NEW YORK – JetBlue is hitting the stride today as the airline commences its long-awaited transatlantic flights, with London-Heathrow as the first European destination in the history of the airline.
As part of the promotion of this new era for the New York-based airline, JetBlue has gone all out on terminal-wide festivities. Actors portraying the famous Queen’s Guard, as well as elaborately dressed stilt dancers who performed in the main hall of T5 at JFK Airport. Also, large signage and an extravagant set up at the gate complement the celebrations.
Despite a short delay due to rain, at 10:07 PM, JetBlue Flight 7 took off from runway 22R, before banking left and beginning its transatlantic crossing.
After six hours and 25 minutes in the air, the flight landed in a rainy, foggy London, 40 minutes ahead of schedule.
With the flight mostly occupied by JetBlue employees who had worked tirelessly to make the new service possible, the excitement on board was feverish.
Also on board were JetBlue Chief Executive Officer Robin Hayes, JetBlue founder David Neeleman, and other executives.
Planning, Planning, Planning
After years of planning, the European expansion was announced in early 2019, with flights from New York and Boston to London. The carrier is about to debut in a highly competitive market, with major US and European legacy carriers dominating the market.
Speaking at the time of the announcement on the new routes, Hayes said, “London is the largest metro area JetBlue doesn’t yet serve from both Boston and New York, and we could not be more thrilled to be changing that in the years ahead.”
The airline, which has been under the spotlight since earlier this year with the introduction to its fleet of the Airbus A220, is also relying on the Long Range version of the A321neo, fitted with 114 seats in Economy Class and 24 Premium Mint suites (including two new Mint Studio, a larger version of the suites).
JetBlue revealed its new Mint suites in early February. These revamped lie-flat seats offer passengers direct-aisle access, enhanced privacy with a closing door, tilting 17-inch Thales AVANT screens in every seat, and plenty of storage for electronic devices. In addition, the suites feature bedding by Tuft & Needle, using the company’s proprietary mattress foam and a breathable cover to make for a comfortable sleeping experience for travelers.
“Our reimagined Mint and award-winning core experience, combined with the superior economics of the A321neo aircraft, will position JetBlue to compete effectively and add relevance to our customers in Mint markets”, says Jayne O’Brien, JetBlue’s Head of Marketing and Loyalty.
What’s the Competition?
The route between New York and London is a famously lucrative one, with service by American Airlines (AA), British Airways (BA), Delta Air Lines (DL), Virgin Atlantic (VS) and until recently, Norwegian Airlines (DY). United Airlines (UA) flies from Newark, a short distance from New York.
American Airlines flies to London Heathrow (LHR) offering Flagship First, a first-class product with large seats with little to no privacy. However, using a larger wide-body aircraft allows for the seats to be larger. Its business class in its Boeing 777 fleet is arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration with no sliding doors.
On the other hand, British Airways’ Club Suite business class widely varies depending on the aircraft type. In the case of the Boeing 777, the once acclaimed cabin product has become obsolete, while in its Boeing 787-10s and Airbus A350s, the airline introduced a vastly upgraded version.
Delta Air Lines’ newest business class product, Delta One, also features a newly designed seat with plenty of storage space but alike American Airlines, it does not have a privacy door.
Lastly, United Airlines flies its Boeing 777s and 787s to London, with its acclaimed Polaris Business Class cabin, introduced in 2016.
The main three US carriers have closely comparable business-class products, leaving room for JetBlue to enter the market with an upgraded, innovative cabin product.
Celebration and Press Event
To kick off the ceremony, a group of flight attendants, including the cabin crew of the maiden flight, posed in front of reporters and news crews.
Next, Robin Hayes, the Chief Executive Officer of JetBlue, officially named the aircraft ‘Joel Peterson’ after the former chairman of the board of JetBlue, who retired in early 2020, just before COVID-19 began to spread. Peterson was then presented with a signed model of an Airbus A321LR.
Hayes also described the early stages of the development of the route, when JetBlue rented a warehouse in Kent in secret and created sample seats out of wood. Over the next few years, JetBlue worked to build the product that was used today.
Hayes said, “The reason we wanted to fly to London was one, we didn’t fly there already, two, it had really high fares, and three, we felt that we could create an amazing service both in business class, or as we call it, Mint, and coach, or Core.”
He continued, “When JetBlue looks at something, we look at where the fares have gotten really high, and we try to do it for a much lower fare and an improved service.”
Jeffrey Knittel, Chief Executive Officer of Airbus Americas, said, “Our contribution is the airplane. We think we make great airplanes, but you make them better. You make them better because you have great interiors, great people working in the airplanes, and allow the airplanes to do everything they’re capable of.”
Also in attendance was David Neeleman, one of the founders of JetBlue. He led JetBlue as Chief Executive Officer until 2007, when he turned his focus to Azul. Most recently, he started his fifth airline, Breeze Airways.
