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Onboard the Newest Aircraft on the Longest Flight: Flying JetBlue’s New Airbus A321neo
JetBlue Airways expanded its route network last week with the launch of its newest route between New York and Guayaquil, Ecuador. The new service sees JetBlue flying between its hub in the Big Apple and the Pearl of the Pacific once daily with its newest fleet arrival, the Airbus A321neo.
With just under 3,000 statute miles between the two cities, the route is the new longest in the JetBlue network, replacing Boston-San Diego in the top spot. While the route may have been possible with the Airbus A321ceo aircraft that JetBlue currently operates, the trek is made easier with the enhanced performance of the A321neo and is why JetBlue waited until its arrival to inaugurate the route.
The route complements JetBlue’s existing service to Guayaquil from its Floridian focus city in Fort Lauderdale. Guayaquil is one of two cities the airline serves in Ecuador along with Quito and is the second southernmost city JetBlue serves behind Lima, Peru. The city is similarly only one of three JetBlue destinations below the equator, along with Quito and Lima.
In line with its existing medium and long-haul strategy from New York, JetBlue’s once-daily service departs New York in the afternoon and returns in the evening as an overnight flight. Flight B61769 departs from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport at 1:59 p.m. and arrives at Guayaquil’s José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport around 9 p.m.
Though flight times vary day to day, the duration of the southbound flight hovers around seven hours, confirming the title of being the longest scheduled flight in the JetBlue network. Only spending less than two hours on the ground in Ecuador, the return flight operates as B61770 departing Guayaquil at around 10:30 p.m. and arriving back around 5:00 a.m., depending on the day.
As a destination, Guayaquil is best known for being a stepping stone to the Galapagos Islands, just over 700 miles from the Ecuadorian coast in the Pacific Ocean. As there are no direct flights to any destinations beyond Quito and Guayaquil from the two airports on the Galapagos Islands, spending a few days in either city en route to or from the islands has become commonplace for visitors.
Getting to the islands from Guayaquil is as simple as hopping on a quick 2-hour LATAM Ecuador, Avianca Ecuador or TAME flight. JetBlue, however, doesn’t codeshare with any of those airlines, meaning visitors have to create their own itineraries to get to the Galapagos.
The past two decades have seen Guayaquil embark on a revitalization that has made it more welcoming to tourists, including the construction of a large riverfront esplanade and enhanced security measure. The city is also a large trading center for Ecuador as it is the country’s main port city, housing the Port of Guayaquil.
This latest route opening is the latest step in JetBlue’s South American expansion, especially from New York, as seen with the opening and expansion of Guayaquil service in 2019 and new service to Georgetown, Guayana scheduled for 2020. While Fort Lauderdale has traditionally been the gateway to South America for JetBlue, the Airbus A321neo is changing that with more routes from New York to the continent being opened thanks to the Neo’s enhanced performance capabilities.
Introducing the Airbus A321neo
JetBlue became the fourth U.S. operator of the A321neo when it took delivery of its first one in June, arriving first at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport before promptly heading to Florida to receive its new cabin. Since then, four additional aircraft out of an order of 85 have been delivered to the airline from Airbus’ facility in Hamburg, Germany, according to planespotters.net.
The aircraft features the newest JetBlue tail livery, “Balloons,” in which the aircraft abandons the green found on its current Airbus A321 tails. Balloons sticks solely to five shades of blue to represent the company’s values of Safety, Caring, Integrity, Passion and Fun.
The first aircraft to be delivered was named after founder and aviation pioneer David Neeleman, who is currently invested in airlines in Portugal, Brazil and the United States with TAP Air Portugal, Azul Brazilian Airlines and Moxy Airlines, respectively. Neeleman founded JetBlue in the late 1990s and the airline has since grown steadily since into the established carrier it is today.
Though the aircraft will serve all flights on such routes as New York-Guayaquil and New York-Georgetown, as well as open up service to Europe with its long-range variant, it will be integrated into the JetBlue fleet as a regular aircraft. The JetBlue website will not differentiate between the Airbus A321neo and the Airbus A321ceo, with the only way to tell if one is flying on the aircraft being by an examination of the seat map.
Onboard JetBlue’s Airbus A321neo from New York to Guayaquil
Just days after JetBlue completed another milestone in its short history with the inauguration of the New York-Guayaquil route, AirlineGeeks flew the route on the new aircraft to see what it was like to fly JetBlue’s newest aircraft on its longest route.
