A Better Service Than Legacy: Trip Report on JetBlue Across The Pond (+Photos)

Photo: JetBlue

LONDON & NEW YORK – With the reopening of the UK/US border, I had been keen to start traveling back to the USA. I decided to sample JetBlue’s new low-cost Long Haul offering.

For the best flight times, I booked to fly from London Gatwick to New York JFK, returning to London Heathrow.

JetBlue uses a new fleet of Airbus A321NX.

This is the long-range version of Airbus’ A321 aircraft, which in turn is the biggest version of Airbus’ A320 family. JetBlue’s long-haul interior seats 183 people; the interior comprises 24 mint seats and 114 economy seats.

JetBlue 44; London Gatwick to New York’s JFK


Flight Details:
  • Flight Number: B6 44;
  • Departure Airport: London Gatwick;
  • Arrival Airport: New York JFK;
  • Registration: N4048J  six months old at the time of flight; 
  • Aircraft type: Airbus A321NXSL;
London Gatwick:
Arrival

Drop off was quiet, and easy to access. The entrance to the North Terminal from the car was an illogical design.

Check-in is two floors above the drop-off area.

It is accessed via two travelators and an elevator. It feels as if the placement of the car drop-off area was an afterthought.

Upon entering the terminal, mask-wearing would be compulsory throughout our journey until we arrived in New York.

Check in

The check-in area was poorly signposted until you got close to the correct area.

Outside the terminal there is signage for several airlines so you use the right door, however, JetBlue was missing.

Additionally, there is a bag drop for a few airlines on the floor below check-in, however, there was no signage to tell us which floor to go to. This left us to guess which floor to go to, which luckily we did.

Gatwick prefers passengers to use self-service check-in kiosks.

However, the signage wasn’t clear in comparison to the JetBlue branding above the check-in desks.

When we tried to use the kiosk, it didn’t recognize our flight details. 

After trying two kiosks, and several ways of entering our flight details, the self-service system wouldn’t work.

After asking staff for help, we ended up having to use a traditional check-in desk anyway. I saw one other passenger who was unable to use the self-service kiosk, and one passenger who was.

Signage to get to security and departures were clear. Before security, there was a pub and store for any last-minute landside purchases.

Security

The security had no queues, and we were through within 15 minutes. My bag was pulled for a swab, which added a negligible amount of time to the overall security process.

Departure area

Before getting to the main departure area, you have to walk through a long duty-free store.

This is fine until someone is stopped in the reasonably narrow walkway, browsing the shelves on the edge of the shop.

This slowed the whole walkway down, creating an unnecessary bottleneck in my opinion.

After passing through the long store, a large, spacious departure area opens up.

There are a plethora of shops covering everything from health to suitcases. We spent most of our time in the Wetherspoons pub and got food supplies from W H Smiths. I don’t have any complaints about either, and they did exactly what they claimed to do.

Our gate number had been notified to me via JetBlue’s app and email and was on our boarding cards.

However, there were no boards with gate information in the area of departures we were in.

For people who want flight updates, I could see this causing issues. Around 40 minutes before boarding was meant to begin, we headed for our gate as printed on the boarding passes.

After following the clear signs to our gate, 546, we arrived at signage showing a Norwegian flight departing from that area, but nothing about JetBlue.

It was only when we got downstairs to the main gate area when we could ask someone if we were in the right place.

Luckily, the gate hadn’t changed, and we were in the right area. If the gate had changed, I don’t know how we’d have discovered it.

The gate area had more than sufficient seating for the passengers on the flight.

My only complaint would be the PA system was extremely quiet.

This wasn’t helped by the softly spoken staff member who was making most of the PAs. When calling out names, it was tricky to hear the names that were being called.

The boarding was well organized, although I think their method of organization was overly complex.

Boarding started with Mint customers, then passengers with accessibility requirements.

It was then called in groups; A, B, C, and D. I feel it would be easier if it was passengers with accessibility requirements, and then just group letters.

The flight:
Boarding

My initial impression was that the aircraft presentation was immaculate.

Not only was the aircraft spotless, but it even smelt clean.

Every seat was presented identically, with a reusable amenities kit and blanket.

I was surprised to find all the window blinds closed for boarding. This is something I’ve never seen on airlines on either side of the pond.

I was particularly impressed by the amenities kit because it’s made of Silicone rather than fabric.

It will have endless uses after I’ve left the flight, whereas fabric ones can cause a lot of waste.

My initial impression when I sat down was just how spacious it was. I’ll cover this part in further detail on my return flight.

