With JetBlue launching its revolutionary Mint business class on flights between Los Angeles and New York this month, with NY-San Francisco to follow by year's end, Australian Business Traveller gets up close with the unique Mint lie-flat seats and personal suites.
Mint is a ‘knock it out of the park’ approach to premium travel on the increasingly competitive US transcontinental route.
New York in particular is a city where you either have to “get in big time, or get out” says JetBlue CEO David Barger. “JetBlue has chosen to be in, in a major way.”
JetBlue’s new Mint cabin provides 16 spacious seats at the pointy end of the airline’s factory-fresh Airbus A321 jets.
However, the seats are arranged in a unique configuration which sees a pair of business seats...
... alternate with a single semi-private suite.
Here's how that layout looks on JetBlue's A321 seating chart, with Mint at rows 1 through 5.
And here's how they look in real life, on the floor of the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo at Hamburg, where Australian Business Traveller spent some time in the final versions of JetBlue’s Mint paired seats...
... and the centrally-located single seat 'suite'.
Mint is based on the Vantage Suite platform created by Thompson Aero Seating (Thompson’s Vantage XL variant is the base for the new Qantas Business Suite) but heavily customised by JetBlue.
“Thompson presented a seat that was innovative, but quite frankly not the most elegantly designed,” explains Donny Uselmann, JetBlue’s Manager of Customer Experience.
Uselmann and his team took the Vantage back to its bare metal base and built it up in both functionality and elegance, as shown in these early snaps from JetBlue's workshop.
The result is an extraordinary design which could just be the world's best domestic business class seat. Let's take a closer look.
JetBlue's duo and solo Mini seats are largely physically identical, up to a generous 22.3 inches (56.6cm) wide and converting in to a fully flat bed stretching up to 6’8” (203cm).
The first thing you notice when sitting in a Mint seat for any period of time is how incredibly comfortable it is.
This goes beyond whatever allowances you'd make for the seat being absolutely new, before it's carried hundreds of passengers over thousands of miles.
That's partly because JetBlue's design team abandoned the conventional use of foam padding for the cushions, instead using a series of air tubes so that passenger can adjust how soft or firm they'd like the seat to be.
Up close you can also appreciate fine detail such as the blue stitching along the seat panels and trim.
Behind each single or double seat is a tall translucent plastic panel which enhances privacy between rows and can be edge-lit from below to give off a soft blue glow.
A panel set into the armrest flips up to reveal a controller for the a 15.6 inch video screen with content from JetBlue's Live TV 4.0 system and SiriusXM Radio.
Set into the centre console at the front of the paired seats are two AC outlets.
These also support EmPower socket types and a USB port capable of charging tablets as well as smartphones.
But here's another example of JetBlue playing the 'think different' card.
While some travellers like their laptop and USB cables to run to the front and be plugged in out of the way, others prefer to have the power sockets within plain sight and easy reach – especially for charing smartphones.
So each Mint seat includes a second AC outlet right next to the passenger, towards the rear of the armrest in the seat divider.
You get the same triple-play combo of AC, EmPower and USB sockets, and right next to this is a small pocket where you can stash your smartphone while it recharges – complete with a strip of webbing to keep it safely tucked away.
At the top of this recess sit a small but powerful swivel-mounted LED reading lamp.
Directly beneath this is a small spring-hinged panel which can hold a small bottle of water, a pair of reading glasses or anything else you'd like to have within reach.
JetBlue has fitted each Mint seat with several other pockets for stowing your stuff, including your shoes...
... plus a generously-sized magazine pocket above the footwell.
A large laptop-friendly dining table swings down from between the seats and easily folds into place.
It also pivots to face forward if you want a bit more room around the knees.
And speaking of knees: as you'd expect, a seat which converts into a lie-flat bed also makes for plenty of legroom.
As impressive as JetBlue's standard Mint seats are, the suites go one better.
There are only four personal suites on each of jetBlue's Airbus A321 Mint services, compared to 12 of the paired premium seats.
Situating the suite in the middle of each row allows extensive space either side of the seat itself – one of many traits that's sure to make the Mint suites a hit with business travellers.
A sliding door can close the suite off from the aisle to create a semi-private nook.
Here's the view from inside an enclosed Mint suite.
As with the paired Mint seats the suites also get two power outlets, one situated to either side of the seat.
The large surface to the left of each suite seat is perfect for placing your laptop while it's plugged in.
(In fact, as the suite's power outlets use the same double-socket arrangement as the double seats, suite passengers will find two AC, EmPower and USB sockets right here.)
A second power outlet is built into the panel to the right of the seat, with a smartphone pocket below and LED reading lamp above.
Each suite also gets a large recessed storage space with a roll-up cover.
And there's ample legroom, too.
JetBlue's inaugural Airbus A321 Mint flight will run from New York's JFK Airport to Los Angeles on June 15, 2014 as a daily service, with one-way fares starting at US$599.
By the end of 2014 the airline expects all several daily flights between New York and LAX will include the Mint service.
The A321 Mint fleet is expected to debut on flights between New York and San Francisco in October, with all five JFK-SFO flights upgraded to Mint by April 2015.
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