Updated to include new details and pics (and fix wacky font)
When JetBlue Airways launched service in 2000 many a skeptic questioned the low-cost carrier’s logic for making New York JFK its home. Sure, a slog through crowded JFK was a necessary evil for many an international traveler. But how in the world could a local, domestic carrier convince Joe Americana to book his trip to Florida out of such a pain-in-the-butt facility, queried the cynics. Over eight years later (my God, has it been that long?), and after numerous enhancements to JFK, JetBlue is ready to prove its case that home is indeed where the heart is.
The carrier yesterday celebrated the successful construction of its new $743 million, 26-gate Terminal 5 located behind the historic Eero Saarinen-designed TWA terminal at JFK. And it did so in style. JetBlue packed the house with a bevy of elected officials, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Chuck Schumer and Bermuda Premier Ewart Brown as well as world-famous New York City dance troupe The Rockettes and pop singer Estelle.
I’ve never been shy about my admiration for JetBlue. Yes, I’m an in-flight entertainment junky and credit JetBlue’s ingenuity every time another US carrier commits to providing IFE to economy passengers. But there is more to it than that. JetBlue is one of the few carriers to offer a consistent experience to customers (both on and off the aircraft) even when times are tough (founder David Neeleman received a standing ovation upon entering the stage yesterday…check out the carrier’s own live blogging of the event).
Sure, there have been some hiccups along the way. The carrier announced last week that it is slowing its Embraer E-190 growth by leasing two of the type to Brazilian start-up – and Neeleman brainchild – Azul and selling four deliveries to Jetscape, which will subsequently lease them to Azul. For the record, Azul’s 36-strong order for E-195s remains intact, says Embraer. Neeleman also told me on the sidelines of yesterday’s ceremony that Azul will launch service with a combination of five aircraft – three E-195s and the two leased E-190s from JetBlue.
More sensationally, JetBlue’s handling of passengers during a batch of heavy ice storms wasn’t its shining moment (and what ever happened to the guy who was forced to spend most of his flight in an A320 bathroom?) but on the whole, JetBlue is a bright star in an ever-darkening night.
There is another reason why I took the early morning train from Lancaster, PA to New York Penn Station where I picked up the Long Island Railroad to Jamaica and then the AirTrain to JFK for the T5 opening. A 1937 TWA Lockheed 12A Electra (the oldest flying TWA aircraft) and former TWA flight attendants wearing vintage uniforms were part of JetBlue’s visual extravaganza. It’s appropriate for JetBlue to celebrate the past, but this journalist is hopeful – nay convinced – that this carrier is the future.
(All photos care of the JetBlue corpcomm bloggers…check out their site at http://t508.wordpress.com)