NEW YORK — When I first heard that JetBlue was announcing a Business Class cabin for its entry into the hot premium transcontinental market, I was not quite sure what to expect. Over the past year, it has been extremely interesting to watch the development progress, but today it was finally time to put “Mint” to the test. After a brief media demo last week, today was the first passenger flight of JetBlue’s new premium A321 product, and I was on board for the ride in one of the aircraft’s four suites.
All passengers flying in the Mint cabin receive what JetBlue calls “even more speed,” which gives passengers access to an expedited security line. This came in handy for me as the TSA decided I didn’t deserve PreCheck today. Although Mint passengers are in a world of luxury in the air, they receive no special treatment on the ground post-security. JFK T5 does have a buy in lounge, the Airspace Lounge, but Mint passengers are not granted free access. It’s not the end of the world, though, as T5 is still quite nice.
Boarding began a few brief celebratory words from JetBlue employees and a ribbon cutting. JetBlue managed to get a (large) pair of scissors by the TSA, and with one cut a new era in transcontinental flight history began. Both Mint and Mosaic passengers are called first, but it wasn’t the mad dash of elites you might see at other airlines flying this route. It was all rather civilized and calm.
Once on board and settled in, flight attendants introduce themselves and explain the brand new seats, as well as offer a pre-flight drink. A honey infused tea is offered with or without a little spike of vodka. The drink is surprisingly smooth and delicious, and I highly recommend it.
Initially, boarding of JetBlue’s Mint A321s happens at the forward door, or L1 door in airline language. Unfortunately, this significantly impedes the pre-flight service, as the flight attendants must fight their way upstream against a raging river of boarding economy passengers. JetBlue hopes to be able to board through the L2 door, but because of its close proximity to the engine, safety protocols must first be perfected so the jet bridge does not damage the aircraft.
The Mint seats are based on the Thompson Aerospace Vantage series that you may find on many other long haul aircraft. JetBlue, however, has highly customized their version. I was seated in what JetBlue is calling a “suite,” which are in rows two and four. These suite seats offer more room than I really know what to do with (not that it’s a bad thing!), and have earned the nickname “The Throne” on other airlines due to the large space on either side. All Mint seats come with two 110v power outlets and USB ports, which is a welcome sight.
Not only is the seat spacious, but it is one of the most comfortable I have ever come across. Rather than traditional cushioning, JetBlue opted to have the seats filled with air, which allows passengers to increase and decrease the firmness, as well as receive a nice massage. Yes, you are sitting on a bed of air while you are flying through the air. It is quite a unique feeling, one that I hope is adopted elsewhere. I wonder, however, what happens when these seats spring a leak?
When set to bed mode, which is fully-flat, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was more than enough room for me length wise – my feet were not touching the seat in front of me. However, the cutout where you put your legs is a bit on the small side, and feels a bit restricting. Non-suite seats offer more leg space than the suites.
The suite comes with one unique feature that you will not find on any other airline in the United States- a closing privacy door. With a little pull of a switch, a sliding door closes shut, giving suite passengers a little more privacy. Naturally, I closed it as soon as possible just to have some fun, and found that it definitely gives the illusion of a bit more privacy when the seat is in bed mode.
For the time being, Mint seats are fair game for and passenger already in Mint. Suite pricing has not yet been worked out, so any Mint passenger is free to snag a suite when booking a seat. If a suite is open, I highly recommend it.
It just wouldn’t be JetBlue without television at every seat, and the Mint A321 has the newest generation of its LiveTV product. Mint passengers will find a generously sized screen, with access to over 100 DirecTV channels, XM Radio, and a selection of movies.
The new DirecTV selection is a massive upgrade from the 30 or so channels offered previously. Along with the new channels comes a proper channel guide, complete with a category breakdown and program listing. Although the JetBlue smartphone app had a channel guide, it is super useful to see, on the screen, what I am watching.
Unfortunately, JetBlue decided to stick with looping movie channels, rather than upgrade to on demand programming. The movies are offered for free to Mint passengers, but without the ability to pause or fast forward, I have no interest in watching them. JetBue lags behind all other airlines on the premium transcon route in this respect. Yes, having live television is great, but how useful is it on a late night or middle of the day. I don’t like watching infomercials, and you probably don’t, either.
There are few new additions to the entertainment system, but also a few issues. For the time being, the system is controlled solely via a wired remote control, which is a bit clumsy to operate. In the future, the screens will be updated to enable touch capability. The system is also one of the first in the world to offer closed captions, which is a huge win for the hearing impaired community. This new feature is only offered on the live television portion of the system, however, and not the movie channels.
The usual assortment of XM Radio channels should be on the A321 Mint aircraft, but it was not working on my flight. None of the stations populated in the guide. The only station that did populate was the ATC channel, which is not yet activated. Much like United’s “Channel 9,” it will provide air traffic control audio from the flight deck, a feature all aviation geeks will rejoice over. JetBlue expects it to come online in the next few months. The same old moving map from the previous system can be found in the updated system, which isn’t a good thing. The map still has ads cycling through it, and the level is detail is quite minimal.
JetBlue now also provides free headsets for passengers in Mint, but I found them to be the weakest part of the entertainment system overall. The headphones were tight and uncomfortable, not something I would want to wear for a six or seven hour flight. Despite the headphone jack offering a second port for noise cancellation power, these headphones do not offer that functionality. Bring your own headphones for a much better experience.
Along with the new entertainment system comes JetBlue’s new WiFi system, called FlyFi. Quickly rolling out to the rest of the fleet, all A321 Mint aircraft offer the speed internet system. FlyFi will remain free for the time being, and it is not yet known if (or when) JetBlue decides to charge for it if Mint passengers will have to pay. The WiFi system worked as expected throughout the flight. At one point, I was even able to conduct a live stream, which is impressive for any non-wired internet connection.
Where Mint really sets itself apart from the competition is the meal service. This is JetBlue’s first foray into real in-flight meals, and they have knocked the ball out of the park. The menu is put together by Saxon + Parole, and really puts a new spin on the in-flight meal.
Each Mint passenger can pick three of five options, some of which are served cold, the others hot. During the breakfast service, I opted for the creamy scrambled eggs with bacon, cheese & chive biscuit sandwich, as well as a buttery French toast. If that sounds like a lot, it because was. This meal was, by far, the best breakfast I have ever had in-flight. Heck, it may have been one of the best meals overall. Each dish was the perfect balance of taste and portion size. The bacon was crispy, the eggs really were creamy, and the figs served with the French toast was the perfect addition.
In the future, JetBlue will be offering high end coffee drinks, but the FAA has not yet approved the Espresso maker for use. This was one of my favorite perks when flying American Air’s A321T in First Class, so I was disappointed to hear it was not yet available in Mint. JetBlue expects it to be in operation closer to the end of 2014.
Throughout the flight, the flight attendants were quite attentive while they acquainted themselves to the new configuration and level of service. Polite, happy, and with smiles from ear to ear, the flight attendants seemed thrilled to be in their new roles.
Mint really is “JetBlue 2.0.” The product is a totally refresh from nose to tail, but some details still need to be refined before the product is complete. Prices, however, are set so low (starting at $599 one way for Mint) you might not even notice. Even so, JetBlue has a serious winner on its hands, a product that can compete against the legacy carriers and some out the other side standing tall.
Stay tuned as we return to JFK with the new aircraft to try out JetBlue’s new economy offering!