The in-flight entertainment system (IFE was running when we boarded, so I immediately started interacting with it.

It gives you two options at first; continue as a guest or authenticate yourself.

Unfortunately, when I tried to authenticate myself, it didn’t work. I continued as a guest and couldn’t see any restrictions.

Pushback was on time after the quick and efficient boarding was completed.

The captain made a quick and concise PA, informing us climbing out would be choppy.

More on that later. I noticed that European carriers’ pilots are more chatty in their initial PAs.

The taxi was quick, with no holding prior to departure.

I’ve never experienced something similar at Gatwick, with no delay.

Once we taxied off the stand, we didn’t stop moving until we got on the ramp at JFK.

The lights were dimmed on the taxi, similar to a night flight. This made the cabin rather gloomy during the flight.

Climb out

Climbing out was choppy as advised by the pilots.

However, after over an hour the seat belt signs still remained on.

The flight had been smooth for the majority of the flight. A few people had started to ignore the seatbelt signs.

Whilst I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, I can see why they did it.

The cabin crew didn’t stop them or ask them to return to their seats when this happened.

It led me and my fellow passenger to wonder if the pilots were being over cautious, or just forgot the seat belt signs were on.

Shortly after departure, the cabin crew offered everyone their first drink.

There was a varied choice of drinks, free to passengers.

After this, the pre-ordered meals were bought around. Whilst I hadn’t ordered anything, someone in my group had ordered and was delivered the wrong food.

Unfortunately, before he could raise the issue with the crew, they had already moved on to serving other passengers.

Cruise

After the food had been eaten, the crew came around and took the leftovers.

This was followed by another drinks service.

The crew then went to rest and hang around the galley. If you needed their help, you could easily speak to a crew member.

JetBlue requests that passengers do not congregate around the galley area whilst waiting to use a bathroom, instead of remaining at their seats until one is vacant.

However, there is no way of telling from your seat if a bathroom is vacant, without going to the galley. This seems a little illogical to me and makes the request redundant.

Whilst I understand why they’ve implemented that process, I think that needs some refinement to be executed well.

Whilst visiting the galley, I stumbled across the free pantry.

It had a good range of snacks, and water available. I hadn’t heard it advertised (although it was mentioned in an email from JetBlue prior to travel), so it was nice to stumble across it.

I didn’t watch anything using the IFE as I had bought my own entertainment.

However, when I browsed through the system, it seemed to have plenty of content to suit the vast majority of audiences. One annoying part was repetitive creative guides throughout the entire flight.

These included how to use baking soda to clean the microwave and create a book with a hidden compartment.

I think these are very random for a flight. Personally, I’d rather see it be a flight status or similar when it’s not in use.

After we had crossed the Atlantic and Canada was in sight, the Cabin crew did a final drinks service.

This marked around 1.5hrs to landing. The cruise had been smooth, with bumpy periods at times. I subsequently discovered we were flying over Storm Barra, which hit the UK later that day.

During the bumpy stages, the seat belt signs were used, with the same extended periods as after departure.

Arrival

As we approached the Boston area, the crew made an announcement informing passengers we would be shortly commencing descent.

The crew invited people to stretch their legs prior to descent.

This seemed to be somewhat illogical to me, given their request to not congregate around the galleys.

The descent into New York was uneventful, with the clear day allowing good views of the ground and the New York skyline in the distance.

Our landing onto 22L was smooth and also uneventful.

There was a short delay on the ramp for our stand as it was occupied. This is likely due to our early arrival, nearly 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

After arriving on the stand, deboarding was very efficient.

Whilst I have no way of confirming, I feel it was quicker than other carriers I’ve experienced, both short and long haul.

New York JFK
Customs and Immigration

Despite the process being famed for causing delays for inbound passengers, the Customs and Immigration process at JFK was painless, and we were through in around 20 minutes.

Baggage Reclaim

I was impressed to find my bags waiting for me on a largely abandoned luggage carousel.

I’m unsure why the carousel was so quiet. Bags are included with the JetBlue fare, so it’s not as if people need to use hand luggage to save money.

The efficiency of getting bags delivered was a factor I was impressed with. I’ve waited in long queues at other airports for immigration and still had to wait at the carousel for baggage.

After getting our bags, it was a short walk out of the terminal to continue our onward journey.

