Review: JetBlue’s Mint, Even More Space, and Core cabins

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JetBlue's JFK operations base is a busy place.

JetBlue’s JFK operations base is a busy place

JetBlue’s Mint service has been around for a while now, but we were finally able to give it a try on the inaugural Seattle to New York City flight. And long as we were at it, we decided it’d be fun to give all three of the airline’s seating classes a try as well.

Mint is the airline’s business class product, Even More Space is their premium economy class, and then there’s standard economy (Core), which the airline bills as having the most legroom of any domestic airline.

We did the review across several flights on two routes: Mint from SEA-JFK, Even More Space from JFK-SEA in April, then in May we chose Even More Space from SEA-BOS and Core from BOS-PIT, PIT-BOS, and BOS-SEA.

SEA-JFK: Mint
There are 16 Mint seats on JetBlue’s A321s, which are the only aircraft in its fleet so equipped. And what lovely seats they are, especially considering that they’re available on domestic flights.

The Mint cabin aboard an A321. Not many seats and lots of space.

The Mint cabin aboard an A321. Not many seats and lots of space.

For my flight from Seattle to New York City, I was in one of the Mint “suites” — the seating up front for the five rows is 4-2-4-2-4, meaning that every other row only has one seat per side of the aisle. There are sliding doors on the aisle side of those seats, making them feel even more private.

The inaugural Mint flight between SEA and JFK was marked at the gate with free cookies and water for passengers.

The inaugural Mint flight between SEA and JFK was marked at the gate with free cookies and water for passengers

Our first flight for the review was on April 15, which was the inaugural run for Mint service between SEA and JFK.

Like your own little island in the sky.

Like your own little island in the sky

Mint’s fully lie-flat beds stretch up to 6’ 8”, making them the longest beds in the U.S. domestic business class market, according to the airline. These seats vary a bit in width, but the widest ones in the A321’s cabin are 22.3”.

From the keeping-things-real dept., upon boarding and finding my seat, I was surprised to find that it was quite dirty – there were large crumbs all over the flat surfaces, nearly everything was sticky, and the tray table was festooned with dried ice cream. I used both of the large handy-wipes a flight attendant gave me to get everything cleaned up. In truth, it was merely an annoyance, but keeping in mind that it’s a premium-priced seat, there is an expectation that it should be presentable upon boarding.

Once that was settled, a flight attendant came by introduce herself, offered to show me how to use the seat, and told me a bit about what to expect on the flight. She did this for every passenger in Mint. It seemed a nice touch.

JetBlue says there is no price difference between the single-seat-per-side rows and the regular 2×2 rows – it’s first-come-first-served when booking and selecting seats.

According to JetBlue Corporate Communications Manager Philip Stewart, “The Mint layout was designed to maximize the space available on the A321. The seats we custom designed for Mint use the area under armrests to make way for the foot well/footrest in the next row back — so in rows 2 and 4 (the private suite rows) it is really only possible to utilize a single area between the seat pair in the odd numbered rows.”

The IFE controls are thoughtfully located under a door, saving clumsy people like me from accidentally turning on the bright screen when trying to sleep

Mint service is available to about a dozen destinations across the continental U.S. and Caribbean. As for the flight experience, the signature nonalcoholic Mint welcome drink was delicious. For this sometimes homesick New Englander, the choice of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee was a welcome change from Starbucks, which is the brew of choice on a certain Seattle-based airline I tend to patronize quite a lot.

A decade of hardcore cost-cutting by airlines has conditioned me to be used to the idea of a transcontinental flight only being worthy of either carried-on airport food, or buying snacks from the airline.

In light of that, it now feels quite luxurious to be served a proper meal on a domestic flight. Grilled avocado, charred broccolini salad, and lobster risotto made for a great dinner; everything was fresh, cooked appropriately, and quite delicious.

Sure, it's in airline trays, but it was delicious.

