JetBlue’s CEO David Neeleman has criticized the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including widespread mask-wearing, as a complete overreaction.
“I think people who wear masks outside when they’re social distanced are complete morons,” he told Bloomberg. Double-maskers bother Neeleman the most: “I just want to go up and shake them and go, ‘What the f— is wrong with you!,” he said.
It’s not the first time Neeleman has spoken in opposition to mask mandates and other pandemic measures like lockdowns. Last October, he tweeted: “I continue to believe that it is less safe to require everyone to wear ineffective cloth masks and gators which gives a false sense of security.”
Neeleman’s views underpin his desire to get the economy rolling after the airline industry took a massive hit due to restricted travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even during the widespread global disruption, Neeleman’s impatience led him to start his fifth airline, Breeze Airways, last December 2020.
Breeze was scheduled to launch flights in late-2020 but these were delayed due to the pandemic. The airline’s website now displays the message: “Welcome to Breeze Airways, a new airline scheduled for take-off in 2021!”
Breeze joins Neeleman’s other airlines Morris Air, WestJet, JetBlue Airways, and Azul Brazilian Airlines.
JetBlue is firmly on the road back to normal as the pandemic enters its second year.
Flights are being filled to capacity as the airline stopped blocking seats in January following the Christmas travel rush. Middle seats had been blocked until October 15, 2020, around the time Southwest Airlines also announced an end to its policy.
But it didn’t stop there, JetBlue has been gradually moving away from pandemic-era safety measures like back-to-front boarding and has brought back fan favorites like soft drinks and more snacks in the in-flight service.
After flying JetBlue during the summer at the height of its safety efforts, I decided to take JetBlue home from Los Angeles to New York in March on one of its flagship routes. Here’s what flying JetBlue Airways is like in 2021.
Los Angeles is JetBlue’s new West Coast hub, having moved operations from nearby Long Beach during the pandemic.
JetBlue doesn’t have an entire terminal to itself as it does in New York here at LAX but it makes the space work.
Check-in kiosks were spaced and JetBlue even installed social distancing reminders on the floor.
Hand sanitizer stations were available next to the bag drop station.
And even the regular check-in line had multiple social distancing and face mask reminders from both the airline and the airport, in addition to plexiglass partitions at check-in counters. It was the most impressive setup I’d seen in the terminal.
JetBlue, like many US airlines, now requires customers to acknowledge a health declaration at check-in. I had to affirm that I didn’t have any COVID-19 symptoms, been exposed to the virus, or tested positive for the virus.
I also had to agree to JetBlue’s face covering policy and affirm I didn’t have a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater.
I used the kiosk to print my boarding pass and was reminded about the touch-free option by using the JetBlue mobile application to do everything from check-in to get a mobile boarding pass. Customers checking a bag could also just scan their boarding pass and the bag tag would automatically print without having to touch the screen.
I booked JetBlue’s version of basic economy for this flight but I was luckily still assigned a window seat. Most of the middle seats went empty on the flight and I was glad to see JetBlue wasn’t randomly assigned seats as some other airlines are for basic economy flyers.
Ticket in hand, I headed to the gate and saw some of the same safety features. Plexiglass partitions were installed at the check-in counter and the airport had installed social distancing placards on the floor but that was about it.
Boarding soon began in JetBlue’s standard procedure based on groups. There was surprisingly no pre-boarding reminder to wear masks
Passengers boarding first included JetBlue elite status holders, those traveling in Mint business class, active duty military, families with small children, customers with disabilities, and travelers with “Even More Space” seats.
JetBlue gave up on back-to-front boarding in early March.
I got to my seat, 25A, and settled in for the overnight flight to New York.
Everything about the seat was clean and I didn’t have any worry there whatsoever.
Health and safety aside, I was immediately reminded why flying on JetBlue is one of the best ways to cross the country, especially when flying on this aircraft.
The Airbus A321 fleet, including the A321 and A321neo, are incredibly modern and comfortable. I’d flown across the US on four different airlines in two days but when I sat down on the JetBlue flight, it felt like home.
These aircraft feature one of JetBlue’s older in-flight entertainment products but they still offer touch-screen capabilities, high-definition displays, on-demand content, and a map screen.
It also helped that the airline offers 32 inches of legroom in economy on this aircraft.
The front of the aircraft naturally filled first thanks to the new boarding procedure but the aircraft was empty enough where the back started to fill before too many people were settled up front.
Even though it was an empty flight to New York, flight attendants asked passengers to go to their assigned seats first before moving around the cabin.
Flight attendants also reminded passengers of the safety features of the aircraft including its high-efficiency particular air filters, or HEPA filters, and reassuringly said that the aircraft was just cleaned and disinfected.
It was also made clear that wearing a mask was required by federal law.
We departed Los Angeles with around three-quarters of the plane full.
I lucked out and had the middle seat open but not every row was so lucky.
After departure, the entertainment screens showed a video outlining the health and safety features of the aircraft to reassure passengers. Airlines tend to do this at the gate but I was glad to see it on the aircraft right in front of passengers.
The “dos and don’ts” of flying on JetBlue were explained including wearing a face covering…
And don’t crowd the aisle. This one was interesting considering JetBlue had just removed back-to-front boarding and its middle seat block.
Even more messaging was available on the map channel.
