Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: JetBlue Mint

JetBlue recently launched its new Mint service (it’s take on first class) on the SFO and LAX routes from its hub at JFK. I had the opportunity to fly them from San Francisco to New York this past February over Valentine’s Day to add to the sparse repertoire of reviews of this product.

  • Introduction: Scoring and Considerations
  • United Airlines p.s. (757)
  • Delta One (757)
  • AA Business Class (A321T)
  • AA Flagship First (A321T)
  • JetBlue Mint (A321T)
  • Virgin America (A320)
  • Results and Summary

Hard Product

When JetBlue announced that it would be offering a transcon domestic first product that included suites with doors, people went nuts. It had never been done before and it gave people hope that Emirates First Class-style service was coming stateside. But many people pointed out that the carrier had never run a first class cabin. While it had a loyal economy following, “premium” and “luxury” weren’t in the airline’s vocabulary.

Boy were they wrong. JetBlue’s Mint cabins are VERY stylish and it’s very clear that the team that designed it had thought long and hard about how to deliver a truly premium cabin, seat and experience. The hard product is REALLY good.

Jetblue MINT Cabin

My phone’s camera doesn’t do it justice. The cabin is PRETTY!

JetBlue Mint - 2 seats

For when you want to talk to your seatmate (there is a privacy divider).

Jetblue mint single seat

…And when you don’t. (Look at the table space. Insane!)

I’ll start with the seats. They are arranged with Rows 1, 3 and 5 in a 2-2 configuration, while Rows 2 and 4 have a 1-1 configuration (with privacy doors). This alternating setup provides business travelers the privacy to work, while couples and companions can travel cozily together and not have an awkward time communicating. The material used to make the seats isn’t just leather, but high quality leather, similar to what you might find in a sports car. The trims and armrests have slick, polished black and gray tones and don’t bear any resemblance to the cheap-looking wood veneers you see even on international first class products. Plenty of storage exists below the screen for devices and paper, as well as a phone pocket by the headrest.

The four uber private seats have tons of workspace on either side (so you could still use your laptop while eating) and the cabin as a whole is bright and clean, with plenty of overhead space. There are two lavatories for 16 passengers, the best ratio in the sky, matched only by Delta’s 757s.

Soft Product

The soft product is also quite good with plenty of differentiators, showing that the team really looked at every aspect of the experience and reimagined it instead of the industry standard of copying a competitor.

But there is some nuance here, which I’ll expound upon, since it could be considered amazing for some, and excruciating for others.

  1. JetBlue made a very sincere and conscious effort to up the game in custom and personalized service onboard.
  2. JetBlue also has no legacy experience operating a premium service cabin, which frees it from falling into industry group-think, but also forced them to invent a ton of service standards completely from scratch and try to teach them to crew.

This generally translated to very friendly and personable flight attendants and very verbose descriptions of nearly everything onboard, but the execution of basic inflight services was EXCRUCIATINGLY slow due to the personalization.

So I’ll run through the offerings and highlight these two competing factors in my experiences. Preflight, you are presented with a specially branded departure beverage, called refreshMINT, which is similar to mint lemonade, served with or without vodka - a nice touch and notch above any other pre-departure service.

JetBlue refreshMINT

Definitely a step up from your typical pre-departure beverage.

But the system in practice was “Introduce yourself to passenger, explain nearly everything about the seat, controls, aircraft, the Mint experience and the drink. Make said drink. Deliver it to passenger.” Repeat for next passenger and so on. Sitting in row 3 (service generally went from outside in, meaning the FA’s started at rows 1 and 5, then 2 and 4) we were already taxiing handily before we even got introduced and ordered the drink. It could seriously benefit from batch processing so no one is left chugging their delicious cocktail.

JetBlue Menu

The menu rotates monthly and passengers can choose three options from the five provided (two are cold, and three are hot).

Jetblue Amuse Bouche

The amuse bouche was a nice touch. No other US carrier does this as a separate presentation.

JetBlue Tapa Entrees

The concept is great, but the food could have used some extra flavor. I definitely used those salt and pepper shakers.