To conclude the ceremony, the group of speakers, led by Peterson, performed a ribbon-cutting, launching what will be an exciting new venture for JetBlue.
Cabin and Amenity Kits
JetBlue’s brand new Airbus A321LR includes 114 seats in core (economy) in a three-three configuration (including 24 in Even More Space), and 24 seats in Mint (business class).
Core seats are 18.4 inches wide with 32 inches of legroom, while Even More Space seats have 38 inches of legroom.
Additionally, each seat has AC and USB ports, along with an enhanced seatback pocket to fit water bottles, phones and literature.
Two lavatories are provided for each cabin, with four in total. Although a tight squeeze, the bathrooms were clean and included the airline’s new subway tiles, an homage to its home of New York City.
Additional features aboard the A321LR include ‘The Pantry’, which was not stocked on our flight but will include snacks and drinks for passengers to grab throughout the flight, two closet spaces to hang Mint passengers’ coats, and mood lighting, giving the effect of the sky when onboard.
The A321LR’s hard product also includes extra large overhead bins, personal air vents and reading lights.
Core seat back tray tables were of ample size and designed to fit the meal trays perfectly. My large 15 inch laptop hung over the edge of the table, but I was able to adequately use it.
In core seats, passengers were greeted with a high quality blanket and two small amenity kits designed by Tuft and Needle, which included an eye mask, earplugs, toothbrush with toothpaste, socks, lip balm, moisturizing lotion and mints. Flight attendants also offered passengers complimentary earbuds.
Food and Drink
Before takeoff, flight attendants urged passengers to order and customize their meals through their seat back screens. Catered by New York City based farm-to-table restaurant chain Dig Inn, meals are sourced using fresh ingredients to supplement vegetable-forward menus.
Passengers were able to choose from three different main dishes, including Charred Chicken with brown rice, lime juice and herbs, Beef and Chicken Meatballs with tomato ragu, farro and basil, and finally, Spiced Eggplant with turmeric cauliflower rice and toasted quinoa.
In addition to the main course, passengers could choose two of three side dishes, with options including Dig Acres Tomato Salad with soft cheese, pickled onions and mint, Chilled Sheet Tray Carrots with spiced carrots, lemon peel, garlic and herbs, and Mac & Cheese with a three-cheese blend and whole wheat pasta.
Shortly after takeoff, flight attendants began a drinks service, in which passengers could choose from water, 11 different types of soft drinks, four types of coffee and tea and assorted alcoholic beverages. Unlike most other US carriers, passengers are given a whole can of the beverage they choose, defying the norms of low cost carriers.
Meals were distributed promptly after drinks service concluded, with trays pre-organized according to the passenger’s order. Also on the tray was a bottle of water, polymer based utensils, garlic aioli and sriracha sauce. The tray was extremely colorful and provided a perfect balance of filling elements and light refreshers.
My choices for dinner included Charred Chicken, Dig Acres Tomato Salad and Chilled Sheet Tray Carrots. The freshness of the salad and the excellent texture of the chicken were complemented by the sauces, which worked well with all three dishes. All three dishes were also well seasoned and had nice textures.
JetBlue even offered dessert to core passengers, which was an ice cream sandwich from ‘Chomp by Nightingale’. Flight attendants then collected the trays and darkened the cabin to allow passengers to sleep.
At the two hour mark, cabin crew had concluded two drink services and a meal service, timed perfectly to allow passengers to maximize sleep time. The services were also paced well, giving passengers enough time to finish their meal before taking trays.
An hour before arrival, breakfast was served, which included a choice between a warm chocolate croissant and fresh fruit. The fresh fruit platter included pieces of mango, strawberries, blueberries, grapes and blackberries. The fruit and the croissant were extremely fresh.
WiFi and Media
Fitted with a VIASAT, JetBlue’s A321LRs are equipped with high speed WiFi, with speeds reaching a respectable 25 Mbps download speed. However, connection at times was spotty, making it difficult to stream media.
Also available to passengers were 181 movies, including many new releases, 111 different TV shows, four games and five live TV channels. Passengers can enjoy the media using the 10.1 inch 1080p high definition screen at each seat.
Additionally, seatback screens included an interactive route map, drinks selection showcase, exclusive JetBlue content, Spanish titles and specially curated collections of media focused on London and summer.
PressReader, a service providing JetBlue customers with 24 hour access to over 7000 magazines and newspapers and a meditation app were also available.
The experience offered by JetBlue was exceptional and is sure to completely disrupt the market previously dominated by legacy carriers.
With each detail of the hard and soft product chosen carefully, JetBlue’s commitment to offering passengers a premium service for a low fare, operating sustainability conscious flights and leading the industry in customer-centered products was at the forefront of my experience.
An especially high point was the catering, which was flavor-packed, well balanced, and a true standout among meals onboard competing airlines.
The expansion into the highly volatile, at times unfriendly market of Europe affords JetBlue the opportunity to test its business model in a new light.
Featured Image: Kochan Kleps/Airways