During the previous school year, my school orchestra conductor announced the details for a mega-ensemble trip to the Golden City of San Francisco. Previously, the orchestra and chorus had agreed to tour Scandinavia for a week, but the band was unwilling to immerse itself in Nordic culture, and wanted to go to Nashville. Eventually, however, all three ensembles agreed to go tour the city of San Francisco for a week during summer vacation, with several concerts scattered between tour of the region's great sites. As such, the school booked us on a direct flight out of Newark (EWR) with United.
Another problem arose shortly after this was finalized. It quickly became clear that because we were such a large group (~100 people in all three ensembles combined), one flight would not be enough to host everybody going on the trip. We were re-booked on two flights departing out of JFK, with Delta and jetBlue. Our inbound flights were also switched from daytime flights to red-eye flights as well.
Once I found out that I would be flying on jetBlue, I was really excited. I had never reviewed their transcontinental economy class option (which features jetBlue's newest economy cabin on their A321s), and had only heard good things about the airline. I was really curious to see how jetBlue would stack up with its competitors on the highly competitive transcontinental market.
Before The Flight
A couple of days before the flight, I called the airline to confirm my seat assignment. She confirmed that although no more seats were available in economy itself (due to the immense popularity of this route), there were in fact seats available in the "Even More Space" cabin, jetBlue's version of Economy+ (economy with extra legroom). I selected seat 6F, a window seat in the bulkhead row.
On the day of the flight, I got up at 3:30 AM and went directly to my school, where everyone who was going on the trip, along with our respective ensemble conductors, were already assembled on a couple of chartered buses going to the airport. We arrived at JFK at roughly 5AM, greeted by an awesome sunrise as we crossed the Whitestone bridge.
Our bus dropped us directly in front of Terminal 5, adjacent to the iconic TWA terminal (which is scheduled to become a hotel next year). T5, designed by jetBlue and reserved for its flights (and partner flights as well), is certainly one of the most unique terminals at JFK, with many blue-themed features that reflect the spirit of jetBlue.
After printing out a boarding pass and a luggage tag using the self check-in kiosk, I brought the bag to a conveyor belt, where it then disappeared into the caverns of T5. The majority of T5 consists of self-service kiosks, though full-service check-in is available as well. I then walked over to the security checkpoint in the middle of the terminal. With TSA PreCheck assigned to me this time, I was airside in less than 5 minutes. Once I entered T5's atrium, I was taken aback by how gorgeous it looked. T5 is split into three concourses, connected via a central atrium. This area consists of a large seating area, lined with restaurants and duty-free stores. One of the more interesting highlights was an IAE V2500 engine mockup, which powers jetBlue's A320/A321 fleet.
Looking at the FIDS, our flight would depart at gate 24. I went to go get an overpriced coffee at the Starbucks next door, and when I got back to the gate, our aircraft was already parked at the gate. Today's aircraft would be N968JT, an A321T with the mint cabin and named "Mint to be Forever." She was built in Hamburg, Germany (XFW) and delivered factory-fresh to the airline on September 7, 2016.
June 15, 2017
jetBlue Airways flight # B6 15
JFK (New York-Kennedy) - SFO (San Francisco International)
Airbus A321-231/SL (N968JT), Aircraft named "Mint for Each Other"
Even More Space, Seat 6F
Flight Time 05:44
30 minutes before departure, boarding commenced. Mint passengers and passengers requiring extra assistance were boarded first, followed by Even More Space passengers, and then followed by economy passengers starting from the rear of the plane. I chose to board with my friends in the economy group. On the fuselage, I noticed the EXEDE Fly-Fi sticker. jetBlue actually offers free wifi on its A321 aircraft, contrary to the ridiculous prices other "full-service" carriers charge. As I will soon mention later, the wifi was extremely fast, and was able to support streaming video on YouTube and Netflix.
As I stepped aboard the aircraft, I was immediately pleased to see the cool blue mood lighting that reflects jetBlue's spirit as an airline designed to make economy passengers as comfortable as possible. The mint cabin, in an exclusive space between doors L1 and L2, consisted of five rows of seats in an alternating 2-2 and 1-1 configuration. These Thomson Vantage suites are thus perfect for both couples and solo travelers alike. Behind mint, you'll find a lavatory, as well as a snack bar. Both economy and mint passengers are free to grab whatever they want, whenever they want. To my knowledge, no other airline has sacrificed space inside the aircraft to create a snack bar for all of its passengers. Kudos to improving the passenger experience, jetBlue!
Once I arrived at my seat, I was taken aback by how spacious it was. Although this was a bulkhead seat (meaning that both the entertainment system and tray table are stowed in the armrest, which slightly decreases seat width), the amount of legroom was literally about five feet. That's about as good as it can get, right? The same can be said for all seats in row 6, which face a bulkhead wall as well as a flight attendant jumpseat. These seats are located directly behind the second pair of doors, allowing for a much spacious layout.
