MIAMI — While nearly all the attention focused on JetBlue last week went to its brilliant new Mint product (our review is right here), what is in the back of the aircraft went mostly unnoticed. Along with the new Mint cabin, JetBlue has embarked upon its first real product refresh since launching in 2000. JetBlue calls it its “new core” cabin, a total refresh of its long standing economy class seat.
My flight was from Los Angeles to New York, the first time this new product would debut. JetBlue utilizes terminal 3 at LAX, which is far from a good thing. When your aircraft is parked between Allegiant and Spirit, you know you are not in the nice terminal. The gate area is tiny, hot, and lacks just about every amenity. JetBlue hopes to spruce up the gate hold area to include some sort of VIP area, and eventually move out within the next few years. Thankfully, the experience all goes uphill once on board.
JetBlue has lagged behind the competition quite a bit when it comes to integrating modern amenities into its cabin. Virtually none of its fleet has power outlets for passengers, the old LiveTV system now feels very dated (if it even works), and the overall feel of the cabin felt dated when compared to the likes of Virgin America. The new cabin, thankfully, brings JetBlue into the year 2014.
The economy cabin is quite visually appealing at first glance when boarding. The new seats look sharp, and I love how the Even More Space seats are differentiated with an orange stripe, the same stripe that is found on the airline’s new uniforms. JetBlue has also finally introduced mood lighting, though limited only to white and shades of blue.
I was seated in an Even More Space seat, which offers 37”-41” of legroom, compared with the now now 33” in the traditional seats. The new seats are of the slimline variety, so the reduction of seat pitch is not really noticeable. I always thought the seats on JetBlue were some of the most comfortable around, so I am sad to see them go. In exchange for the extra padding the old seats afforded me, some welcome features have been introduced.
Each seat has an adjustable headrest with folding wings, something I have come to enjoy on red-eye flights. Because these seats are brand new, the headrest actually remained in its position when I raised it and did not come falling back to its set position – hopefully proper maintenance keeps this as the norm. Each row of economy now, finally, feature two power outlets for passenger use. Each 110v outlet also contains as USB power which is actually capable of charging devices at a reasonable rate, so there shouldn’t be any squabbling between passengers over who gets to use the outlet. The outlets are under the seat, which is a bit disappointing as many airlines are installing them in much more accessible (and easier to find) places, such as in the seat in front of you. It’s obviously better than no outlets, but those under-seat outlets can get pretty grimey over time. The new seats also feature a multi-tiered seat back pocket. One pocket is for JetBlue materials, another is set aside just for the passenger, and a third acts as a cup holder.
One of the major updates to the new JetBlue cabin is to the in-flight entertainment system. While JetBlue’s LiveTV system was revolutionary in the year 2000, it has not aged well with time. The “new” LiveTV 4 system has seen the number of live television channels jump from around 30 channels to about 100. While the additional channels are great, navigating the options can be a bit of a chore. I also put the word new in quotes since the system is really just new to JetBlue. United (or even Continental) passengers will find the system to be very familiar, as it the legacy carrier has had this system installed for many years.
For the time being, the system is not touch sensitive and can only be controlled via the buttons on the top of the arm rest. I have never been a fan of the placement, and found myself constantly elbowing my way to an undesired channel change or sudden volume spike. When I do actually want to change the channel, response time to the button presses was quite laggy. When I wanted to change to channel 402 to watch a World Cup match, it took a considerable amount of time to scroll to that channel. Although I could change channel types such as sports and news in the new channel guide, a page jump would have made things much easier.
A feature that will remain unique to the Mint A321s is the Marketplace, which turned out to be a big hit with passengers on my flight. Located just behind the Mint cabin at the front of economy is a self-service snack and drink station which opens up after the initial drink service. Two small refrigerators keep drinks cold, and a variety of snacks are in cabinets off to the right. Upon takeoff, some cans in the refrigerators were vibrating quite loudly, and this is something JetBlue will have to sort out, but would only be discovered in actual flights. Throughout the flight, even passengers from the Mint cabin came back to the Marketplace to grab a drink.
Buy-on-board food in economy is still a bit of an iffy situation on the Mint A321. In addition to the usual Eat Up boxes (you’ll want to stay away from these, trust me), JetBlue still offers the Eat Up Cafe options, consisting of a turkey croissant, quinoa salad, yogurt parfait, roast beef sandwich, or antipasto. Unfortunately, they had run out of turkey sandwiches so I opted for the roast beef sandwich. If you like a healthy dose of horseradish, this sandwich is for you.
When compared to the snack service in economy on other transcon flights, JetBlue falls quite a bit short. Delta offers a free Luvo wrap, ice cream bar, and even beer to passengers in Economy Comfort, but passengers in Even More Space are afforded no extra perks in this regard. Delta also offers a hot burger in economy, which isn’t all that bad. If you are hoping for a meal on a transcon flight, but still want to fly economy, you may want to look elsewhere.
Overall, JetBlue’s “new core” economy cabin is clearly a step forward for the airline. But is it enough to compete in the fierce transcontinental market? Possibly. As I settled into my seat, I overheard several passengers remarking about how nice the cabin was. “JetBlue has really outdone themselves this time,” said one passenger. No, the new cabin may not be revolutionary, not by any means. However, new core improves upon an already popular cabin product and I can’t wait to see it on every JetBlue aircraft.