Jet Blue “Mint”: new competition for bigger airlines

“Welcome aboard”

“Isn’t it ironic we’re driving west to fly east,” our son said as we were driving to SFO to fly nonstop to New York City this week. Good point.

I covered the airline industry for years at newspapers in South Florida and at The S.F. Chronicle: Eastern Airlines under Frank Borman, Air Florida, Pan American World Airways and United Airlines, among others.

I also freelanced as a “stringer” for the New York Times during my years at South Florida newspapers, dictating my stories into an answering matchine in the ’80s — decidedly “low tech.” My stories about Eastern and Air Florida also ran in the Chicago Tribune because of the “snowbirds” who flew to Florida to escape the frigid winters.

The airlines were full of drama in the aftermath of airline deregulation in 1978, and it was a great “beat”: Characters like Col. Borman, the storied history of airlines such as Pan Am, labor unrest, layoffs and Chapter 11 bankruptcies galore. The national dailies wanted a reporter who was “on the scene” to supplement their own coverage.

The reason for driving to SFO this week was to try out a new transcontinental service by Jet Blue called “Mint.” I’ve flown Jet Blue on and off for years to the East Coast: It is a classic post deregulation airline: low cost with signature blue “Terra” chips for in-flight “dining.”

"Good Morning Lake Tahoe" iPhone photo transferred to Facebook in real-time on Instagram
“Good Morning Lake Tahoe” iPhone photo transferred to Facebook in real-time on Instagram

Jet Blue Mint is different: It’s a business-class product for about half the cost of what American and United charge. It is aimed at business travelers on the busy and competitive LAX-JFK and SFO-JFK markets. We used credit-card miles for our tickets, and had a great dinner with some friends in San Francisco before departing the next morning.

The “Mint” experience includes faster check-in, lie-flat seats, free in-flight broadband to stream videos (and to work), 15 inch video screens, multiple in-seat power plugs, fresh food from the New York restaurant Saxon + Parole and organic Blue Marble ice cream, an amenity kit with cool products — all on a new Airbus A321 aircraft.

We each sat in a Mint “suite” across from each other. It is best described as a little “house” with every creature comfort imaginable. The lie-flat seats are great for “red eye” flights. Mint also promises “first bag to carousel” at JFK — and ours were the first two off the plane.

It was one of the best premium services on an airline that I can remember, rivaling an upgraded first-class TWA flight that I once took from LAX to London Heathrow where a prime-rib roast was carved from a cart that was rolled down the aisle on a Boeing 747.

Jet Blue’s Mint is redefining the business class flying experience because it is so much more affordable for executives (about $600 each way for a cash fare, compared with a “four-digit” one-way fare in United and American). I visited with the flight attendants who were happy with the service. They enjoyed their jobs.

Jet Blue’s stock price has been receiving some ratings upgrades recently. The coach experience includes redesigned cabins, with improve lighting, more “living space,” wi-fi, a new entertainment system and in-seat power. Like Southwest, Jet Blue is going to start charging for checked bags.

We mostly fly Southwest, or Delta or United out of Sacramento or Reno for long-haul flights, so the Jet Blue Mint flight was a treat. It won’t come to Sacramento for a long time because the market is so relatively small.

Airline deregulation has been a bumpy road: Now airlines are benefiting from low jet fuel prices and “a la cart” pricing for extras that were once taken for granted. But the best part is the range of choices and competition: truly something for everybody.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

4 thoughts on “Jet Blue “Mint”: new competition for bigger airlines”

  1. We drove to SFO last month in order to fly Jet Blue nonstop to Boston (regular non-Mint coach). As in our past flghts to Austin, we liked our experience with JetBlue, except for a “minor” problem: our flight out of SFO was delayed for five hours! It was due to depart at 10:10 AM and lifted off instead after 3 PM. Our daughter and her husband were to have met us at Logan at about 6 PM their time, but — troopers that they are — met us at 11:30 PM instead. JetBlue’s explanation for the delay? Something about fog-caused traffic congestion. Another funny aspect of this story: I happened to mention to my doc (a few weeks before our trip) that I’m a nervous flyer. She offered me some tranquilizers, which I refused (I dislike solving problems with meds). But, after thinking about it for a few days, I decided to accept her offer. On the day of the flight, I took a Valium just before our scheduled departure. It seemed to help me cope with the long, boring wait at SFO, but I suspect it didn’t matter much for the flight itself, which as usual, was not so scary as I always imagine it will be beforehand. I’d love to try Mint, but I doubt we could ever justify that fare.

  2. By the way, I forgot to mention that a good option for anyone from out of town driving to SFO to catch an early flight is to stay over the night before at one of the hotels there offering free multi-day parking and free shuttle service to and from the ariport. We stayed at the Best Western PLUS Grosvenor Airport Hotel, and left our car there for nearly a week. This was especially useful for us since driving before sunrise and after sunset has become more problematic for us as we age.

  3. That was strange. After watching the glamorous Jet Blue advertisement I ended up on a site showing graphic and disturbing re-enactments of famous plane crashes. But still today we know that that the relatively short drive to SFO is far more dangerous than the long flight to New York.

    1. Greg,
      Good point. (Posted from Eastern Standard Time).

      Wish we had more nonstop flight to the East Coast from Sac Airport.

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