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August 6, 2008

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The "Million Mile Flyer" ...                 jetBlue




Review: jetBlue
A frequent flyer shares his observations of traveling with jetBlue.
By “Million Mile Flyer”

For those of you who try to leave New York on a Friday night for a weekend trip, this might sound a bit like stating the obvious but here I go: It’s much easier to leave on Saturday morning! For a start, the limo ride normally takes only 40 minutes from Manhattan to JFK on a Saturday. On a Friday night, it’s a lottery. It’s almost impossible to judge how long the trip will take you.

If you want to fly to Jacksonville nonstop from New York, you have a choice of three airlines: jetBlue (flying A320s) out of JFK, Delta (flying small 50 seat CRJs) out of LaGuardia, and Continental (flying 50-seat Embraers) out of Newark. The latter two aircrafts mean that you will almost certainly have to give up your hand luggage at the aircraft side. jetBlue wins hands down on equipment.

A few months ago, jetBlue reduced the number of seats in economy to 150. This meant they could reduce the number of crew from four to three. FAA rules state that they have to have one flight attendant for every 50 passengers. The upside is more legroom (34 inches) and in the front rows, 38 inches. jetBlue tries to sell the extra legroom ‘for as little as $50USD’, but watch that wording ... the premium is often more than this!

On this particular day, the congestion outside the jetBlue terminal was the usual chaos. Security guards blowing whistles at the drivers are totally ignored. Throngs of passengers try to do curbside check-in, but that tends to be a mob scene. So the better option is normally to go inside the terminal and join the ‘Bag Drop’ queue. A young security agent asks if I have a boarding card. I reply in the affirmative, but she still insists on seeing it since she clearly does not believe me.

The line looked long, but fortunately it kept moving steadily forward and after about fifteen minutes of shuffling, I ended up at the check-in desk. This was my first touch-point with jetBlue staff and most of them seemed to have a positive attitude while ID-ing travelers and labeling the baggage efficiently.

Traveling up the escalator to security, you realize that this is an old terminal. The pillars look like Swiss cheese with holes in the concrete, and I found myself wondering at the structural integrity of the building. Fortunately, jetBlue is moving to a new terminal in the fall. I bet they can’t wait.

Boarding the flight was fairly orderly and although the flight was full, the aircraft pushed back almost on schedule. One thing that sets jetBlue apart from other airlines is that the Captain normally stands at the front of the cabin to make his PA address. It’s a nice touch and seems to go down well with customers.

In-flight service on jetBlue is a familiar routine. Drink orders are taken, delivered and then the flight attendants come around with an overstuffed basket of blue-bagged potato chips and other assorted carbohydrate-loaded snacks. The downside of having only three crewmembers now becomes apparent. It took 50 minutes to get a drink and given that the flight is just over two hours, it seemed slow.

On arrival de-planing also takes a while. The A320 is a single aisle aircraft. However baggage delivery was reasonably quick. jetBlue delivered on the basics that are needed for a short domestic flight. On-time departure and arrival, pleasant ground staff and cabin crew and my checked bag even made it!

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