A solid experience with a few flaws: A review of JetBlue’s A321 in economy from Los Angeles to New York
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Many TPG staffers are fans of JetBlue. TPG recently named the airline the best airline for families, and I had an excellent experience on the airline’s Destination Good service trip to the Dominican Republic last fall. The airline even won the award for best domestic economy product at the first TPG Awards last year. But I haven’t always had amazing experiences with the airline myself — in fact, many have been lackluster.
So when TPG asked me to review JetBlue in economy on a transcontinental flight, I was hopeful that I’d get to understand why many travelers love JetBlue. Here’s my experience flying on JetBlue’s A321 in economy from Los Angeles (LAX) to New York-JFK.
Since this review was scheduled shortly after another review flight, I didn’t have much flexibility on my departure date. So, we used $371 of travel credits to book my trip as a one-way from Los Angeles to Tampa (TPA) via New York-JFK. Cash prices for my exact one-way routing on JetBlue normally cost between $166 and $626.
As the price might indicate, the flight was relatively full when we booked. In fact, there were no window or aisle seats available, so I originally selected a middle seat but set up an ExpertFlyer alert to notify me if any window or aisle seats became available. Based on the alerts, only one window or aisle seat ever became available — and I was able to snag it soon after I received my alert.
We also could’ve redeemed JetBlue points for my flight. JetBlue points are generally tied to the cost of the flight, though, so you won’t get outsized value for your points. Alternatively, if we didn’t have travel credits to use, we could’ve used a card that earns bonus miles on airfare, like The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
I was able to check in online the day before my flight and download a boarding pass. I could also purchase checked luggage, add a pet or purchase Even More Speed expedited security. But since there was no benefit to purchasing checked baggage online instead of at the airport, I decided to wait until I got to the airport in case JetBlue was offering to check carry-on bags for $5 at LAX (they weren’t).
At the airport, I tried to use the kiosk to pay for a checked bag, but it couldn’t read my credit card.
I went to the empty staffed line and was greeted with a brisk “Did you try to check in with the kiosk?” I explained, and the agent became slightly more friendly while finishing my check-in and collecting the $30 checked bag fee.
My boarding pass showed that I had TSA PreCheck. PreCheck certainly went faster than normal security, but the line went slower than usual because a few passengers didn’t know what to do and airport staff and crew kept bypassing the line.
There were plenty of restaurants, quick-service cafes and a coffee shop in Terminal 5. Terminal 5 had free Wi-Fi that tested at 149 Mbps download and 223 Mbps upload.
I could have waited in Terminal 5, but I used the underground walkway to make the five-minute walk to Terminal 6 to visit the renovated Alaska Lounge.
I had access to the Alaska Lounge (you can have it too) using the Priority Pass membership that comes as a benefit of being an additional cardholder on my husband’s Platinum Card. (I didn’t factor my lounge experience into the ground experience score for this review, since I didn’t get it with my airfare.)
There was a sign by the elevator that said the lounge was currently using a wait list to admit Priority Pass guests.
I used my phone to join the wait list and walked around the terminal for eight minutes until I received a text message saying I could come in but I’d lose my space if I didn’t arrive within five minutes.
The Alaska Lounge was relatively small but is well-decorated and provided nice views of a few gates with Alaska planes. There was power at most seats, and the staff was diligent about resetting seating and tables as soon as a passenger left.
There was a decent breakfast selection that included a pancake-maker, breads and pastries, oatmeal and toppings, boiled eggs, yogurt, an espresso machine, drip coffee and a soda machine. You could also order a la carte for $8 to $12.
The bar was open but not busy.
The women’s restroom, on the other hand, was busy. Although the restroom wasn’t the cleanest, it did smell good. The lounge Wi-Fi was speedy, at 249 Mbps download and 107 Mbps upload.
I arrived at Gate 59 in Terminal 5 about 10 minutes before boarding. At this point, there was enough seating for everyone. The only source of power was a tower with four outlets — and none of them worked.
The scheduled boarding time came and went with no announcements. Nine minutes after boarding should have begun, the gate agents simply announced that boarding would begin soon.
Preboarding began 15 minutes after the stated boarding time. Mint and Mosaic boarded five minutes later, and families boarded 11 minutes after that. I was in Group B, so I boarded at 9:28 a.m., shortly after family boarding. After she checked the tickets of the Mint and Mosaic passengers, the attendant stopped checking numbers and tended instead to oversized bags.
Cabin and Seat
JetBlue’s A321 economy cabin is in a 3-3 configuration.
After I got to move from my original middle seat, I was now in 28F, in the second to last row. Despite the lavatories — including one that didn’t work the entire flight — and the galley only one row away, the location wasn’t problematic besides the occasional line of passengers.
My seat was 17.25 inches wide and had a substantial 32.5 pitch. I found the seat to be relatively comfortable due to built-in lumbar support. But there was a noticeable rod that wasn’t adequately padded near the seatback.
The seats didn’t recline much, so my pitch only decreased to 27.25 inches when the passenger ahead of me reclined.
I was still able to work on my laptop comfortable once she reclined partially, although I needed to lean toward the window to avoid elbowing my neighbor while I was typing.
Each seat had an adjustable headrest that could be raised. The headrest also had bendable wings for head support.
The tray table folded down from the seatback and was 16.5 inches wide by 9 inches deep. There was a cup divot. I found the tray comfortable for laptop work, especially since it could extend by almost 3 inches.
