Story and Photos by Brandon Aronoff
ATLANTA — March 8th, 2018, a day to remember in The jetBlue Airways history book. A day where the Eighteen-year-old New York airline with different blue tails and those revolutionary PTV’s took to the Atlanta sky’s in a big way once again.
jetBlue Airways started in the year 2000 as an airline like no other. Their business model was to have an all-economy airline with great legroom, in-seat personal tv’s, and Sirius XM radio that would beat all its competition with its low fares. They began flying on February 11th, 2000 with David Neeleman at the helm from New York’s JFK airport to Buffalo and Ft. Lauderdale with Airbus A320 Aircraft.
Since their founding, the airline now operates to 101 destinations throughout the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. They have a fleet of 130 Airbus A320’s, 53 Airbus A321’s and 60 Embraer 190 Aircraft with orders for more A321s and E190’s. They have 5 crew bases in New York, Boston, Ft. Lauderdale, Long Beach, and Orlando, with a multitude of airline partners across the globe.
They also offer a select first class type service on the 321’s called “Mint” on their premier Transcontinental routes. On top of that, the airline has the best legroom out of any full economy airline in the United States with an average of 38-39 inch seat pitch.
jetBlue’s name in the Atlanta area is foreign, however. Yet it wasn’t always. Back in 2002, jetBlue served Hartsfield-Jackson with daily flights to both Long Beach and Oakland, California. This service was short lived though, due to gate slot issues and a growing turf war with Delta and AirTran at the time, the airline ceased it’s operations at ATL a short 6 months after they began.
Up until March 30th of the last year 2017, the airline was still nonexistent in Atlanta, on that day they finally made their long 14 years in the making return to the world’s busiest airport with 4 daily flights to Boston-Logan International Airport operating the A320 aircrafts, with the hopes of starting more destinations shortly after.
As soon as their operations began jetBlue hit yet another roadblock at ATL, this time it was having a gate to load and unload their passengers. With continued mounting pressure from Delta, jetBlue still almost a year after beginning service does not have set gates, they fly into concourses D, E, and F depending on where an open gate is available at the time their flights land.
READ MORE: JetBlue Selects Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan™ (GTF) Engines to Power Its Airbus A320neo Family Aircraft
Finally, at the end of 2017, jetBlue announced plans to begin service to Atlanta from New York-JFK, Ft. Lauderdale, and Orlando, with multiple flight options per day to each city on board their A320’s. The set date to begin service was Thursday, March 8th, 2018.
As a South Florida native, once I saw these flights listed I knew I had to be on the first one to Atlanta from FLL. I frequently fly through Hartsfield-Jackson, typically at least once a week, and I jokingly say to many people “I know ATL like the back of my hand” so being able to fly another airline, one of South Florida’s largest airlines in fact into the worlds most traveled airport is a huge deal!
At the time I purchased the one-way ticket I paid $82 for a basic rate without a checked bag, which is a great competitive fare compared with the other three airlines Delta, Southwest, and Spirit who serve ATL nonstop from FLL. If you want to check a bag jetBlue charges $25 at the airport or $15 while booking the flight online. The flight was set to leave at 12 noon on Thursday the 8th.
I arrived about three hours prior to my flight in much anticipation for the Inaugural flight. I walked over to my departure gate which was F1 and found a delayed 10:00 am Newark flight was still at the gate. Once the Newark flight left I was hoping to see the Fort Lauderdale jetBlue personnel put on a party or something of the sorts to acknowledge the historic flight to the peach state. However only a few orange, white, and blue balloons were at the gate.
I was seated in 15F a window seat on the right side of the aircraft. I was talking to the extremely nice gate agents before the flight, about it being the first flight for jetBlue into Atlanta, during our conversation one of the gate agents surprised me with an upgraded seat assignment of 11F a window/exit row which is part of jetBlue’s Even More Space seats.
As soon as she gave me my new boarding pass our plane was being brought into the gate from a hardstand, and that’s when another surprise occurred. Our aircraft was the retro-themed A320, it’s tail number is N763JB. Being the AvGeek that I am, I was super excited to fly in this special livery aircraft. I knew right then that this flight, flight #468 would be one to never forget.
About 20 minutes before boarding a group of 17 or 18 jetBlue employees came to the gate in the fascination of the new city being served. Out of all the inaugural flights I have done, I have never seen such a large group of employees come to send the plane off. I asked if I could board early, to see if I could get some incite on the flight from the flight attendants and pilots working for the flight.
One of the gate agents said “sure no problem” and walked me down to the aircraft where I took some cabin pictures and then began talking to the flight attendants. The first person I spoke to was jetBlue’s lead flight attendant Jayson Priest. He has been with the company for 13 years and is Ft. Lauderdale based, he has been waiting since he began for the Atlanta flight to finally happen, since his family lives in the Atlanta area.
After chatting with him I spoke to Jennifer Robinson, Jaclyn Collado, and Yessid Silva another 3 amazing FLL based flight attendants working the inaugural flight. They have all have been with the company about 5 years and were excited to take part in the historic flight. The captain had informed me of a short but average one hour and thirty-minute flight up to ATL.
The flight left almost completely full and pushed back from the gate right on time at 12 noon. Due to the winds, we had an unusual runway 27L departure, once on the runway, the pilots revved up the 2 (IAE V2527-A5) engines and we took to the skies souring over the Florida Everglades.
Once at our causing flight level 330 beverage and snack service began. jetBlue offers a variety of soft drinks, juices, and Dunkin Donuts coffee as well as a variety of snack options such as Pop Chips, Terra Blue Chips, and Chocolate Chip Cookies. In my opinion, jetBlue has the best inflight service out of any U.S. low-cost carrier.
About halfway through the flight, a drawing was held by a special flight coordinator onboard the flight from the Ft. Lauderdale ops crew, where two lucky passengers would randomly receive two round-trip tickets to anywhere jetBlue served. The winners were in seats 4E and 14E, this proves that having a middle seat isn’t always terrible!
It was a beautiful 48-degree afternoon in Atlanta as we approached runway 28. With a gracefully smooth landing, we taxied over to The F concourse which is one of two International terminals in Atlanta. We parked at gate F14, as we were taxing in you could see many jetBlue ramp personnel outside either to greet the inaugural flight or in the fascination of the Retro Livery painted the plane.
Also, unfortunately, no water cannon salute was provided. After deplaning and saying my goodbyes to the amazing flight crew and the special retro plane I walked into my favorite concourse in Hartsfield, but unfortunately their again like at Lauderdale was no special greeting in the terminal for the first flight. This was most likely due to jetBlue personnel not knowing far in advance where their gate will be.
Overall I thought the flight was a huge success, even though there wasn’t a huge party or excitement for the inaugural. The staff and flight crew were extremely warm and caring. The flight was efficient and had no delays. This is just another example of jetBlue Airways great service. I think they will be very successful in battling the other major Atlanta based airlines in the future, and should now have a stamp for good in the Atlanta area. David Neeleman would be very proud to see what jetBlue has become. Thanks, jetBlue for an unforgettable experience.