JetBlue crossing: What it was like onboard the inaugural A321LR flight to London
It's been a whopping 28 months since JetBlue first confirmed plans to launch service between the U.S. and London. Now, this week, the airline's first passenger flight finally landed in the U.K.
The carrier's fantastic Mint business cabin was completely sold out by the time I was able to book the inaugural, so I ended up with one of the very last seats in coach — the "Core" cabin, as it's referred to on JetBlue.
Booking my flight
I selected a "Blue" fare — JetBlue's lowest-cost fare category above Blue Basic, the airline's basic economy. While Blue fares don't include checked bags on most flights, you do get one for free when traveling to and from London.
One-way Blue fares typically start around $450, though I paid about $200 more given limited availability on the inaugural. At just under $750 all-in, a round-trip ticket is generally the better move.
You can also redeem JetBlue TrueBlue points for your flight. Awards are based on the cash fare, so you'll pay more for a one-way than you will half of a round-trip.
Given the high base fare, I decided to grab a free seat in the back. 30F was open at the window, in the second-to-last row of the plane.
JetBlue also offers four rows of Even More Space seats on this plane, with between three and six inches of additional legroom. 15C was available, but at $129 for the one-way trip, I decided to pass on the buy-up.
I had two additional "extras" to choose from — additional checked bags, at $100 a pop, and Even More Speed security screening for $15, which I didn't need since I have TSA PreCheck.
I paid with The Platinum Card® from American Express, earning me 5 points per dollar on airfare — 3,261 Membership Rewards points total, worth about $65, based on TPG's valuations.
I'll also earn a total of six TrueBlue points per dollar spent on the base fare of $452 and carrier surcharge of $171, for a total of 3,738 points, worth about $49, based on TPG's valuations.
While the UK is now officially open to travelers vaccinated in the United States, with no requirement to quarantine upon arrival when visiting from countries on the Green and Amber lists, there are a few hoops you'll need to jump through before you can board a UK-bound flight.
The first is to complete the UK's passenger locator form, available right here. The form took me about 10 minutes in total, and you'll need to outline your full UK lodging plan, along with naming the countries you've visited within the last 10 days and and sharing a number of other details.
Related: Here’s what it’s like to fly to London as an American right now
You'll also need to book a test to be taken on the second day after your UK arrival — the confirmation number is required before you can submit your form.
After you complete the form, you'll receive an email of your document along with a QR code. You'll present this document along with your CDC vaccination card at check-in or before boarding at the gate.
Vaccinated Americans are also required to present documentation of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of departure. PCR tests are accepted, but a rapid antigen test will work as well. According to the UK, "The test must meet performance standards of ≥97% specificity, ≥80% sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml."
Fortunately, Abbott’s BinaxNow COVID-19 Home Test is accepted for UK travel — while there were lengthy waits a few days ago, the issue had been resolved by the time I took my test on Wednesday morning. And, since I'm returning within three days, I'll be able to use the same test for my flight back to the U.S.
Interestingly, I was able to check in and receive a boarding pass through JetBlue's mobile app, but be prepared to have your documents verified either at the dedicated check-in counter or before boarding at the gate.
The JetBlue check-in agent was the only person who ever looked at my physical documents, and confirmed my negative test. The arrival procedures at Heathrow were exactly as I remember them from my last visit before the pandemic — just a quick automated passport scan and I was good to go.
Celebrating the inaugural
I arrived at JFK around 6 p.m. — nearly four hours ahead of the 9:48 p.m. departure. The London counter was located at the far end of the terminal, just on the other side of the Aer Lingus, Hawaiian and TAP signs outside of Terminal 5.
While I could have queued up to have my test verified at the gate, there wasn't a line when I arrived at the dedicated JFK check-in desk, so I decided to complete my document check there.
There were two passengers filling out their UK locator forms — the process seemed a bit difficult to manage on a smartphone, so I'd try to fill yours out on a computer before you arrive at the desk.
A check-in agent inspected my passport, complete UK locator form, test result and CDC certificate. It only took a couple of minutes to review everything, but with over 100 passengers to get through on a full flight, it could take some time.
There wasn't anyone waiting behind me, so I was invited to join the check-in crew for a photo before making my way to TSA PreCheck.
The fun continued on the other side of the checkpoint, with a handful of performers entertaining guests at T5 and chatting with passengers about the new London flight.
JetBlue definitely went all out with the inaugural celebrations!
There was even more to see at Gate 15 — some of the entertainers were leading the way to the pre-departure festivities.
A giant Union Jack served as the backdrop for photos and executive speeches — two actors dressed as members of the Queen's Guard were especially popular.
Soon enough, it was time for the ribbon cutting, including an appearance by Joel Peterson, JetBlue's former chairman of the board and the person honored with the ceremonial naming of the airline's first long-range Airbus.
JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes was among the first to board — and, naturally, an especially popular photo subject.
Hayes seemed to have a very strong rapport with employees across JetBlue — his interactions reminded me of the very warm welcome United's former CEO Oscar Munoz tended to receive whenever he encountered airline employees.
