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JetBlue plans premium service expansion

Mary Schlangenstein Bloomberg

JetBlue Airways Corp., facing heightened competition from the planned merger of Alaska and Virgin America airlines, will expand its Mint first-class service to four new cities starting early next year.

The carrier expects to add Mint to some cross-country flights at Las Vegas, San Diego, Seattle and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, continuing growth of the premium product that debuted in 2014.

JetBlue announced the additions Tuesday, about a week after its decision to opt out of a bidding war for Virgin America Inc. allowed Alaska Air Group Inc. to announce a $2.6 billion purchase. While the cities were selected some time ago, JetBlue’s stepped-up premium offerings will give it an extra competitive tool as it faces further consolidation of the U.S. industry.

“We’ve been looking at Mint expansion at least a year and a half, figuring out how much bigger Mint can be for us,” Marty St. George, the carrier’s executive vice president for planning, said in a telephone interview. The original Mint routes are the top revenue generators in the airline’s system and “have had an incredible impact. Who would not want to try to duplicate that elsewhere?”

JetBlue ended its coach-class-only strategy when it began offering Mint in 2014 between New York-Los Angeles and New York-San Francisco to retain passengers who were looking for more amenities on coast-to-coast flights at a lower price. Mint fares can dip as low as $599 each way.

The carrier added Boston-San Francisco in March, with Boston-Los Angeles set to start in October. Mint has expanded mostly on a seasonal basis to some Caribbean destinations, with service to St. Maarten and St. Lucia in the future.

The Mint cabin includes 16 lie-flat seats, including four “private suites” that have partitions that can be closed. Passengers also have 15-inch flat video screens on seat backs, power outlets, USB ports and customized menus. JetBlue will add 10 Airbus Group SE A321 aircraft to its fleet in 2017, and nine will feature the first-class cabin.

By the end of next year, 26 of the carrier’s 234 aircraft will have Mint.

The first of the new routes will start in the first quarter of 2017, with others beginning in 2018, JetBlue said. The additions, which St. George called a “natural progression” of the Mint product, will be Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Diego to New York and Boston, Seattle to New York and Boston and Las Vegas to New York.