The End of the Wide-Body: JetBlue is Shaking Up Transatlantic Travel

Reversing a 50-year trend, JetBlue is going to be flying over "the pond" using a single-wide aircraft.
Marcia Wendorf
A JetBlue Airbus in Orlando International Airport iStock

Coming this summer, the budget American airline JetBlue is reinventing how passengers will fly across the Atlantic.

Since 1970, passengers flying transcontinental routes have used wide-body planes, which are also known as twin-aisle aircraft. These types of planes typically have a fuselage diameter of 5 to 6 meters (16 to 20 feet), with the largest wide-body aircraft having a fuselage width of over 6 meters (20 feet), that can accommodate up to eleven passengers in each row. By comparison, a single-aisle, narrow-body aircraft has a diameter of 3 to 4 meters (10 to 13 feet) and seats up to six people in each row.

8 across configuration
Eight across configuration. Source: Asiir/Wikimedia Commons

The largest airliners, the so-called "jumbo jets", include the Boeing 747, the Boeing 777X, and the granddaddy of them all, the Airbus A380.

The "wide-body wars"

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was an explosion in demand for air travel, and this convinced aircraft manufacturers that they needed to build bigger. First, they attempted to build longer, with aircraft such as DC-8 models 61, 62, and 63, Boeing's 707 320B and 320C models, and Boeing's 727-200. Then, in a period that came to be called the "wide-body wars," manufacturers started creating the first wide-body aircraft.

Boeing 747
Boeing 747. Source: Aldo Bidini/Wikimedia Commons

In 1970, the "Queen of the Skies," the Boeing 747, first entered service. The plane featured a partial double-decker design with the upper deck at the front, and it had four engines. Other manufacturers soon followed, with McDonnell Douglas creating its three-engine DC-10, and Lockheed creating its three-engine L-1011.

In 1976, when Lockheed tried to sell the L-1011 to Russia's airline Aeroflot, the Russians responded by creating their own four-engine wide-body, the Ilyushin II-86. The first wide-body aircraft to have only two engines was Airbus's A300, which entered service in 1974.

Planes having 2, 3 and 4 engines
Planes having 2, 3, and 4 engines. Source: PlanetPictures/Wikimedia Commons

The queen reigns supreme

Over the years, Boeing launched its 767 and 777 wide-bodies, Airbus created its A330 and A340 aircraft, and McDonnell Douglas created the MD-11, but none of these planes challenged the seating capacity of the 747.

NASA even used a modified 747 to transport its space shuttle between launch facilities in Florida and a secondary landing site located in California.

747 transporting the space shuttle
747 transporting Space Shuttle Atlantis. Source: MONGO/Wikimedia Commons

For a staggering 37 years, the Boeing 747 reigned supreme, then in October 2007, Airbus launched its four-engine A380. This "super-jumbo" aircraft is the largest in the world, seating between 525 and 853 passengers, depending on how the cabin is configured.

Airbus A380
Airbus A380. Source: Ienac/Wikimedia Commons

The Airbus A380 is a full-length double-decker, and it is powered by four engines, either Engine Alliance GP7200 engines, or else Rolls-Royce Trent 900 turbofan engines. The largest A380 customer is Emirates Airlines, which has over 100 of the planes.

GE90 jet engine
GE90 jet engine. Source: Dysanovic/Wikimedia Commons

The mid-2000s corresponded with a period of rising oil costs, and this led aircraft manufacturers to create smaller, more fuel-efficient planes such as the twin-engine Airbus A350 and Boeing's 787 and 777X aircraft.

The 777X aircraft are unique because their carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) wings are so long that 11 feet (3.5 m) at the tips fold up to allow the plane to fit both taxiways and berths at airports. The 777X's folding wing tips are a first for commercial aviation.

As we reported last year, Boeing is set to end production of the 747 by the end of next year, and on February 14, 2019, Airbus announced that that it would end production of the A380. If you'd like to see just how enormous the interiors of the Boeing 747 and 777 and Airbus A440M really are, check this out.

A380 and 747 seating
A380 and 747 seating. Source: Steff Ssolbergj/Wikimedia Commons

JetBlue in a paradigm shift

On April 6, 2021, JetBlue announced its plans to upend air travel across the Atlantic by using single-aisle Airbus A321LR (long range) airplanes. The planes will be configured with two first-class "Mint Studio" seats that JetBlue claims will have "the largest lie-flat bed of any U.S carrier" and 24 business class "Mint Suites".

Next, the planes will have four rows of what JetBlue calls "Even More® Space" seats, which will have up to six additional inches of legroom compared to regular coach seats.

In their press release, JetBlue says that the 114 regular coach or "core" seats are, at 18.4 inches, "wider than most seats found on wide-body aircraft today." The seats will also "offer the most legroom in coach at 32 inches."

The new airliner will also have its sidewalls reconfigured to provide additional shoulder space, and its window bezels made larger to provide better views. Each row will have six abreast seating, three on each side of the aisle.

JetBlue A321LR seating
JetBlue A321LR seating. Source: JetBlue

Each seat will have "Easy-to-reach in-seat power, featuring AC and USB-C ports." Customers who choose to get their entertainment from the seatback screen can expect a "10.1 inch, 1080P high definition screen at every seat," with live news and sports TV channels, and a "robust library of on-demand content" such as full seasons of shows, hundreds of movies, and premium content from HBO and SHOWTIME. Customers will even be able to use their smartphones "as a remote or gaming controller" for their seatback entertainment.

JetBlue A321LR seatbacks
JetBlue A321LR seatbacks. Source: JetBlue

The new planes will be equipped with Thales AVANT and ViaSat-2 connectivity, which, according to the press release, will make JetBlue "the only airline to offer unlimited, free high-speed Wi-Fi on all transatlantic flights ..."

The new planes will also have LED mood lighting, which JetBlue claims will create "an ambient environment that supports the body’s natural circadian rhythms," a glowing ceiling, and four lavatories that feature "subway tile patterns."

A focus on food

For the first time, JetBlue will provide a complimentary meal to its coach customers. The airline is partnering with popular restaurant chain Dig, which is known for its build-your-own-meal dining concept, and customers will be able to order their custom meals right from their seatback screens.

In what has got to be one the most extreme examples of political correctness ever created, JetBlue's press release says of Dig: "Known for its vegetable-forward options, the Dig menu will feature a seasonal selection of proteins, vegetables, and grains mindfully sourced in part from minority and women-run farms, as well as Dig’s own farm, Dig Acres."

JetBlue/Dig "build-your-own meal". Source: JetBlue

Typical dishes will include "... roasted chicken thigh over a base of brown rice with herbs and spiced eggplant over coconut cauliflower quinoa" and "a mixed heirloom tomato salad."

Coach or "core" customers will also receive complimentary soft drinks, coffee, tea, beer, wine, and liquor, plus they will have access to a pantry containing self-serve, grab-and-go snacks. Perhaps in an attempt to sweeten the experience of flying coach, JetBlue will also provide, "a dessert for a sweet treat post-meal, and a light bite prior to arrival."

JetBlue has yet to release a schedule for its new transatlantic flights, a fare schedule, or name which London airport it will fly into and out of, however, the airline's focus on going smaller is definitely something new.

Leveraging the term smaller hotels have been using for years, JetBlue's press release says, "The single-aisle aircraft will allow JetBlue to offer customers attentive, boutique-style service ..." Now, if we could just get some of that "coconut cauliflower quinoa."


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