At a time of fraying patience with budget air travel, JetBlue has become one of America's best-loved airlines by offering every passenger the same deal: Free snacks, leather seats with TVs, a solid design sensibility, and a sense of humor.
Now they're taking the brand upmarket with a bang, chasing the $273 billion business traveler market. Beginning in 2014, JetBlue will take delivery of a set of A321s Airbuses from Hamburg, Germany, with 16 lie-flat business class seats, including four that come with slideable doors to create private "seat suites." All the seats will have a massage function, cushions that inflate to your desired firmness, aisle access, and 15-inch widescreen TVs. Initially they will fly just two routes, JFK-LAX and JFK-SFO.
Announcing the new business class at the Global Business Travel Association convention in San Diego, CEO Dave Barger promised (relatively) good deals. "Transcontinental routes have had high premium fares we believe we can beat," he said. The company notes that 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, across the industry. The two routes carry about 6,000 passengers a day.
Business class in general is the most competitive and biggest profit center for the global airline industry. Newer carriers like Emirates and Singapore have set off a global competition in design for creature comforts. Custom-made seats can range from $250,000 to $500,000 to design and install.
But JetBlue has built its brand on populism, so it has some tricky maneuvering ahead as it stretches for luxury. At the same time that they unveiled the new seats, they also announced a sop to the commoners: Wi-Fi and outlets are coming for every passenger.