In another innovative and personal twist, the food is ordered and served tapas style, allowing customers to select exactly what they want from a menu of two cold and three hot options, catered by New York’s Saxon+Parole. Several of the tapas dishes sounded pretty tasty and definitely a notch above what other carriers serve in creativity, but some of them came out a bit soupy and bland. Not bad per se, but no worry of “too spicy” complaints.

The food service also didn’t start until we were well over Utah, a full hour and twenty minutes into our flight (noon departure). We didn’t get served until two hours after takeoff. We were partly worried, given the outside-in and a-la-carte ordering system, that they might run out of our selections. The remaining items didn’t pique our interest, but thankfully the crisis never materialized.

Lastly, when we inquired about substituting the cheese tray off the economy buy-on-board menu instead of the dessert, the flight attendant promptly returned with two trays, but asked for a credit card to charge them. We went off-process, so the wheels fell off the service. The other FA intervened and waved her off, but it was still a bit off-putting (keep in mind they were both super nice) and hopefully another illustration of the two competing principles above in action.

So rant over, the concept is amazing in theory and needs some work in execution, but the service is all very well-intentioned and there’s a chance it could have just been a fluke of our particular flight.

Jetblue drink list

One of the more comprehensive drink lists in the sky, stocked with beers, wines and liquors I’d actually like to try in the air or on the ground.

Aside from this, JetBlue still pulls out a lot of stops and I hope the airlines take notice. The drink list was particularly impressive, including both Bulleit and Grey Goose and the wines were stellar, probably the best of the bunch. The bedding also was really comfortable and came packed in a sealed bag. Not quite the Westin Heavenly bedding on Delta, but a very close second and leaps above the other carriers. The snack basket was also quite gourmet and I especially liked the area between First and Economy with snacks that you could just grab and take back to your seat. Very well thought out.

JetBlue Amenity Kit

Not reusable, but props for using a hip tech brand over a stuffy high end designer

JetBlue Amenity Kit 2

Delta has a more comprehensive kit, but these toiletries were the nicest of any collected on these trips.

JetBlue treats

And a parting gift - they were really tasty when I had them later on in the trip — a great way to keep JetBlue top of mind even after your trip.

Lastly, the amenity kit itself was a great experience, with Birchbox designing unique kits for both men and women, with refreshing gels, hair pomade, lip balm, toothpaste and cleanser. I’m not usually into these things and I’m still using the toiletries as I write this. Upon landing, they also present you with some baked goodies from a New York local bakery, which were delicious and a great way to remember the flight even after the experience. (Well done JetBlue customer experience team — you re-market well, and I’m already anticipating flying you again.)

Ground Experience

As enjoyable as the onboard experience is, JetBlue could step up its game on the ground. In SFO, they use Concourse A of the International Terminal, which has a spacious check-in hall and good amenities. But there is nothing about the JetBlue desk that sets it apart from the 20 other airlines in the terminal. While the terminal itself is fine, there is no lounge to bide your time, likely because JetBlue has comparatively little connecting traffic vs. the legacy carriers.

Jetblue SFO check-in

Nice terminal, but kind of boring check-in. Granted if you’re doing things right and checking in on the app and taking only a carry-on, there’s no need to stop here.

LAX is more of a letdown given that JetBlue uses the dilapidated Terminal 3 with pitiful food options (Burger King or Seafood). The low ceilings, lack of windows and non-existent budgets of the resident low cost carriers like Allegiant and Spirit means it needs a significant amount of love to catch up to the competition. Again, there are no lounge options.

Lastly, JetBlue does have its shiny new hub terminal T5 at JFK, but again no lounge experience and the dining area is done commissary style with common stations for payment and utensils. *Sigh* More lounge-free waiting, though the gate areas are fairly nice.

JetBlue could probably make a noticeable improvement to passenger experience by contracting with the Airspace Lounge at JFK and either the Cathay Pacific Lounge, BA Lounge, or Air France Lounge at SFO. I also think it could use some of the capacity at TBIT, since it’s currently a ghost town in the afternoon and has fantastic food, shopping and lounge options.

