JetBlue seeks to set a new standard in transatlantic coach service

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With vaccinations on the rise and quarantine barriers hopefully JetBlue plans to launch transatlantic service this summer. The airline will fly its new Airbus A321LR to London from East Coast cities like New York or Boston. Field? They may be smaller planes, but even coach passengers will enjoy improved service in comfortable seats with 32 inches of legroom.

JetBlue mitigates risk by deploying a handful of economy planes that are easy to fill. The seating capacity on a JetBlue A321LR is approximately 160; filling an Airbus A380 requires three times as many paying passengers. Yet competitors will not welcome a new entrant to the lucrative transatlantic route with open arms.

(Full disclosure: I own US, Southwest, and JetBlue stocks.)

How will JetBlue stand out from all other airlines hungry for international revenue? Of course, JetBlue is pushing a key revenue generator, its popular and generally affordable TBEN business class seats. The “Transatlantic TBEN Experience” includes 24 private suites, each with sliding door and custom Tuft & Needle seat cushions.

But JetBlue also does something few competitors boast of by offering an enhanced seating experience and “Core” service. “Core” is better known as “Coach” or “Economy”. JetBlue says the idea is “to bring a whole new level of service and convenience to customers who want a great experience at a low price.” This can intrigue passengers too accustomed to cramped, uncomfortable and crowded coach accommodations.

JetBlue says transatlantic flights “will offer the most legroom in coaches and wider seats than those found on most jumbo jets.” The airline says 114 base Collins Meridian seats will have an enlarged width of 18.4 inches – wider than most seats found on large-body planes.

The seats are said to have improved cushion comfort, with adjustable headrests made from Ultraleather, a soft and breathable vegan leather material. Contoured seat backs provide more knee room, with mesh pockets on the seat pockets designed for water bottles and loose items. Above all, an easy-to-reach seat power supply with AC and USB-C ports is promised.

But with a 10.1-inch 1080P high-definition screen in every seat, you won’t need to rely on a phone or iPad for in-flight entertainment. You can watch live TV or a selection of recorded TV shows and movies (including HBO and Showtime), or browse the web endlessly with free, unlimited high-speed Wi-Fi.

If you want something bigger than JetBlue’s 32 inches of legroom, the airline offers four rows of Even More Space seats with up to six inches of extra legroom. There is no doubt that you will have to pay “ even more ”, but for the bigger ones, the compromise could be worth it. The seats have lined side walls 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 a good flying experience. Airbus interior-powered airspace, with larger overhead compartments, custom lighting, and a design that gives the cabin a wide-bodied feel. And if you have NYC or subway withdrawal symptoms, all four toilets feature subway tile patterns.

Just as economy seats weren’t to brag about, the food in the Coach has always struggled to reach TV dinner standards. But JetBlue says its partnership with New York-based restaurant Dig offers customizable hot meal options made with responsibly sourced, seasonal ingredients. These include “proteins, vegetables and grains, partly sourced from minority and female-owned farms.

Customers can choose from three main selections, including a protein or a vegetable, with hot and cold sides. Main courses include roasted chicken thigh on a herb brown rice base or spicy eggplant over coconut cauliflower quinoa. Accompaniments include Dig’s famous Mac and Cheese.

If your flight leaves in the morning, you get a red berry bread pudding or a citrus salad with honey. Senior customers will also receive a basket of self-service take-out snacks 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 weak spots of international flights – the dreaded mid-section, the ‘choice’ of chicken or beef on the assembly line and the lack of connectivity,” said Jayne O’Brien, Head of Marketing and loyalty at JetBlue. “JetBlue is poised to change all that with our vision of transatlantic travel where you are well taken care of and fully connected if you so choose.” She added, “Great food doesn’t have to be limited to the premium cabin.”

Many details, including fares, timetables and which London airport will be served to, have yet to be announced. But if JetBlue can deliver on its promises, the newcomer to crossing the “pond” may well be a formidable competitor.

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