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Inaugural Flight: jetBlue IAH-JFK

Sunday, October 27th, 2019 marked a somewhat historic day in the New York-based jetBlue Airways route network. They moved all of their operations from the smaller, and Southwest Airlines dominated Houston-Hobby airport to the much larger Houston-Intercontinental airport. WorldTravelReport’s Brandon Aronoff was on board the first departure to JFK in New York City and is here to tell you all about this historic inaugural flight. 

jetBlue Airways started in the year 2000 as an airline like no other. Their business model was to have an all-economy airline with exceptional legroom, in-seat personal tv’s, and Sirius XM radio that would beat all its competition with its low fares. They began flying on February 11th, 2000, with David Neeleman at the helm from New York’s JFK airport to Buffalo and Ft. Lauderdale with Airbus A320 Aircraft. Since its founding, the airline now operates to 102 destinations throughout the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. They have a fleet of 130 Airbus A320’s, 63 Airbus A321’s, 2 Airbus A321 NEO’S, and 60 Embraer 190 Aircraft with orders for more A321 NEO’S and Airbus A220-300 Aircraft. They have five crew bases in New York, Boston, Ft. Lauderdale, Long Beach, and Orlando, with a multitude of airline partners across the globe. They also offer a select first-class type service on the 321’s called “Mint” on their premier Transcontinental routes. On top of that, the airline has the best legroom out of any full economy airline in the United States with an average of 38-39 inch seat pitch.

The airline began operating in the Houston area in September of 2006 and chose to operate at Hoston-Hobby airport, which is located in the Southeastern part of the city. Hobby is known for being a huge Southwest focus city, and they were only one of three other airlines serving Hobby. Delta flies to Atlanta from their and American to Dallas/Ft. Worth. For many years jetBlue operated just two flights a day to Hobby, one to their JFK hub and the other to their Boston hub. The aircraft would always switch as the inbound from Boston would then turn around and go to JFK and vice versus. This is the same exact way operations are today at Intercontinental. The decision to change to the larger airport became known to the public in late June of this year. JetBlue stated the reason for the change after over 13 years at Hobby was that they plan on strengthening their Houston market and believe Intercontinental is the way to do so. All customers booked out of Hobby on or after October 27th were automatically moved to the IAH flights or were offered a full refund. 

jetBlue is operating out of concourse A at Intercontinental from gate A24 across from the Spirit Airlines gates. I was coming in on a connecting flight, so I did not need to go through TSA, but I have before at concourse A in Houston, and lines are usually not too bad. I was on another jetBlue inaugural before from Ft. Lauderdale to Atlanta back in 2017, but truthfully, there is no comparison on which one felt more historic and which one had a better “excitement” feel. The answer is this one. When I reached the gate, I found myself surrounded by more than a dozen jetBlue employees, all in complete excitement for the first flight out of their new airport. The inbound aircraft was coming in from Boston like it always did at Hobby, and many people gathered by the windows to see the plane pull into the gate. As it did, two fire trucks were standing by and did a water cannon salute for the new airline at the airport. It indeed was a fantastic sight to witness. 

The airline offered cupcakes for this special flight, and very kind airport employees were handing them out. I had gone up to the gate agent to find out some information about the staff and our flight. The extremely kind gate agent had informed me that most of the employees at IAH had been working for jetBlue in Hobby prior to the move. I was also surprised to find out that the aircraft was only going to have four open seats, even though this was the first flight. I suspect it was this way due to people who had booked to fly out of Hobby and were moved over to the Intercontinental flights; the Boston flight came in pretty full also. This also goes to show that the jetBlue operations in Houston are doing very well. I had purchased this one-way ticket for only $133, which is a reasonable price for the three hour trip to NYC. jetBlue’s only direct competition on the route is from Delta, who just recently started flying to JFK from IAH as well. I was only traveling with a backpack, so I did not need to check a bag. A checked bag on jetBlue costs $30 for the first one and $40 for the second, pretty much standard to other U.S. carriers. They are an all-economy class airline but do not operate at all like the U.S. low-cost airlines. The first example of this is they allow you a free carry-on alongside a personal item. 

The flight was scheduled to depart at 11:13 AM central time and arrive at 3:35 PM eastern time at JFK as flight number 1382. Our aircraft was an 18-year-old Airbus A320 registered N527JL. A really lovely thing about this exact A320 is that it has been retrofitted with jetBlue’s brand new and stylish cabin. The cabin offers a 162 all economy seats with a very generous seat pitch, as mentioned above. Boarding began right on time at 10:38 AM, 35 minutes prior to departure. Once I stepped on board, I honestly was amazed by the new cabin. The 4 flight attendants were also super friendly as they usually are on all jetBlue flights. I am originally a South Florida native and have been on dozens of B6 flights, and I have to say I am still a little bit in shock right now of how great the new cabins are. I made my way towards the back of the aircraft and found my seat 21A, which is a window seat on the left side of the aircraft. Each seat has a personal television that offers movies, tv shows, games, and live tv provided by Direct TV. On top of that each row of three seats features two universal power outlets and two USB ports.

As boarding came to a close, the excellent jetBlue staff at IAH came on board and wished everyone a great inaugural flight. I happened to get lucky and have one of one four open seats on the aircraft next to me in the middle, which was nice for the three-hour journey. We pushed back right on time and made a quick taxi to runway 15R, and then we were airborne beginning our flight up to JFK. About 25 minutes into the flight, as we were reaching our cruising altitude of 37,000 feet, the crew started their service. All soft drinks, juices, and coffee are free on jetBlue flights, and snack boxes can be purchased. You can also purchase a blanket & pillow set and earbuds, plus fresh food on longer flights, usually over 5 hours in length. I ordered a coffee which is from Dunkin Donuts, and I had a bag of chocolate chip cookies and Popcorners kettle corn chips as a snack. 

I don’t usually fly on Sundays, and I am a diehard New York Giants NFL Football fan, so it was a real treat to watch them play while flying up to NY. It would have been better if they had won, but you take what you can get, I guess. The flight was pretty routine and very comfortable. Just over two hours after service began, we started our descent into JFK. We landed at 3:32 PM local time, three minutes before schedule, and made our way to the beautiful terminal 5 that jetBlue operates all of their flights out of at JFK. We parked at gate 1 right next to the brand-new TWA Hotel, so as I waited for other passengers to get off before me, I was able to look at the historic newly opened hotel from my seat. As I was leaving the plane, the lead flight attendant handed me a special card signed by all of the crew thanking me for coming along on the inaugural flight, which was incredibly kind of them!

Overall, the flight was great in every aspect, as it usually is on jetBlue. The celebrations in Houston were great as well, and this is definitely a flight I will always remember. Congrats on the move to Houston-Intercontinental jetBlue! I hope you have continued success there and do expand in the Houston airport like you are hoping to do. 

-Brandon Aronoff

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