JetBlue shows Qantas, Virgin how to do single-aisle business class

Privacy doors, direct aisle access, plenty of space for working and relaxing: JetBlue's A321LR business class is a game-changer.

By David Flynn, February 2 2021
JetBlue shows Qantas, Virgin how to do single-aisle business class

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's new Airbus A321LR Mint business class.
JetBlue's new Airbus A321LR Mint business class.

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 2.0

"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's Airbus A321LR Mint business class is based on the Vantage Solo platform.
JetBlue's Airbus A321LR Mint business class is based on the Vantage Solo platform.

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.

JetBlue's original Vantage-Mint business class alternated between open seats and private suites.
JetBlue's original Vantage-Mint business class alternated between open seats and private suites.
JetBlue's original Vantage-Mint business class alternated between open seats and private suites.
JetBlue's original Vantage-Mint business class alternated between open seats and private suites.

(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.

JetBlue's new Airbus A321LR Mint Suite.
JetBlue's new Airbus A321LR Mint Suite.

"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.

JetBlue's new Airbus A321LR Mint Studio.
JetBlue's new Airbus A321LR 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's new Airbus A321LR Mint Studio.
JetBlue's new Airbus A321LR Mint Studio.

"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.

Vantage Solo conjures up better ways to use the first row of business class.
Vantage Solo conjures up better ways to use the first row of business class.

"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.

Snug as a bug in a five-star rug: bedding down in JetBlue's Airbus A321LR Mint cabin.
Snug as a bug in a five-star rug: bedding down in JetBlue's Airbus A321LR Mint cabin.

"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.

Get from A to B with plenty of Zzzz: JetBlue's Tuft & Needle sleep kit.
Get from A to B with plenty of Zzzz: JetBlue's Tuft & Needle sleep kit.

"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.

Qantas sees plenty of potential for the Airbus A321XLR.
Qantas sees plenty of potential for the Airbus A321XLR.

"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.

The Airbus A321XLR has long range and high hopes.
The Airbus A321XLR has long range and high hopes.

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.

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

14 Mar 2017

Total posts 154

To be honest, (with the exception of that front row) they look a little like Air New Zealand's coffin business class. No usable windows, no knee room, TV on a stupid angle, no elbow room on one side. I'd take PE over this.

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 Jul 2018

Total posts 35

The TV monitor swivels to suit your angle.

These suites remind me a bit of Cathay Pacific's first generation business class, remember those, with the high walls, which people nick-named 'cubicle class' and sometimes 'coffin class'? Thankfully these Mint Suites are not anywhere near as confining, because they get wider and 'open up' towards the aisle.  I think Qantas would be very wise to do something like this for its A321XLRs, including the front row, then they can actually have a 'mini first class' experience LOL. But seriously this is what you will want flying a single-aisle from Sydney to Hong Kong or Tokyo for example.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 635

Qantas ? SYD-HKG or SYD-HND will not see these frames see the light of day, if QF is smart. Both destinations ex SYD have widebody service on these routes and a narrow-bodied would not be popular. for that reason. Same for BNE. Seven to ten hours on a narrow body is not how Australians travel, unless it is an underserved route or there is little alternative such as low passenger demand.

Where you are likely to see them regularly are ADL-SIN or BKK, MEL-SIN, CNS-SIN, HKG or TYO, DRW to anywhere, and perhaps PER-SIN or BKK. A couple of other options might be east coast to KUL, which QF seems perennially loathe to serve,  as well as SYD/MEL/BNE to Port Moresby. I could also see them as being somewhat useful /popular on the SYD/BNE/MEL to Pacific islands dominion. They could also be useful for MNL, TPE and certain Vietnamese cities as well as certain routes out of OOL.

Jetstar ? Yes, they would be highly useful for the high frequency, high density, bucket and sandals brigade into Bali, where there is demand for cashed up leisure travellers in J but where a dedicated business market is not so relevant. Multiple A320NEO's / 321's could increase frequency and free up one or two of the JQ B787-8's.

Virgin ? I could easily see this being Virgin's 'saviour' fit-out on the MAX 10 - but not on an Airbus frame. Cheaper than buying or leasing B787-9's and would cover all the relatively close regional overseas (NZ and Pacific) routes for the initial revival of overseas services. Of course, it won't help SYD/MEL/BNE to LAX / SFO or TYO, but would happily deliver passengers into SIN for hookup with international partners such as SQ.

