- JetBlue Airways flew its first flight between New York and London on Wednesday.
- The airline is using brand-new Airbus A321neoLR aircraft with new Mint business class seats and meal services in economy.
- The flight was seamless and enjoyable, although there are a few kinks to be worked out.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
JetBlue flight 007 from New York to London, UK arrived at Heathrow Airport on Thursday morning, an event that proved unlikely just two weeks ago despite more than two years of planning.
JetBlue first announced its transatlantic in April 2019. With planned flights from New York and Boston, the airline would be going into one of the most competitive realms in aviation: the skies above the North Atlantic.
Preparations included a brand-new Mint business class seat, meals in economy, ordering new Airbus A321neoLR aircraft, getting approval to use London’s Heathrow Airport, and earning certifications to fly the overwater routes, among others.
Though international travel all but came to a halt in 2020, CEO Robin Hayes kept the faith with a delayed late 2021 start that proved more and more realistic as vaccines became pervasive and Europe started reopening to Americans.
The planned start date of August 11, however, was in jeopardy until a surprise announcement by the UK to let in US visitors threw JetBlue into high gear, and paved the way for the first flight to commence.
I flew on the very first JetBlue flight from New York to London. Here’s what it was like.
Insider paid a media rate to fly on the inaugural flight and back to New York
I arrived at JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport for the overnight crossing and saw one of the airline’s new rivals just across the airport tarmac.
The New York-London air route is one of the most popular, busy, and lucrative in the world. I’d flown to London many times but never thought I’d fly JetBlue there.
Terminal 5 was quite busy but London flights have a special check-in area that was quite empty. Only one flight per day is operating to London until September 29 when the flight to London’s Gatwick Airport launches.
Check-in agents quickly checked my passport, vaccination card, COVID-19 test, and UK passenger locator form. The UK is quite lenient with pre-departure tests and only requires an antigen test within three days prior to departure.
Ticket in hand, I went straight to the security checkpoint where I was able to use TSA PreCheck. All told, it was one of the smoothest experiences I’ve had when traveling internationally during the pandemic and took no more than 10 minutes from walking in the door to clearing security.
JetBlue’s home had been London-ized with Queen’s Guards in the atrium, stilt-walkers adorned with UK apparel, and images of the city’s landmarks.
A massive Union Jack at the London gate also welcomed passengers heading to JetBlue’s new furthest destination on its new longest flight.
CEO Robin Hayes was traveling on the flight, as well as former board member Joel Peterson and JetBlue founder and current Breeze Airways CEO David Neeleman.
Boarding began on time and in groups. Despite biometric gates available, gate agents checked each boarding pass and passport.
The newest plane in JetBlue’s fleet, the Airbus A321neoLR, then awaited.
Mood lighting filled the cabin thanks to the Airbus Airspace cabin that also featured LED lights in the ceiling, reminiscent of a starry night.
First up on the plane is the 24-seat Mint business class cabin. The first two seats are the larger “Mint Studio” seats that offer additional space at a premium.
The remaining 22 seats are “Mint Suites” arranged in a 1-1 configuration with fully lie-flat seats and closable doors.
Economy and its 114 seats arranged in a standard 3-3 configuration then follow, where the bulk of the passengers were sitting.
A total of 24 “even more space” seats, signified with orange headrests, offer 35 inches of legroom, as well as early boarding and priority security screening privileges.
Then 90 standard economy seats offer 32 inches of legroom.
I arrived at my seat, 24A, and got settled for the crossing. While I wasn’t initially excited about flying across the Atlantic in a narrow-body plane, my fears were assuaged by the above-average legroom and wide seat.
Economy seats boast 18.4 inches of width and even as a larger traveler, I was able to sit comfortably without my body touching either armrest.
Atop each seat was a small amenity kit with socks, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and an eye mask. Blankets were also provided but pillows were not.
We were all set for an on-time departure when thunderstorms delayed our pushback. But after more than two years of planning, suffering through the pandemic, and the UK dragging its feet on reopening, thunder and lightning was not going to stop this plane.
We pushed back not even 10 minutes late and made our way towards Runway 22R for an ultimately on-time departure.
The Airbus A321neo started up and immediately lived up to its promise of being quieter than its predecessors. While taxiing to the runway, I barely heard the engines and wouldn’t have known they were turned on if I wasn’t paying attention.
“Flight attendants, prepare for takeoff, please,” our captain said, just before we blasted off into the night sky. Applause erupted inside the cabin as we ascended and started our turn with speed to England, just 9 days after it opened to American tourists.
The cabin soon fell silent, though, and the engines continued their quiet drone despite propelling us to the upper altitudes. This would normally be the time when I would call it a night and get some sleep. But there were still meals to be enjoyed.
JetBlue economy passengers can order their meals, courtesy of Dig, on their screens.
On this flight, there was a choice of three main courses and three side dishes. It’s quite the offering for economy and I appreciated the opportunity to mix and match.
The drink service started first with flight attendants starting from both ends of the cabin and meeting in the middle. Sitting in the middle of economy, my row was one of the last to be served.
Entirely complimentary on JetBlue’s transatlantic flights is wine, beer, and spirits.
As is tradition for London flights, I had a gin and tonic.
After drinks, flight attendants came through once more with meals. The two flight attendants started from the bookends of the cabin and worked their way towards the center.
I chose the chicken with carrots and mac and cheese. All in all, it was one of the best economy meals that I’ve had in my years of flying.
The main course was then followed by an ice cream sandwich. Needless to say, I was content for the rest of the flight, or at least until breakfast.
In-flight entertainment was offered through seat-back screens offering high-definition content. The systems are personalized and great passengers by name.
On offer was a wide variety of movies…
And a moving map.
In-flight WiFi was also available from gate to gate and is complimentary when flying transatlantic. I noted that it wasn’t the most reliable but did the trick with sending text messages and using social media.
In-seat power also helps keep devices charged on the crossing.
After the meal, it was time for bed as it was just after midnight and we had around five hours to go. I unfurled the quite comfortable blanket that JetBlue left on every economy seat.
It wasn’t until I felt the hand of a flight attendant on my shoulder that I woke up. It was time for breakfast and I had requested a wake-up call.
On offer for the optimistic morning meal just 50 minutes before landing was fruit salad or hot chocolate bread, a European and personal favorite.
At this point, we were just south of Ireland preparing to cross the Irish Sea to England. The seven hours had gone by in what felt like the blink of an eye.
One last drink service then capped off the flight as we neared the UK capital.
We soon arrived over London and thankfully weren’t forced to circle, as was nearly always the case when flying to the city before the pandemic.
Touchdown on Heathrow Airport’s Runway 27L marked the end of our journey and the inauguration of JetBlue’s 26th country and third continent served. We even arrived 40 minutes early.
Overall, it was an incredibly smooth flight and a great first showing for JetBlue’s newest route.
The in-flight service certainly could’ve been quicker, especially given that meals were pre-ordered. We took off at 10:08 p.m. but didn’t wrap up the service until shortly after midnight.
A greater emphasis should’ve also been placed on trash collection, which is a pet peeve of mine on international flights when trash builds quickly.
However, my concerns with flying on a narrow-body aircraft across the Atlantic in economy were for naught.
The aircraft was incredibly comfortable and quiet. I did not feel claustrophobic at all despite flying in a narrow-body aircraft for more than seven hours.
Of course, it helped that the middle seat in my row was open. But I attribute my positive attitude to the wide seat with a good amount of legroom.
I’d chose JetBlue again for transatlantic travel in a heartbeat.