Sure, it’s in airline trays, but it was delicious

Stewart said that “our inflight bites reflect our commitment to small businesses and local favorites. Mint customers enjoy a seasonal small–plates menu by renowned NYC restaurant Saxon + Parole, sweet treats from Milk Bar, local artisanal ice creams, bread from Hot Bread Kitchen, cappuccino and espresso from Brooklyn Roasting Company, and bottles from some of America’s best artisan winemakers, specially curated by our wine expert Jon Bonné.”

“The menus change on a monthly basis to ensure Mint customers, no matter how frequently they travel with us, are getting a truly unique and fresh premium experience,” he continued.

Special menus available in Mint also cover gluten-free, kosher, low-calorie, and vegan options.

A long-time annoyance of mine is that the fancier the menu, the less likely there will be any dairy-free options for dessert. These menus were no exception, so my lactose-intolerant self had to skip dessert and so, dear reader, shall you.

These delicious things were in the Marketplace snack bar. Just maybe I went online and ordered a case of the things when I got home.

Unlike most airlines, JetBlue provides all passengers with free satellite-based FlyFi wifi access. I’d anticipated it to be glacially slow, based on experiences on other airlines coupled with what I expected would be heavy use. I was pleasantly surprised to find it to remarkably faster than what I’ve become used to on other airlines with terrestrial-based systems.

Oddities included the weird experience of my seat’s inflatable lumbar pad randomly inflating and deflating on its own, sometimes coinciding with altitude changes, sometimes not. It happened often enough that I had the opportunity to confirm that I was not accidentally bumping the seat controls when it happened. And, no, it wasn’t set to massage mode.

The flight attendants were well trained in what I’d call classic customer service —attention to detail, checking in periodically, etc. It made for a pretty nice experience.

The seat’s armrest was huge and the top of it was super warm - so warm that it melted the chocolate in my cookie, which wasn’t really a bad thing. But it did make for a somewhat warm ride.

The seat’s armrest was huge and the top of it was super warm – so warm that it melted the chocolate in my cookie, which wasn’t really a bad thing. But it did make for a somewhat warm ride.

The USB outlet provided enough amperage to power my iPad – that’s become my barometer for gauging the effectiveness of seat-back USB power ports.

The IFE system is expansive – with a de rigeur 15” screen and plenty of options for movies, TV shows (100+ channels), and music (100+ channels). Mint customers are also loaned a set of headphones made by Grado Labs in Brooklyn — they were very pleasant to use.

The screen is nice, although I’ll confess to not being a big IFE user — I’m always far more content with my own device and my own games or reading materials, but it’s good to have options.

There were some weather-related delays (a one-hour JFK-initiated departure hold at SEA, and a long diversion over Canada to avoid the worst of the storms) that resulted in our arriving at JFK about two hours behind schedule.

Likely because of that, it was a long wait for bags at the carousel. Standing around at 1 a.m. after a longer-than-usual transcontinental flight, the wait felt like an eternity, but in actuality it took about 45 minutes to get our luggage. On the return leg to Seattle, there was also a lengthy wait for bags, and the priority bags came out randomly mixed in with all the others instead of being put on the belt first.

Overall, though, the ride was pretty sweet despite the turbulence and related delays. The seat was very comfortable, the controls and accoutrements were well placed and worked properly, the service was swell, the food delicious, and the cabin was pleasantly quiet.

JFK-SEA: Even More Space

Yep. Plenty of space here.

Yep. Plenty of space here

On the return flight, I was seated in the “Even More Space” premium economy section, also in an A321. While it was not as fancy as the Mint section, it was still very spacious. Even when the person seated in the row in front of me fully reclined his seat, there was plenty of space, hence the name, I suppose. Even More Space seats have a 37”-41” seat pitch, depending on the location within the A321 cabin.

A great feature on these aircraft is the self-serve snack bar – a glass-fronted case located in a bulkhead between the Mint and aft sections. It’s well stocked with goodies: sweet snacks, salty snacks, and a variety of non-alcoholic drinks. I didn’t see very many people access it on any of my six flights, although I wasn’t shy about it on the non-Mint flights.

