Better Than the Big Boys: JetBlue in Economy in an A321 From Fort Lauderdale to New York
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JetBlue is an airline that’s pretty hard to pin down. It’s branded as a low-cost carrier, but it’s also been known for its industry-leading legroom, solid entertainment options and award-winning premium Mint product. As the airline’s president and COO Joanna Geraghty discussed in a recent podcast with TPG, the carrier targets ripe markets where it can offer a superior product at an equivalent or lower price than its competitors, resulting in gradual price deflation and fostering healthy competition.
After much anticipation, the carrier recently shared that it would indeed launch transatlantic flights from its bases at New York-Kennedy and Boston Logan airports across the Pond to London. These will feature a new iteration of the much-loved Mint product as well as a redesigned economy product — it will inevitably pose a challenge to the East Coast-London power players like American Airlines, British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic both in terms of onboard experience and, of course, price. The so-called “JetBlue effect” could mean great news for transatlantic travelers: Think $999 one-way business-class fares compared to the $5,000+ one-way prices the route regularly sees today.
On the domestic front, JetBlue operates an expansive network with a major presence on both the East and West coasts. Needing to get from my home in Miami up to TPG headquarters in New York, I jumped on the opportunity to add the TPG Award-winning carrier as a chapter in my low-cost excursion around the country. Flights between South Florida and the New York area are some of the heaviest travelled in the United States. Five airlines operate flights between the two areas up to 85 times a day each way. Given that JetBlue has hubs at both Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and New York-JFK, the majority of its frequencies on these routes operate between those two airports. And many of these flights are operated with its newer Airbus A321 — which is the exact aircraft we wanted to test out in economy.
JetBlue did away with free checked bags back in 2015 in order to more closely align with the rest of the major airlines in the US — except for Southwest, of course. The airline simultaneously introduced new fare classes designed to meet the needs of any traveler: Blue, Blue Plus, Blue Flex and Mint (on select routes).
In my case, I knew I’d be traveling with a checked bag on my one-way trip from Fort Lauderdale up to New York, so I figured it might be worth upgrading to the Blue Plus fare, which, at the time of booking, commanded a $28 premium over the starter fare.
This upsell yielded a modest $2 savings over simply choosing a Blue Fare and purchasing a checked bag for $30. Aside from the included checked bag and a small TrueBlue bonus, the Blue and Blue Plus fares were virtually identical — but it was still worth the upgrade in circumstances like these.
Free seat selection is included with every JetBlue purchase, which I definitely appreciated, as I snagged the last available aisle seat on the plane. In total, I paid $266.29 for my Blue Plus fare from Fort Lauderdale to New York — a fairly reasonable price for booking just two days in advance. And as always, I put the expense on my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to take advantage of the 2x bonus that applies to all travel expenses.
I arrived at FLL about an hour and a half before my 6am departure to New York. Fort Lauderdale houses JetBlue’s third-largest operation after JFK and Boston Logan (BOS), serving as its primary fortress hub and gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America. So with over two dozen departures within the first few hours of the day, JetBlue’s check-in area was absolutely buzzing.
There were a handful of JetBlue employees readily available to assist passengers checking in at the kiosks. After printing my bag tag and boarding pass, I rolled my luggage over to the bag drop, where passengers started forming lines behind each individual station rather than one centralized queue.
I cleared security fairly quickly and made my way through the JetBlue’s older F Concourse, where the majority of its early-morning flights would be departing from.
All of the gate areas in this small terminal pier were crowded, and empty seats were hard to come by. On the plus side, though, JetBlue provided power stations throughout the concourse, which I was surprised to see few people taking advantage of.
The gate agents announced that boarding would commence right on time at 5:15am. The process began with Mosaic customers, followed by Group A (those who purchased Even More Space seats), followed by groups B through E, in order.
Despite the repeated announcements that boarding order would be strictly enforced, many passengers rushed to get on the plane and and didn’t adhere to their assigned zones. Unrelenting, the gate agent turned away dozens of passengers as they approached the podium to scan their boarding passes, creating an unnecessary cluster of people who congested the boarding area.
After about 20 minutes, my group, D, was called and I made my way down the jet bridge, where I got a glimpse of the A321 that would be flying me and 199 other passengers up to New York that morning.
Cabin and Seat
I always feel like a kid in a candy store the second I step on a brand-new aircraft. There’s something about the proverbial new-plane smell that’s enough to thrill any AvGeek — and at six months old, this aircraft definitely fit the bill. The brand-new Airbus sported JetBlue’s new economy cabin that will gradually become standard across the airline’s fleet. Their signature blue mood lighting added a modern and fresh ambience to the spotless cabin.