UA

09 Mar 2016

Total posts 56

Last time I looked MEL-SIN on QF and SQ was always pretty heavily loaded on 330, 350 and 380. Post-CoVID might change that but I can't imagine 320XLR being suitable for that route.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Jan 2015

Total posts 598

SQ operate up to 5 flights a day on widebody...imagine if QF come along with some A321 on the route lol

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 912

I'd be very surprised if VA2 is particularly interested.  Their mindset is quite different from the Borghetti era and I doubt they see the value in a luxurious J class product in their 737s unless the passengers are prepared to pay more for the space the larger seats use.  QF might see some value on A321XLRs plying the thin international routes mentioned in the article but, like VA, I doubt they want it for domestic services.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 230

JetBlue has made it work for them up against big legacy carriers as a hybrid low cost carrier - I think their a320s don't even have business. 

With Hrdlicka saying that they will be more similar to Jet Blue but in their own way - I won't be surprised if VA get soemthing like this on their B737-10max - to have some premium offering on east west and short haul intl (NZ, Bali etc) not to go after corporate market but SME and leisure travellers with a bit of coin that wish to spend more but conscious to pay less for business then QF. Even if it's just 10-12 seats up front. If not then a good premium economy like seat may do.

I would not be surprised to see something like those Vantage seats appearing on Virgin's 737 MAX jets, especially if they became mainly an east-west 'sub fleet' which I think was Borghetti's idea because the A330s were all supposed to end up flying to Asia. But nobody needs anything like these new Mint seats on any domestic Australian route, and even the original Vantage seats would be a bit of a stretch if it means capacity takes a hit.

Eli
Eli

30 Jul 2015

Total posts 103

Unfortunately, people are comparing this to the very old CX, VS and NZ J seats.  Perhaps as a herringbone layout, but it stops there.  Clearly this is a better designed seat, at a slightly different angle.  Has much going for it.

Let's not forget, that this is also on a narrow body plane.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1259

IKR. People will complain about anything and everything. 

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 159

I think some people are noting similarities with those old design CX and NZ seats, but as AsiaBizTraveller notes these do look a lot better.  We're also going to get some people complaining that they are not facing the windows, but I think that's more of an avgeek thing, does the average person really care? You can turn your head any time to look out the window and see the view. What really impresses me about this seat is the very smart use of space, especially that first row, but also the shelves and the storage areas, plus modern touches like wireless charging. If I have to be on a single-aisle jet for 7-8 hours then this is where I'd want to be!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Jun 2012

Total posts 58

As someone who likes to gaze out the window while having an adult beverage, I'd rather the seats be facing the other way. 

Otherwise, I think it looks great.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 435

Do the TVs swivel to face the passenger? The angle would otherwise make them fairly useless.  And in either case, it will require window blinds down to watch the TV, as it is (kind of) facing the windows.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 455

Also John, it looks to me that they'll need to be swiveled back out of the way for cabin staff to delivery F&B service (or clean away).  With s screen size of 22 inches (56 cms) - plus some for the bezel - I sort of wonder whether a sliding door is really necessary? 

03 Feb 2021

Total posts 1

Personally, I think the Stelia Opera is a more attractive option. Facing the windows and can easily watch the Inflight from gate to gate

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 593

Horrible having to face the isle and not the window. Cant say I like it.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 455

Yep.  Virgin Atlantic's Dreamliners have them, not good.  

P1
P1

24 Apr 2017

Total posts 75

Nice design, but I wouldn't like the screen to be metres away, at an oblique angle at the end of my feet.

UA

09 Mar 2016

Total posts 56

Hate, hate, hate, hate these herringbone seats and the massage and chiro bills they trigger after I've tried for hours to see out the window rather than stare at a screen.

Certainly hope QF and VA stay away from this layout! Loathe the inward facing J class seats. Will avoid airlines/aircraft types with this design!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 455

So it looks like the 'Mint Studio' in Row 1 also has a small bench seat (complete with seatbelt) for a guest to be seated with the main occupant.  'Power meetings' at 30,000 feet?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 455

Horses for courses, but I think the bigger message from Jetblue to Qantas and Virgin can be found in

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.

- namely, be nimble and super responsive, or get that way quickly.  Regardless of Government Travel Restrictions at the moment, with vaccine roll-out at an increasing rate, I think international travel will be "all systems go" well before Christmas.  Qantas could well have all its Dreamliners working overtime, maybe even a pair of A380's back in service somewhere.  

Qantas will be nimble, but alas, I don't think the ew Virgin CEO will see this coming (hope I'm wrong).

Mc
Mc

BA

31 Mar 2014

Total posts 20

Looks very nice but not for me. I won't pay a premium fare for a seat that faces the aisle. I don't fly ANZ long haul for this very reason.


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