The Mint experience from London: What it was like flying JetBlue’s inaugural flight from London to New York
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JetBlue made history on Wednesday when it flew transatlantic for the first time with paying passengers on board. The launch of the service was the result of 28 months of planning, awaiting approvals, working out logistics, revamping the Mint experience and so much more.
But on Wednesday, JetBlue’s first transatlantic flight with paying passengers departed from New York’s JFK airport, bound for London Heathrow. TPG’s Zach Honig was on board that inaugural flight — you can read his full dispatch from JetBlue’s economy “Core” cabin here.
On Thursday, I hopped on board that same A321LR aircraft — registered as N4022J and named “Joel Peterson” after the airline’s chairman — for the return leg in JetBlue’s business-class cabin, dubbed “Mint.”
Booking my flight
Shortly after JetBlue announced the date for its inaugural operations, I jumped at the opportunity to fly on the inaugural return leg — from London Heathrow (LHR) to New York (JFK). In order to experience the business-class product from Heathrow, I booked in the airline’s Mint cabin.
One-way flights in Mint from London to New York hover around the $2,900 mark for much of the rest of the year. While that is certainly a steep price to pay, it is still significantly cheaper than competitors’ fares on the transatlantic route in business class.
For example, you can expect to pay upwards of $5,000 — and oftentimes more — for a one-way flight in business class with the legacy carriers like British Airways, American Airlines, Delta and others. In this regard, it’s clear that JetBlue is looking to implement the “Mint effect” on these transatlantic fares.
On this inaugural flight, the one-way fare in Mint cost me 2,104.52 pounds (about $2,910). I booked using The Platinum Card® from American Express to earn 5 points per dollar on the airfare for a total of 14,945 points. Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, those Membership Rewards points are worth 216 pounds ($299) — not a bad return on the purchase.
You can also redeem JetBlue TrueBlue points for travel in Mint — though expect to fork over more than 200,000 TrueBlue points for the experience.
The Mint experience at Heathrow
JetBlue’s home airport is New York’s JFK. The airline has used the airport’s Terminal 5 as its hub since 2008. Since then, it’s refurbished and revamped the terminal, and had plenty of time to plan for and work out the experience for passengers — both Mint and Core.
But with its route launch to Heathrow, JetBlue was set to begin operations to a new airport — and one that is traditionally extremely slot constricted, busy and crowded. JetBlue is not a part of any major airline alliance. And despite growing ties with American Airlines, JetBlue is operating out of Heathrow’s Terminal 2, which is the base for Star Alliance carriers that fly from the airport, as well as a few outliers such as Etihad and Aer Lingus.
I arrived at Heathrow at about 11 a.m. — three hours ahead of the 2:05 p.m. departure. Upon entering the terminal, I took a look at the large electronic board to find out where JetBlue’s check-in area was located. The small check-in area, which features four desks, was located in the A block — more specifically, from A25 to A28, right underneath a Star Alliance banner. You’ll need to walk all the way to the left side of the terminal building, around the Costa coffee shop and to the back of the check-in area to find the desks. To save yourself from walking the length of the terminal, asked to get dropped off at the left side of the terminal building when arriving at Terminal 2.
On the day of my flight, there were — as expected — a number of JetBlue and Heathrow agents waiting around the check-in area. There was a slew of black barriers around the area for queues, but unfortunately, there was no signage as to which entrance was meant for different passengers.
It wasn’t clear if Mint passengers and Mosaic members should enter through a dedicated area to get to the clearly labeled check-in screen. Instead, a member of staff pointed me to the general check-in line and I proceeded, thinking there would be a split-off area for Mint passengers.
Once I got to the front of the queue, I let the agent who was directing passengers know that I was flying Mint and she redirected me to the appropriate queue. This is a small thing — and one that I’m sure JetBlue will have sorted out in the days and weeks to come — but having clear signage for passengers is a small but necessary part of making the check-in experience an easy one.
It was clear that this was the inaugural flight from Heathrow. The check-in process was slow — likely the sign of agents who were still learning the ins and outs of the JetBlue systems. The agent who was checking me in was apologetic that she was still learning and had to call for supervisor assistance to check my two bags.