Our flight down to Guayaquil, B61769, would be only one of two flights that day on the route as JetBlue is the sole American carrier to operate it, competing with Latin America’s LATAM Airlines. With a scheduled duration of 7 hours and 4 minutes and planned routing of 3,044 statute miles, the passengers on board would have plenty of time to acquaint themselves with JetBlue’s newest aircraft.
Operating our flight would be N2016J, named “Aruba, Jamaica, Blue I Want to Take You” in reference to the song by The Beach Boys. The two-month-old aircraft delivered was delivered to JetBlue in October 2019 and has been flying short and medium-haul routes since its arrival. With the launch of the Guayaquil route, the aircraft would finally have the opportunity to stretch its legs on a proper long-haul run.
Walking onboard the aircraft, the first thing passengers are greeted with is a revamped entranceway and forward galley. Instead of behind partially concealed with half-height walls, the galley is now fully blocked off by floor to ceiling walls.
Boarding music plays as passengers entered the aircraft, a first for JetBlue, while blue moods lights are already shining. Lighted, residential type finishes in the galley also spur the feeling of modernity from the instant one steps foot on the plane.
To the left inside the flight deck, the cockpit is nearly identical to that of JetBlue’s existing Airbus fleet, a common theme among Airbus aircraft. Pilots flying the Neo need only complete a small training course that is less intensive than a standard differences course and once complete, can jump back and forth between the Airbus A320, Airbus A321ceo and Airbus A321neo.
Moving back in the aircraft is the 200-seat economy class cabin stretching across 34 rows. The most striking feature, again, is the modernity of the cabin and the minor upgrades that bring it to life.
While on previous generation aircraft one could stand in the front of the economy section and look all the way back to the last row unobstructed, the Neo features a mid-cabin lavatory and self-serve snack area called the JetBlue Pantry. The walls that separate the two cabins are painted blue, a bright contrast to the grey seats, and one features the JetBlue name, a little touch of branding found on most international carriers but seldom on domestic ones.
As the aircraft only features one cabin class and the airline’s service is consistent across the fleet, most of the changes in the aircraft’s offering come from the hard product. The Airbus A321neo is the newest aircraft to join the fleet in nearly a decade since the arrival of the first Airbus A321ceos and just like its predecessor, the arrival of the aircraft also saw the arrival of a new onboard product that grew upon the products before it.
The current Airbus A321neos in the fleet are all single-class configured with no Mint service on the aircraft as of yet. Featuring an even 200 Collins Aerospace Meridian seats, the aircraft features the same capacity as its current engine option sibling.
The airline touts having the most legroom in economy and while the standard legroom on the A321neo is slightly less than found on its Airbus A320 aircraft, it is above average for an American carrier. Core seats feature 32-33 inches of pitch and Even More Space seats feature 34-39 inches of pitch, both depending on seat location. All seats feature a generous 18.4 inches of pitch as well.
JetBlue opted for the A321neo Cabin Flex option that sees the removal of the second boarding door, an additional overwing emergency exit door and mid-cabin lavatory. The option, combined with a restyling of the rear galley, allowed for JetBlue to maximize space on the aircraft to house 34 rows of seats in the standard 3-3 configuration.
The leather seats feature numerous upgrades over their previous generation counterparts found on the Airbus A320 and Embraer E190 fleet. Style plays a large factor with Core seats being differentiated from Even More Space extra legroom seats through an orange headrest. Overall, the slim looking grey seats give the cabin a modern feel that’s compounded by the seat amenities and use of mood lights.
At the seats themselves, everything from the seatback pocket to in-flight entertainment screen has been overhauled in stark contrast to some of the older JetBlue aircraft still flying. The rows feature smaller armrests that allow for more space and lighten the weight of the aircraft.
For storage, seatback pockets have also been redesigned to allow for two additional outside pockets and a device holder in the center. The pockets are also designed with shins in mind and feature contours to allow for more space.
Though introduced on the previous generation Airbus A321s, the seats also feature adjustable headrests for passenger comfort. The headrests can be adjusted six different ways depending on passenger preference.
Perhaps the most noticeable and welcomed improvement is that of the in-flight entertainment system. While the airline’s in-flight entertainment system was first upgraded with the first introduction of the Airbus A321, the Neo takes it a step further and features the new system that JetBlue is in the process of installing across its Airbus A320 fleet.
