JetBlue vs Virgin America: The Final Showdown Part 1 – JetBlue Mint (Trip Report)

JetBlue, Trip Reports

A couple years ago I compared JetBlue and Virgin America head-to-head on a short-haul trip. I followed that up with a long-haul comparison. Now it’s time for the final chapter (seriously, since Virgin America is going away): the premium cabin. And like any good trilogy, I’m splitting the last chapter up into two feature length films blog posts. Let’s start with the remarkable JetBlue Mint experience. (Isn’t the timing perfect after yesterday’s discussion about how most people never fly in the premium cabin?)

I was asked to speak to a small airline industry-focused event being put on by Raymond James in New York. Raymond James just provided a fixed amount of money and then it was up to me to determine how much to spend on travel. One thing was a no-brainer: I had to try JetBlue’s Mint. I looked and found one of the cheap Mint seats available on a flight I wanted for $658.20. I booked it and snagged seat 2A, one of the suites with a door. (It alternates rows between single seats and double seats.)

The day of travel, I was sick with a cough/cold/allergy thing that I hadn’t been able to shake from the last trip. I still wasn’t sure about going, but I was doped up on medicine and told I was ok to fly, so I started the drive to the airport. Ten minutes in, the alert came through that the nasty weather in New York had finally resulted in the expected air traffic control delay for a couple hours. I turned around and went home realizing it could always change but I didn’t think I could handle hanging around the airport, so I took my chances. A couple hours later, I was wavering, but I didn’t want to break my commitment so I got back in the car, headed to the airport, parked, and got to the gate just as they were beginning boarding.

When they called Mint passengers, I had to cut through the throngs that had lined up to block the boarding area. People glared at me, apparently not understanding that not everyone has to board at the same time.

April 4, 2017
JetBlue 224 Lv Los Angeles 1010a Arr New York/JFK 640p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 33B, Runway 24L, Depart 1h51m Late
New York (JFK): Gate 22, Runway 31R, Arrive 2h8m Late
N946JL, Airbus A321-231, Mint Tail, ~80% Full
Seat 2A, Mint
Flight Time 4h57m

I walked on my first JetBlue A321, and was instantly impressed by the look of the cabin. I made my way to my seat and had a look around. The things that stood out initially were the giant shelf between me and the window as well as the big screen. I kept thinking the shelf should lift and have storage, but it didn’t.

In front of me, I saw a little card welcoming me to Mint, personally signed by the flight attendants.

Rosie (who sounded a whole lot like Rosie Perez) came by and asked if I had ever flown Mint. I told her I hadn’t and she got excited. (Other travelers appeared to be Mint veterans.) She welcomed me onboard and showed me around the seat. She took my sport coat, and then told me that everything had to go in the overhead bin including the duvet (but only if it was still wrapped). The inability to keep my laptop accessible was one of the only downsides I could find.

Rosie offered to bring me a RefreshMint cocktail which had mint, of course, and some vodka. (There was a virgin option too.) I tasted it and thought it wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t really in a drinking mood. I wasn’t in a mood for much, really.

I played with the seat a little bit, and found it fairly intuitive. I pulled out the remote to the TV and flipped it on. The remote felt a bit flimsy and was stuck in place, but I was able to fix it, so it clearly couldn’t have been THAT stuck. Did I mention the screen? Yeah, it was big.

One thing I did really appreciate was the number of little nooks and crannies to store things.

We pushed back around noon, but the pilot told us we’d be there for awhile. Our wheels-up time was pushed even further, so we sat and sat. After 45 minutes we were airborne.

Rosie came back quickly after takeoff and my concerns about not being able to reach my laptop were instantly quashed. She immediately offered to get something down from the overhead bin since the seatbelt sign was still on. I asked her to grab my laptop and she did with a smile. She then subtly closed my suite door and walked away.

It was fairly bumpy the first half of the flight, and I wasn’t feeling all that great. It didn’t feel good to lie down, though I did try briefly and even pulled out the thin comforter. But I couldn’t sleep, so I sat up and worked.

The seat was comfortable with the foot rest area slightly angled to make it easy on the legs.

