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.