The high definition screens feature scores of movies, television shows, podcasts and even games. A moving map replaced the former static display constantly interrupted by advertisements. Also gone are the days of the armrest remote as device pairing has taken over and provides the only opportunity to control the system beyond the touchscreen.
Thanks to the satellite internet onboard, DirecTV and WiFi are no longer limited to the continental United States and can be utilized overwater and over foreign countries. The former system cuts out a certain distance from U.S. shores with the only recourse being one of the movies on offer that are played on a loop.
Another highlight is the picture-in-picture capability of the system that allows for multitasking. While formerly the only way to look at a map and watch a movie at the same time on JetBlue was to hope for an empty seat next to you and set that screen to the map channel, the new system allows for the map to be displayed in the background while content is displayed on the big screen. One can even have two picture-in-picture boxes open at once and move them around the screen.
In-seat power is also in no short supply with four rear-facing 110v AC power outlets and USB charging ports and additional USB charging ports in the screens themselves.
With complimentary high-speed internet, dubbed “ViaSat,” offered by ViaSat expanding the geographical bounds of JetBlue’s FlyFi system, the extra power will undoubtedly come in handy.
While the interior may feature immediately noticeable upgrades, the greatest upgrades that the airline benefits from are embedded in the aircraft itself as fuel efficiency and enhanced performed are the two prime benefits that JetBlue reaps from the aircraft. Thanks, in part, to its Pratt & Whitney GTF engines, the aircraft boasts greater fuel efficiency on the Neo by up to 20 percent compared to previous generation aircraft that allows it to fly further and make routes such as New York-Guayaquil possible.
The engines are a godsend for not only the airline but also the passengers as cabin volume levels are also significantly lower due to their quietness. The engines are reportedly so quiet that ground staff can barely hear them when they start.
Also aiding in the aircraft’s fuel efficiency are the sharklets found on the wings. The two sharklets help the flow of air over the wing, in turn, increasing the aircraft’s performance and efficiency.
As we boarded the aircraft, both the pilots and cabin crew informed the passengers of the new aircraft that they would be flying on with excitement and jubilation for the milestone that their airline had reached. As the captain cycled through the list of amenities the aircraft had to offer, the passengers broke out in applause when he told them that the in-flight WiFi would work from the gate “all the way to Guayaquil.”
Though boarding was complete for our nearly-full flight on-time, it wasn’t time to leave just yet as the baggage numbers had to be calculated and some even had to be offloaded for reconfiguration. For a route like this, though within the range of the A321neo, performance calculations are key and that includes having accurate baggage numbers.
Once the numbers were entered into the flight computer, it was time to head to Guayaquil. A quick taxi to Runway 31L and we were off! Living up to its supporters’ claims, the engines were truly quieter on take-off than an older generation aircraft, even at a seat nearly adjacent to one of them.
As we settled in for the 3,000-mile journey ahead, it was time to test out the in-flight entertainment. After choosing which language one would like to use the system in, a brief introduction outlined the highlights of the new software and offered the opportunity to pair one’s device to the screen.
The device pairing was simple in that once one connected to the WiFi, one was given a code to enter on one’s device to connect to the screen. While I did pair my device, I ended up not using it as the only functionality was as a remote.
The home page of the system welcomed passengers onboard and reminded them of their destination, in our case Guayaquil. Four icons on the right served as the gateways to the various entertainment options on the flight. In addition to the standard movies, DirecTV, podcast and television show options, a meditation option is also featured.
The movie selection was better than any JetBlue flight I’d been on previous with everything from new releases to older classics. In order to help viewers select a movie, JetBlue offered a quiz to gauge their entertainment preferences. I ended up choosing Ad Astra with plans to watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood afterward.
The television show section largely featured entire seasons of shows featured on premium cable channels such as HBO and Showtime. As JetBlue has a partnership with Showtime, shows like Billions and Shameless were offered. The podcast and gaming sections were quite limited compared to their counterparts with only a handful of each populating their respective sections.
Next on the system was the moving map section which represents one of the largest upgrades to JetBlue onboard technology as the airline has only ever offered static maps since its inception. The 3D Maps powered by Thales show the aircraft’s route on a satellite map with the ability to select different views and information about the flight constantly being updated.