This non-Mint configuration of the JetBlue’s A321 carries 200 seats, 42 of which are Even More Space seats with a relatively huge 37 to 41 inches of pitch. The rest of the cabin is made up of 158 standard economy seats, which JetBlue labels its “Core” product, offering an industry-leading 32-inch pitch — almost equivalent to Economy Plus on other airlines.
The tray table was large and easily fit my laptop even when the seat in front was reclined.
A 3.5-millimeter audio jack was on the armrest next to a built-in remote for controlling the inflight entertainment. While at first thought this seemed like convenient design, I soon realized it might be a bother if you shared an armrest with a neighbor, since it took almost no pressure to acrivate the buttons. I witnessed my seat neighbor inadvertently turning down the brightness on his neighbor’s screen multiple times throughout the flight. Luckily, I was in an aisle and had that armrest to myself.
There was a universal power outlet tucked under each seat, but it was a bit hidden and hard to spot unless you knew where to look.
The large seat pocket had a dedicated holder for the airline literature, which freed up the primary pocket for personal use. It came with a convenient bottle holder.
The aircraft had one bathroom at the front of the cabin and three at the very back, unlike most A321 configurations, which have a bathroom midcabin near the door. I found them to be exceptionally spacious and clean, even into the latter portion of our three-hour flight.
Amenities and IFE
JetBlue really hits it out of the park when it comes to inflight entertainment. Despite its low-cost carrier label, the airline sets itself apart from the competition by offering an excellent selection of onboard entertainment in addition to claiming the title as the only US airline to offer free Wi-Fi for all passengers (although Delta might soon follow suit).
Each seat-back boasts a 10-inch touchscreen, which, oddly, did not power on until about 10 minutes after takeoff.
In addition to the 100-plus channels of live DirecTV that JetBlue is known for, the entertainment selection included hundreds of movies, TV shows and even Sirius XM satellite radio.
JetBlue’s generous seat recline had me skeptical about how the IFE viewing experience would be affected. It was no problem, though: The screens provided more than enough swivel to maintain a comfortable viewing angle at all degrees of recline.
After reading mixed reviews of JetBlue’s free Wi-Fi, I was eager to try it out for myself. When first connecting, I was redirected to the initial authentication page, where the airline advertises a specialized shopping portal in partnership with Amazon that allows you to earn 3 TrueBlue points per dollar spent on shopping.
To my delight, the Wi-Fi worked wonderfully on this flight. I was able to send messages, upload to Instagram and respond to emails with a speed comparable to what I’d experience on the ground. Amazon video streaming was also available, which provided access to additional movies and TV shows to supplement those on the seatback IFE.
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
Soon after takeoff, the flight attendants came through the aisles with two beverage carts — one starting at the front and one at the back of the aircraft. Since I was seated in the last few rows, I was one of the first to be served. I ordered an orange juice with no ice and was handed an entire (albeit small) can and a plastic cup. Once the beverage carts were cleared out of the aisles, the flight attendants came through with baskets containing a variety of salty and sweet snacks. I chose the miniature chocolate chip cookies, which were plenty to tide me over for a quick flight up the Eastern Seaboard.
JetBlue has a reputation for friendly flight attendants, and it certainly lived up to that on this flight.
The flight attendants working this flight were all friendly and professional. During boarding, I accidentally dropped a spare camera battery somewhere along the aisle. Once it was turned in to the lead flight attendant, she promptly walked over and returned it to me after she remembered seeing me step aboard the aircraft with a camera hung around my neck. This kind gesture was simple but very much appreciated.
For the rest of the flight, my interactions were primarily limited to the two flight attendants serving the back half of the cabin, all of which were pleasant and enjoyable.
After not having flown JetBlue in nearly a decade, I was really looking forward to giving it a shot on its latest and greatest onboard product. The airline provides an economy-class experience that leaves its low-cost competitors in the dust, while even giving the legacies like Delta a solid run for their money. And in that sense, the airline delivers flawlessly: award-winning legroom, spotless cabins, solid IFE options, free drinks and snacks, and great Wi-Fi.
The main pitfalls that tend to earn the airline lower review scores stem mostly from its high rates of maintenance delays and cancellations, which was not an issue in my case. In fact, we arrived at our gate in New York 25 minutes ahead of schedule. Overall, I can confidently say that JetBlue has definitely earned its stripes. And as its newest fan, I’m really looking forward to flying it again in the near future.
All photos by the author.
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