This kind of messaging goes a long way to reassure flyers returning to the skies for the first time during the pandemic.
We quickly departed Los Angeles and turned eastbound towards New York. The in-flight service began shortly after takeoff.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that JetBlue had gotten rid of the plastic bag service and was serving actual soft drinks. I even got the full can.
Customers also had a choice of snacks including cookies, chips, Cheez-Its, or a granola bar. I went for the cookies.
The rest of the flight progressed smoothly as most passengers tried to get some sleep in on the five-hour flight.
New York soon came into view and the flight was approaching its natural end.
When we landed, there was a reminder to social distance when deplaning but most didn’t heed that warning. It’s only natural for flyers to get up as soon as the seat belt sign turns off.
Walking off the plane, I noticed JetBlue had installed its own safety placards in the jetway.
The terminal in New York was also way better equipped than in Los Angeles. JetBlue had installed its own hand sanitizers at the gate…
Automated boarding gates were available to reduce contact with the gate agents…
And seats in the gate area were even blocked off, in addition to social distancing placards lining the falls and plexiglass partitions installed at the gate.
Overall, JetBlue did a great job at ensuring passengers are safe in both of its hubs, even though it is shedding off some social distancing efforts as more flyers take to the skies. The flight felt closer to a normal experience but there was still a strong emphasis on health and safety at every turn.
Delta Airlines will stop blocking middle seats on planes beginning May 1, the company announced Wednesday.
Delta is the only major US airline still blocking the seats after Alaska Airlines dropped the policy in January 2021. JetBlue, Southwest, and Hawaiian Airlines all stopped blocking middle seats even earlier, Tom Pallini reported for Insider.
“While Delta’s decision to block middle seats has given many customers a reason to choose Delta over the past year, the signature hospitality of our employees and the experiences they deliver to customers every day have also deepened their trust in our airline,” Delta CEO Ed Bastion said in a statement.
Masks will continue to be mandatory, and Delta says it is tapping exports from Emory University and the Mayo Health Clinic to guide cleaning standards.
Delta first started blocking middle seats in April 2020 as travel numbers were at their lowest. The company was open about keeping the seats free, announcing in November that the blocks would stay at least through April.
“Nearly 65 percent of those who flew Delta in 2019 anticipate having at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, are what’s giving us the assurance to offer customers the ability to choose any seat on our aircraft,” Delta said in a statement.
A JetBlue Airways passenger could face fines up to $14,500 from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for refusing to wear a mask, drinking his own alcohol, and other disruptive behaviour on a flight last year, AP reports.
The passenger was intolerable to the point where the December 23 flight that was flying from New York to the Dominican Republic had to be turned back around, Bloomberg reported.
The FAA said in a press release that the unidentified passenger crowded the traveler sitting next to him and began talking loudly. He also kept drinking alcohol he had brought on board, even though it was against federal regulations.
The man ignored several requests by flight attendants to put on a face covering, the agency reported.
Such behaviour is considered unacceptable on JetBlue flights, since its policy matches federal law and face coverings are mandatory on flights, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The FAA press release stated: “A flight attendant issued the passenger a ‘Notice to Cease Illegal and Objectionable Behavior, and the cabin crew notified the captain about his actions two separate times. As a result of the passenger’s actions, the captain declared an emergency and returned to JFK, where the plane landed 4,000 pounds overweight due to the amount of fuel on board.”
In an emailed statement to Insider, the company said, “We continue to work within public health guidelines and take clinical guidance from own medical experts to ensure we are doing everything we can to keep our customers and crewmembers safe in this next phase of our ‘new normal.'”
JetBlue was one of only a few airlines to adopt the back-to-front boarding policy when the coronavirus first broke out last year. Delta and United airlines also implemented it, both of which are still keeping it as their primary boarding policy for the time being, according to the companies’ websites.
Other airlines such as Southwest, American, Spirit, Sun Country, and Frontier are using group- or zone-boarding as their primary boarding policy for travelers.
JetBlue credits “mandatory face mask use and the hospital-grade air filtration on board every JetBlue aircraft” as being “the keys to greatly reducing the risk on board.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since February have required travelers to wear masks on any form of public transportation such as planes, buses, trains, and any other form of public transportation in the US. The guidelines also require air travelers to have “a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board a flight to the United States.”
JetBlue said it remains “focused on keeping our crewmembers healthy through safety protocols and screening” as it resumes its group boarding process. The airline will continue to sanitized and disinfect commonly touched surfaces.
Since mid-February, the US has seen an increase in daily passenger numbers, according to TSA data, even as the CDC still recommends that people, including those who have been vaccinated, limit travel.
Many experts expect travel to pick up as more people get vaccinated. Kendra Thorne, owner of Royal Travel and Tours travel agency in Chicago, told NPR that “people are tired of being at home” and that she has noticed a “uptick” in people wanting to book vacations.
On Monday, the CDC released new guidelines for what fully vaccinated people are allowed to do. Those activities included being able to gather indoors, unmasked with other fully vaccinated people. These updated guidelines apply only to “fully vaccinated” people, meaning those who have waited about two weeks after the second doses of Pfizer’s and Modera’s shots, or two weeks after the single-dose shot from Johnson & Johnson.
Even if you are fully vaccinated the the CDC still recommends wearing a mask in any other setting that may involve unvaccinated people.