‘We love JetBlue in America.’
I’m in the exquisite Baccarat Hotel in New York (full review imminent) and conversation with my New Yorker companion has turned to my journey from London to JFK with U.S low-cost airline JetBlue – apparently a popular carrier with the natives. And now I know why.
My mission is to pit JetBlue’s ‘Core’ cabin (economy) against its ‘Mint Studio’ (first class in all but name) on board its single-aisle long-range Airbus A321neo – and my odyssey transpires to be a genuine eye-opener, with the Core experience on the way out genuinely living up to JetBlue’s claim before launching the transatlantic route last August that it would ‘reinvent what it’s like to fly economy across the Atlantic’.
And the Mint Studio leg on the way back to London would turn out to be similarly revelatory.
MailOnline Travel Editor Ted Thornhill flies from London Gatwick to JFK with JetBlue, in the economy ‘Core’ cabin on the way out, and in one of two ‘first-class’ ‘Mint Studio’ suites (pictured) on the way back
Ted’s picture of his berth for the London to JFK leg – seat 15A in the Core ‘Even More Space’ section
The Core trip begins at London Gatwick’s North Terminal at midday on a sunny Friday lunchtime, with the A321neo at gate 51 that’ll fly me to JFK looking bijou next to an adjacent Dreamliner.
But inside, despite short-haul looks on the outside, there’s a reassuringly transatlantic vibe thanks to sterling work by JetBlue’s London-based design partner, Acumen Design Associates.
It helped overhaul the JetBlue A321 fleet’s cabins, which are fresh and full of funky features, with the updated long-range version of the aircraft boasting a sizeable premium section with direct-aisle-access lie-flat seats.
I walk past the two ‘Mint Studio’ seats at the very front (I’ll be in one of those on the return – 1A), the 22 ‘Mint’ ‘business-class’ seats and through to the economy Core section.
I’m in 15A, billed by JetBlue – the sixth-largest airline in the U.S – as an ‘Even More Space’ Core seat, which means up to seven inches more legroom, early boarding and distinctive orange-and-black headrests.
Spoiler alert – JetBlue has transatlantic economy nailed.
There’s something alluringly motorsport about the seats and I love how you can bend the padded headrests to form ‘ears’ you can lean your head against while sleeping.
The cushioning, meanwhile, is supportive and I’ll distribute a thumbs up, too, for the backpack-style stowage attached to the back of the seat in front, which has a regular pouch for magazines and the safety cards and a separate holder for drinks bottles.
JetBlue uses state-of-the-art Airbus A321neo long-range aircraft (pictured) for its transatlantic services
In addition, there’s a plug socket and cable port I plug my phone into.
Obviously, the priority is to fire-up WhatsApp and distribute pictures of my journey while in flight mode to friends and loved ones while they’re toiling at work, so I log onto the JetBlue WiFi, which is free and works seamlessly coast to coast.
Each passenger gets a nice blanket and reuseable silicone amenity kit containing lip balm and moisturising lotion by ‘Anatomicals’, a mint and a pair of socks – and every economy seat has a nifty touch-sensitive entertainment screen that entertains gate to gate (well, in theory, the whole system glitches and doesn’t work properly until it’s reset when we hit cruising altitude).
‘There’s a reassuringly transatlantic vibe [on the A321neo] thanks to sterling work by JetBlue’s London-based design partner, Acumen Design Associates,’ writes Ted. Above is a publicity picture of the JetBlue A321neo Core cabin
Ted settles in for the JFK leg with his complimentary blanket
They’re 10 inches, which is big enough to enjoy movies on, have a simple even-your-granny-could-work-it-out menu system and, if leaning forwards to press the screen is too much bother, you can sync your smartphone to the system and use the device as the controller.
Thoughtfully, the movie options include two-hour-plus films ‘for long flights’ and sub-two-hour films ‘for short flights’.
I watch Dune and the new Ghostbusters using my own in-ear Sony headphones as the freebies on the plane aren’t great, but that’s standard in any economy cabin.
Hungry for the intel on the food? It’s produced in partnership with hipster chain Dig, which runs farm-sourced restaurants on the east coast of the U.S, and interestingly, here, the ordering system is an extra talking point – it’s ingenious. You build your meal onboard using on-screen menus and the crew deliver it without further ado.