There were two entertainment and power boxes at each row, but these boxes were positioned so they didn’t interfere with storage or legroom. Each seat had enough room under the seat to fit a personal item.
There was a drink holder and a large pocket on the back of each seat in addition to a smaller pocket that held JetBlue magazines and the safety card. The drink holder was useful for holding my laptop charger, while the other pocket was good for holding my cellphone, snacks and even a partially empty soda can.
There were four lavatories on the aircraft, and all passengers were explicitly allowed to use all lavatories — including the one in the front of the aircraft past the Mint seats. However, one of the lavatories was declared inoperable almost immediately after takeoff, leaving just three lavatories for 159 passengers.
I used the lavatory between Mint and economy midflight. It was tight and had no special amenities, but was reasonably clean and stocked with the essentials: soap, toilet paper and paper towels.
Amenities and IFE
At boarding, there were no amenities at the seats. But 24 minutes after takeoff, flight attendants began selling neck pillows for $6, earbud headphones for $5 and blankets for $5. I purchased a neck pillow for $6, and it was about what you’d expect. The pillow might have been OK for resting your head against the tray table or wall, but it did not function effectively as a neck pillow.
There was a 8.5-inch-by-5.25-inch touchscreen on the back of each seat. The screen tilted and was generally responsive, but there was lag when scrolling.
There were 53 moves, including recent releases, 111 TV shows and an impressive 105 live TV channels.
There was also a looping airshow that showed the flight path as well as information about the flight.
The inflight entertainment was generally acceptable, but there were three annoying aspects. First, it didn’t work for the first 30 minutes of the flight and needed to be reset twice by the flight attendants. Second, there was a remote on the armrest and my neighbor unknowingly hit remote buttons when he used the armrest. And third, announcements in the cabin muted live TV, but you were unable to rewind to see what you missed during the announcement.
You could also stream entertainment to your own device over the wireless network. The entertainment selections were stored on board, so the streaming was quick and high-quality.
Each row of three seats had two power outlets and two USB outlets underneath and between the seats. I actually didn’t see or feel the USB outlet until the end of the flight, but the other two passengers and I shared the two outlets in our row cordially.
The Wi-Fi on JetBlue is free, but it didn’t work for the first 50 minutes of this flight.
However, once the Wi-Fi started working, it could load web pages and emails. Multiple speed tests failed before I was able to get one that clocked the download at 10.5 Mbps and the upload at 2.20 Mbps. The Wi-Fi was turned off about 10 minutes before landing.
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
JetBlue provided complimentary snacks and nonalcoholic drinks on this flight, but there were also many options available for payment with a debit or credit card. There were two different menus, depending on how long your flight was.
Since this flight was about five hours, we had access to both menus. Flight attendants came through the cabin starting from the back 24 minutes after takeoff selling buy-on-board meals and alcohol.
I wasn’t expecting the meals to be offered this soon, so I bought nothing. Complimentary drinks were offered 31 minutes later, and complimentary snacks from a snack basket were offered 17 minutes after the drinks. The snack basket included a variety of items, but it was difficult to see or select anything from the window seat.
After the departure services, flight attendants set up a self-service snack area between the economy and Mint cabins. Water wasn’t proactively offered in the cabin between drink services.
Midway through the flight, I decided to try the jicama and grape salad shaker sold on flights of more than four hours. At $12, it was disappointingly light, but the salad was fresh — no wilted leaves or slimy fruit — and filling. And the cheese and nuts came separately packaged, so you could leave them off if you wanted. Even with the $12 price tag, I’d order the salad again.
Three hours and 15 minutes after departure, or one hour and 47 minutes before landing, a flight attendant came through the cabin for a second full drink service. As with the first service, passengers were given the full can if they ordered soda or juice.
The flight attendants were very responsive, and did relatively well considering that it was a full flight with some difficult passengers.
Despite this being a transcontinental flight, the flight attendants seemed active and busy for most of the flight. I felt like they were trying, especially given the difficult passengers I overheard. Service wasn’t particularly friendly, but it was effective and professional. When I pressed the call button midflight to purchase my salad, a flight attendant reached my seat in less than five seconds. And this response time wasn’t a fluke, based on my observations.
My flight from LAX to JFK had a few issues. But, these aren’t necessarily specific to JetBlue, and for most passengers on board, these issues were likely relatively minor. The flight arrived early. There was power at each row, and IFE screens at each seat with ample content. There was free Wi-Fi that was slow but mostly functional. The salad I tried was fresh and delicious. There were unlimited snacks and drinks in the pantry, responsive flight attendants, ample pitch and supportive headrests. I can already hear you asking: What more do you want?
It’s true that my complaints are relatively minor. But for some passengers they are critical. The Wi-Fi didn’t work for the first 50 minutes of the flight, which can be a big problem for travelers who need to be connected. The boarding process was a free-for-all for most of the economy cabin. There was a broken lavatory for effectively the entire flight, and the IFE was nonfunctional at the start of the flight. Plus, other carriers offer a complimentary meal or more substantial snack on transcontinental flights, but JetBlue only offers complimentary snacks and small meals for purchase. But, even with these shortfalls, this was a comfortable ride for most passengers, and mostly lived up to the carrier’s good reputation in the transcon market.
All photos by the author.
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