Aviation News

March 29, 2012

JetBlue Even More Space Reviewed: The Premium Economy Challenge, Round 2

JetBlue Even More Space seating. (Photo by Edward Russell)
JetBlue Even More Space seating. (Photo by Edward Russell)
JetBlue Airways was long the darling of the airline industry. David Neeleman’s hip new carrier demonstrated that a start-up could offer better service and lower fares than the legacies while challenging them in the hyper competitive New York market and succeed.

Time took its toll. JetBlue’s youth came to a symbolic end when some 130,000 passengers were stranded and its operations left in disarray for days following a Valentine’s Day 2007 winter storm. Dave Barger, now chief executive of the airline and then president, called it a maturing moment for the airline in an interview with USA Today. But the airline retains some of that youthful atmosphere with fun flight attendants and staff, an impressive new terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and inflight service that is still well above the industry bar.

NYCAviation recently had the opportunity to try out JetBlue on a roundtrip from JFK to Buffalo and back on a recent Saturday. We got a good taste of the overall JetBlue experience while travelling in their Even More Space and coach class cabins as part of our ongoing series comparing premium economy products on US domestic airlines.

Full disclosure: JetBlue provided these flights to NYCAviation at no charge.

Even More Space

JetBlue Airways Flight 8
Route: New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)-Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF)
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Departure: 2:29pm | Arrival: 4:04pm
Seat: 3A | Even More Space

The AirTrain was late. Standing on the platform at the Jamaica station we grumbled what most New Yorkers have at one point or another while waiting impatiently for the train to the airport – don’t they realise that we have a flight to make? Thankfully, Even More Space on JetBlue comes with Even More Speed, which allows passengers to use a dedicated security queue at JFK and 31 additional airports. We weren’t too worried, yet.

Kiosk check-in in JetBlue’s terminal five was fast and uneventful. Security was not. There was no line at either the Even More Speed or regular security queues – affectively negating the benefit of the product – while each individual metal detector had at least ten people lined up waiting to be screened. We were not allowed to jump to the front of the metal detector queue despite our Even More Speed boarding pass and a departure time that was less than 30 minutes away. While this was aggravating at the moment, we made it through in less than 10 minutes and made it to Gate 5 in the middle of general boarding.

We waited until the final call to board. Even More Space customers are allowed to board first but, due to our tardiness, we missed the opportunity and there was no dedicated lane, like the one for Priority AAccess ticket holders on American Airlines, to jump ahead of the queue. Instead we bought a late lunch for the flight, passed on the opportunity to buy headphones at the gate for $2 (they are also sold onboard) and boarded with the stragglers.

Even More Space on JetBlue’s Airbus A320 aircraft consists of rows 1 through 5 and emergency exit rows 10 and 11. Passengers seated in these rows have 38 inches of seat pitch versus 33 inches to 34 inches in regular coach seats, according to SeatGuru.com. Inflight entertainment and food options are the same in both sections. NYCAviation was seated in 3A.

Also: Premium Economy Challenge Round 1: Virgin America Main Cabin Select

Each seat is equipped with a personal TV that offers DirecTV inflight. When JetBlue launched flights in February 2000, it was one of the first US airlines to offer the amenity that helped establish its image as a fun airline to fly. DirecTV is now offered as part of a larger audio video on demand (AVOD) package that also includes SiriusXM Satellite Radio and movie selections through a product called JetBlue Features on flights longer than two hours. DirecTV and SiriusXM are free, while Features cost $5.99 per movie on flights within the continental US, but are free on flights outside the US where there is no DirecTV coverage.

The hour-long flight to Buffalo passed quickly. The flight attendants offered King Nut fancy nut mix, Linden’s chocolate chip cookies and Terra Blue potato chips as complimentary snacks accompanied by cold and hot beverages. Eat Up boxes, which come in four varieties and cost $5.99, were not offered and we were not aware that alcohol was being sold on the short flight. We landed at Buffalo Niagara International Airport and parked to gate eight early.

Coach

JetBlue Airways Flight 7
Route: Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF)-New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Departure: 4:40pm | Arrival: 6:10pm
Seat: 6A | Coach

We immediately exited security after arriving in Buffalo. One of JetBlue’s main selling points for Even More Space is the Even More Speed priority security line and we felt it imperative that we start with security before to fully grasp the coach experience on the flight back to JFK.

Buffalo only has one security checkpoint for all passengers. Even More Speed ticketholders have access to a priority queue while coach passengers use the general queue. Despite a lengthy line in the latter queue, it moved quickly and we were through and back in the concourse in about 10 minutes. We estimate that Even More Speed may have saved us five minutes, at best.

Boarding for the nearly full flight back to JFK began 30 minutes before departure at Gate 8. Courtesy boarding for Even More Space passengers was first and followed by a call for passengers who need assistance and those travelling with young children. The gate agents called all customers and all rows to board next, which resulted in the typical mass of people moving to the gate all at once and the boarding queue spilling out into the main hallway of the concourse. This surprised us as we are used to airlines staggering general boarding by row, boarding group or seat location in order to avoid just such a back-up at the gate and on the jetway.

We again boarded after the final boarding call and sat down in 6A. The coach seat, which had 34 inches of seat pitch according to Seatguru.com, was comfortable and perfectly adequate – though we would not go as far as calling it spacious – for the hour-long flight. It was enough to open a laptop and work without too much concern for what would happen if the passenger in front of us reclined their seat.

