Most of us aren’t flying these days, but when we do eventually get back into the swing of traveling, JetBlue wants to give us something to look forward to.
This week, JetBlue unveiled a new design for seats in its business class, Mint. Designed by mattress startup Tuft & Needle, the seats, which recline to be totally flat, are meant to make the onboard sleep experience closer to what you’d get from your home mattress.
The new seats are part of a larger overhaul of JetBlue Mint, the company’s premium offering, which is only available on some routes. The company partnered with startups to enhance different parts of the onboard experience: They created vintage-inspired noise-reducing headphones with Master & Dynamic, they curated amenity kits with wellness brand Wonderfuel, and they brought on chef Ryan Hardy of Charlie Bird to develop the menu. “We want our guests to be able to do all the things they would do at home,” says Mariya Stoyanova, JetBlue’s director of product development. “They should be able to work if they want to, or unwind while watching TV and drinking wine.”
Of course, getting good sleep is critical to feeling “at home” onboard. Stoyanova says that in focus groups, customers frequently cite sleep as their most important priority onboard; they want to wake up refreshed when they land.
When John-Thomas Marino launched Tuft & Needle in 2012, it helped kickstart a broader trend of mattress startups that shipped directly to customers’ doorsteps. Over the past eight years, the brand has gathered a lot of feedback about what customers want from their mattresses. “There are only three things that really matter to them,” he says. “Pressure relief, support, and cooling.”
Tuft & Needle tried to bring all of these things into the new JetBlue seats. The company has spent years tweaking the foam in its mattresses based on customer feedback, and it incorporated this foam into the new seats. It’s designed to accommodate the widest range of customers, whether they prefer soft or firm mattresses, and is meant to be more responsive to passengers’ movements than the previous material. In the past, when Marino traveled on Mint, he took issue with the firm leather seats. “The foam underneath the leather didn’t respond to your body,” he says. “I found I was always shifting from my right butt cheek to my left butt cheek to find a comfortable position.” The new seats directly address this issue. “This wasn’t a superficial collaboration where we just slapped each other’s logos onto products,” says Marino. “We went deep into their supply chain and industrial design.”
But Tuft & Needle also had to think differently about these seats, because while passengers will be sleeping on them, they’ll also be sitting up to work, read, or watch TV. To this end, the brand made the foam in the headrest even softer, so passengers can sink their neck and shoulders into it when they’re seated. Marino says this material will better cradle and support the head.
The Tuft & Needle team didn’t stop with the seat itself. They also considered the accessories needed for a good night’s sleep: a pillow and a blanket. Rather than the polyester filling that’s typically in airline pillows, this one uses foam that offers better support; it’s meant to be comfortable for both sleeping or sitting up. Marino is particularly proud of the blanket, which is designed so that it doesn’t fall off passengers while they’re sleeping, ensuring they stay warm throughout the flight. It can be folded down at the top, creating a little pocket to stick your arms through; when you flip it around, you can place your feet in the pocket, keeping them warm.
These new seats are set to roll out over the next year. They’ll be incorporated into the Mint cabin on flights from JFK to LAX this summer, and on JetBlue’s upcoming service to London. Eventually, the seats will be incorporated into all Mint routes.
And for the majority of JetBlue customers, who travel in economy, Stoyanova says the brand is actively working to improve the experience at the back of the plane as well. JetBlue just unveiled designs for a new economy cabin that has larger seats, fewer middle spots, larger windows, and more overhead cabin space. Stoyanova says the company will gather feedback from the new Mint seats and incorporate it into economy seats as the company continues to iterate. Marino, for his part, sees Tuft & Needle’s partnership with JetBlue as a long-term relationship. “As a startup, we’re used to iterating quickly on products,” he says. “JetBlue will get feedback from customers. We’ll take that feedback and get back to work.”