Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you might not know that New York’s ‘hometown airline’ JetBlue has been operating across the Atlantic for almost two years, offering a value proposition to the full-service concept on the highly competitive route between JFK and London. Although it’s taken us a few months to sort a trip, we thought it was about time to see why the airline was receiving such rave reviews on what is essentially, just a narrow-body aircraft.
Check out our full report in video format or click here to watch it on youtube:
On the Ground
Being London based, I opted to fly from Heathrow, which the majority of competitor airlines use as their hub. That said, JetBlue also operates from Gatwick, which is actually more convenient for most people living in South West London. As well as the Ny-Lon route, the airline also flies from Boston to London, and will also start a service from Paris in June, with Amsterdam joining the route network in the coming months.
JetBlue uses Terminal 2, an interesting choice considering it’s mainly just the ‘Star Alliance’ Terminal, but it’s also one of the best terminal’s in our opinion thanks to its smaller size and ease of use.
On arrival, JetBlue uses a few self-check-in kiosks as well as the standard desks, with a separate lane for Mint and Mosaic – the airline’s frequent flier programme customers. I didn’t check bags, thanks to the airline’s ample airspace overhead bins, allowing me to carry onboard a large cabin case and a rucksack. Check-in was quick, and on being provided a boarding pass, came JetBlue’s only snag; no lounge. That’s even something noted by the previous passenger ahead of me.
That said, it’s no biggy. In summer, fares across the Atlantic are as little as £1300 return, which means there’s plenty of spare change to book one of the walk-in lounges in Heathrow should you want that perk. (Although my eagle-eyes noted the airline was recently hiring for a ‘lounge passenger experience’ role, meaning that perhaps some lounges are on the horizon for JetBlue in the near future).
Mint gives you Fast Track in Heathrow and in JFK, which means skipping the queues is pretty easy. That said, Heathrow was suffering from a go-slow day, which meant even Fast Track took a steady 20 minutes to navigate.
Thanks to my Amex platinum, I was able to access the Plaza Premium Lounge in Heathrow Terminal 2 before departure, which is perfectly suited for the first perk of JetBlue’s operation. Thanks to operating just A321’s across the Atlantic, the aircraft was parked at the short-haul gates of the main terminal, meaning you could get from security to gate in just a couple of minutes. Perfect if you are in a rush.
I was lucky enough to board early, so I could see the aircraft in all its glory before general boarding, so after scoffing down a few pastries, I headed to the gate, where the aircraft sat ready and waiting to take a full flight back to its hometown of JFK.
On boarding, it dawns on you exactly why JetBlue gets rave reviews. Now this isn’t your typical A321 product, it’s a carefully thought-through masterpiece in cabin design brought to life by London design studio Acumen, where every little detail has been considered in response to passenger needs.
While I would normally say let’s start at the front, let’s actually start in JetBlue’s ‘Core’ product, which feels more premium economy than economy. There are just 114 economy seats, of which 24 offer extra space (plus the front row, which is just considered basic core, but still features swathes of space).
While the narrow-body features the Airspace cabin including great mood lighting options, it means the ceilings above the seats feel lower than a wide-body, yet the extra space offered in the overhead bins means there’s no fighting for overhead lockers during boarding, it’s a welcome trade off.
“In economy, what’s really noticeable is both the size of the seats and the amount of legroom given to every passenger, and thanks to the free Wi-Fi and compelling inflight entertainment system, there’s plenty to keep passengers amused on these flights – equal to – if not better in many regards to JetBlue’s competitors.”Jonny Clark – TheDesignAir
The most unique element is the build-your own meal concept which allows passengers to pre-select their protein and side dishes on the IFE system as they sit down.
Now let’s talk Mint. At the front of the aircraft, there are 24 seats (albeit one is used as a crew rest) which means there are 21 usual Mint suites, and 2 rather special Mint Studios situated at the very front of the aircraft.
JetBlue’s business class shares one aisle, and the seats all face it. That might sound like a bit of a downside, but that means for convenient aisle access while your head is situated away from the high-traffic thoroughfare. And, unlike Virgin Atlantic, these seats still afford you an epic view out the windows, thanks to the careful positioning of the seat and the storage areas to the side of the seat.
But the epic (and we mean epic) Studios at the very front are the epitome of affordable luxury. These seats are more akin to First Class than Business Class, with their own wardrobes, suite doors, large work areas and buddy dining seat complete with side table, and the largest TV currently available on North American carriers at an eye riveting 22”.
The seat, as we’ve explored in previous articles, is the culmination of years of development, and the Thompson Vantage Solo seat has also learned lessons from two decades of herringbone all-aisle-access Business Class products. There’s swathes of space and the seats are wide, and comfortable, thanks to the Tuft & Needle embedded memory foam cushioning in the seat. Unlike the Virgin Atlantic product, there’s no need to fold this seat over, it naturally reclines into a 2-metre long comfortable bed.
The buddy seat used to also have a footrest that would raise to increase the bed surface area, but that’s currently ‘Inop’ and might return to service in the near future. What’s also great to see – above and beyond the New York loft apartment design touches that grace the cabin – is the addition of strategically placed, and technologically advanced charging points. From the wireless phone charging leather surface, to the USB and USB-C charging points, situated both sides of the suite.