Stewart explained the evolution that led to the snack bar, which JetBlue calls the Marketplace: “From the beginning, JetBlue had a tradition of placing our snack baskets in the front and rear galleys after the inflight service so customers could help themselves to unlimited snacks and soft drinks. When designing the layout of the A321 we had an opportunity to create the Marketplace. We felt it was a great way to utilize the space with a perk of JetBlue flying that our customers love.”

The cabin here was also pretty quiet despite my being seated much closer to the engines than I was up in Mint.

The $7 pick-me-up cheese tray was something of a disappointment, both in visual appeal and the quantity of food for the price.

The $7 pick-me-up cheese tray was something of a disappointment, both in visual appeal and the quantity of food for the price

This leg was smooth sailing — comfortable and spacious. On arrival in SEA, 30 minutes early, the bags took what I’d consider to be too long to appear at the carousel – more than 30 minutes, erasing most of that time gain.

SEA-BOS-PIT and return: regular economy, aka Core

JetBlue's A321 main cabin.

JetBlue’s A321 main cabin

This trip was from Seattle to Pittsburgh, with a stop in Boston. The leg from SEA-BOS was a red-eye on an A321, so I opted for the Even More Space seating. The remainder of the trip was in regular economy, aka Core.

Pittsburgh's airport from our departing flight.

Pittsburgh’s airport from our departing flight

Core seats in the A321 are 18” wide, have a 35” seat pitch, and recline 4”. The E190 Core seats have a 32” pitch, with the Even More Space seats having a 39” pitch. Seat widths in the E190 are standardized at 18.2 inches, and they’re set to recline up to 3.5″ from full upright.

The second Even More Space experience matched the first, although I’ll admit to having slept through much of it, which was something of a rarity for me (outside of a lie-flat seat, I normally can’t get comfortable enough in an airline seat to actually sleep). That alone says that these premium economy seats are quite good.

One has to wonder what manner of circumstance prompted the installation of this warning label in the E190's lavatory.

One has to wonder what manner of circumstance prompted the installation of this warning label in the E190’s lavatory

The connection to and from Pittsburgh was a quick hop on an Embraer 190. I’ve always enjoyed flying on these planes – the 2-2 seating offers a nice break from the sometimes crowded-feeling larger jets, and there’s still plenty of room in the overhead bins. Plain old Core economy was pleasant enough on the roughly one-hour flight each way. The seats were comfortable and still relatively spacious considering the size of the regional airliner.

Conclusion
What started out as a review of JetBlue’s Mint cabin turned in to a comprehensive survey of all three of their service classes across two different aircraft types.

JetBlue’s Mint class is quite plush, comfortable, and well-thought. The service is solid and the food is delicious.

The Even More Space premium economy product is very spacious – that extra room and a window-seat bulkhead allowed me to get what I consider to be the best and only good sleep I’ve ever had in the back sections of an aircraft.

Core economy still offers more seating space than most domestic airlines, and the free and relatively fast wifi definitely helps pass the time.

Something to note was the consistent lack of care in cleaning the aircraft across all flights and all service classes — the tray tables and armrests were consistently dirty and/or sticky, and there were food crumbs on seats and armrests, etc. With the cabin service so consistently well done, I did find it a bit odd that the cleaning of the planes between flights wasn’t done with the same care, even when I noticed that a particular jet was parked at a gate for a couple hours. Per some web searching, it seems that JetBlue contracts out aircraft cleaning to different companies in different cities.

FINAL THOUGHT

So, bottom line — is Mint worth the upgrade cost? Absolutely. Without reservation. Aircraft cleaning issues aside, it’s a solid product with consistently good service and surprisingly delicious food. Even More Space is definitely worth the additional cash if you don’t want to splash out for Mint.

Disclaimer: JetBlue provided one Mint-class flight and one Even More Space flight for this review. One Even More Space and one economy flight were paid for by the author. Our opinions remain our own.

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