Prior to heading through security, I asked the agent if there was any lounge access available for Mint passengers. She didn’t know the answer and asked a colleague who informed me that at this time, there is no lounge access, but it’s something that’s being looked at.
For business-class passengers who are looking for a quiet place to relax before their flight to New York, this is a major drawback to flying with JetBlue. Considering that legacy carriers like British Airways, United, Virgin Atlantic and others have their own dedicated lounges — or partnerships with lounges — at Heathrow, this is a major concern.
Hopefully, in the coming months, the airline can establish a partnership with one of the lounge operators in Terminal 2. A Plaza Premium lounge is already in the terminal, and could be a good, non-airline branded option.
I visited the lounge prior to my departure using my Platinum Card. As of 1 July, Priority Pass members no longer have access to 57 Plaza Premium lounges. However, if you have an Amex Platinum Card, you can still access the lounges thanks to an ongoing partnership between the two brands. Just show your Platinum Card to the check-in agent and you’ll be granted access.
I spent about an hour in the lounge prior to heading to the gate and found it to be a comfortable experience. It was a nice place to relax prior to making my way to the gate — and one that Mint flyers in the future may appreciate the option of using.
A reason to celebrate
After leaving the Plaza Premium lounge, I headed through the terminal on about a five-minute walk to Gate A18. Terminal 2’s massive windows are great for planespotting — and especially to see our shiny new A321LR waiting for its return journey back across the Atlantic.
At the gate, it was clear that it wasn’t an ordinary flight. JetBlue had outfitted the gate with balloon decorations to celebrate the first flight from Heathrow with paying passengers. And, for the average passenger, the amount of JetBlue, Heathrow and Dnata employees standing around the gate made it clear that there was something special about the flight.
Boarding was set to begin at 1:30 p.m. for our 2:05 p.m. departure. Shortly before 1:30 p.m., JetBlue’s General Manager of Europe Maja Gedosev made an announcement to welcome passengers to the first flight from Heathrow to New York.
And then, it was time for boarding. To put it mildly, the boarding process was a disorganized mess.
I’m going to attribute the boarding process mix-up to the excitement surrounding the inaugural flight, with throngs of people standing around in front of the gate. The loudspeaker at the gate wasn’t quite loud enough, and the agents who were assisting in passport and boarding pass checks weren’t able to hear which passengers were being called to board.
Passengers who had heard one thing would attempt to board and then be turned away. Ultimately, it led to dozens of passengers just standing around but no one actually boarding.
Thankfully, unlike the check-in process, there were signs for Mint and Mosaic boarding as well as for Core passengers. However, the signs were not followed. Frustrated passengers ended up boarding through both lanes at once, with no priority access given to Mint or Mosaic customers.
Again, this is likely a small kink that needs to be worked out — and likely will be in the next few days. But given the mass amount of people and new processes, it was quite a miserable boarding experience.
Once I finally was able to board, members of the staff distributed a JetBlue-branded cupcake and commemorative London postcard to passengers — definitely a nice touch to remember the special occasion.
On board the A321LR in Mint
The Mint experience on board the A321LR is a delightful way to fly — there’s no better way to describe it.
On the A321LR, there are 24 suites in Mint, including two Mint Studios, which offer slightly more space and a larger television. They’re located in the bulkhead row and are great if you’re flying with a partner.
I was seated in one of the other suites, 7F.
Much like its moniker, the Mint cabin is fresh. It feels crisp, new and refreshing. It doesn’t feel too stuffy or like it takes itself too seriously — it really is a breath of fresh air when it comes to business-class flying on the transatlantic route.
Each seat was fitted out with a Tuft & Needle kit with a blanket and pillow, a set of headphones, a menu for the food and drink options for the flight, a set of slippers and two separate amenity kits.
For all of that, you might be thinking that there wouldn’t be enough space in the suite to fit everything, but I found there to be ample space around the seat. Not only were there several compartments, including a dedicated space to store your shoes and a small space next to the seat that could fit something like a passport, wallet and phone, but there were some unique spaces as well.
For example, underneath the inflight entertainment screen, there was a handy pop-out tray that could store a laptop.
I really liked that JetBlue opted for two amenity kits: one for general amenity kit goods with some nice, customized additions like hydration sticks, immune system chews and lip balm, and one for sleep goods that contained an eye mask, earplugs and dental kit.
