[video]JetBlue, an Airline Industry Outlier, Moves to Keep Cross-Country Fliers

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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- JetBlue inspires loyalty in customers and often makes things work, but it has been losing out in ultra-competitive trans-continental markets.

"In the trans-con markets there are two reasons why people book away from our service," said CEO Dave Barger, at a press conference on Monday. One is, "you don't have Wi-Fi," Barger said. The other is, "you don't have a premium product." Given the options to either "get out or get in big," he said, JetBlue selected the latter course.

The changes will begin with the introduction of a new aircraft, the Airbus A321, into its fleet. Delivery of the first A321 was scheduled for Tuesday, but has been delayed by the U.S. government shutdown . JetBlue will dedicate 11 A321s to its new trans-con service, which will begin next summer with six or seven daily flights from JetBlue's hub at New York Kennedy to Los Angeles and four or five flights to San Francisco.

The new planes, larger than the A320s the JetBlue has been flying, will enable introduction of a first-class product, which it calls "Mint," on 16 seats. Mint service will include lie-flat seats, private suites with doors and TVs with 100 channels, as well as Wi-Fi. Currently, the highest price for Mint is $999, around half of a typical first-class fare. "There is no comma in our fares," Barger said, in an interview.

Amenities for the remaining 143 seats will also be upgraded to include Wi-Fi, more comfortable seats, bigger TV screens with more channels, and a self-serve station for snacks and sodas. "The premium offering doesn't compromise the core experience," Barger said. "You can put 219 seats in the airplane, but we will have 159." In 321s without Mint, JetBlue will have 199 seats. It has 150 seats on an A320.

In the first quarter of 2013, American had nine daily flights between Kennedy and LAX, while Delta had seven, United six, Virgin America had five and JetBlue had four. Still, Marty St. George, JetBlue senior vice president of marketing, said, "I don't consider it tough (competition) at all. We will have the best product and the lowest fare." He called described Mint as "the biggest evolution in our product since 2000."

JetBlue has always relied on a unique formula that combines both low fares and premium service and has been called both "affordable luxury" and "cheap chic," St. George said. Just 14 years old, JetBlue has evolved into the biggest domestic carrier at both New York Kennedy and Boston Logan. It also dominates smaller airports in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Long Beach, Calif.

Airline experts noted that Mint is limited to about 10% of the seats on JetBlue's A321, so its impact on JetBlue's financial performance and its attraction for customers could be limited. In general, JetBlue customers are known to be exceedingly loyal to the carrier.