The map proved to come in handy on this flight as it crossed so many different unique locations en route to Ecuador. For a geography enthusiast such as myself, knowing exactly what I was flying over was a treat in itself.
As we headed down the East Coast, the flight attendants began the food and drink service. As this flight was over 4 hours, fresh food options were offered for purchase in addition to the standard snacks and EatUp boxes. Among the options on offer were a ham and cheese croissant, turkey and pepper jack sandwich and cheese plate.
Despite the flight being an international flight over 7 hours in scheduled duration, alcoholic beverages were not complimentary and not hot meals were served. While a route like this would normally warrant it, JetBlue still is a low-cost carrier and doesn’t differentiate in service between domestic and international routes, even ones that terminate below the equator.
The daytime timing of the flight provided for great views of the U.S. Atlantic Coast including Cape May, N.J. and Norfolk, Va. with such sights as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel and Naval Station Norfolk. Had we not been delayed, the sun would’ve stayed out for us until around Jamaica but set as we flew over Cuba.
As we departed from the shoreline again over Wilmington, N.C. to start our trek across the water, it was the last time we’d see American soil for the duration of the flight. Following the food and drink service, the mood lights were adjusted once again as the sun was beginning to set outside, aiding those in their attempts to sleep.
The rest of our route would take us over the landmasses of only three countries – The Bahamas, Cuba and Panama – before entering Ecuadorian airspace near the seaside town of Esmeraldas. It took us only 10 minutes to traverse the widths of both Cuba and Panama as continued our journey south, with more time being spent over water than over land.
Despite being well beyond the boundaries of the continental United States, the in-flight WiFi was still going strong and was even strong enough to download songs from Apple Music, though not enough to stream videos.
The JetBlue Pantry had opened for business following the initial service and provided a selection of snacks and mini water bottles for passengers to take as they please. The pantry is the second iteration of a self-serve counter on JetBlue as its Mint-configured Airbus A321s feature a similar setup.
The difference between the two being the latter features a refrigerator with cold drinks while this one only features snacks and water bottles. The concept, however, has always been a plus in my book as it reduces the workload of the flight attendants and allows passengers to indulge themselves whenever they want.
As we crossed Panama, the in-flight WiFi began to falter and passengers were notified they were outside of the coverage zone, despite the captain saying it would go all the way. With less than two hours left of flight and plenty of on-demand content, however, it was hardly missed.
Finally, after 5 hours and 30 minutes of flying, it was time to descend into Guayaquil for only the third time in the route’s history.
Despite the extended scheduled duration of the flight, it failed to take the top spot that day as JetBlue flight B6619 from Boston to San Diego saw 6 hours and 57 minutes of flight compared to our 6 hours and 30 minutes, according to Flight Aware, despite flying nearly 300 nautical miles further.
Final Thoughts on JetBlue’s Airbus A321neo
As a longtime JetBlue customer, the addition of the Airbus A321neo and the onboard amenities it offers are sights for sore eyes. While the Airbus A321ceo was a great first step for the airline, the A321neo builds on that progress exponentially and gives JetBlue passengers everything they’ve been wanting in an aircraft as they’ve been receiving it on other carriers for years.
Not only does the aircraft provide all the necessities for modern-day air travel, but it also goes above and beyond shown with an excess of in-seat power, complimentary satellite WiFi and increased in-flight entertainment functionality. While the rest of the fleet slowly modernizes, the A321neo stands tall as the example for what the fleet should be.
Nothing is more emblematic of the expanded capabilities and features of the aircraft than its application on the New York-Guayaquil route. Placing its most technologically advanced plane on its longest route, JetBlue is showing that its willing to go the distance both in the cabin and on the route map.
While the flight is long for an A321 and the service onboard the route was the same as any other JetBlue flight, I didn’t feel claustrophobic or trapped by the narrowbody as some suggest. The lack of service one might find on a competitor was made up for by the amenities offered, including complimentary WiFi well beyond U.S. borders.
JetBlue has a history of remaining stagnant and then rapidly jumping forward every few years as seen with the recent introduction of JetBlue Mint and the Airbus A320 fleet refurbishment. When it does jump forward, it often produces a product that rivals the best products in the market and the Airbus A321neo is no different.
The writer flew to Guayaquil as a guest of JetBlue Airways
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