JetBlue 7; New York JFK to London Heathrow

Flight Details

  • Flight Number: B6 7;
  • Departure Airport: New York JFK;
  • Arrival Airport: London Heathrow;
  • Registration: N4048J  six months old at the time of flight;
  • Aircraft type: Airbus A321NXSL;
New York JFK
Arrival

The AirTrain into JFK Terminal 5 was a smooth experience.

My one complaint is the escalator was broken to get into the entrance, meaning all the passengers had to share the elevator together. Whilst masks are mandatory inside the terminal by federal law, I feel it’s still not good in a COVID environment.

I was very impressed to see that COVID-19 testing is available for free for all passengers.

As a requirement to enter the UK, I had to present a negative Lateral Flow test.

In the UK, you’d have to pay for it. In the US, it’s free at JFK. Within an hour of arriving at JFK, I had a negative result and was ready to go.

Check in

Check-in was mostly smooth, with short waits at all parts of the process. However, the signage was very unclear.

When entering the terminal from AirTrain, there are regular signs for check-in for London. These signs end at the side of the security queue next to some automated check-in kiosks.

After checking in with the kiosks, we headed to the signed bag drop area. The operator at the belt told us we needed to go to a bag drop at the far end of the terminal. Once we walked past security, the signs to London check in resume.

I feel signage could have been clearer. The next sign couldn’t be seen due to the security queue, hence us using the automated kiosk rather than the official check-in.

At the correct check-in desk, the staff member asked to see our UK Passenger Locator form and the negative COVID test. Surprisingly, this was the only time it would be checked on our trip.

Security

The security experience was by far the worst experience of JFK. There was a long queue, which is understandable given the volume of flights departing at the time.

A new experience for me was when a sniffer dog was inspecting people in pairs at one point in the queue. This did form a bottleneck, however, it was nothing major.

There was then a wait for ID checking. I felt this stage was understaffed, with a single officer doing ID checks for multiple security lanes.

A factor that didn’t help was the lack of guidance on where to go to.

It was up to the passenger to pick an ID desk and security lane. I feel if there had been staff to direct people, the process may have been more efficient.

The wait in the security area was also slow, although I can’t tell why.

People were moving through at a good pace once they got there, however, the rate the queue was moving didn’t reflect that.

One part which I feel is inexcusable was contradictory advice being given in the security area. In one lane, people were being told to empty their pockets into their bags for screening, whereas in my lane that advice was never issued, and people did it however they usually would and it was fine.

Trays were only issued for screening if you had an iPad.

As I’m a frequent flyer, I know that phones and laptops also need to go in these trays.

However, some travelers may not know this information which may then cause issues. In the UK, security officers will ask for Laptops, Phones, and Tablets to go in trays, which I think is a far more clear and concise way of telling people what needs to go in trays.

Additionally, there was no signage to tell passengers about restrictions, which I think would make the experience easier.

I was covering my DSLR cameras and lenses in my hand baggage.

I always ask the security officer what they would like me to do with them, as different airports have different policies.

In San Francisco they wanted them in a tray, in Cologne, they wanted the bag open and in London, it stays in the bag closed.

It’s certainly a wide variety of ways of handling the issue.

When I asked the security officer what to do with them, he seemed unsure but did tell me to leave them in the bag. There was no further issue.

Departure Area

After leaving security, you’re directly into the open space of the departure area.

This is a pleasant contrast to Gatwick’s forced shopping entrance. Unfortunately, due to the time of day, most of the shops were closing. I ended up going directly to the gate and sitting around there until boarding.

There was plenty of space for all the passengers on our flight.

Boarding was once again efficient and got everybody on board in good time.

The Flight
Boarding

I was pleased to see the aircraft was presented identically to our outbound flight, the only difference being the addition of a “Snooze kit” alongside the amenities kit and blanket.

The only other notable difference was the windows were open on board, rather than closed as they were in London.

Despite being scheduled as a 0705 flight, the captain informed the passengers that the flight was in fact estimated to take 0611.

This was almost bang on, with FlightRadar24 reporting the flight took 0612.

Once again the cabin felt spacious, despite being much fuller than the previous flight, including having a passenger seat next to me.

Shortly after sitting down at the seat, I ordered my food for the flight, roasted chicken with rice.

Once again the flight ran well to time, although we ended up departing nearly 30 minutes late due to congestion prior to departure.

Climb out

Our departure from JFK took us via the Canarsie climb.

For someone who has never done anything like it before, it’s a completely different feeling to normal departures from airports.

Shortly after departure, the first drink service began. Once again, it was free for all passengers.

This was shortly followed by the food. Thankfully, they got my order correct, and I was able to enjoy my meal. 

