Last updated: 11:30 AM ET, Thu April 21 2016

Is JetBlue MINT Causing a Premium Cabin War?

Airlines & Airports | Paul Thompson | April 21, 2016

Is JetBlue MINT Causing a Premium Cabin War?

PHOTO: A seat in JetBlue's MINT class. (photo courtesy of JetBlue)

The view when looking forward from Economy Class can often be pretty bleak, and it’s unfortunate that things aren’t improving much for passengers in that part of the plane. But for those with the money or frequent flyer status, riding up front may be getting even better, thanks to a battle among carriers, fighting for market share on America’s longest transcontinental routes.

Until just a few years ago, the First Class experience on most domestic flights amounted to a wide recliner-style seat, with free food and drinks. JetBlue recently threw down the gauntlet with the expansion of its popular MINT class service from Boston and JFK to Seattle and San Diego, from JFK to Las Vegas, St Lucia and St Maarten, from Fort Lauderdale to LAX and SFO, and Boston to Aruba.

READ MORE: JetBlue's Cabin Redesign: What Does It Mean for the Industry?

Twelve destinations will now have access to MINT class. All MINT class is served by JetBlue’s Airbus A321 fleet, which are some of the newest planes and wider than its market competitor, the Boeing’s 737. The extra cabin width means seats can be a tiny bit wider, even in economy.

JetBlue has benefitted from experimenting with MINT by introducing it in nontraditional locations like the Caribbean stops, along with the fact that it have a fleet of planes fitted with this service, unlike other airlines where it can be potluck.

Ideally, JetBlue’s move will force its trans-con competitors to step up their game as well.

That’s not to say that some airlines aren’t already making that happen. United was actually first to dip its toe into this type of service in 2004, with an offering called P.S. (Premium Service). P.S. was offered exclusively from JFK to LAX and SFO until last fall, when United stopped flying to JFK completely. The service is still offered from Newark, but a lot of flyers avoid Newark if at all possible. The three destinations for P.S. isn’t really much to talk about.

Delta does fly to JFK, and has compensated by swapping in some of its international aircraft on the longest domestic routes. However, your experience can be hit-and-miss depending on the type on plane you’re on. Delta’s fleet is so diverse, that you may fly on one of those international wide body planes going one direction, and a thirty-year-old MD-88 going the other way — and that experience is drastically different.

You have to be careful and pay attention to your aircraft type while booking your flights. Delta’s own website even has a disclaimer acknowledging the fact that not all of the carrier’s First Class experiences are created equal.

American Airlines is JetBlue’s closest competitor in the domestic First Class niche. It too has a sub-fleet of Airbus A321s, set up with a First Class equivalent to its international Business Class seat — which is very, very nice!

The A321T, as they’re called (the T stands for “Trans-continental”) also offers a Business Class, which is something JetBlue does not have. But to JetBlue’s credit, the lack of Business Class allows them to fit in more Economy seats, which lowers the metric known as the “cost per seat mile.” A lower cost per seat mile means the flight is operated more profitably, which makes JetBlue a winner once more. They can offer MINT at a lower price than American offers their First Class, and still make a profit.

READ MORE: JetBlue Announces Major Expansion in Fort Lauderdale

With JetBlue’s bold expansion, MINT — a true, premium domestic product — may force the hand of other airlines to make offerings that match or even exceed MINT. Not that MINT needs to be improved, but as with the rest of the airline industry, competition leads to innovation and an improved passenger experience for all, which is always a good thing. 

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