Delta’s announcement this week that it will introduce lie-flat first class seats next spring on a new transcontinental route is just the latest step in a growing expansion of flat-bed front-cabin seats on routes across the country – an expansion largely fueled by JetBlue’s increased commitment to its Mint premium service.
Delta said it will use a 757-200 with flat-bed seats in first class when it starts flying on April 24 between Los Angeles International and Washington D.C.’s close-in, Reagan National Airport (DCA) which is preferred by most with business in the district. (Because perimeter rules limit DCA to just a handful of flights longer than 1,250 miles, Delta said it will drop one of its two daily DCA-Salt Lake City flights, but will begin a new flight from Salt Lake to Washington Dulles.)
The introduction of lie-flat front-cabin seats on domestic flights a few years ago was initially limited to service between the New York area and San Francisco and Los Angeles, where it is now offered by American and Delta out of New York JFK and by United’s “p.s.” service out of Newark Liberty International. When JetBlue rolled out its competing Mint premium cabins with lie-flat seats, it initially did so in those same two transcon markets out of JFK.
But Delta has also introduced lie-flat seats on 757-200s between JFK and its growing Seattle hub. And that market has become one of several targeted by JetBlue in a big expansion of its Mint service.
JetBlue recently added the Mint option to its Boston-San Francisco route, and is doing the same on Boston-LAX this fall. And earlier this year, the carrier announced its intention to bring lie-flat Mint seating to even more transcontinental routes, with plans to increase the size of its Mint-equipped A321 fleet from 17 planes to 31 by 2017.
Transcontinental routes that JetBlue has targeted for Mint service expansion in the months ahead include Seattle-Boston, Seattle-JFK, San Diego-JFK, San Diego-Boston, San Francisco-Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles-Ft. Lauderdale and Las Vegas-JFK.
Two months ago, Delta unveiled plans for new routes out of Boston next year, including twice-daily service to San Francisco with 757-200s. (Although the announcement didn’t specify that these aircraft will have lie-flat front-cabin seating, it seems a safe assumption given JetBlue’s Mint service in that market.) JetBlue then said it will lay on a fourth daily Mint-equipped Boston-San Francisco flight next summer.
Virgin America has a nice premium cabin on its transcon routes, but the seats do not recline fully flat. The airline has talked about refreshing its front cabin, but that has taken a back seat to the impending merger of Virgin and Alaska Airlines. The combined carrier (assuming they are eventually combined rather than remaining as separate brands under common ownership) will have a big stake in transcon Seattle markets as well as SFO-JFK and LAX-JFK. The question is, what will Alaska decide to do with the front cabin product?
Whatever it decides, Alaska is already committed to adding a new Premium Class cabin to its 737-800s, 900s and 900ERs – not just regular coach seats with extra legroom, but an actual premium product with extra amenities and perks, situated between first class and economy.
Will that be the next big battlefield in transcontinental passenger options? How important is a lie-flat seat to you on transcon flights? Please leave your comments below.
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