Inside JetBlue's First 'Phase 2' Retrofitted Airbus A320
JetBlue's fleet is certainly getting up there in age. The airline's first Airbus A320, N503JB, was delivered way back in 1999, and is still flying for the carrier today. Soon, however, passengers boarding even the oldest aircraft in the carrier's fleet will feel like they're traveling on a brand-new plane, thanks to a massive fleet-wide overhaul program aimed at bringing the carrier's workhorse aircraft up to date.
JetBlue is undergoing a two-stage retrofit process, with 15 aircraft now complete as part of "Phase 1," and the first "Phase 2" A320 re-entering service any day. While the first batch represented a huge improvement overall — adding the airline's A321 seat to a handful of older A320s — the latest-generation retrofit has landed JetBlue a truly industry-leading narrow-body plane, as I experienced during a pre-launch visit at the airline's Lake City, Florida (LCQ) contractor facility this week.
As part of the retrofit, JetBlue is adding two rows of seats, for a total of 162, up from 150 on the original A320 configuration. As a result, the carrier is adding a fourth cabin crew member as well, with a total of four flight attendants working the cabin.
The cabin now features a slick low-light mode, enabling this cool blue glow on nighttime flights.
You'll find the two extra rows of seats at the rear of the cabin, replacing the lavatories on the older configuration (don't worry, they've just been moved). The one notable downside here is that row 26 only offers one window, while the last row in the cabin, 27, doesn't have any at all.
All seats are arranged in a 3-3 configuration, and offer a whopping 18.4 inches of width. Pitch has been reduced slightly to 32 inches in most rows, with 35 inches in Even More Space, though a slimmer seat design means the difference should hardly be noticeable — that was my experience, at least.
There's a large lavatory just behind the cockpit — if you're seated near the front of the plane, that's the one I'd pick.
The rear lavatories, meanwhile, have been moved to the rear galley. They're still decently spacious — especially the one on the left.
Seats and Amenities
N729JB is the first JetBlue aircraft to feature Collins Aerospace's Meridian seat. Despite the slim-line design, I found them to be really comfortable, thanks to the airline's decision to add memory foam padding.
These seats also offer fully adjustable headrests, making them far more comfortable when it comes time to sleep. They have an entirely different look, too, with orange accents highlighting the Even More Space (extra-legroom) seats, for example.
Each passenger has access to a 10.1-inch in-flight entertainment system, and a full-size fold-down tray table.
There are also two water bottle pockets, plus this nifty holder, which makes it easy to secure small items (a charging smartphone, perhaps) with elastic straps.
Finally, JetBlue slightly reduced the recline, making it easier to use a laptop even when the passenger in front is leaning all the way back. (Thanks to Eric Dunetz for snapping this photo!)
JetBlue opted for the Thales AVANT seat-back entertainment system — the same model you'll find on the latest long-haul aircraft, flying with carriers ranging from American Airlines to Emirates.
In addition to touchscreen support (no armrest controllers here!), JetBlue was able to fully customize the Android-based interface, starting the experience with a fun personality-identifying quiz that offers up content suggestions based on the options you select.
You can also access the full list of movies and TV shows, of course — everything's available free of charge, and the films I tried looked great, with an HD-quality image. This version of JetBlue's IFE also offers 100+ channels of free DirecTV with a new DVR-like feature that lets you pause and re-start programming.
In addition to USB power ports below the display, every row now offers universal power outlets — one for every seat in Even More Space rows, and two for each set of three seats throughout the rest of the plane.
This is also the first aircraft to feature an updated version of JetBlue's free gate-to-gate Fly-Fi internet service, which connects to the new ViaSat-2 satellite, delivering more bandwidth and much-expanded coverage, including almost all of Central America, the Caribbean and even parts of South America.
I flew JetBlue's original A320 configuration from New York-JFK to Jacksonville (JAX) and back to check out this first refurbished plane, and as much as I loved the aircraft's thick leather seats, the seat-back entertainment and the cabin overall felt quite dated, especially after seeing the refreshed version in Florida.
With the first 'Phase 2' retrofitted A320 expected to re-enter service later this week — and up to seven aircraft progressing through the process each month — frequent JetBlue flyers should have a chance to experience the updated interior for themselves soon.