JetBlue has pulled back the curtain on its new Airbus A321LR Mint business class seats, and they'll no doubt become a new benchmark for the future single-aisle jets of Qantas and Virgin Australia.
Not only is every seat a suite with its own sliding door, but the front row – the prized seats 1A and 1F – boast an ever larger footprint to become what JetBlue has dubbed the Mint Studio.
The seats will spearhead JetBlue's assault on the competitive trans-Atlantic market in the third quarter of this year, with 22 Mint Suites and two Mint Studios crowning a fleet of new Airbus A321LR jets which will connect New York and Boston with London.
However, they'll also adorn several factory-fresh Airbus A321neo jets which will dart between New York and Los Angeles from June (with 14 suites and two studios).
JetBlue, which has vowed to undercut "obscene" business-class fares, is betting on a recovery later this year spurred by virus testing requirements and expanding vaccination efforts.
"Demand changes quite quickly overnight when case counts come down and travel restrictions are lifted," JetBlue Chief Operating Officer Joanna Geraghty said in an interview.
JetBlue remains in talks to secure "the right slots at the right airport at the right time," she said, referring to authorisation to operate at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports.
"Mint was an idea to make premium travel across the U.S. less stuffy and more affordable, and its performance has exceeded even our most optimistic expectations of going beyond New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco," Geraghty says.
"We put our heart into this redesign of Mint and were inspired by our original vision of offering customers an exceptional experience at a lower fare – which is what JetBlue is all about."
As previously tipped, JetBlue's second-generation Mint is based on the revolutionary Vantage Solo seat from Thompson Aero and Factorydesign.
JetBlue chose the original Vantage for its game-changing Airbus A321 Mint domestic routes, turning the solo 'throne' seat on every second row into a suite with a sliding door.
(The same Vantage seat will appear on Singapore Airlines' forthcoming Boeing 737 MAX jets, and was also rumoured to be the business class "quantum leap" which former Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti planned for Virgin's 737 MAX fleet).
JetBlue Mint Suite
This time around, JetBlue's Airbus A321LR business travellers will find that every seat gets a sliding privacy door.
Those snug cocoons are appointed with a 17-inch video screen, generous bench and storage space (including nooks for laptops, handbags and shoes) plus wireless charging alongside AC/USB sockets.
"From the moment back in 2014 when we realised there the opportunity to create a bespoke, lie-flat, direct aisle business class seat, optimised for narrow-body aircraft, we were confident it would fly one day," reflects Factorydesign.
"We are delighted that Thompson Aero shared our vision and brought Solo to market, and excited that JetBlue have selected it for their transatlantic service."
JetBlue Mint Studio
JetBlue also embraced 'business plus' or 'front row first class' approach championed by Thompson and Factorydesign, annexing the additional room between the first seat and the bulkhead wall (which is often given over to additional cabin storage) to create the more spacious, more premium and no doubt more expensive Mint Studio.
It doesn't hurt to think of it as a downsized version of Etihad's Airbus A380 Residence, and it's no accident that JetBlue tapped London-based Acumen Design – who helped craft The Residence, along with Etihad's first class Apartment suites – to bring not just the Mint Suites but the Mint Studio to life.
Each Mint Studio boasts an extra side table and an integrated personal closet with a vanity mirror, while the video screen has been upsized to 22 inches.
There's also a guest seat for sharing an inflight meeting, meal or cocktail with another Mint guest; when it's time to catch some shut-eye, that 'sofa seat' drops to become part of the flat-bed surface.
"JetBlue has a long-standing reputation for being bold when it comes to innovation and putting its customers at the heart of its brand, which was key in enabling us to reimagine the single-aisle premium experience," says Daniel Clucas, Senior Designer at Acumen Design.
"By reclaiming the unused space at the front row, Mint Studio offers customers an enhanced flying experience – one which will quickly become the gold standard for narrow-body business class."
Acumen also evolved the Mint 2.0 cabin "to bring a sense of New York’s signature urban style to the skies."
"The interior design evokes a distinctive residential feel: using subtle mood-lighting; soft textured suede wrapped around the seat; a denim-style carpet; and a combination of stylised concrete and wood finishes to create an inviting and relaxed space."
JetBlue also partnered with Tuft & Needle to reshape the Mint sleep experience with those long and often red-eye trans-Atlantic flights in mind.
"Every Mint seat is layered with Tuft & Needle’s proprietary T&N Adaptive foam and a breathable cover to create a cool and comfortable sleep experience unlike anything in the sky," the airline claims.
"The seat complements additional sleep amenities developed in partnership with the brand, including a convertible blanket with a built-in foot pocket, a memory foam lined pillow with a pillowcase, and a snooze kit with a matching eye mask and earplugs."
An opportunity for Qantas?
There's little doubt that Qantas will be paying close attention to Mint when its own extended-rage Airbus A321XLR jets begin to arrive around 2024-2025.
Although the order for up to 36 of the long-legged aircraft was placed by the Qantas Group, which encompasses current A321 stalwart Jetstar, group CEO Alan Joyce has left the door open to the A321XLRs joining the red-tailed fleet for flights into Asia.
"It can fly routes like Cairns-Tokyo or Melbourne-Singapore, which existing narrow-bodies can’t, and that changes the economics of lots of potential routes into Asia to make them not just physically possible but financially attractive," Joyce remarked when the Airbus deal was inked in June 2019.
“We’ll take a decision closer to the time about which parts of the Group will use these aircraft, but there is plenty of potential across Qantas and Jetstar."
This continent-striding version of the single-aisle A320neo family will carry around 200 passengers in a two-class configuration and is expected to shake up and reshape trans-Atlantic travel, although the same impacts could extend to the Asia-Pacific region.
Another card in the A321XLR's hand: it could open up non-stop flights to and even between smaller cities which couldn't justify larger twin-aisle jets such as the Airbus A330 or Boeing 787 series, and which would otherwise require a stopover.
These direct 'thin' routes would prove a value time- and hassle-saver for business traveller, although passenger comfort will come to the fore: most Australians have spent 90 minutes flying in the single-aisle Boeing 737 between Sydney and Melbourne or Sydney and Brisbane, but typical A321XLR routes could span eight to nine hours.
Airbus will fit the A321XLR with the same Airspace cabin as the twin-aisle A330neo and A350 jets – a package combining a quieter cabin, LED lighting and larger overhead storage bins.
However, the cabin of an A320-series jet is typically pressurised to the equivalent of 7,000-8,000 feet above sea level, compared to an equivalent 6,000 feet for modern jets such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787.
That lower effective cabin altitude minimises flight fatigue and plays a part in reducing the impact of jetlag.