I opt for hot honey chicken with two sides of cheesy cauliflower and sheet tray carrots.
I’ll stick my neck out and say it’s the best economy plane meal I’ve ever had – comforting, rustic, moreishly flavoursome. Partly thanks to divine sauces.
Ted’s hot honey chicken with cheesy cauliflower and sheet tray carrots by hipster chain Dig, which he declares is the best economy plane meal he’s ever had. He’s also a fan of the ordering system, which involves building the meal via the entertainment screen
On the left is the reuseable silicone amenity kit that JetBlue Core passengers receive, and the freebie headphones. On the right is the whopper of a pretzel served before the plane lands at JFK
Every economy seat on transatlantic JetBlue services has a 10-inch entertainment screen – big enough to enjoy movies on and they have a simple ‘even-your-granny-could-work-it-out menu system’, says Ted
The Even More Space seats come with up with seven extra inches of leg space. Ted has even more thanks to an empty seat next to him (left). Each Core seat has a socket for phones and laptops (right)
The fodder is so pleasing I half wonder whether the crew has pilfered it from business class.
My wine, too – a creamy Pinot Grigio from Washington State – is also most uneconomy-like.
Before landing we’re served a pretzel so big it should be classed as ‘weaponised’, but there’s a dessert desertion – little ice creams had been on the cards, but they ran out, I’m told. I grab a bag of cookies from the self-service pantry at the back to compensate.
Service throughout is polite, perky and purposeful and I disembark feeling like a JetBlue convert.
To put it in soccer terms, the carrier is 3-0 up at halftime (would that be 60-0 up in basketball?), with a couple of yellow cards for the glitches and lack of dessert.
After a couple of nights at the Baccarat and activities that include a few laps of Central Park, a stroll around MOMA, inventive cocktails at Undercote (the super subterranean bar at Michelin-starred Korean steakhouse Cote), and an amazing meal at Frevo, a Greenwich Village restaurant you enter by stepping through a door disguised as a painting in an art gallery, it’s time to put JetBlue’s best seat to the test – Mint Studio.
THE FIRST CLASS MINT STUDIO EXPERIENCE
It’s an enclave frankly so splendid – like a mini apartment, or apart-mint, as JetBlue puts it – that I look around for someone to high-five when I sit down.
Make no mistake, Mint Studio is remarkable – JetBlue and Acumen have pulled out all the stops, then apparently whittled some more, and pulled those out too.
Ted snaps this picture as he steps into his Mint Studio suite for the return leg to London Gatwick
Ted sips fizz part-way through his freebie inspection
Legroom? Redundant. This berth is so big it’s practically a slice of real estate, which at 22.7 square feet is almost big enough to accommodate a small family. And there are so many bells and whistles that it takes me around 20 minutes to investigate them all.
After delivering a refreshing glass of fizz before we taxi to the runway, David – one of a trio of superstar crew looking after me – helpfully talks me through some of the features.
There’s a wireless charging device next to a storage compartment containing a bottle of water that illuminates when you open the lid, a private closet with vanity mirror, two sockets with cable ports, and a slide-out drawer for laptops.
Mint Studio is so big it’s practically a slice of real estate, which at 22.7 square feet is almost big enough to accommodate a small family (publicity shot above)
‘The seat would be comfortable for far longer journeys than New York to London,’ declares Ted
The Mint Studio elbowside seat control panel
The vibe is upscale residential – there’s a guest seat to my left (though the guest seat tray table is not functioning), a privacy door, two wall lamps, two windows and a gargantuan entertainment screen that folds out from the wall and tilts to the optimum angle. At 22 inches (five inches bigger than the business-class Mint screens), JetBlue claims it’s the biggest of any U.S airline.
Movies and TV shows on this are all the more enjoyable thanks to a pair of excellent hi-fi-grade Master & Dynamic MH40 noise-isolating headphones (not for keeping, sadly).
The seat, meanwhile, would be comfortable for far longer journeys than New York to London, thanks to deluxe vegan-leather upholstery, adaptive foam cushioning by Tuft and Needle and manoeuvrability via an elbowside control panel, which can be used to move it from upright to lie-flat and any number of positions in between.
