JetBlue‘s new A321neo officially entered service this week. The plane brings a refreshed interior design to the carrier’s fleet that will help define what the next decade of flying on JetBlue will be like. So, how does it deliver? We took a (short) trip on board to find out.
With 200 seats on board JetBlue’s version of the A321neo is one of the more spacious layouts for an all economy-class configuration. Even with the Even More Space seats on board the regular core passenger experience remains one of the most spacious in the Americas. And given JetBlue’s intention to bring this plane to longer routes – JFK to Guayaquil, Ecuador and Georgetown, Guyana are both in the works – that little extra space matters.
Beyond the leg room for passengers the company made other adjustments that improve the passenger experience.
Rethinking the way the seat-back pocket functions is a big part of that change. JetBlue still has a seat back pocket with plenty of room for passengers to lose things in, but it also has a secondary (smaller) part of that storage space that is always visible to the passenger and flexible in terms of how it can be used. The mesh pockets are big enough to hold a larger water bottle that where many purpose-designed holders come up short (been there, done that many times with mine). There’s also the stretchy straps in the middle part that can hold many different (and relatively small) things that a passenger might need during the flight. It is another smart way to help travelers keep their “stuff” handy while still out of the way.
Also, the arm rests are flush with the seat back rather than protruding when raised. Sure, the lie-flat coach experience is exceedingly rare, but on these planes it will be more comfortable, should it come to pass.
The tiny lavs built into the rear galley are still a problem, though slightly offset for passengers by the presence of a larger lav across from the pantry.
The refreshed inflight entertainment and connectivity platform on board is a spectacular improvement compared to the prior generations flying on most other JetBlue planes. The older A321s and the first phase of the A320 retrofits have the larger, brighter screens delivering a partial upgrade. But those screens are still powered by the Thales LiveTV 4 kit which was a disappointment from the day it was released and has not improved since. The A321neo features Thales’s much more advanced AVANT IFE platform and the difference is significant at nearly every turn. The new screens respond to passenger touch and make scrolling through the massive content selection a pleasure, not a chore.
There are other, small improvements in the IFE user experience. While watching a movie a tap on the screen brings up the movie controls, but also a quick view of the flight time remaining. It is a little thing, but those little things often bring outsized impact when it comes to the passenger experience.
An early version of Thales’s recommendation engine is also included in this version. When a user chooses a language on the IFE system (now available in English and Spanish!) they’re offered a short “quiz” that helps the system recommend a few movies. Finishing a movie also brings up a set of recommendations for passengers. Thales executives have spoken about the recommendation concept for more than a year now, including mentioning that it is progressing at APEX EXPO earlier in the month. That something related to it is now live is a nice win.
Similarly, the new IFE offers a pairing feature whereby a personal device can be used as a remote control. The pairing process is incredibly easy but the cursor control interface is less than stellar. Why not put the content catalog list on the mobile device and allow passengers to read the tease or watch the trailer on their PED before selecting to watch on the main screen? There is significant room for this to improve, though the functionality of what is advertised is reasonable.
The company will not offer the XM Radio option on the new planes, a small downgrade in service from the earlier generation.
For the connectivity experience the newer JetBlue planes feature the latest Viasat hardware, supporting access to the newer ViaSat-2 satellite offering increased capacity and an expanded coverage area. The new planes also come with a new capture portal which is a difference passengers are more likely to notice. The logon process is a much smoother experience that skips over any of the pretense of logging in with personal details. The visuals are also much improved, building on developments in the digital world over the past few years.
The power situation is very much improved on these planes compared to the older fleet. Each trio of seats includes two 110V/USB combo power outlets facing passengers. Plus every screen has a high-power USB outlet on it.
As JetBlue extends its route network to longer and longer flights the inflight beverage and snack offerings become more important for travelers. Faced with some otherwise unusable space on its Mint fleet the carrier introduced the “Pantry” concept where passengers can access self-service drinks and snacks. That concept evolved, with the new A321neo offering a mostly similar take on the idea. This time around JetBlue turned to AIM Altitude to develop a solution that still leaves passengers happy while also meeting the carrier’s needs for managing the space.
Much like the first generation Pantry the new one features the carrier’s regular selection of complimentary snacks. Storage spaces on board make sure that baskets full of chips or cookies are nearby if the flight attendants need to put more on display for passengers. The new Pantry also will be the only place in the JetBlue fleet where individual mini-bottles of water are available now that the company shifted to pouring from larger bottles on the carts. JetBlue’s A321neo Pantry does not stock sodas nor juices and also does not have chillers; the water is room temperature. This is understood to help on aircraft turn times as stocking the A321 Mint version is a much slower, manual process.
The Pantry moved further back on the A321neo, now situated at the exit doors aft of the wings instead of further forward on the plane. Part of that comes from the doors where the Pantry sits on the Mint A321s not existing on JetBlue’s A321neo. That comes from the Airbus Cabin Flex concept that adjusts the egress arrangement to allow for more seats on board. An integrated trash cart and space for other catering carts round out the space, again optimized for both passengers and crew.
Finally, JetBlue will not open the Pantry up on all flights. Only longer trips will have access (Fort Lauderdale to JFK is not long enough).