From the moment the company announced its plans, there was little doubt that JetBlue would bring a different take to the transatlantic market. The real question was what the execution would look like. Now that the A321LRs are flying the answer is clear: It is phenomenal.
In fact – and I don’t say this lightly – the product may actually be too much for the trip.
All the pomp of the inaugural flight celebrations subsided as I settled in to seat 27A, joining a couple other guys who just happened to be on the flight because their family was going to the UK on a random Wednesday night. Eventually one found another empty aisle seat and we adjusted to have the middle open, but even without that the personal space on board was more than reasonable.
That JetBlue offers more legroom in economy than anyone else across the Atlantic helps. So does the fact that it is an A321LR rather than a larger 787 or 777. The seats are wider on the smaller plane.
The overhead bins are massive. And you could tell it was mostly experienced travelers and airline employees on board because the bags were all stored correctly.
And then there were the other amenities provided to passengers. Everyone gets a blanket. A real blanket, not the gauzy, disposable crap preferred by other airlines in economy. Like nice enough to take home and use on the couch (I did not, but I was definitely thinking about it!).
Passengers also receive two amenity kits on their seat. The first is a paper wrapper with a mask, ear plugs, and a dental kit, akin to the Snooze Kit offered on the company’s other redeye flights.
JetBlue’s London service is special, however, and includes an additional kit. The reusable, resealable silicone container holds with socks and moisturizers inside.
The Airbus Airspace lighted ceiling doesn’t really change the physical experience on board. But it also is pretty cool lit up.
JetBlue made a big deal of the new meal service for economy class passengers. For the first time ever, hot meals are being served to everyone on board (and included in the fare!).
And, for the first time in a very long time, I actually found myself enjoying transatlantic dining in economy class.
The digital menu option worked pretty well as a passenger. It is the first thing passengers are presented with as they activate the in-flight entertainment screen. Plus, the crew made a couple announcements during boarding encouraging people to get their orders in.
On the crew side a color-coded display on their tablet shows the flight attendant what to serve for each seat.
Finally, dessert is served. And, again, it is delicious. Assuming you like cookies-and-cream ice cream sandwiches, anyways.
The meal service is also one of the areas where I think JetBlue maybe is doing too much. On a 10p departure from JFK and a 6.5-ish hour flight across the Atlantic a full dinner service on board seems to me a bit of gilding the lily. It was delicious, but it is also slow. I’m sure it’ll speed up a bit as the crew get used to the process. But the timing on night one stretched on. From row 27 the timeline was:
- 10:00p – Departure
- 10:41p – Drinks served
- 11:14p – Food on tray
- 11:47p – Dessert served
- 12:16a – Post-meal drink service starting (I went to sleep before they got to my row)
With breakfast service starting just 75 minutes out from Heathrow this leaves about 3 hours of sleepy time on board.
Yes, a passenger can skip the meal and go straight to sleep. Under any other circumstances that’s how I fly across the Pond, even in business class. And I get that some travelers want the full dinner on board. This one just takes a bit longer than seems reasonable to me.
Maybe bundle the dessert and second drink service? Or serve dessert before collecting the dinner trays?
Speaking of breakfast, it was pretty good, too. JetBlue clearly chose to pay a bit extra on the fresh fruit option and avoid the under ripe melon and three grapes on a plate offering.
Entertained for days, and well connected
In addition to serving as the in-flight dining menu, the screens on board deliver lots of entertainment options. Powered by the Thales AVANT platform, the IFE system is very responsive and loaded with movies.
The system is also the first to carry live television from Panasonic Avionics on an IFE platform that is provided by another vendor. It offers far fewer channels than the typical JetBlue service over the USA, but given licensing challenges and bandwidth, it is still impressive.
The in-flight connectivity system from Viasat performed well, especially considering the number of people on board the inaugural sharing photos and videos throughout the trip. With the exception of a brief outage near the end of the flight (I’m assuming the ViaSat-2 to KaSAT satellite handoff), the service was stable and reliable. And, like all other JetBlue flights, it remains free to use.
The performance is helped by the relatively low number of planes crossing the Atlantic with the Viasat gear on board. That number will continue to grow in the years ahead, but so will the satellite capacity. With the ViaSat-3 constellation coming online in the next couple years access to additional bandwidth should not be an issue.
Passengers have access to USB-A power outlets embedded in the screens. Each trio of seats also offers a pair of 110V and USB-C outlets mounted on the leg of the row ahead for easier access.
Window seat passengers will find their under seat space slightly impeded by an IFE box but it is much less intrusive than in the days of yore.
One surprising bit on the IFE/C offering was that the FlyFi portal does not offer any content. No streaming video. No moving map. Nothing beyond a PDF of the in-seat menu card. Given JetBlue’s push toward offering multi-screen entertainment options on board this was unexpected.
Haters are going to tell you that the A321LR’s smaller size makes it unsuitable for longer flights. It will bounce around too much in the jet stream turbulence or maybe the arrangement means you can’t pace during the flight. The only one of these complaints I ever give any credence to is the bathroom access situation. If carts are in the aisle for the service (which they are nearly half the flight) then access is harder because the lavs are only in the rear. But the crew made it work on Wednesday night and I’m sure will continue to do so.
There are also some limitations of JetBlue’s offering on the ground. No lounges for departing passengers is a challenge, especially for frequent fliers or the business class cabin. The company has previously promised that would be addressed. A limited loyalty program also hamstrings the carrier a bit compared to the opportunities available for frequent long-haul, premium cabin travelers. That said, I redeemed points for this trip and the process was pretty smooth, though trying to change the return date became a mess in a hurry.
I’ve flown across the Atlantic at least 25 times on a single-aisle jet. I will continue to do so where the price and schedule suit my needs. And in JetBlue’s case, the product makes it a pretty comfortable option overall.
Stay tuned for a look at the Mint business class product coming next week. I’m booked in the Mint Studio seat 1A for the return journey.
More about JetBlue’s London service & planning:
- JetBlue’s London launch brings an unexpected disruption to fares
- JetBlue boosts coach experience for London service
- JetBlue secures Heathrow slots for London service
- JetBlue unveils Mint 2.0, business class cabin for London
- New Mint seats to fly on JetBlue’s A321neo, A321LR this year
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