With three different power outlets, I was hooked up. On one side I had my phone plugged in and stored in a little netting pocket. On the other I had my computer plugged in. The computer itself was on my tray table, and I started working with the screen turned on behind.

If I have one real complaint, it’s this. The tray table sucks. It doesn’t have anywhere to stabilize on one side, so when you type, it just bounces along with you. If they could find a way to stabilize it, that would be a big win.

At some point (I can’t remember when chronologically) amenity kits were handed out. I never opened mine and then accidentally left it on the airplane. So I can’t tell you much about it.

Rosie was back again asking if I wanted to eat. I didn’t, because I just wasn’t feeling well. She looked like a concerned mother and I explained how I was feeling. She said her goal was to get me to eat something by the end of the flight, but in the meantime, she asked what I’d like to drink. I said water, but she then brightened up quickly as if she had just remembered and asked if I’d like hot tea. I said that sounded great, and she brought it out right away.

Tea may not sound like much, but to me, this was one of the best signs of how well JetBlue has thought this through. She brought my tea in a mug with a small Mint logo-shaped holder where I could put my tea bag. It was a very little thing, but I noticed it.

Wifi, as usual, was lightning fast. I was able to get a lot done on the flight despite the constant but minor bouncing around.

At one point I got up to use the lav. The one up front was busy, so I went to the back of the Mint cabin. There’s a really cool snack station with blue lighting across the lav, and it’s for anyone to use in either cabin. I didn’t get a photo since I didn’t have my phone with me.

When I came back, Rosie asked if I wanted more tea. I did, and she brought it right away. Rosie was a constant but unobtrusive presence, always leaning over without disturbing me to pick up trash, and occasionally she’d ask me if I wanted anything else.

About a couple hours out, she came by with a big snack basket of the usual JetBlue snacks. I grabbed cookies for the kids, and then I took an apple for me, which hit the spot.

Apparently Rosie is a jack of all trades, because the next thing I see, she’s bouncing a baby down the aisle. I’m just going to assume it was a passenger’s baby, and she wasn’t just storing her own in the galley.

The sun started to set as we winged our way northeast. And we did go way north, almost to Canada. You can see the continous vectoring here. The view was really pleasant.

Toward the end, Rosie came by with some goodbye cookies for us to take with us as we departed. They’re apparently fancy from this Milk Bar place, but I know nothing.

The chop continued and really picked up again all the way down into New York. It felt like we were descending forever. After circling around and getting a nice view of a pop-up thunderstorm on one side, we plunged into the low cloud layer and planted ourselves on the runway. Were it not for me being sick and the flight being so annoyingly bumpy, this would have been one of my favorite flights. That says a lot. JetBlue has really done something amazing with Mint.

Stay tuned for the final episode in this epic battle when I review my return flight in Virgin America’s First Class.

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30 comments on “JetBlue vs Virgin America: The Final Showdown Part 1 – JetBlue Mint (Trip Report)

  1. Too bad you were sick and couldn’t taste the food (and give us your opinion on that aspect of the flight). Hope you’re better by now.

  2. Sounds like a great flight with amazing service.

    I trust that someone from JetBlue will read this post and ensure that Rosie gets some recognition, as well as perhaps arrange to mail you an amenity kit.

    1. Kilroy – Oh I already spoke to JetBlue about it after the flight to make sure she got the recognition she deserved.

    1. Jeremy – What a strange review. Why would you compare American First Class to Business on everyone else? (Though I’m sure American wasn’t complaining!)

  3. It’s to bad you didn’t at least sample the food because the tapas style is really something special. I can tell you from experience the the mint food is not like other airlines business class food, it is much more like samples of good restaurant food than good airline food.

    It is a real treat, how often do you get lobster on an airplane, also they change the menus every month.

  4. I don’t think I’m a fan of those sliding doors, I think in an emergency with a dark and smokey cabin someone in a panic would not be able to open it or climb over it and not get out.

    1. I assume the doors have to be open during critical phases of the flight (takeoff, landing, taxiing), just like stuff has to be stored away and seats fully upright during those times.