As part of the new cabin design, jetBlue introduced the B/E Aerospace Pinnacle seat in economy and the Thomson Vantage suite in mint. Both seating options feature the Thales STV+ entertainment suite, the world's first "fully connected" entertainment system. Why is this significant? Most long-haul economy flyers have noticed the presence of a entertainment box below the seats, which directly feed content to the seats' entertainment system. The downside to this approach is that it severely reduces the amount of space beneath the seat, preventing you from storing large bags or stretching out. With the introduction of STV+, however, airlines can install tablets in the seats and connect them to a server in the aircraft, allowing all the tablets to display content streamed from the server. This does away with the concept of entertainment boxes completely, and allows jetBlue to provide up to 100 channels of live TV on the screens, complete with an option to stream content to your personal device if that's your preference. Recently, Delta Air Lines has also announced that it will be utilizing a similar concept on its upcoming CSeries fleet. You can read more about that here.
Thankfully, no else ended up sitting in my row during the whole flight, so I essentially had three seats to myself! I also had exclusive access to the overhead bin directly above my seat as well, so I stashed my violin and backpack up there. Doors were promptly closed 15 minutes before our scheduled departure time and Patrick, one of the FAs working the economy cabin, came over to introduce himself. Patrick in my opinion is one of the most responsible and skilled FAs that I have met during my entire life (more on him later).
After a long taxi to the other side of the airport, we took off with max TO/GA power on runway 13R, and immediately made a right turn west over the shores of Long Island. Manhattan itself was visible in a cloud of haze (though you can't see that well in my terrible iPhone picture).
When we passed through 10,000 feet and the seatbelt sign switched off, the flight attendants sprung into action, and immediately started taking drink orders from front to back. Instead of using a drink cart, jetBlue personally takes drink and snack orders, with the food delivered personally to you a few minutes later. I like this system more than the old school cart method, since it allows jetBlue to deliver a more personalized and unique service while having to not deal with a cart blocking the aisle for the majority of the flight.
I released the entertainment screens for my seat and the seat right next to me (so I could watch the moving map while simultaneously watching the movie), and started exploring the entertainment options. I settled on The Space Between Us (2017), an engaging science fiction movie about the first child born on Mars. While I was watching the movie, I decided to go to the snack bar to get some cans of Sprite. Known as the "In-Flight Marketplace," the snack bar not only serves a variety of cold drinks, but also crackers, pretzels, popcorn chips, chocolate chip cookies, and root vegetable chips. Never have I seen an airline with a better snack offering in economy (though United's stroopwafle is probably on par with these offerings).
Once I finished the movie, I connected to the fly-fi on my laptop and opened a few websites to see how great the speed really was. Surprisingly for free wifi, the speed was not bad at all! I could watch YouTube videos without having to worry about the quality, or open high-demand streaming apps such as Netflix. In fact, I was even able to see our band friends, who were just around 15 miles north of us, on the popular ADS-B flight tracking app FlightRadar24. There's one catch about this service, though. You need to have a TrueBlue frequent flyer with account to use the wifi. Creating one, however, is free is easy, and shouldn't take more than a few minutes.
I worked on my laptop and watched some snippets of ESPN from the live TV for the remainder of the flight. There was another experience, towards the beginning of the flight, that made me believe that jetBlue has one of the most professional and well-trained airline crews out there. I asked Patrick about the aircraft's tail number, which I forgot to obtain by looking at the airworthiness certificate posted above the L1 door. Roughly 30 minutes after departure, Patrick returns with a small piece of paper with the aircraft's registration and delivery date written on its top. What Patrick did was extremely thoughtful and shows that jetBlue has trained its cabin crew to interact with and care about their passengers. Although this was a very small act, small things do go long ways.
A lot of my time onboard was spent staring out of the window as we crossed from the forested East Coast, to the plains of the Midwest, to the Rocky Mountains, and finally, to the desert terrain of the American West. You can't get views better than those on a transcontinental flight!
20 minutes before our scheduled landing time, an announcement was made from the cockpit, and we initiated our descent from 35,000 feet. The descent was uneventful, and we approached from the South, lining up with runway 28R and landing within 3 minutes of the scheduled landing time, bringing one of my most enjoyable flights ever to an end. As we were pulling into the gate, we had to make a 90˚ turn (Concourse A isn't the most parking-friendly terminal out there), and the captain had to make quite a few approaches into the gate. Eventually he gave up, and made everyone sit down while a tug positioned us correctly. Heh.
I also visited the cockpit, which, unsurprisingly, was not much different than a typical Airbus A320 series cockpit. I did notice a sticker saying, "A321-caution tailstrike." Don't know if that is a recent addition, or if all A321 aircraft have been fitted with that. I don't know of any A321 tailstrike incidents (other than the one on the A321neo's first flight) though.
Once we were all off the aircraft, we proceeded straight to baggage claim, where they appeared on the belt as we arrived. Within 10 minutes we were aboard our coach bus and on our way to Fisherman's Wharf, where many interesting things would happen later during the day (and throughout the rest of the trip), but that's a story for next time...
JetBlue's A321 transcontinental product in economy is arguably one of the best in the market right now. I was extremely surprised by the high standards of customer service present on this flight, showing that JetBlue has invested a lot into improving their flight crew training program. The excellent DirecTV system, coupled with a good selection of recent and classic movies, made the 5.5 hour flight flash by like a breeze. I would definitely not hesitate to fly jetBlue again for transcontinental flights in the future, especially considering the fact that the overall jetBlue core experience is loads better than United's transcontinental service, which I have flown multiple times already. All in all, this was a very enjoyable flight, and I would like to applaud Patrick, the rest of the flight crew, and the pilots for making my first jetBlue experience an unforgettable one.