Hayes was actually sitting in economy, but many of the other VIPs were up front in Mint, where the celebration began with a choice of welcome beverage.
The Mint suites were outfitted with the standard Tuft & Needle amenities, along with flags and inaugural flight certificates.
We received similar mementos in the back, but missed out on the welcome beverages.
My seat had a small London poster, an inaugural flight certificate and a U.K. flag.
Just before departure, passengers were asked to waive their American flags and Union Jacks for a photo, and then we pushed back from the gate.
After a very short delay due to thunderstorms, JetBlue Flight 7 was off to London Heathrow!
The inaugural festivities ended there. Aside from a fun catch-up with friend-of-the site Richard Quest, of CNN's Quest Means Business, it was a fairly ordinary redeye flight.
Core on JetBlue's A321LR
In addition to 22 Mint suites and two Mint Studios, each arranged in a 1-1 configuration at the front of the plane, the A321LR sports just 114 "Core" economy seats — one of the smallest-capacity coach cabins you'll find crossing the Atlantic.
The first row, 13, includes six regular coach seats available to select without an additional charge, while rows 14 through 17 have a total of 24 Even More Space seats, with between 3 and 6 inches of additional legroom. Passengers can select these seats for between $119 and $139 each way.
As I mentioned, I ended up in the very back of the cabin — 30F, the second to last window seat on the plane.
I had captured the photos above during an earlier tour, and I'm glad I did! The cabin was a deep blue during boarding — it definitely helped set the mood, but it made photography a bit challenging.
I had opted out of the Even More Space upgrade, which worked out just fine — at 5' 9", I find that even JetBlue's regular economy seats offer me enough legroom. The seat next to me remained empty as well — score!
I appreciated having dedicated air vents as well — while the cabin never got too warm, it's helpful to be able to control the temperature a bit.
I had heard that JetBlue was planning to offer economy amenity kits, and they were even nicer than I expected! I was especially impressed with the reusable silicone pouch.
The 10.1-inch HD screen at the back of each seat is definitely the star of the show. There's live TV, plus a seemingly endless selection of on-demand content.
My seat "recognized" me from my reservation, and after logging in, I was good to go. You can control the system via the responsive touchscreen, or via your own smartphone, if you prefer.
There were plenty of new releases and older films to choose from, along with a variety of TV shows. JetBlue's Wi-Fi is also fast enough to support streaming, so you can ultimately watch whatever you like on your own device.
There were also several power options, including universal power outlets, standard USB ports and a super-powered USB-C port, which charged my iPhone even more quickly than my setup at home.
As with the rest of JetBlue's fleet, the airline's A321LRs are equipped with free Wi-Fi. This particular aircraft connects to the newer ViaSat-2 satellite, which covers the North Atlantic and provides speedy service on flights between the U.S. and Europe.
As a long-time New Yorker, I've had plenty of meals from local chain Dig Inn. I've always found the food to be hearty, but it doesn't taste unhealthy — like a Thanksgiving dinner from a family that doesn't go overboard on the calorie counts.
Remarkably, JetBlue is partnering with Dig Inn for its economy meals. It's not unusual to see named partnerships for business class, but having a quality restaurant chain stand behind inflight coach meals is something I wasn't expecting to see.
I was able to place my dinner order via the seat-back display right away. It was super straightforward — I really appreciated seeing pictures and descriptions of each entree and side dish option.
I was a bit concerned that it would take a very long time to get the meal, given the high level of customization, but it was hot and at my seat about an hour after takeoff.
One group of flight attendants started from the front of the cabin while the other began at the rear, which definitely helped speed things up.
Dinner was hot and delicious — it tasted just like the Dig Inn meals I've had on the ground. The sauces (garlic and sriracha) were fantastic additions, too.
After the meal, another flight attendant came around offering ice cream sandwiches. I was too full for more than a couple of bites, but it was fantastic, too!
Then, about an hour before landing, the crew came through offering a choice of fresh fruit salad or a hot chocolate croissant.
I wasn't especially hungry, so I went with the fruit — it really was delicious and super fresh!
Throughout the flight, passengers can walk up to the pantry in the rear of the cabin to grab a snack as well — it's all you can eat!
Oh, and get this: alcohol is free in economy! I'm not talking about cheap wine and domestic beer — even liquor is included. Spirits are also available free of charge on Delta, while American and United offer economy flyers beer and wine.
There's no question that JetBlue now offers the best economy experience among all U.S carriers. Decent legroom, super-fast Wi-Fi, HD entertainment, Dig Inn meals, free booze... the list goes on.
My only complaint is that the airline has just one long-haul route so far — hopefully, the carrier's UK foray proves profitable and we see a significant international expansion soon. With more long-range Airbus A321LRs on the way, it's certainly within the realm of possibility.
For now, you can catch JetBlue's flight every day between New York-JFK and London Heathrow, though service is expected to drop to four weekly flights in September. With strong demand, we could see daily flights return in October, around the time airline plans to introduce an additional daily flight to London, running between JFK and Gatwick (LGW).