- JetBlue is a boutique US airline that incorporates elements from both full-service and low-cost carriers.
- I recently flew JetBlue for the first time from New York to Seattle.
- JetBlue’s in-flight experience lived up to its billing as a service-oriented airline.
Since its founding in 1999, JetBlue has been one of America’s favourite airlines. As an aviation journalist, I’ve spent the past few years covering JetBlue as a business, but I haven’t actually had the chance to experience its service. Chalk it up to spending most of my life living in the shadows of Delta and United Airlines fortress hubs; Atlanta and Newark.
That all changed in October when I went on a business trip to Seattle, Washington and used it as an opportunity to finally fly JetBlue.
As an airline, JetBlue occupies a unique place in the US airline market. On one hand, you have full-service legacy carriers like American, Delta, and United. On the other hand, there are low-cost carriers like Southwest or even ultra-low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier.
JetBlue occupies a space somewhere between the legacy carriers and low-cost Southwest. It’s a tweener with elements taken both from full-service as well as low-cost airlines. For instance, JetBlue operates mainly point-to-point service like low-cost carriers while the legacy airlines use a hub and spoke model. But unlike low-cost airlines, JetBlue’s aircraft are stylishly appointed with some planes even equipped with a luxurious Mint premium cabin.
As a result, the New York-based airline is generally referred to as a boutique carrier.
But back to my experience onboard JetBlue. Here’s a closer look at my flight to Seattle.
My journey started with a trip from my home in northern New Jersey to JetBlue's base at JFK Terminal 5. Getting off the AirTrain, I was greeted by this sign and some digital kiosks.
JetBlue's terminal sits on real estate once occupied by TWA's iconic Flight Center. The remnants of that facility are being converted over to a luxury hotel.
Passengers are directed to the digital kiosks for check-in or to print out checked baggage tags. Since my boarding pass was stored on my iPhone, all I needed was a baggage tag. The airline had several employees on hand to assist anyone struggling with the kiosks.
With my checked baggage tag applied, I simply walked over to the handful of luggage conveyor belts where another employee scanned my bag and boarding pass using a handheld device. With my bags dropped off, all I had to do was go through the TSA checkpoint and then onto my gate.
Overall, JetBlue's check-in process is simple, efficient, and highly intuitive even for infrequent flyers.
Once past the security checkpoint, I made my way to the heart of terminal 5. It's also home to Aer Lingus, Hawaiian Airlines, and TAP Portugal.
While most US airlines board in zones, JetBlue boards with passengers in the back of the plane going first. It's similar to the system employed by Virgin Atlantic. I found it to be less frenzied than the zone-based method.
While JetBlue's A320s have an industry-leading 34 inches of seat pitch in economy, its A321s have either 32 or 33 inches depending on the interior layout. I believe I got the 32-inch variety. It was perfectly sufficient for my needs and the bottle holder was a nice touch.
JetBlue's A320/A321s boast six-abreast seating. The airline's slimline seats proved to be supportive and comfortable enough to sustain a five and a half hour flight without complaint. Something I can't say about the seats on several major US legacy airlines.
Each seat is equipped with a 10-inch high definition touch screen featuring numerous entertainment options.
I went for the DirecTV. After all, my Georgia Bulldogs were playing that night. We trounced Missouri 53-28 on the back of 700 yards of total offence. Go Dawgs!
The audio plug on my seat actually malfunctioned. Fortunately, I was the only one in my row, so I simply used the audio plug on an adjacent seat. But to others, I probably looked like the weird guy watching the same thing on two different screens.
The economy class drinks and snack service on board a JetBlue flight is unlike anything I've on a US airline. Most airlines around the world roll trolleys down the aisle with food and drink. Not JetBlue. First, its flight attendants approach each passenger to take individual orders. Then, the drinks and snacks are delivered on trays restaurant style.
JetBlue does offer actually meals on some transcon flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco. However, my flight to Seattle was a snack only affair. The chips, crackers, and soft drinks were unlimited. Cabin crew also walked around to hand out bottles of water.
While I could have used a nice sandwich on such a long flight, as a Business Insider employee this was not my first Cheez-it and soda meal.
The wifi offered more than enough bandwidth for me to work during the flight and even upload high definition images onto Business Insider's content management system.
Since the beginning, JetBlue has touted itself as an airline willing to think outside of the box. Whether that be giving away wifi and in-flight entertainment or the unorthodox boarding process and drinks service. Frankly, JetBlue's willingness to be different has helped create what can only be described as a world-class product.
Earlier this year, JetBlue vice president of customer support Frankie Littleford told me in an interview that the airline sees itself as a 'service company that happens to fly aeroplanes' with its ultimate goal of bringing humanity back to flying.
'I think that everybody wants to be treated great and having our journeys be a little less stressful and more personal, helpful, and simple is what it's all about,' Littleford added.
In that regard, Littleford is absolutely correct. And with JetBlue, they have really delivered that experience. For years, I've heard the hype around this airline and didn't quite believe it. Now I see what the fuss is all about. And now, I also regret not flying JetBlue sooner.
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