The A220 for Breeze Airways surprised its visitors at the reveal last month, particularly with its large premium cabin up front. The A220 sported a total of 36 domestic first class style recliners, a huge volume compared to what’s seen on other operators. We spoke to David Neeleman about the reasons behind this, and he revealed his plan to switch out the aircraft’s premium configuration depending on its mission.
Here comes the A220
The addition of the A220 to the Breeze Airways fleet was a hotly anticipated event. While the airline began operations with a backbone fleet of Embraer regional jets, the plan was always to become one of the largest operators of the A220 in the world.
In late October, Breeze Airways invited select guests to experience its first Airbus A220 for themselves. The aircraft looked resplendent in gleaming blue livery, but the real treat was on the inside.
The interior of the A220 was beautifully furnished, but more than that, the biggest delight was at the front. To date, Breeze has been an affordable carrier, perhaps not rock bottom low-cost, but affordable nonetheless. That’s why it was something of a surprise that, at the front of the A220, the airline had installed not a small premium cabin, but an enormous one.
In all, there were 36 premium seats, laid out in a 2–2 arrangement. That seems pretty big already, but the founder and CEO of Breeze Airways, David Neeleman, has bigger plans for this area of the cabin.
Speaking to Simple Flying as part of the Future Flying Forum earlier this month, Mr Neeleman described this area as his “playland. “ He told Simple Flying,
“It’s a new model. And we hope one day we’d have some lay flat seats up front, we can put about 20 to 21, lay flat seats in front of the exit row. So in front of the rows are our kind of our playland where we like to play and experiment for seasonality changes or whatever.”
Indeed, the CEO of Breeze Airways has some adventurous plans for his so-called playland. Not only does he intend to place lie flat seats in this area at some point, all of which he says will have direct aisle access, he also wants to outfit it with a quick change mechanism, allowing engineers to alter the layout dependent on the route and demand the flights will see.
“In front of the exit row, we have total flexibility. In a matter of days, we can go from 36 first class seats to no first class seats to domestic-style first class seats. We can have 36, 12 or zero premium seats in that cabin.
Neeleman further explained that the quick change functionality has been achieved by minimizing the amount of wiring onboard. Unlike JetBlue, Breeze will deliver IFE via passenger’s own devices, which reduces the wiring to each seat and makes it far easier to reconfigure the cabin.
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Lie flat A220 seats
Premium seats on an Airbus A220 are not unheard of. The current largest operator of the A220, Delta Air Lines, does have a premium cabin for its domestic first class passengers. However, the furthest Delta has gone is to install three rows of recliner seats in a 2–2 configuration. It’s the same on both its – 100 and the larger – 300 variant.
Lay flat seats on an Airbus A220 have not been attempted as yet. Without a doubt, there are products out there that could fit this niche. JetBlue, a former Neeleman airline itself, has already set the bar for narrowbody lie flat seating with its stunning new Mint cabin for the transatlantic A321LR aircraft. But the A220 is smaller, So it will be interesting to see what Breeze Airways comes up with. Neeleman teased some details of the seating choice, saying,
“They’ll all be direct aisle access seats. Well, I think there’ll be a couple that aren’t, that are kind of honeymoon seats where people want to sit together. But we’ll have enough people traveling together that the direct aisle won’t matter as much. It’s going to take certification and it’ll take a little bit of time, but I’m excited for that product, especially when we really go long-haul.”
The fascinating element of this story is Neeleman’s idea to have the cabin changeable depending on the reach and service the aircraft is running. This, he believes, will allow him to redeploy the aircraft onto a variety of roots depending on seasonal demand.
For example, during the summer months when travel to Europe is popular, the A220 may well be flying transatlantic itself. For these services, a lie flat proposition is beneficial, as Breeze will be competing with many other full-service carriers with much larger aircraft. However, during the winter season, when the European appeal is lower, these aircraft can be repointed to warm destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico, for example, where a lie flat proposition is not in such high demand.
Scooting chilly Americans down to the warmth of the Caribbean can easily be done with a recliner up front. With the third cabin configuration, an all-economy layout, Neeleman can run a dense service at the very lowest cost on the routes where he sees quick and cheap as the priority. It’s a very smart move by the serial airline entrepreneur and one which could be set to pay off in dividends.