The last time JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes spoke to reporters at Logan, it was more than the weather that was gloomy. Hayes was at the podium in April to announce that JetBlue’s long-delayed Boston-to-London route would kick off in July, but the media attending the event were more anxious to talk about something else: The airline’s hundreds of delays and cancellations that had caused an aviation meltdown along the East Coast the previous week.
Hayes looked decidedly more relaxed on Thursday afternoon as he returned to Logan for the airline’s inaugural Boston-to-London flight. (The launch was delayed a month, but the flight departed on time.) As Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” played in the background, Hayes reported that JetBlue had learned from those early mistakes. Cutting back the number of flights by roughly 10 percent (plus slightly more agreeable weather) has helped the airline.
“We can’t control the weather, but the part that we can control has actually been going really well. One of our competitors here has had a challenge,” he said, taking a not-exactly-subtle dig at Delta’s summer cancellations. “We learned from our mistakes early, and that helped us this summer.”
Those were the words I had been hoping to hear. I was at Logan on Thursday afternoon to board the first JetBlue Boston-to-London flight. (Flights from JFK to London began a year ago.) After waiting three years for JetBlue to start the route, I wanted to be on that plane.
Boarding was less of a hassle than I had thought it would be. I checked in online, downloaded the boarding pass to my phone, and printed out a luggage tag at the kiosk in Terminal C. I dropped off my bag and went through domestic security. Yes, I went to London and checked a bag. Spoiler alert: It didn’t get lost. The process was the same as boarding a domestic flight, but with a passport.
After a gate party that featured a pair of air marshalers — those are the folks on the tarmac with the orange batons and vests who wave in planes — dressed as The Queen’s Guard dancing to Phil Collins, I boarded, and nearly fell over, and not because I had too many cocktails at the airport bar.
I was seated in perhaps one of the most ridiculously opulent seats I’ve ever experienced on a US carrier. I knew that I was going to be seated in Mint, which is JetBlue’s version of first class. I cobbled together every credit card airline mile I could find to pull it off. We’ll get to all of that luxury shortly. First, the basics.
JetBlue is using a new, narrow body, A321 long-range plane for its transatlantic flights. With the new plane comes a new interior configuration. That means 24 seats in Mint, arranged in a herringbone pattern (compared to 16 on US flights), and 114 seats in the core (compared to 140 on the domestic A320). Seats in economy have a pitch of 32 inches (that’s the measurement between seat backs), while seats in Mint are lie-flat.
JetBlue’s transatlantic service offers some things I haven’t seen on other carriers traveling this route, particularly free Wi-fi for the entire flight. This is good if you need to stay connected, but bad if you’re a travel writer who normally has an excuse not to work on international flights because there’s no free Wi-Fi. There’s also live television, but the stations are limited to CNN International, BBC, CNBC, Sky News, and Sport24.
While the economy section looks similar to JetBlue’s domestic fleet, there are some key differences in the offerings. Because this is an international flight, there’s free beer, wine, and liquor. They also serve more than Cheez-Its. There’s a meal that includes two sides and a main course. On my flight, economy passengers had a choice of starters such as tomato and feta salad or mac and cheese. For main dishes, options included jerk chicken, meatballs, or smoked chili tofu. It’s mix and match rather than a solid aluminum rectangle of risotto.
Meanwhile, in the front of the plane, I had more space than I could possibly use. I was seated in something called the Mint studio. There are two Mint studios on each plane, along with 22 Mint suites. They all have doors that close for privacy, but my studio also included a side seat where I could entertain guests or simply set up a separate area for working. The side seat has its own table, seatbelt, and even its own footrest. Before you ask, you can’t book two people into a studio.
My studio also had a 22-inch TV and what JetBlue claims is the largest bed on a US airline. I stretched out, just to test it for the story, and it did seem quite spacious. There was also a lighted vanity with a storage cabinet. As someone who travels in the economy section about 98 percent of the time, I tried to savor the seven-hour experience as much as I could. I stayed awake so I wouldn’t miss a single meal. Also, I had to work because of the free Wi-Fi. JetBlue, did you really need to include free Wi-Fi?
There is a downside to sitting in the studio: They’re adjacent to the galley. If you’re a light sleeper, you’ll hear the flight attendants opening cans and preparing the service. You’re also adjacent to two bathrooms. So there’s the occasional chatter from people waiting their turn.
These seemed like small sacrifices for the space. I checked with those sitting in the suites, and they had no complaints either. Dinner in Mint consisted of all small plates. I had the escarole salad, burrata (the mozzarella was a tad runny), and pork shoulder with figs.
When JetBlue announced the Gatwick route (Boston to Heathrow begins next month), Hayes said the airline would be offering introductory fares of $499 roundtrip for trips originating in the United States, or $1,949 for Mint. You can find those fares, primarily starting in the fall if you’re flexible with your travel dates. I spotted some $200 one-way flights in September and October. Return flights originating in Europe and England are always more expensive. I’d also recommend waiting until the fall when summer travel has died down. It’s been a cruel summer for air travel.
Here’s my take on the new route: I’m glad it’s now an option, and not simply because I was in a giant seat. I’ve paid more for flights on British Airways and gotten a lot less. JetBlue angered a large swath of travelers when it canceled and delayed flights during the spring and offered little in the way of customer service to help them.
That has since abated, but people don’t easily forgive airlines after a bad experience. However, JetBlue still offers more legroom than its competitors, and the menu on the London route is an innovative take on airplane food (but I’d skip the burrata). If you don’t use all of your credit card miles to book the Mint studio, the new route is a solid offering for the price.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the type of guard the air marshalers at Logan were dressed like.