Passengers are afforded all the same priority security and boarding privileges as every other carrier and can take a bag on for free.


JetBlue Mint does shine on the WiFi front. Not only is it the fastest WiFi in the air by a long-shot, they actually give Mint passengers access for free. This solves a lot of the mental calculus performed by those that want to sleep half the flight and work the rest. Massive props.

Similarly the Grado headphones were very nice quality and stylish, though the offerings presented on the in-flight entertainment felt dated because they are all live-feed DirecTV. Absolutely great if you’re a sports fan, but kind of annoying if you want to watch a movie or show, since you can’t pause/resume and have to start watching when the program airs instead of streaming it on-demand.

Jetblue IFE

It looks like it should be a touch screen, but it isn’t

Jetblue IFE controls

This is how you control the TV. Probably the only part of the seat that wasn’t well thought out.

Also strange was the decision to not use a touchscreen, even though half the passengers initially pressed the screen thinking it was one.

Fleet and Operations

While much on the onboard experience is top notch, JetBlue doesn’t have the lift other carriers do, operating only four flights daily to SFO and six to LAX. While award tickets are tough to justify, due to JetBlue’s fixed point value loyalty program, the cash price is extremely competitive, starting at just $599 each way. That actually might be worth it to some people who are willing to pay more than coach for a considerably better experience than most transcon services.

JetBlue also suffers from having fairly poor on-time arrival percentages, with a blended average of 72%, with every carrier beating it at JFK and LAX (American Airlines was the worst into SFO)

Overall Impression

The Mint in-flight experience, particularly the seat, cabin, and WiFi are truly game-changing. Many of the service elements are differentiating and will hopefully up the competitive pressure on other carriers to improve, but may rub some people as too personal. JetBlue is a great option for people that want a stylish experience coast to coast at a fantastic price, just make sure an on-time arrival isn’t mission critical, or pad too much time waiting around at the airport.

5 Responses to “Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: JetBlue Mint”

  1. I agree with your assessment though I’ve never ordered the cheese plate from economy. When I flew Mint, they were nice enough to even give me a second dessert (they offered after I told them how much I enjoyed the ice cream!) I’m really glad JetBlue stepped up to do this and as a New Yorker, I enjoyed the meal from Saxon + Parole very much! Yum! I’ve had the Delta lamb before as well and it’s a hard choice for me which of the two I preferred more.
    Anyway, I agree with your photo caption that your camera doesn’t do it justice. There were hidden blue highlights in within and throughout the seat that made it sleek and stylish. I really loved the Mint experience.

    • Yep, MINT is quite competitive on this route and I’m hearing from friends that they are happily switching their business.

      Right, sadly I’m just trying to get a few quick hits with an iPhone without holding up the boarding process. If you have any photography tips, I’m all ears. :)

      • haha I wish I had photography tips too but sadly have none. :/ I can see why your friends are happily switching business. For $599, that’s a very competitive price!

  2. I know that all of us have bias and favorites, but this quote is puzzling:

    “Preflight, you are presented with a specially branded departure beverage, called refreshMINT, which is similar to mint lemonade, served with or without vodka – a nice touch and notch above any other pre-departure service.”

    How is providing only 1 drink choice, versus anything you want on all other carriers, better and a notch above?

    Also, the buy-on-board items are exactly that - you buy them onboard. There shouldn’t be an expectation that you can barter a first class item, which are provisioned to be handed out for free, for an item they expect to collect revenue from. The FA can be nice and comp any items, but that should not be an expectation.

    • Most times, the alcohol selection in domestic first class is terrible and predeparture beverages are spotty at best. This actually resembled a cocktail, hence “a notch above”. I’m sure if you ask nicely, the flight attendants would be happy to make you a different drink.

      As for the cheese tray, I’m not a big fan of desserts as I don’t have a huge sweet tooth. So I usually ask for a cheese plate. Never once on any carrier has this ever been a problem. My guess is that the airlines don’t want to upset a paying first class passenger (or any passenger) over an item that costs a few dollars to provide. Much like they aren’t at the door measuring every carry-on.

Leave a Reply