Airbus filing reveals mini-suite plan for JetBlue A321s

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JetBlue may soon offer passengers "mini-suites" on cross-country flights in specially-configured Airbus A321s, according to an Airbus regulatory filing.

Four mini-suites, each consisting of surrounding furniture and enclosed by a sliding door, would be installed on the four A321s scheduled for delivery to JetBlue in the fourth quarter if the manufacturer's request is approved by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Airbus submitted the request to install the suites on 11 February, and then re-submitted the application on 18 March after the FAA asked for more details, the filing document shows. The existence of the filing in the Department of Transportation docket went unnoticed by the public until 6 June.

As Airbus filed the updated request to the FAA in mid-March, JetBlue executives unveiled plans to introduce a premium cabin on transcontinental flights to compete on better terms with mainline carriers, such as United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines.

"This product is designed to compete with first class on other airlines," JetBlue chief executive Dave Barger told Flightglobal on 28 March.

On 15 May, JetBlue chief financial officer Mark Powers elaborated at a public event that the new premium cabin was conceived to improve the carrier's "net promoter scores" with customers on transcontinental routes, where mainline carriers enjoyed an advantage with more a more comfortable product for premium passengers.

The mini-suite idea promises to make JetBlue a trail-blazer in narrowbody cabin innovations. Similar products have been approved already on widebodies, including the Boeing 777 and Airbus A380. Last year, Boeing also applied to the FAA install mini-suites on the 787-9. But such an enclosure in the passenger cabin has never before been approved by the FAA for a narrowbody aircraft.

Aircraft manufacturers have to ask the FAA for an exemption to airworthiness rules that prohibit any door from being placed between a passenger seat and the nearest exit. The compromise allowed by the FAA requires airlines to lock the doors in an open position during take-off and landing.

"Allowing mini-suites on [the] A321 will level the competitive field, open a larger market to that US operator's [sic] and benefit the passengers without compromising their safey," Airbus says.

The JetBlue A321s are planned to enter service at the beginning of 2014, Airbus says in the filing.