JetBlue’s A321LR made waves when the all-new Mint hard product was revealed. But it was not only Mint that made this aircraft notable. It was the launch aircraft for the brand-new Airspace by Airbus cabin for the single-aisle market, an innovation that promised to bring the refinements of widebody travel to the narrowbody market. Let’s see how it’s been going.
Better than expected
JetBlue has had time to settle into the A321LR by now. Having flown the type from New York to London commercially for a month, the airline has settled into its new transatlantic venture, but is still delighting and surprising its customers on each trip. Feedback is very positive, with far more compliments about the Airspace cabin than there are complaints about the narrowbody-ness of the operation.
At today’s Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX), Mariya Stoyanova, JetBlue’s Director of Product Development, said that seeing the aircraft in person was an incredible experience. Although she had been instrumental in the design of the A321LR cabin, stepping into the aircraft in real life was even better than she expected. She said,
“Sometimes the renderings are actually like a utopia of what an aircraft would really look like. But ultimately, this aircraft looks better than the renderings – I never expected that to be true. it’s just like surreal. It looks better than the renderings.”
Launching the Airspace narrowbody cabin
As the launch customer of the Airspace by Airbus narrowbody cabin, JetBlue had the task of not only showcasing their own incredible iteration of long-haul narrowbody travel, but had to make an impression for Airbus too. This, she said, was easy, given the powerful platform that Airspace created. She commented,
“From our perspective, we are delighted to be the launch customer for the Airspace platform and delivering a long-haul type of experience on a narrowbody aircraft. At JetBlue, we love to customise the hell out of what we get. And we did exactly that with the Airspace cabin. We brought our own flavour to it.”
The Airspace cabin is designed to bring a long-haul, widebody experience to the single-aisle market. From things like larger overhead bins and ambient lighting to touchless lavatories and noise reduction, it’s a cabin that’s been designed for the emerging long-range narrowbody trend.
But, of course, JetBlue took that framework and made it unique. JetBlue took the Vantage Solo seats in Mint, which provide a fully flat experience and direct aisle access, and then customized them to the nth degree. The residential touches in each suite make it feel homely and welcoming. And then, making maximum use of the space onboard, the Mint studios at the front provide more real estate than you’d get in pretty much any premium product on a single-aisle aircraft anywhere in the world.
And, of course, the innovation wasn’t limited to the front of the cabin. At the back, the Airspace cabin gave the airline vital inches to allow for some of the widest A320 family seats. Passengers were given the option to build their own inflight meal from the seatback screen, and everyone gets the fast and free Fly-Fi from gate to gate.
Stoyanova is happy with what the airline has created,
“The cabin provides us such an amazing opportunity to create exactly what we strive to design for. Just because you’re travelling in a tube in the air, it doesn’t have to feel like that … I think we’ve achieved a lot. I think we did justice to the Airspace cabin and we pushed the limits. We love pushing limits, and I’m really proud of what we’ve done.”
A pandemic-proof design
The journey to bring the A321LR to London has not been easy. Given that the plans were laid long before any of us had even heard of COVID-19, it was a brave move to press ahead with the launch. That didn’t mean it was an easy ride, as issues with travel and social distancing plagued the development pathway.
“There were so many challenges in bringing this experience to begin with. It was even hard to actually go see the aircraft and approve the aircraft over there in Hamburg … I think the biggest challenge for us was when we had to test the actual service, because you need to test service with real crew members and real people. We had to test it in July or June last year, so we had to get everyone into a hangar and try to keep space and with everyone wearing masks. It was an interesting journey.”
During the pandemic, many aviation designers were looking at ways to tailor the cabin of the future to meet the demands of hygiene-conscious travelers. JetBlue’s cabin design had been set in stone long before, but thankfully it already ticked a lot of the boxes for a post-pandemic operating environment, as Stoyanova explained,
“Interestingly enough, all of the design workshops that we did, all the customer research, everything that we designed, we realised after the pandemic hit, it was actually pandemic-proof, because what we heard from customers was that we want space and privacy. The pandemic actually requires space and privacy.”
All JetBlue needs now is for the travel restrictions to go ahead and ease on the transatlantic routes, and then a few more of us can enjoy the highly tailored Airspace cabin firsthand ourselves.