Should Jetblue start overselling flights? And other airline news of the past week.

Jetblue doesn't oversell its flights, generally. But should it?  (Thomas R. Cordova/Staff Photographer)

Jetblue doesn’t oversell its flights, generally. But should it? Bloomberg Businessweek asked in an article.  (Thomas R. Cordova/Staff Photographer)

Here are some of the stories I’ve enjoyed in the past week.

Jetblue boasts that it rarely oversells flights. This sounds good, but it means the airline probably flies a bunch of segments with empty seats — since not every passenger shows up for each flight. This Bloomberg BusinessWeek story — “JetBlue Never Bumps Passengers. Maybe It Should” — asks whether Jetblue should change policy to chase more revenue and fill more seats.

Locally, Burbank Bob Hope Airport reported that it handled about 3.88 million passengers in 2013, down about 5 percent from the previous year, according to the Burbank Leader. As we’ve noted many times here, it is not a good time to be a midsize airport. For now, airlines prefer big-city hubs, like LAX.

The New York Times says that on-time data is flawed because the on-time ratings of major airlines do not include flights operated by their commuter partners. Thus an airline like United might report decent on-time numbers for January, even though its United Express partners — who are technically independent airlines — fair far worse.

Virgin Atlantic will cease flying from London to Australia through Hong Kong on May 5, according to Business Traveller magazine. The route used an Airbus A340-600 airplane with four engines — a plane that is notoriously inefficient compared to more modern twin-engine jetliners.

Korean Air is making Houston its 11th U.S. gateway, Today in the Sky reported this week. The service starts in May. Korean will use a Boeing 777-200.

And finally, want to learn more about me, Brian Sumers, your blogger? I answered some questions recently on my travel habits for JohnnyJet,  the indefatigable travel blogger. You can find the Q&A here. 

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JetBlue Airways unveils new first class cabin for LAX flights

JetBlue is naming its new first class cabin, "Mint." Photo courtesy of the airline.

JetBlue is naming its new first class cabin, “Mint.” Photo courtesy of the airline.

You’ll have to wait until next June to try it out, but JetBlue Airways officially unveiled its new “first class” product on Monday at an event in New York City. The product will only be available on certain transcontinental routes.

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JetBlue Airways interested in international flights from Long Beach Airport

JetBlue Airways wants to add international flights at Long Beach Airport.

JetBlue Airways wants to add international flights at Long Beach Airport.

JetBlue Airways wants to add international flights – perhaps to Mexico or South America – from Long Beach Airport.

But for now, there’s a problem. Long Beach lacks an international arrivals facility staffed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. Until one is built, no major international expansion can occur.

I asked airport executive director Mario Rodriguez whether Long Beach might build the facility for JetBlue. He signaled that it is possible, though he said JetBlue would almost certainly have to pay the cost, which he estimated at more than $10 million. He pointed to Houston Hobby Airport, where Southwest is paying for costs related to the construction of a new customs facility.

“We’re looking into it,” Rodriguez said. “We are going to be studying it pretty soon. It’s a question of whether a (customs facility) is financially viable in an airport of this size. (Customs facilities) are viable in very large airports that have large volumes going through them. We have to look at it objectively. That would be a policy decision by the (city) council.”

Long Beach is a relatively small airport, and its commercial operation is tightly controlled according to guidelines set by the Long Beach City Council. The airport has 41 available daily slots for large jet aircraft like the A320, A321 and Boeing 737. JetBlue has rights to 32 of those departures.  The airport has an additional 25 slots for commuter planes, though the majority of those are unused. (Some of those had been held by ExpressJet before it pulled out of the market in 2008.)

Scott Laurence, JetBlue’s vice president for network planning, told me about a third of the carrier’s overall capacity is now on international flights. That flying is done from East Coast cities, like New York and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Laurence said he thinks Long Beach could be a strong international market and noted that the airline’s government affairs team is discussing possibilities with Long Beach officials.

“I am very excited about the potential that Long Beach has as an international gateway,” Laurence said in a recent interview. “Having a gateway from the west and specifically form the L.A. Basin seems to have a ton of possibility for us.”

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Want to fly first class without sticker shock? JetBlue may have the seat for you

JetBlue Airways will soon introduce a premium cabin on flights between Los Angeles and New York.

JetBlue Airways will soon introduce a premium cabin on flights between Los Angeles and New York. Photo courtesy of JetBlue.

JetBlue Airways is introducing new flat bed premium seats on its flights between New York and Los Angeles, but the airline’s target market is not the passengers you might expect.

With some of the best seats in the industry, JetBlue wants to attract travelers who aren’t always accustomed to flying business and first class on domestic routes. As JetBlue Vice President of Network Planning Scott Laurence told me, the airline wants to “stimulate demand” by offering considerably cheaper premium cabin prices than competitors American, Delta, United and Virgin America. Currently, JetBlue has an all coach configuration.

“It’s the concept of taking the best possible product and offering it at the lowest possible price,” Laurence said. “We saw a great opportunity here to bring a great product to this market and target it at people who are paying with their own money. If you look at the incumbent pricing, it is incredibly high. It’s in the $2,000 or $2,500 range.”

JetBlue has not released its pricing, so it’s not clear exactly how low the fares will be. But earlier this week, the airline showed off its new seats, which will be installed on 11 soon-to-be delivered A321s. The seats are somewhat standard flat business class seats, though the configuration is a bit unusual. Some rows will have only one seat on either side of the aisle, while some rows will have 2 seats on each side. In all, there will be 16 seats, and the service is expected to start in 2014.

It would seem likely that the rows with only two seats would be priced higher than the rows with four seats across. But Laurence said it was too early to know for sure whether the products will be priced differently.

What’s interesting about this approach is that it is entirely different from what other airlines usually try. As Laurence explained, JetBlue likes to increase supply when it senses increased demand on a route. That usually means adding flights or using a larger plane. Other airlines, he said, usually respond to increased demand by simply raising prices. They usually don’t increase the number of available seats.

Laurence said he is optimistic there is a real demand for JetBlue’s new seats – so long as they’re sold at a fair price.

“If you do the math, at $700 or $1,000 what’s premium demand in these markets?” he said. “Demand really explodes.”

Want to see the new seats? Fast forward to the one minute mark in the video below.

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First class on JetBlue? The airline will unveil its seat on Monday

JetBlue Airways plans to install a premium cabin on some of its new planes.

JetBlue Airways plans to install a premium cabin on some of its new planes.

JetBlue Airways will unveil its new first class seat for transcontinental flights at Monday’s Global Business Travel Association meeting in San Diego, a senior airline executive told L.A. Airspace.

The executive said the new seat will be a game changer for the airline, which does not currently have a first or business class cabin. It is expected to be deployed on soon-to-be delivered Airbus A321 aircraft flying coast-to-coast routes, such as LAX and Long Beach to New York.

The executive also said JetBlue’s price point should be considerably lower than the premium fares currently offered by legacy carriers United, American and Delta. Transcontinental flights, especially between Los Angeles and New York, are important money makers for airlines.

This is a big deal for aviation enthusiasts.

Early reports in the airline industry media suggested JetBlue was planning to install “suites,” possibly with a sliding door for maximum privacy. According to a filing from aircraft manufacturer Airbus, JetBlue likely will install 16 premium seats and 143 economy seats in the new A321s, which will be delivered in 2014.

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