      If there is a smokey dark cabin mid flight you would have a lot of problems, and sliding open the door may not be the biggest problem. It isn’t like you are going to be asked to deplane from 30k ft with a parachute. FAs would have to store carts, secure other items, etc. while the smokey dark plane makes its way down to some flat spot on the ground.

  5. Thanks for the trip report. I am looking forward to part 2.
    Mint is one of the most disruptive things JBLU has done to the industry since JBLU was started. They spent 15 years convincing passengers that low cost doesn’t have to be low amenity and they have done a good job. Adding a low cost business class product esp. given B6′ position in very large NE markets makes all kinds of sense. The only problem is that Mint is on a big airplane and there is no intermediate premium cabin product – which is where ALK is focusing their premium cabin even given their large transcon presence.
    I’d like to know – if B6 would tell you – what their training requirements are for Mint, if all FAs can serve in that cabin, do they do it by seniority, etc.

    1. > I’d like to know – if B6 would tell you – what their training requirements are for Mint, if all FAs can serve in that cabin, do they do it by seniority, etc.

      Agreed. To extend the idea further… If Brett could get himself invited to a Mint-specific training session for B6 FAs and write a post or two about it, that would be well worth the read.

      1. Mint flight attendants go through a separate training. Only mint qualified flight attendants work the front (mint) cabin.

    2. AFAIK, JetBlue FA’s aren’t unionized, so the airline could use whatever method they wanted to assign Mint FA’s. Given that I’d expect that they’d go for people who have been around a while, with good customer service reputations.

      1. There is additional training and requirements that need to be met before a JetBlue FA can serve in the Mint cabin. Its a few weeks of additional training and they can only bid Mint flights for the next year or so. The only crew bases with Mint FAs are JFK and BOS so far. The other FAs and pilots on the Mint airplanes are all interchangeable.

      2. Hi there, I can answer this. Only MINT trained crew members are allowed to work in that cabin. They must go through an application and interview process, that is very competitive, then if selected they must go through a weeks of special MINT and Hospitality training. They’re only allowe for now to do flights that have the MINT plane, so they see LAX,SFO a lot, as well as any other routes where MINT flys. They’re also in their own separate base with its own seniority list for now. Hopefully this answers your question.

  6. Brett, great review! Jetblue mint is the only way i fly now!
    But one big hiccup on this review, THE FOOD! You should’ve tried at least one or maybe 2 of the 5 choices of tapas food in the offereing! I think this report would’ve been more well rounded if you included the meal, afterall meals in first class is one of the most salient things thats makes the experience great, especially with mints saxon & parole menu! You really need to do a follow up on mint in the future with the full course dining included!

  7. Only flown Mint once, but I can certainly justify the price for the product they offer. Great service, really good food, and tons of privacy if you’re in rows 2 or 4.

  8. I do think that, some time down the road (after the merger is completed), we’ll see some sort of partnership between Jet Blue and Alaska. I could be mistaken…. but then I was right about the rapid termination of the Alaska-Delta reciprocity.

  9. Flew their transcon from SFO to JFK last week. While not in Mint, I was in row 6 (even more space exit row door) and I had infinite legroom, easy access to bathroom and that awesome snack bar, and a great crew! JetBlue has great service and has yet to let me down!

  10. Mint is something truly special, if I may say so myself. I had the honor of working a three-month stint in the Mint experience as an Onboard Lead this past winter. As a former legacy frequent flyer, I thought Mint brought the competition to its knees (save AA Flagship F, perhaps). Delta is already working on a new premium cabin for transcon flying.

    1. Since you said you forgot to take yours, I’ll see if I can get my hands on an extra Mint Kit for you. They are designed and curated by Hayward and Hopper.

      1. Bird Squawk – Thanks for that, but it’s certainly not necessary. I’d probably look through it and then not use any of it anyway!

  11. Comparing JET BLUE to Alaskan/virgin American may have been something you could have done 5 to 10 years ago .

    Today virtually every JET BLUE flight is delayed , attempt to maximize air time
    , has provided no margin of error . And consequently a Delay anywhere causes a delay everywhere .

    Shame on JET BLUE , I fly a lot and they are the primary Airline serving my
    Route , I wish it was otherwise .

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