The Food and Drink
Now we’re starting to cook with gas… well not literally, but this is where JetBlue really shines. The catering, which features a pick’n’mix menu of some of the skies most delicious dishes gracing the skies – this isn’t just hyperbole, it’s a genuine game changer across the Atlantic.
With a fairly unassuming print menu greeting you at the seat, you would be forgiven for expecting a ‘value proposition’ to dining, but the menu hints at the culinary journey you’re about to embark on when it’s emblazoned with the names Parcelle and Charlie Bird, two up and coming New York eateries that are taking the city by storm.
The food, just like in economy class, can be ordered from the screen, allowing you to pick and choose three dishes from five for the main meal, and two of three for the second meal. Being a day flight, we started with a lunch, followed by an afternoon tea.
During boarding, there was a choice of sparkling wine, cider and a sparkling wine with elderflower, which is certainly worth opting for. Sadly, like all American carriers, these pre-departure drinks are served in plastic cups, however the service ware goes through an epic upgrade when it comes to inflight.
Both the service ware and the service is on point, and even on boarding, I was given one of the most entertaining and perfectly polished welcomes I’ve experience in a long time – I got most of it in the video, which is at the top of the article. The service comes to life after take-off, where drinks (including two signature pours) were shaken and served on the rocks in front of you, as if you were in one of New York’s rooftop bars.
As for the food service, it’s not rushed, but it’s prompt. And, on a mid-range flight of 7 hours or so, the pomp and ceremony of service can take more than 2 hours with some carriers, but from take-off to dessert was less than 90 minutes. The food was packed full of umami flavours, and the smell in the galley prior to service was mouth-watering. The concept of pick’n’mix dishes adds to the uniqueness of JetBlue and allows most people with any dietary requests to find something that works for them. The chicken felt like it was freshly roasted and moist, the burrata was huge and fresh, and the prawn curry was (although a little cold) the flavoursome star of the show.
As well as a wonderful dessert, there was mid-flight snacks a plenty, even vegan ice-cream, making it more of ‘three services’ rather than two across the Atlantic, no mean feat! The afternoon snack went above and beyond the sometimes-stale finger sandwiches on BA and Virgin Atlantic, and certainly try the salads which are anything but the limp afterthoughts you usually get on a plane. The food and drink certainly doesn’t disappoint on JetBlue.
JetBlue is well known in the US for its live TV and that’s available on these supercharged narrow-bodies too, but there’s a wealthy collection of movies, both new and old to keep you amused on the flight including some more risqué choices which help reflect JetBlue’s somewhat more ‘upstart’ brand positioning.
In the Studio, there’s a whopping 22” touchscreen TV, which is intuitive, and big enough for two to watch, however, sadly, there’s not two headphone jacks to be able to watch with a partner, a small near miss in an otherwise perfect entertainment offering onboard. What does get a home run however is the free Wi-Fi for all passengers, which is fast, easy to use (just connect, no awkward sign-ups) and perfectly suited to the high business demographic flying these routes.
The entertainment is paired with great headphones, by Master & Dynamic which are pretty darn decent at noise cancelling, albeit the fact they have to be collected an hour before landing is a bit of a bummer, especially considering the cheaper coach headphones you are given in replacement. The only thing missing is a magazine, a chance for JetBlue to really educate its passengers where it flies and what the Mint product offers. After all, for many European travellers, the airline’s giant route network is a bit of an enigma.
Bring an extra suitcase with you, I mean it. The amount of amenities they give you is overwhelming, thank goodness for the small vanity unit the Studios have, just as a place to stash everything. From the Tuft and Needle memory foam pillows and warm comforter (which sadly you can’t keep) to the super-luxe slippers available in every seat, this is all about getting cosy and comfortable.
There are two amenity kits, one by Tuft and Needle, which includes a toothbrush, eyemask etc, and another from Wanderfuel, which is brimming with health driven goodies including a collagen sachet, face mist and other facial treatments. It’s like having your own private spa day.
In all of Mint’s seats on the A321 is a pair of luxury slippers, (you might miss them, they’re tucked away to the front of the seat) but with the Studio seats in 1A and 1F, you’re also treated to pyjamas, which are tailored, not some baggy shapeless giveaway. There are also extra elements on request, from lint brushes to stain remover pens, once again, everything here is geared towards today’s business traveller, giving you what you actually need on a Transatlantic flight, perhaps heading straight into a meeting.
The biggest extra however, is the service, which shines. I found out that the crew operating the Mint products across the Atlantic literally are the best of the best of JetBlue, many of the crew with over a decade of experience with the carrier. It’s because it’s the airline’s flagship route, and seniority means that you will be treated to some of the most experienced crew flying on JetBlue, an interesting, but priceless comparison to the UK carriers, who will have a wide range of experience levels operating these important, highly valuable city pairs.
I had expectations, not going to lie, but they were still blown away. My misconceptions around the challenge of operating a premium product on a single aisle aircraft were quickly dispelled and I can see how the hours of unending research and development from the product teams have created a holistic Business Class experience that can rival Virgin Atlantic. And by that, we mean, it is far superior to all other carriers operating across the pond. But the best bit, is that the airline is doing this at a cheaper price point, and the best icing on the cake, was that on landing in T5 in JFK, JetBlue’s own terminal, the immigration line was nearly non-existent, meaning that from landing to curb-side, was less than 20 minutes. If the product onboard doesn’t convince you to try JetBlue, this benefit certainly will.