The increasing demand for premium cabin seats between the major cities of the East and West coasts has resulted in an escalating arms race amongst U.S. airlines in recent years.
In 2013 United renovated its p.s. Premium Service for these transcontinental nonstops, adding fully flat-bed seats, power outlets at every seat, and enhanced IFE systems. A year later American countered with a newly dedicated A321T fleet, the only domestic aircraft to feature 3 cabins of regularly scheduled service.
But perhaps the most surprising entrant in the transcon premium class wars is JetBlue, who in 2014 rolled out a business class service branded as “Mint.”
This was a somewhat unusual move for an airline that made its name as a low cost carrier, albeit one with the extra perk of free live TV at every seat. But Mint has been so successful that JetBlue has added additional Mint-configured flights to both their New York/Los Angeles and New York/San Francisco routes, and they will soon introduce the service between Boston and San Francisco and between Boston and Los Angeles later this year.
I’ve flown in business class on the American A321T several times, so I was intrigued when I recently had the opportunity to try Mint from New York to Los Angeles. Overall, while there were a few hiccups, I thought it was as good as — and in a few ways even superior — to its competitors.
Booking Mint and checking in.
By far the most attractive feature of Mint is the price. At a starting cost of $599 one way, it’s vastly cheaper than the premium options of the Big 3 legacy airlines.
Now, you won’t always find Mint at that low price. Depending on demand, any given Mint flight can easily rise to over $1,000 each way, especially on close-in bookings. But a quick look at the pricing calendar demonstrates that, as long as you can book at least a few weeks out, it’s currently extremely easy to find low-cost Mint availability…
You can also book Mint using JetBlue’s frequent flyer currency, known as TrueBlue points. The $599 price is equivalent to roughly 45,000 TrueBlue points. For other ideas on how to book Mint with alternative point currencies, check this post on Travel Codex.
I was booked on JetBlue Flight 1323 scheduled to depart JFK at 10:38pm, so I arrived at JetBlue’s Terminal 5 around an hour ahead of time. The current Terminal 5 is one of the newest terminals at JFK, having only opened in 2008, and it feels fresh and modern.
JetBlue is the main tenant of Terminal 5, taking up the vast majority of the terminal. Since hundreds of JetBlue flights leave from here every day with only a very small portion consisting of Mint seating, the dedicated check-in desk for Mint (and Mosaic passengers as well) is not part of the main lines but is instead located in a small room off to the side. It’s marked only with a single sign, and to be honest I might have missed it if I wasn’t looking for it. But it’s there.
I was a little surprised there was only one check-in agent handling Mint customers, and if I had been checking luggage it might have been a problem because the agent was tied up handling another passenger for a good 10 minutes after I arrived. But as it was, I only needed a boarding pass which I could get simply by visiting one of the many kiosks, so I was able to skip the check-in desk.
All the perks that JetBlue normally charges extra for are already included in a Mint ticket. One of these is “Even More Speed,” which is expedited security screening with a dedicated line.
The faster security clearance worked just as advertised, and I was able to make it through security within 5 minutes, despite the normal lines being fairly thick with customers. TSA PreCheck is also available here if you have it.
Mint does not come with any sort of lounge access as JetBlue does not maintain a network of lounges. However, as previously noted, Terminal 5 is relatively new and spacious with plenty of food and beverage options.
When I arrived at the gate, I didn’t have to wait long before the agents called for Mint passengers to board as the first group on the plane.
Mint seats and pre-departure service.
The Mint cabin has 16 lie-flat seats arranged in an unusual configuration. Rows 1, 3, and 5 are 2×2, while rows 2 and 4 are 1×1. The rows with single seats also feature a small door that can be closed for extra privacy, which the rows with pairs of seats don’t have. If you’re traveling with a companion you’ll probably want to choose one of the 2×2 rows (unless you don’t like your companion and would prefer to have them separated from you by the aisle, your door, and their door).
