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As part of TPG’s summer intern trip to Maui, each of our interns flew an initial leg from New York-JFK to LAX on a different domestic carrier (American, Delta, United and JetBlue) in order to compare the economy or premium (extra legroom) economy products on this major transcontinental route. TPG Editorial Intern Mark Kellman flew JetBlue’s version of premium economy, Even More Space — and here’s his review of the experience.
Booking the Flight
On JetBlue’s transcon A321 (which includes its Mint business class lie-flat seats and suites), a one-way flight from JFK-LAX generally starts at either $159 or $179 in standard economy.
If you wanted to upgrade to Even More Space, as I did, for extra legroom, early boarding and early access to overhead bins on this one-way flight, you’d need to pay an additional $90.
A one-way award on this route would start at 10,700 TrueBlue points + $5.60, depending on your day of travel and fare rate booked. However, be aware that this award won’t include that upgrade to Even More Space, which must be purchased outright. If you’re curious about Mint class, be sure to read about The Points Guy’s experience upgrading from coach to Mint.
For this particular trip, my final destination was Maui (OGG), but since JetBlue doesn’t offer service to Hawaii, I flew JFK-LAX on JetBlue and LAX-OGG on JetBlue’s codeshare partner, Hawaiian Airlines. I booked this itinerary through JetBlue.com and paid $779.50 for my one-way route in Even More Space from JFK-LAX-OGG. I also used my American Express Premier Rewards Gold to book my flights because it earns 3x points on travel expenses.
Here’s a breakdown of my fare:
One-way ticket (JFK-LAX-OGG): $571.49
Taxes and fees: $48.01
Upgrade to Even More Space on JetBlue: $100
Two checked bags: $60
JFK’s Terminal 5 and Check-In
The check-in process at JFK’s Terminal 5 (aka the JetBlue terminal) was absolutely chaotic. I arrived at the airport 90 minutes before my flight, but in order to casually stroll to my gate — as I usually do — I should have arrived about 30 minutes earlier.
I usually try to keep things light when I travel, but on this trip I had two bags to check — and sadly, since July 1, 2015, JetBlue’s free bag policy is a thing of the past. The first checked bag is now $25, the second is $35 and additional bags cost $60 each. Not only was I out $60, but check-in for myself and my bags took a whopping 25 minutes.
It then took me another 30 minutes to get through security — even with my TSA Precheck — requiring me to run to my gate, where I soon found out my flight had already boarded. (Luckily, a bit of exercise before 13 hours of travel isn’t the worst thing… but still.) While running through the terminal, I did manage to note that it had plenty of restaurant options and seemed quiet, clean and not overly crowded when compared with the jammed pre-security area.
Cabin and Seat
JetBlue’s transcon A321 includes 12 lie-flat Mint seats and four closed Mint suites, but is largely devoted to coach. The coach cabin has 143 seats arranged in a 3-3 configuration, with 102 standard coach seats (divided into two groups of seven and 10 rows, respectively) and 41 Even More Space seats (divided into two sections, one with five rows and another with two). Both of these seat types have 18 inches of width, but the Even More Space seats offer 37-41 inches of pitch versus standard coach’s 33 inches.
Turns out those extra four to eight inches of pitch make a big difference. My Even More Space aisle seat allowed me more than enough room to stretch out and offered a surprising amount of padding for a slimline seat. I’d say it’s one of the more comfortable seats I’ve sat in on an airplane.
Food and Amenities
The in-flight entertainment was also fantastic — there were 100 channels of live DirecTV and and Sirius XM satellite radio to keep me occupied during the six-hour and 20-minute flight. The seatback featured a 10.1-inch touchscreen and was fairly large for a coach cabin with excellent resolution. In general, the entertainment system was fairly intuitive and worked reliably. However, while I was watching NBC, it became very choppy and even went black for a few minutes. There didn’t seem to be much turbulence, so I’m still not sure what caused this problem, but it nonetheless inspired me to switch off the TV and get some work done. I loved all of the Sirius XM music options, which, when coupled with the free Wi-Fi, helped my productivity on the flight.
In addition to free connectivity, JetBlue also offers “Fly-Fi+,” its premium, $9/hour Wi-Fi option. JetBlue claims that passengers can surf the web and stream videos even when using the complimentary version of Fly-Fi and on my flight, the Wi-Fi was relatively fast despite my decision to not pay for extra speed. However, I encountered significant buffering when I tried to stream YouTube and I eventually gave up.
It’s rare these days to find any complimentary food on a domestic flight, but JetBlue offers a variety of complimentary packaged snacks, including chocolate chip cookies and the popular Terra Blue corn chips. The plane also has a dedicated “Marketplace” section (including a fridge-full of Coca-Cola products) located between the Mint and coach cabins, something I’d previously only seen on international flights. The fact that I could just get up and get whatever I wanted without having to ask a flight attendant for help was a welcome touch.
On JetBlue flights between New York (JFK) or Boston (BOS) and Los Angeles (LAX), Long Beach (LGB) and San Francisco (SFO), there’s also an option to purchase food from the “Eat Up Cafe.” Because I was so rushed getting through the airport, I had no time for breakfast in the terminal, so I was excited for the opportunity to get a meal — but I was pretty disappointed when I saw there was only one breakfast option for purchase: Chobani yogurt with granola and honey. Other options included a cheese plate, kale salad and a grilled chicken with brie sandwich, none of which seemed appealing at 9am. All food-for-purchase items range from $6-$12 and are available on flights that depart before 8:59pm local time.
When you purchase something on JetBlue, a tab is opened at your seat and isn’t closed until near the end of the flight, just in case you wish to purchase more food or premium drinks. On any other airline I’ve flown — with the exception of Virgin America — you pay for your food right when you receive it, no matter how many items you buy and when. JetBlue also has the option to pay with Apple Pay when making purchases onboard. I tried out this service and it worked pretty well, but the amount of money I spent during the flight didn’t show up on my iPhone as it usually does.
My flight attendant told me this was his first time ever experiencing the Apple Pay feature and we chatted about how much in-flight technology has advanced in recent years. It’s still pretty amazing to me that you can surf the web on a plane, and here I was using my smartphone to pay for breakfast!
This was my first time flying JetBlue and I can see why so many people do — overall, it’s a close competitor to my favorite airline, Virgin America. On this transcon flight, I was especially impressed by JetBlue’s premium economy product — Even More Space is a winner for its additional legroom — but I also loved that JetBlue offers live TV, free snacks and free Wi-Fi. The flight attendants on this flight were friendly and helpful and the clean, modern atmosphere of the A321 kept this six hour and 20-minute flight from feeling stuffy or stale.
I would definitely choose JetBlue’s Even More Space next time I fly this route — I would just be sure to eat beforehand, or at least leave more time at JFK before my flight.
Have you flown JetBlue recently? Share your thoughts about it below.