Plus, there were additional items available on demand if you asked a member of the crew, such as hand sanitizer, lotion, a lint brush and a stain stick.
While the menu in Core is through JetBlue’s partnership with Dig, in Mint on this transatlantic route, the menu is in partnership with New York-based Pasquale Jones. Much like the old Mint product, this menu is tapas-style in that you are invited to pick three of five options for the main course and two of three options for the second course.
Additionally, the menu featured a separate cocktail and wine list. I have to say that the entire menu and ordering experience was incredibly aesthetically pleasing.
Meal service started with a drink — I opted for the “Mint Condition” with gin — and a set of three snacks: olives, cashews and artichokes. For my main dishes, I opted for the baby greens with roasted sweet potato, buttermilk dressing and lemon vinaigrette; the roasted carrots with yogurt, lemon vinaigrette and sunflower seeds; and the chicken Milanese with baby greens and mustard vinaigrette.
For dessert, I wrapped up meal service with vanilla gelato, which was served with blackberries and almond crunch along with a peppermint tea.
All three courses were incredibly tasty and fresh. The chicken Milanese was especially flavorful and juicy — something that’s easy to get wrong when talking about inflight chicken. The other highlight was the gelato. Ice cream is notoriously hit or miss on a plane. Too hard and it’s impossible to eat and too soft and it’s suddenly a milk soup. This gelato was served to perfection and incredibly tasty with blackberries.
For my pre-arrival meal, I selected one of the small plates: a panini with roasted tomatoes, fontina and cheddar cheese. It was nice but quite greasy. The meal wasn’t served with a napkin or silverware, which was a bit disappointing. However, the pretzel roll and Cadbury chocolate bar were extremely welcome side options.
The crew on board my flight was incredibly friendly and willing to go above and beyond for the Mint passengers in the cabin. It was the small touches that made a world of difference. For example, shortly after takeoff, one member of the crew went to each Mint passenger to ask if they wanted anything from the overhead bin.
There were also personalized touches from the cabin crew throughout, highlighted by a thank-you note to each Mint passenger shortly before landing.
Overall, the transatlantic Mint experience was a truly delightful one. Stay tuned for a full review of the Mint experience on board this transatlantic route.
A note on demand
The launch of this route comes at an especially interesting time. Just over one week before JetBlue launched this service, the U.K. government announced that it would allow fully vaccinated Americans — and Europeans — into the country without the need to quarantine.
The move answered many of the calls of the beleaguered travel and aviation industries. After all, the transatlantic routes between the U.S. and U.K. are some of the busiest in the world.
While the move from the U.K. government is great news for those traveling from the U.S., it is a one-way system. While fully vaccinated Americans are welcomed with open arms in the U.K., the U.S. is still very much off-limits to Brits and Europeans.
Since March 2020, the U.S. has closed its borders to non-nationals who have been in parts of Europe, the U.K., Brazil, China and Iran in the past 14 days. While more than 75% of the adult population in the U.K. has been fully vaccinated and the virus is more under control, the U.S. has still not changed that policy.
The U.S. being off-limits to foreigners coming from Europe was evident on this return leg. Fewer than 10 seats in the 24-seat Mint cabin were full, and the economy cabin was largely empty.
JetBlue — and the other airlines that rely heavily on these transatlantic routes — will be looking forward to the U.S. reopening its borders. Until then, these flights to and from the U.K. may largely be empty on the return legs.
There is a new and highly competitive player in the transatlantic business-class flying market. JetBlue’s Mint product is a delight to fly. The cabin feels fresh and exciting, with plenty of in-suite features like a door, good-quality bedding and customizable features, and the catering is delectable. Plus, with solid crews on JetBlue flights, passengers have an intriguing new option when crossing the pond.
Once the new-route jitters — including the chaotic boarding process and confusing check-in process — fade away, Mint will be a solid option.
The one area that remains an issue and may be enough to turn people away is the on-the-ground experience in London. Not offering passengers access to a lounge puts JetBlue Mint at a disadvantage when compared to full-service legacy carriers on the New York-to-London route.
With a competitive price point and extremely enjoyable experience, I will definitely consider flying Mint on my future transatlantic hops.
Featured photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy.
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