airline on each of the routes.  JetBlue Airways is currently the fourth largest carrier in each market with a 15.4 per cent share of the O&D demand on New York – Los Angeles and 11.6 per cent share of O&D traffic on New York – San Francisco in 2012.

SCHEDULED AIR PASSENGER DEMAND ON DOMESTIC US TRANSCONTINENTAL ROUTES (bi-directional O&D passengers; 2012)

New York (JFK) – Los Angeles (LAX)

New York (JFK) – San Francisco (SFO)

Rank

Airline

O&D Pax

% Share

Rank

Airline

O&D Pax

% Share

1

American Airlines (AA)

685,407

29.5 %

1

Delta Air Lines (DL)

369,994

23.9 %

2

Virgin America (VX)

518,127

22.3 %

2

American Airlines (AA)

354,499

22.9 %

3

Delta Air Lines (DL)

445,534

19.2 %

3

Virgin America (VX)

348,474

22.5 %

4

JetBlue Airways (B6)

358,542

15.4 %

4

JetBlue Airways (B6)

180,578

11.6 %

5

United Airlines (UA)

94,820

4.1 %

5

United Airlines (UA)

111,945

7.2 %

TOTAL

2,325,317

-

TOTAL

1,551,114

-

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