JetBlue to Offer Premium Seats

JetBlue will start providing premium seats on select transcontinental nonstop routes from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The airline did not give a lot of details, but its announcement states that the intent is to remain "truly competitive" on the country's two most important transcontinental routes.

All of the giant legacy airlines provide (or soon will provide) premium service options that exceed normal first-class standards by a substantial margin on these routes. For several years, American and United have offered three classes on New York-to-California routes—first, business, and coach—with lie-flat seats in first class and business-class seating with almost a foot more legroom than regular domestic first class. And Delta is moving toward a similar service. Apparently, enough travelers on these top transcontinental routes want—and are willing to pay for—international-standard service; JetBlue obviously wants in on this premium action.

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I see another reason for JetBlue to add premium seating options. The airline is already code-sharing with part-owner Lufthansa and several other international carriers. These airlines rely on big-ticket business-class service for much of their profitability, and they don't want to fly travelers across an ocean in great luxury only to dump them into conventional coach seats for their connecting flights.

So far, JetBlue has left some important questions unanswered: Will its new premium service be comparable to business class with reclining seats with lots of legroom, or will it compete with the "flat bed" seating that United is installing? Will JetBlue still provide its Even More Space coach option, or will the new premium seats replace it? How will fare levels compare?

We'll have to wait for answers. But it's pretty clear that air service will be extremely competitive on these two blue-ribbon transcontinental routes. Keep watching for details.

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