The pilot came over the intercom to introduce himself and welcome everyone onboard from the front of the cabin before the aircraft door was shut. It was a nice touch that was appreciated by many of the passengers based on the murmurs from around the cabin. “You never get to meet the pilot,” said one girl sitting a few rows behind us.

The flight back was uneventful. The flight attendants offered us a choice of Stauffer’s animal crackers or the potato chips as well as the same assortment of complimentary beverages. The plane flew a track across New York state, down over the Catskills and out over the Atlantic before banking 180 degrees for the final approach into JFK. We taxied to JetBlue’s terminal five and parked at gate 12 a few minutes early.

Comparison

The defining elements of Even More Space are the priority security queue and boarding as well as the namesake extra legroom. The seats themselves and onboard product and services are the same as those offered to coach passengers.

The extra fee for Even More Space from JFK to Buffalo is $20 one-way, or $40 roundtrip. This varies based on the length of the flight, for example it is $65 one-way for the more than 6-hour flight to Oakland from JFK or $35 one-way for the about 3-1/2 hour flight to San Juan.

Speed is the big plus of Even More Space. Priority boarding was the biggest perk on the day that we travelled, if only to avoid the masses during general boarding. However, the benefit is mostly for passenger convenience and comfort as overhead bin space is not as sought after on JetBlue as on other carriers due to its first bag flies free policy. The bin access could be a selling point to passengers who are travelling with multiple suitcases and could fit one in the overhead. The cost of premium economy on our flight was half that of a second checked bag, which is $40.

Security is a different story. The Even More Speed priority queue did not save us time at JFK but probably would have shaved about five minutes off the security line in Buffalo. The problem that we encountered was that passengers end up waiting for the same metal detectors after the document check, which is where the priority queue helps, at JFK. However, we expect that this part of the security screening process is out of JetBlue’s control.

Speed was the reason that the passenger sitting next to us paid for Even More Space. She said that the priority security queue normally saves passengers “a lot of time” after acknowledging that it was not a problem on the Saturday when we travelled. The extra legroom was a nice perk but not the reason why she did not think twice to pay the fee for premium economy on JetBlue.

We agree that the additional legroom in Even More Space is nice but not a huge bonus. JetBlue is accurate when it claims that its coach seats, which we noted have 34 inches of seat pitch on the A320, have more legroom than economy seats on most other domestic aircraft in the US – 32 inches is the industry standard. Legroom aside, we focused on two aspects of the seats on our flights – the ability to comfortably work on a laptop and to cross our legs without either jamming our knees into the seat in front or kicking the person sitting next to us.

We could comfortably work on a laptop in both Even More Space and coach. It would have been nice to be able to pull the tray table a little bit closer to us in Even More Space but that is a small complaint – had we been watching a movie the distance would have been much appreciated. We were unable to test our laptop with the seat in front of us in a reclined position on either flight, however, we doubt that it would have been an issue based on our experience using laptops in seats with less pitch.

Even More Space and coach passed our leg crossing test as well. The former was downright roomy and we were able to stretch out while crossing our legs while the latter allowed us to cross them but in a more constrained environment. We did not knee the seat in front of us or kick the person next to us in either seat – the person next to us was actually able to cross their legs at the same time in coach – but the difference in space was obvious.

The Bottom Line

Even More Space is really about the speed. If you are in a rush, want to avoid the general boarding stampede or simply want first dibs on the overhead bin then the product is for you.

Save your money if you are after an inflight experience that is a step up from coach. There was little to differentiate Even More Space when onboard, though we can imagine a scenario where a taller passenger (we measure in at just under six feet) would want – and happily pay for – the extra legroom.

JetBlue’s overall inflight experience was enjoyable and a step above the industry standard in the US. However, that experience is the same for Even More Space and coach passengers. There are many reasons to like the premium economy offering but we would not pay for it for the space alone.

Edward Russell is a financial journalist and airline enthusiast based in New York. The son of a pilot, he’s been spotting and collecting airline memorabilia since a young age and has been writing about airlines in the US and Asia since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @e_russell.

Also: Premium Economy Challenge Round 1: Virgin America Main Cabin Select


  • Bernie Case

    Wow, 130,000 people were stranded in 2007?  They must’ve really been stuffing them into that Airbus!

  • http://www.alphabetcityblog.com/ Jeff

    I don’t know how tall you are, but as someone who’s 6’4″ myself, I can tell you that speed is most definitely *not* the big selling point of the EMS seats. The thing is, there’s a good percentage of the population that plain and simply does not fit in standard airline seats. JetBlue’s regular coach seats are the bare *minimum* that I would want to endure for any length of time, but on a cross country flight, I will gladly pay $65 for an extra 4″ of legroom. At 34″, I can sit upright in a normal manner but cannot really move in my seat at all; at 38″, I can move around and keep my blood flowing (that feeling of antsiness you get from sitting in the same position for hours is actually your blood pooling, which is not desirable!). Forget about airlines that offer 31″ or 32″ of pitch; I won’t even fly them. I literally end up with my knees flayed out into the seats next to me, and that’s before the person in front of me even reclines. I fly JetBlue whenever possible specifically because of the legroom; I’ll usually take a standard seat on a short flight but I always upgrade to EMS on longer flights.