What it’s like flying JetBlue Mint during the pandemic
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Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of four reviews of premium transcontinental flights during the pandemic. Expect to see reviews of American Flagship First, Delta One and United Polaris shortly.
When I last stepped foot on a plane, it was March 24. Things were eerie. I was one of the only brave travelers taking to the skies (to head to my quarantine location).
Fast forward nearly five months later, and the world’s changed. Flying certainly isn’t the same as it used to be. Masks are required throughout the journey, and social distancing in the airport and onboard is a must.
As an aviation geek (case in point, check out my Instagram page), being grounded for so long was hard. This five-month streak was easily the longest time I’ve been separated from my passion.
Thankfully, on Aug. 13 the streak ended. I flew from New York to Los Angeles — one of the nation’s most premier routes — in JetBlue’s Mint business class. Read on for how my experience differed from the “old” normal.
The airport was jammed
I pretty much knew what to expect going into my flight. After reading past TPG reports on what it’s like to fly nowadays, I had a good sense of what my journey would look like.
But when I arrived at JFK’s Terminal 5, hub of JetBlue’s New York operations, I was shocked. The terminal was packed.
Both the roadways and public spaces inside the terminal were much more crowded than I’d anticipated. Since JetBlue consolidated most of its New York-area flying to its JFK hub, I shouldn’t have been so surprised to enter a crowded terminal. Plus, we were leaving during a morning departure bank.
Fortunately, everyone I saw was following the mask policy.
However, with so many people in a confined space, it was hard to maintain social distancing. Thankfully, the dedicated and separated Mint and Mosaic check-in area was open (though the outside entrance was closed), so our boarding passes were issued in minutes. (Pro tip: there’s a small fridge with waters here if you’re thirsty.)
Most other self-serve kiosks were open, though some were shut down to promote distancing. Though the general TSA security lines were full, the PreCheck line wasn’t. We were airside in minutes with our eight-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer. Score.
Though stores are closed
When I last traveled in March, almost every airport retailer was closed. The same was true five months later in Terminal 5.
Except for the main Cibo Express food court and a Starbucks (with a long line), everything else was shuttered. JetBlue doesn’t operate any lounges, so I spent some time outdoors on the roof deck waiting for the flight.
Boarding was different
The coronavirus is going to have many lasting implications on the aviation industry.
One such area could be boarding. For now, many airlines have modified boarding procedures to minimize close contact. JetBlue boards back-to-front after preboarding with Mint and Mosaic customers.
When I got to the plane, I was impressed that everyone kept their distance in the jetbridge. The same was true once onboard. The aisles were never crowded, nor did anyone rush to their seat.
The seats are still industry-leading
JetBlue Mint won TPG’s best domestic businessclass award for two years in a row. Though we’re in the midst of a pandemic, the product still lives up to the hype.
Seats are spread across five rows in an alternating 2-2 and 1-1 configuration. This means that four seats are actually “suites” with two large tables at each side, two extra power outlets and a sliding door.
If you’re looking for the utmost privacy, I’d definitely recommend selecting a seat in rows 2 or 4.
All seats convert to lie-flat beds, feature power outlets and 15.4-inch seatback screens loaded with a fair amount of movies and TV shows, as well as live DirecTV.
But even if you can’t snag a suite, you’ll still be guaranteed to be sitting solo.
Capacity is capped, and cleaning is noticeable
Through at least Oct. 15, JetBlue is capping the capacity of every single flight. In coach, middle seats will remain empty. In Mint, all six aisle seats in the 2-2 configuration won’t be sold. (You can still assign the couple seats if you’re traveling with your “quaranteam” though.)
That means that the cabin will feel extra private and airy, and each passenger will have his or her own pod.
When I boarded the flight, I felt like a kid in a candy store. I was so excited to be back on a plane.
But the first thing I noticed wasn’t the spacious business-class cabin. It was how clean everything was. I flew on N982JB, a three-year-old Airbus A321. Yet it felt like the plane had just been delivered from the factory.
Both Mint and coach were spotless, though that didn’t stop me from bringing Clorox wipes and sanitizing everything once again.
People wore their masks
Before flying, I was nervous about compliance with the mask requirement. Most major U.S. airlines have all recently strengthened their mask policies, so I was worried people wouldn’t be aware of it.
Before boarding, the gate agent made an announcement about JetBlue’s recent mask updates (no valves and no exceptions). Onboard, nearly everyone wore their mask correctly the entire flight.