Since I was traveling alone, I had selected one of the 1×1 seats. Along with the privacy door, one of the other features I noticed immediately was the large shelf next to the window side armrest. I found this allowed me to have both my laptop and my tablet sitting next to me the entire flight while still leaving the collapsible tray available for the dinner service.
A few minutes after I had gotten settled in, I was approached by Colleen, one of the two flight attendants servicing the Mint cabin. Colleen asked me if I had ever traveled in Mint before, and then took me through the various features of the seat.
On the left armrest are the seat controls which, along with the ability to flatten the seat into a bed, also offers lumbar support and a massage function.
Beneath the seat controls is the remote for the inflight entertainment system. The remote is simple with basic functions on top and colored video game/playback controls at the bottom.
Also provided to all Mint passengers for use during the flight are a set of Grado Labs SR60e Prestige Series headphones. While the sound quality of these headphones is good, they don’t come close to the excellence of the Bose noise-canceling headphones on American’s A321T.
On the left above the armrest is a small elastic holder, which I absolutely loved for its convenience in keeping my cell phone secured nearby. Also in this space are power outlets, an individual light for working, and a place for a bottle of water (lit beautifully in blue).
Finally, on the other side of the divider is a closable storage cabinet where I was able to stuff items that I wanted to have close to me but not necessarily sitting out.
After Colleen had completed the tour of the seat, she offered me a pre-departure beverage. She recommended their signature drink, called the RefreshMint, which consists of honey-infused limeade and fresh mint, and can be served either with or without vodka. I’m not a huge fan of mint (the flavor, not the airline cabin) but in the interests of being adventurous, I decided to take Colleen up on her suggestion.
To my surprise, the RefreshMint was absolutely fantastic. Very light with just a twinge of mint and mixed perfectly. I enjoyed it so much that I actually ordered another one later to accompany dinner.
Colleen did have one request which I found a bit odd — she informed me that I couldn’t have anything stored in the small space under the seat in front of me during takeoff and landing. Now, as with most lie-flat seats, the space “under the seat in front of you” is not really under the seat in front of you. It’s actually a space built into the next lie-flat unit that allows your seat to fully fold out, which means it doesn’t have anything to solidly hold your stuff in place.
But I found it odd because I’ve never been told in any other premium cabin that I couldn’t have my belongings in that spot. I also noticed the other Mint flight attendant Laura telling other passengers the same thing, so this must be a JetBlue policy.
We pushed back from the gate almost right on time, though we had to wait a while in line for takeoff. But soon enough we were airborne.
The menu, which was handed to me when I first sat down so I could peruse it during taxi and takeoff, varies by month, time of day, and flight direction. But all Mint meals feature small plates designed by the New York City restaurant Saxon + Parole.
On the back of the menu are the wine selections curated by Jon Bonné, along with the beer, liquor, and other beverage choices.
Since the main selections are small plates, passengers are invited to select up to three options from the Delish Dish category. I went with all the hot dishes — the short rib, the ribollita soup, and the risotto. But to start, I sampled the artichoke and avocado dip…
This was quite a tasty appetizer, with the taro chips being different but completely appropriate for the dish.
The main dishes were next, arriving all together…
I’m sure protocol dictated that I should have started with the soup, but I was hungry and headed directly for the short rib. It was surprisingly decent. I say “surprisingly” because meat dishes can be difficult on an airplane — they often end up rubbery or flavorless. The short rib was neither, and the polenta was a perfect compliment to it.
The soup was just okay. As you can see in the photo, it was more of a chicken and vegetable dish than a soup, though in fact there was broth. Unlike the short rib, the chicken lacked a bit of flavor and was somewhat bland, though the vegetables helped.
Finally, the risotto was well prepared but just not to my liking. I don’t fault JetBlue on this one, as the dish itself was fine. I just wasn’t a fan of it.
The menu suggests ordering both dessert options, so after the main course was complete, both the fruit salad and the ice cream arrived, which I enjoyed with a glass of the Bedrock Wirz Vineyard Riesling.