On top of all this, there’s a seemingly endless number of freebies. There’s an amenity kit by e-commerce wellness store Wanderfuel containing Voesh hand and body cream, Lumion ‘Miracle Mist’ (with Dead Sea salt) and an oversized coconut oil body wipe by Busy Co that’s billed as a substitute for a shower.
In the vanity unit I discover a pair of slippers and another amenity kit containing items that include lip balm, hand lotion and a stain remover pen.
Ear we go: Master & Dynamic MH40 noise-isolating headphones are distributed to Mint passengers (Ted pictured left putting them to the test). On the right, Ted’s seat in leg-stretching mode
Plus, there’s another little kit with an eye mask, earplugs and a toothbrush and toothpaste inside.
At this point I give myself a freebie-inspection intermission and sip some more bubbles.
The next task is to unzip the ‘snooze kit’. Inside this is a luxurious blanket and memory-foam pillow by those dream weavers at Tuft & Needle.
Time for a movie.
No, wait, the crew are offering me a pair of trendy black tracksuit-style Mint Studio pyjamas.
These, I’m told, I can keep.
After one last sweep for freebies, I peruse the dinner menu.
For comparison, this shot shows the regular direct-aisle-access Mint suites
Mint suites have less square footage than Mint Studios and slightly smaller entertainment screens
The food is by New York-based Delicious Hospitality Group, which was launched in 2013 by chef Ryan Hardy and sommelier Grant Reynolds, and is offered tapas-style.
I ignore the Tuscan kale salad and lamb shoulder and go for burrata with grilled zucchini and salsa verde; cavatelli with broccoli rabe sautee and Parmigiano; and chicken cacciatore in a tomato, mushroom and artichoke sauce.
Before it’s served, I’m given a slightly random tray of peppers, almonds and mushrooms and order a pleasantly floral glass of Wade Cellars Chenin Blanc, Wade being basketball player Dwyane Wade, who has his own wine label.
The food in Mint Studio is by New York-based Delicious Hospitality Group. Pictured is Ted’s dinner – gelato in passion fruit puree (top right); burrata with grilled zucchini and salsa verde (top left); cavatelli with broccoli rabe sautee and Parmigiano (bottom right); and chicken cacciatore (bottom left)
On the left is the slightly random starter snacks – peppers, almonds and mushrooms. On the right, the breakfast – citrus pinwheels, a beautifully warm croissant and yoghurt with raspberry jam
Dinner in Mint is offered tapas-style, with passengers choosing three small plates from a choice of five (left). The breakfast options are pictured right
Pictured left is a section of the wine list. From this Ted orders a pleasantly floral glass of Wade Cellars Chenin Blanc, Wade being basketball player Dwyane Wade, who has his own wine label. Right – the Master & Dynamic MH40 headphones are hi-fi grade
This publicity shot shows the Tuft & Needle Mint ‘snooze kit’, complete with memory-foam pillow
Lovely coffee in an earthenware mug arrives on the approach to Ireland
The main course arrives with a bread roll in the centre of four plates – on one is a refreshing burrata, another appetising cavatelli (though I’m not 100 per cent behind the strident tang of the broccoli sautee), on another is a succulent slab of chicken in a sauce any Italian gran would be proud of, and on the fourth a delicious mini mound of vanilla gelato in a passion fruit puree. This is my favourite – worthy of any posh restaurant.
I turn down the offer of more wine, decide against ordering a port or a cocktail (the choices include Dirty Martini, Black Maple Old Fashioned and Margarita) and put the seat in lie-flat mode for some shut-eye.
I normally find sleep on a plane next to impossible even on a lie-flat seat, but this time I manage a couple of hours.
For me that’s almost miraculous – testament to the cocooning potential of the seat/pillow/blanket.
In the morning as we approach the west coast of Ireland, with another plane to the north mesmerisingly racing us, the crew are on hand with my breakfast choice – coffee served in an earthenware mug and, having bypassed the quiche, citrus pinwheels, a beautifully warm croissant and yoghurt with raspberry jam. All pleasurably fresh and satisfying.
Before disembarking there’s a final winning touch – the crew give me a card with ‘Until We Mint Again’ printed on the front and a hand-written message on the other side conveying that they enjoyed having me in the Mint Studio.
Believe me, the pleasure has all been mine.
First class in all but name? World class in all but name. And an economy section deserving of the same accolade. JetBlue – I hope sincerely to Mint again.