I was extremely impressed by the food. The Chicken was full of flavor, and the rice tasted proper.

I certainly wouldn’t have known it was airline food. I’d go as far as to say it’s better than some food I’ve had in Club Europe and World with British Airways.

Cruise

After the food was cleared away, the lights were dimmed in preparation for people to sleep.

Whilst it didn’t affect me, I was disappointed to see the seat belt signs took an hour and a half to be turned off after departure, despite smooth flying conditions.

As we passed over Boston and beyond, I fell asleep for the Atlantic crossing. I found the aircraft as pleasant to sleep in as Boeing’s Dreamliner and the Airbus A380.

I found the overall cabin to feel more spacious than the Dreamliner, despite the high load factor.

I woke up as we were approaching the west coast of Ireland.

The light was bought slightly brighter for drinks around an hour and a half before arrival.

Around 50 minutes before arrival, the lights were brought up to full brightness in preparation for our approach.

Arrival

The approach into Heathrow wasn’t anything special. We had to do one 360 during the approach, but no holding like Heathrow is known for.

The approach was reasonably smooth, with some light chop through the cloud layer. Our final approach took us over central London. However, the view wasn’t great due to the overcast clouds.

The flight was finished with a smooth and uneventful landing at Heathrow’s Runway 27L.

London Heathrow

Before we even stepped into the terminal at Heathrow, the handling at the gate had already been a negative experience.

It took ten minutes just to open the passenger door and begin deboarding. Whilst no reason was given to passengers, I believe this was due to short staffing/disorganization inside of the ramp team.

This is because we also had to hold outside of our stand for a minute or two to await a marshaller.

I’m unsure if any further issues occurred, however, there were at least three baggage trailers removed from the aircraft before deboarding started.

Border control

Border control was the worst I’ve ever experienced in an airport.

A true disappointment to Heathrow, particularly given it’s arguably the UK’s ‘flagship airport’.

Given that Terminal 2 is Heathrow’s newest, I expected it to be the smoothest to get through, as it was designed for heavy passenger numbers.

Some of the issues were caused by passengers not understanding how the Electronic Passport Gates (EGates) work.

Other issues, however, could easily have been avoided.

Passengers from the USA and UK (among others) are asked to use the E Gates rather than talking to an officer.

In theory, this is a great idea.

When they work, the EGates is faster than a Border Officer inspecting passports and letting people through.

In practice, for between 25% and 50% of people, this wasn’t the case.

Some of the issues were user error, one passenger failed to remove their mask for the camera to identify them, so the machine threw an error. Another failed to put their passport in the correct way round.

However, in some cases, it threw errors for no apparent reason.

Passengers were allowed several attempts by the machine before they had to seek assistance from a border officer.

I feel that having all passengers have their passports checked by a border officer would average the times out to be faster.

Another improvement Heathrow could take to improve speed was ensuring all the E-Gates are operational.

Several were closed whilst I was transiting through, increasing the already slow queue’s speed.

It’s worth noting there was no additional paperwork checking, so this speed is representative of border control at Terminal 2 irrespective of COVID19.

Baggage reclaim

After a painful 50 minute wait to get through border control, we went to the baggage carousel to collect our bags.

I was surprised to find our bags were lined up next to the reclaim area, rather than on the carousel, a true indicator of just how long it had taken us to get through.

The rest of the process of getting out of the terminal was painless and quick.

Conclusion


I was extremely impressed with JetBlue’s long-haul product.

They’ve managed to provide a better service and facilities compared to my normal choice, British Airways, using smaller aircraft and lower budgets.

Despite being a Low-Cost Carrier, they managed to provide business class facilities to economy passengers, such as free access to the pantry.

Additionally, the free seat reservation at the time of booking and good bag allowance included in the price feel like legacy carrier offerings to me.

Whereas my experience flying legacy carriers has been the opposite on long haul, paying extra for seat reservations and bags in holds.

I hope this development goes well for JetBlue, alongside introducing some much-needed competition on the London – New York route, particularly LHR-JFK.

When I booked this trip, it seemed to me you’d be paying several hundred pounds more for a wide-bodied aircraft, and a legacy carrier.

It’s safe to say I will be using JetBlue on my next visit to New York, I’d certainly consider connecting at JFK for other destinations rather than flying directly.

About the author

Thomas Saunders

Thomas Saunders is the Chief Development Officer for the AviationSource Group. His background in Aviation is Pilot Training Operations and Aviation Photography.

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