The fruit was fresh and firm, with just the right amount of moisture — not too dry and not waterlogged. On the other hand, I did not like the organic Blue Marble ice cream, which was a sea salt caramel flavor. I don’t know if other flavors were available, but if they were I was not offered one.
As you can see, the presentation of each of the courses was well done with food and drinks served in actual glasses and dishes. The only exception was the cheap paper tablecloth, which is a minor detail but a silly one for JetBlue to overlook. Come on, JetBlue, how about some cloth tablecloths?
The entire dinner was served at a reasonable pace and was completed around 90 minutes into the flight. If you get hungry after the meal service is over, snacks and sodas are available for self-service at the back of the Mint cabin.
In flight entertainment, wifi, and amenity kit.
I’m not an amenity kit aficionado, but for those of you who are, JetBlue provides Mint customers with an amenity kit put together by Birchbox Man.
Included in the kit are a Billy Jealousy hair molding cream, Montez Renault facial cleanser, Proraso shave cream, Hanz De Fuko shampoo & conditioner, and shoe wipes by Boot Rescue. The shoe wipes did nothing for my Chuck Taylor sneakers, but I’m sure they work quite well on actual shoes. The actual kit pouch is made of polyester and feels extremely cheap. While the products inside the kit seem nice (again, I’m not an expert), I’ve seen better pouches on domestic Delta flights.
On the other hand, JetBlue has a wifi service called FlyFi that is not only great, but also completely free for all customers, not just Mint. I can’t believe this perk will last forever, but as of now JetBlue offers free basic internet on all their planes which have it installed (which is a pretty good number). There is also a high speed wifi service available for $9, but that’s only necessary if you’re doing streaming or gaming. I was perfectly happy with the basic free service, which is also available gate-to-gate (no cutoff at 10,000 feet).
Of course no JetBlue flight would be complete without mentioning the free live inflight TV. JetBlue is the only airline to offer live DirecTV at every seat; however, the A321 planes (which include all Mint flights) have new upgraded entertainment systems, which are an enormous improvement over the old TV’s.
Not only is the new 10″ screen significantly bigger, but the navigation is greatly enhanced and the selection has expanded to over 100 channels from the original 36.
Also included on the new IFE system is Sirius XM radio and 8 feature-length movies. Unfortunately the one area that has not improved is that the movies are not on-demand but rather on a constantly running loop. So you have to plan ahead if you want to catch a movie right at the beginning.
Winding down and a pre-landing treat.
About two-thirds of the way through the flight I moved my seat into its lie-flat configuration and tried to catch an hour of shuteye. The seat is just as good as other high-end business class products, so if you’re looking for a solid lie-flat seat, you’ll be happy with Mint. I also closed the privacy door, which does make the area feel surprisingly enclosed. Even though you are still open to the cabin, someone would have to make an effort to see inside, so it’s enough to feel like your own private suite.
With all that being said, my personal issue with lie-flat seats is actually the opposite of most folks. Usually the main complaint is that the seat isn’t long enough to accommodate tall people, but I’m on the shorter side so that isn’t a problem for me. However I usually feel the seats are too small width-wise. Specifically, my shoulders and arms always feel squeezed in the space and I have the sense of being inside a cocoon. Again, I want to emphasize this is not just a complaint about Mint seats but lie-flat seats in general. But as far as this type of seat, Mint is absolutely on par with the competition.
About 20 minutes before landing, Colleen and Laura asked the Mint passengers to return their seats to an upright configuration and each passenger was given a treat prepared by the Mah Ze Dahr bakery.
Final thoughts about JetBlue Mint.
The Mint hard product is just as impressive as its American and United brethren, and actually better in a few ways (such as the live TV and free wifi). The service on my flight was good — not spectacular but certainly no worse than I’ve received during my travels on American’s A321T.
But for the price, the JetBlue product can’t be beat. At the cheapest $599 level, you’re getting a true transcontinental business class product for less than the cost of a full fare economy ticket. So if you have a few extra bucks to spare and want a much more comfortable transit across the country, I’d highly recommend JetBlue Mint as a terrific business class option.