Inside look: JetBlue debuts brand-new Airbus A220 amid first-flight fanfare

Apr 27, 2021

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It’s a big day for JetBlue and its flyers.

On Monday, the New York-based carrier flew its inaugural flight with its first Airbus A220-300, the jet destined to become the backbone of the carrier’s short-haul domestic network.

The 140-seat plane carried a nearly full load of passengers — including plenty of media, JetBlue employees and some unwitting tourists — from Boston (BOS) to Tampa (TPA) in a bit more than two hours.

The A220 then turned right back around for Boston, marking the beginning of a new era for JetBlue’s fleet.

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Festivities to usher in a new era

The festivities began on the ground in Boston with a flurry of aviation enthusiasts swarming Gate C9 with their phones and cameras snapping pics of the months-old plane, aptly christened “Rob Dewar” — the man considered the father of the C-Series A220 program.

Several balloons adorned the gate podium, though the attention quickly turned to the handful of JetBlue, Pratt & Whitney and Massport executives who gave brief remarks just moments before the 3:57 p.m. boarding time.

“This is a next-generation aircraft that combines comfort, style and substance,” Ursula Hurley, JetBlue’s head of treasury and investor relations, said before the group cut a ceremonial ribbon to officially inaugurate the A220 for the carrier.

Hurley then chatted about the plane’s significance for JetBlue. “We’re very confident that this aircraft type will open the door for us to eventually serve a wide mix of new and exiting markets,” she added. The carrier is considering deploying the jet on both regional and transcon routes.

With 70 A220s on order, this new fleet type is slated to replace JetBlue’s aging Embraer 190 fleet. The aircraft has 40 more seats than the E190s, but it’s significantly more economical — it boasts 30% lower operating costs per seat, and it’s more fuel-efficient, too.

Despite the celebrations, some confused travelers weren’t aware of what was behind the gateside hullabaloo. I approached one group and asked how they were feeling.

“It was kind of exciting. I thought it was for my birthday,” said Pam Wyman, who was traveling on her birthday along with her sister to visit their brother in Tampa. At first, she was concerned, “my first thought was ‘has nobody ever flown this plane before?'”

After Wyman asked JetBlue representatives about why the A220 is so special, her tone changed: “now we are excited,” she exclaimed.

It didn’t take long for Wyman and her fellow passengers to enjoy the inflight experience that the A220 offers.

A modernized inflight experience

JetBlue’s A220-300 sports 140 coach seats across 28 rows, arranged in an industry-standard 2-3 configuration.

Each seat offers 18.6 inches of width, making it one of the widest coach seats in the entire industry. In fact, I immediately noticed the difference as I settled into my window seat 2A.

JetBlue installed the Collins Meridian seat on the A220, which you’ll find on the carrier’s other new jets like the Airbus A321neo.

The A220 has six rows of extra-legroom Even More Space seating, four of which are located at the pointy end of the plane, and two at the overwing exits.

As a solo traveler, you’ll definitely want to sit on the port side of the plane due to the lack of middle seats.

Unlike the E190 it replaces, the A220 has a middle seat on the starboard side. Odd-numbered groups of friends and families might appreciate the configuration, but other passengers will likely consider that to be the A220’s one major downside as compared to the E190 it’s replacing.

The seats themselves were quite comfortable, especially for a short domestic hop. They’re padded with a new, softer vegan leather material, dubbed Ultraleather, and feature winged headrests for added neck support when sleeping.

Another flyer-friendly feature that I particularly appreciated was the well-designed seatback pocket. There are three mesh storage compartments, in addition to the literature pocket, offering plenty of space for those, like me, who travel with multiple devices and chargers.

Tray tables measured 16.5 inches wide and 8.5 inches long, just the right size for an 11-inch iPad, but a tad bit too small for a 13-inch MacBook Pro.

The windows on the A220 are some of the largest in the sky. Measuring 11 inches wide and 16 inches long, there was plenty of space for my fellow passengers to mount their cameras to film takeoff and landing.

There are three lavatories on board, one larger one in the front and two in the back. They’re decked out in a subway-tile motif, in a nod to JetBlue’s hometown of New York City. Note that you won’t find a window in the bathrooms like you will with other A220 operators, like Delta.

Another small, yet noticeable improvement is the 21-inch wide aisle. I had no problem wheeling my rollaboard up and down the plane without banging into any seats. I even overheard the flight attendants also mentioning that they had plenty of space in the aisle during onboard service.

The one downside for the crew, however, is that there’s much less space in the aft galley compared to the E190.

For more details about the onboard experience, be sure to check out my first look at the jet.

Tech-forward advancements

The A220’s onboard experience isn’t just about its comfortable configuration. JetBlue’s version packs a host of tech improvements, too.

To start, every seat is equipped with a 10.1-inch 1080P seat-back monitor, loaded with live TV, movies, shows, games and more. All the content is free.

There are 30 TV channels, ranging from CNN to Nickelodeon. Movies and TV shows are loaded twice a month and include a mix of new releases and classics. The A220 has dedicated channels for HBO and Showtime, with full seasons of hit shows like Billions and Ray Donovan.

The inflight entertainment system (IFE) interface has also been upgraded. Content is sorted in tiles, with up-to-date flight status always available on the screen.

The intuitive menus and rich-text interface make it a breeze to use.

JetBlue even added three nifty features for power users.

The first is a wireless remote control interface that you can use to pair your phone to the IFE system. For those who prefer a no-touch option, this will be welcome news.

The second is picture-in-picture mode. You can keep watching your favorite content, flight map included, in a corner of the screen, while browsing the menus and finding other things to watch.

Finally, the TVs can be connected to your TrueBlue loyalty profile to help personalize your inflight experience, but this feature wasn’t working on the inaugural.

In addition to the IFE system, the A220 is outfitted with ViaSat-2 Wi-Fi, offering free high-speed, gate-to-gate internet access for all passengers. Despite heavy use during the inaugural, multiple tests returned download speeds at 50 Mbps, and upload speeds around 0.5 Mbps.

If you prefer to BYOD (bring your own device), you won’t run out of juice. There’s an AC outlet, 15-watt USB-C port and standard USB-A port at each seat.

The festivities continued in the air

While the jet marks the beginning of a new era for JetBlue, company employees and eager enthusiasts were out in full force to be there for day one.

The list of JetBlue crewmembers looking for a standby seat grew to over 20 in the moments before departure. When everyone cleared, the excitement became palpable.

As passengers boarded, some let out “oohs” and “aahs” as they entered the dimly lit cabin. Others were busy filming the experience.

The captain addressed the cabin from the forward galley, welcoming both loyal and first-time passengers. “We appreciate the repeat business and more importantly we appreciate your loyalty to JetBlue. And for those of your flying on JetBlue for the first time, we hope you enjoy the experience,” he said.

Once we reached cruising altitude, colleagues and acquaintances exchanged fist bumps and greetings. The aisle was packed with passengers making the rounds. Some wondered why we didn’t receive a traditional water cannon salute on departure.

Midway through the flight, Hurley addressed the cabin with a surprise — three travelers would win round-trip tickets anywhere JetBlue flies. The plane erupted in cheers as three seat numbers were drawn at random.

Before long, it was time to descend for Tampa. An early landing led to waiting for a gate for nearly 30 minutes.

As we sat on the tarmac after the flight, I watched the sunset over the A220’s signature winglet, which officially marked the dawn of a new era for JetBlue’s domestic operations.

Some of the unwitting passengers also agreed. “This was the best birthday surprise, and I can’t wait to do it again soon,” Wyman said during the final descent.

All photos by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

 

 

 

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