Thanks to a really nice client that invited me to give a few in-person talks in New York and Fort Lauderdale, I had an opportunity recently to leave behind a truly miserable Chicago winter for a few days. Our client asked which airline I preferred and I had to think for a minute. Normally, I would have said Southwest because those folks are always fun to fly with and they tell me the truth when a problem pops up.
For once, I decided to try something new and mentioned I’d like to use JetBlue if it fit the schedule and the budget. I’d heard quite a bit about them, but never flown the airline before. And despite the chaos last winter that cost David Neeleman his job there, I still wanted to try.
A few weeks later, I found myself headed for terminal 2 at ORD, normally the worst departure point next to United’s terminal 1. At ORD, terminal 2 is where it seems like the City of Chicago sends the riff raff of passengers for Northwest, Continental and US Airways to their airplanes.
The last time, I flew Continental from ORD it took almost an hour to get through the security line because only two screeners were available for hundreds of people. That, of course, was not Continental’s fault, but it certainly does reflect on their image anyway.
This time, I was going to be ready and arrived at ORD 2 1/2 hours early. I walked up to the JetBlue counter and saw this screen welcoming me. OK, I know it’s a computer program, but some airlines simply tell me to shove my credit card in the slot so I felt like I was a step up. They gave me a nice seat on a new JetBlue EMB-190 for the trip to JFK. The lady took my bag and said thanks for flying JetBlue. Right away I wondered what these people were up to.
JetBlue boards by area and I soon found my way to row 12 in the Embraer’s two-by-two arrangement. Then I realized they had little TVs in the back of each seat. I knew I wouldn’t be wasting my time watching TV or listening to satellite radio, but I asked anyway and learned the airplane’s headphone jack would accept the Bose headphones from my iPod. mmm!
What I also noticed as I settled in was that I was obviously in an emergency row because there must have been four or five inches of space between my long bony knees and the seat ahead. But it turned out I wasn’t in an emergency exit. As I looked around, I realized all the seats were set up with that sort of room, called pitch in the airline industry.
The airplane took off on time, I worked for awhile and then decided to eat the lunch I’d brought with just about the time they offered me some JetBlue chips to go with it. “Can I get you anything else?” this smiling flight attendant asks. What is it with these smiling people anyway?
If you fly the airlines, you know how tough it is to try and read with the table pulled down as you eat. It just doesn’t work, sort of like eating while you’re driving.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw TV a screen flash a little CNN news. OK, sorry, I’m a CNN junkie. They had me. I pulled out my headphones and plugged them in to listen to more about the incredible energy flowing in our current election process. I just eat that stuff up when I see people engaged enough to actually participate.
Sorry. Back to JetBlue.
I got so caught up in the CNN story that I forgot to turn off the set and landed watching TV. My mother would NOT be happy. Then we pulled up to the gate and I had to get out of my comfy seat and get off.
On the way out, I saw one of the flight attendants handing out little plastic JetBlue wings to the kids and it took me back to another time in my life. When I flew for the original Midway Airlines in the 80′s, I always kept a bag of those plastic wings for the kids too. They loved them. Talk about cheap PR … but it worked.
I loved the flight on JetBlue and I absolutely loved all the space around the seat. That would make it worth the price alone.
So do my friends at Southwest Airlines have anything to worry about now that I have a pair of JetBlue wings in my pocket? Not really. Southwest is still my favorite. But it is clear that the JetBlue people flew quite a few Southwest flights before they launched their airline.
No, the people I really think need to be worried are the big guys … United, Delta, Northwest, US Airways. These low cost carriers are stealing your lunch the easy way, by offering a good service at a fair price with nice folks to help when the eventual chaos of the outside world of aviation creeps in.
And these days, that’s plenty for me.
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