Unfortunately, my seat neighbor was wearing an N95 mask with an exhaust valve, which is against the airline policy. I politely informed the flight attendant who quickly told me that the new policy hadn’t yet been enacted. I referenced the gate agent’s prior announcement, and ten minutes later, the flight attendant distributed disposable masks for everyone who boarded with a non-compliant mask.
I saw firsthand how hard it is to enforce the mask requirement. Hopefully, more and more people will soon get with the program so passengers don’t need to feel uncomfortable flying.
Top-notch food and drinks with a twist
The breakfast menu was waiting at my seat during boarding. Pre-departure beverages have been temporarily suspended, though you could always order the signature Mint limeade once airborne.
The friendly flight attendant, Yuri, came around once boarding was finished to collect meal orders. In the past, orders were taken verbally. However, to minimize contact, Yuri asked us to write our preferred order on the menu card (using the pen in the amenity kit). She then collected the menus once we crossed 10,000 feet.
Mint meal service consists of a small starter and a selection of tapas-style main dishes. All food was served with the plastic or foil wrapping tightly secured, and all drinks were served in disposable cups.
I started with an apple turnover and chose the fresh fruit, chia seed pudding and challah french toast as my breakfast. It was too early for alcohol, but rest assured JetBlue is once again pouring a full selection of bubbly (and other alcoholic beverages).
Everything was delicious. Even during the pandemic, JetBlue continues to serve some of the best airplane food.
Service is still great
One of the highlights of the Mint experience has always been the service. Even though the flight attendants are now masked, the service is still great.
Once the abridged meal service ended, flight attendants passed through the cabin every 15 minutes to check in on passengers. They’d happily bring drink refills or offer a limited assortment of snacks.
The bathrooms remained clean
Before takeoff, I took a look at the spotless lavatories and wondered whether they would remain in the same condition throughout the flight. And surprisingly they did.
I witnessed the flight attendants servicing the restroom at least once during the journey, though fellow passengers also did their part in keeping things clean.
There’s one dedicated restroom for Mint passengers at the front of the plane, and there’s also one shared with coach just behind row 5. Even when there was a line, people remained seated until it was their turn to use the bathroom.
Safety & cleanliness are the new buzzwords
Airlines are trying to convince passengers that it’s once again safe to take to the skies. As you’d expect, that message came across loud and clear throughout our journey.
At JFK, there were placards and floor decals at every step of the check-in process demarcating where to stand and where to go next. There were plenty of posters reminding passengers about the mask policy too.
Once onboard, the safety video included a new segment about JetBlue’s Safety from the Ground Up cleaning program and most flight attendant announcements included references to the initiative.
To reduce touchpoints, JetBlue removed the seatback service brochure and digitalized it. Now, when you log in to the FlyFi Wi-Fi network, you’ll be prompted to review the service card.
Some things remain the same
Though much has changed, Mint continues to lead the competition for the best transcon experience.
JetBlue offers free high-speed Wi-Fi to all customers. Given the capacity caps, there was even some extra bandwidth to go around, and I was quite impressed with the speeds.
Unlike United, JetBlue continues to offer a plush duvet and blanket that’s washed between flights and then sealed in a plastic bag. There were even some extra pillows available for those who asked.
Plastic-wrapped Grado SR60e headphones were available at each seat, though I much preferred to use my own Bose or AirPods Pro.
Finally, the well-stocked Hayward-branded amenity kit included all the essentials like a toothbrush and earplugs, as well as some extra goodies like a pair of comfortable socks, screen cleaning cloth and Hudson Made hand lotion and lip balm.
Having been grounded for nearly five months, this aviation enthusiast really missed the wing views. There’s something so exciting about the thrill of takeoff and landing that just gets me every time.
Usually, on a five-hour-long transcon I’ll watch a movie or work on my computer. This time, I just stared out the window for most of the flight – thankful to be in the air once again.
Deplaning is still an issue
Landing in LAX was bittersweet. Sure, I was excited to start my vacation, but the flight was too short. I could’ve easily stayed on the plane to fly back to JFK and been happy about it.
My fellow passengers definitely didn’t share the same feelings. Once the seatbelt sign was turned off, most bolted from their seats to grab their bags and disembark.
During the descent, flight attendants announced that passengers should deplane in a socially distant manner. Either people didn’t hear or they chose to ignore the request because deplaning was definitely the least safe I felt throughout the journey.
For my first flight since the pandemic began, I decided to try JetBlue’s Mint service. While much has changed, it’s still a stellar product with amazing service, delicious food and spacious seating.
With the many health-focused precautions JetBlue is taking, Mint becomes one of the best — and most socially-distant friendly — products to fly during the pandemic.
All photos by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
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