With vaccinations up and quarantine barriers hopefully going down, JetBlue plans to launch transatlantic service this summer. The airline will fly its new Airbus A321LR craft to London from East Coast cities like New York or Boston. The pitch? They may be smaller planes—but even coach passengers will get upgraded service in comfortable seats with 32” of legroom.
JetBlue is limiting risk by deploying a handful of economical easy-to-fill planes. Seating capacity on a JetBlue A321LR is about 160; filling an Airbus A380 requires three times as many paying passengers. Still, competitors will not welcome a new entrant on the lucrative transatlantic route with open arms.
(Full disclosure: I own stock in American, Southwest and JetBlue.)
How will JetBlue stand out from all the other airlines hungry for international revenue? Of course, JetBlue is pushing a key revenue-generator, its popular and typically well-priced Mint Business Class seating. The ‘Transatlantic Mint Experience’ features 24 private suites, each with sliding door and custom seat cushions by Tuft & Needle.
But JetBlue is also doing something few competitors brag about by offering an enhanced “Core” seating and service experience. “Core” is better known as “Coach” or “Economy.” JetBlue says the idea is to “bring a whole new level of service and comfort to customers who want a great experience at a low fare.” This may intrigue passengers all too used to narrow, uncomfortable and jammed coach accommodations.
JetBlue declares that transatlantic flights “will feature the most legroom in coach and seats that are wider than those found on most wide-body aircraft.” The airline says that 114 Collins Meridian core seats will have an expanded width of 18.4 inches – wider than most seats found on wide-body aircraft.
The seats are said to have enhanced cushion comfort,, with adjustable headrests made with Ultraleather, a soft, breathable vegan leather material. Contoured seatbacks give more knee space, with mesh pockets on the seat pockets designed for water bottles and loose items. Above all, easy-to-reach in-seat power, with AC and USB-C ports, is promised.
But with a 10.1 inch, 1080P high-definition screen at every seat, you will not need to depend on a phone or iPad for inflight entertainment. You can watch live TV or a selection of recorded TV shows and movies, (including HBO and Showtime shows), or restlessly roam the Web with free, unlimited high-speed Wi-Fi.
If you want something bigger than JetBlue’s 32 inches of legroom, the airline is offering four rows of Even More Space seating with up to six inches more legroom. No doubt you’ll have to pay ‘even more’ but for taller folks the trade-off might be worth it. Seating areas have edged sidewalls to provide additional shoulder room and larger windows for increased space and better views.
JetBlue is apparently doing all it can to show that a ‘smaller’ transcontinental plane can still be good flying experience. The Airspace powered by Airbus interior, featuring larger overhead bins, customized lighting and a design that gives the cabin a wide body feel. And if you have withdrawal symptoms from the NY Metro or the Underground, the four lavatories feature subway tile patterns.
Just as economy seating has been nothing to boast about, the food in coach has historically struggled to reach TV-dinner levels. But JetBlue says its partnership with New York-based restaurant Dig provides customizable hot meal options featuring responsibly sourced, seasonal ingredients. These include “proteins, vegetables and grains mindfully sourced” in part from minority and women-run farms.
Customers can pick from three main selections including a protein or vegetable, with hot and cold sides. Entrees include roasted chicken thigh over a base of brown rice with herbs, or spiced eggplant over coconut cauliflower quinoa. Sides include Dig’s famous mac and cheese.
If your flight leaves in the morning, you get a mixed berry bread pudding or citrus salad with honey. Core customers will also get a self-serve grab & go snack basket, and complimentary soft drinks, coffee, and tea. And in a welcome return to post-COVID civilization, beer, wine and liquor will be available.
“We know all too well the pain points of international flying – the dreaded center section, the ‘choice’ of assembly-line chicken or beef, and the lack of connectivity,” said Jayne O’Brien, head of marketing and loyalty, JetBlue. “JetBlue is ready to change all that with our take on transatlantic travel where you are well taken care of and fully connected if you want to be.” She added, “Great food doesn’t have to be limited to the premium cabin.”
Many details, including fares, schedules and which London airport will be served have yet to be announced. But if JetBlue can deliver on what it is promising, the new entrant to flying across the ‘Pond’ may be a formidable competitor indeed.