Cameron: Rethinking first class

Jim-Cameron-talking-transportationAny regular reader of this column knows that I hate flying. I love travel, but getting there by air is a pain … and getting worse. Our local airports are vying for third-world status. The security searches by the TSA make a colonoscopy look like fun. And once on the plane, the airlines’ seats and service make The Fung Wah Bus seem like a viable alternative.

Why is it that airlines are all vying for the cheapest products instead of the best? Why this race to the bottom where low-cost-carriers like Spirit and Southwest are the models instead of overseas service exemplars like Singapore and Emirates?

I, for one, am willing to pay more to get more. I may not opt for first class, but I will only fly in business class on flights to California. It’s worth it.

But the legacy carriers like American and United ask for $1,600 one-way from NY to LAX, and they get it. Their business class is full, thanks to frequent flyer upgrades. But now there’s a cheaper, better alternative: JetBlue.

When JetBlue began as a low-cost carrier in 2000, it found a loyal following by offering high frequency, friendly and comfortable flights. Today they are an international carrier serving 87 destinations with more than 200 aircraft. And they have one of the hottest terminals at JFK, T5.

And 10 of their newest planes, A-321’s, now offer a new product, “Mint”, with truly first class seating at lower-than-business class fares. I finally had a chance to sample the service on a recent flight to LAX.

First, there’s the seating. There are just 16 seats with full, six foot lie-flat beds. I lucked out and got one of the four “private cabins” with 22-inch wide seats and a sliding door to the corridor. My TV was a 15-inch flat-screen with live satellite feed, movies and SiriusXM Radio. I had two AC outlets and a pair of USB plugs keeping all my gear fully-charged.

When I boarded I found a welcome note, written by hand, from the flight crew thanking me for my business. Also awaiting was a full duvet and pillow, an amenities kit and free Wi-Fi, coast to coast.

After take-off came the usual beverages and a most unusual meal … the choice of three tapas-like entrees from a menu of five on offer, prepared by Saxon+Parole. The lobster mac-and-cheese was to die for. But they also had Kosher, vegan and gluten-free options. And coming soon, an on-board cappuccino machine.

The service was amazing. This was one of the best flights ever, and I’ve logged miles for decades on five continents. And the ticket was only $599 one-way. I’d gladly have paid more.

The bad news is this amazing product is only available on flights from JFK to LAX (seven a day), and San Francisco (five times daily). Rumor has it they may also add transcon flights from Boston, but you won’t be flying “Mint” on your way to Orlando anytime soon. To the Caribbean, maybe.

So kudos to “New York’s hometown airline” for continuing to be innovative in offering more for less and making flying fun again!

Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at [email protected] For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com.

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