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I flew on a newly upgraded JetBlue plane and despite less legroom and slimmer seats, the refresh is exactly what the airline needed

  • JetBlue Airways is in the midst of a restyling effort for its Airbus A320 aircraft, the workhorse of the airline's fleet.
  • A state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment system complements a brand-new colorful cabin with new features like in-seat power and adjustable headrests.
  • I flew on one of the restyled aircraft from New York to Florida and was highly impressed with how advanced the system was compared to its predecessor. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The novelty of flying JetBlue Airways wore off for me long ago.

Taking 60 flights on the airline in the past five years, I found myself flying on the same aging aircraft flight after flight and it was far from an impressive experience. A typical consumer, it was the price that kept me coming back and not the extras. It got to the point where I could safely bet money on the seat-back screen being inoperable on nearly every flight I took.

Granted, the onboard experience on JetBlue is still better than most competitors, especially with the extra legroom provided in economy, free WiFi on all flights, and brand-name snack on offer. But the tired-looking cabins and hit-or-miss nature of the in-flight entertainment was a big turn-off, until now.

JetBlue began restyling its Airbus A320 fleet in May 2018 that would give its oldest fleet a modern cabin and state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment system. It would also bring the workhorse fleet up to par with the newest arrivals in JetBlue's fleet including the Airbus A321 and Airbus A321neo, and provide the first A320 cabin refresh since the airline's inception.

On a recent flight from New York to Florida, I was lucky enough to fly on one of these aircraft. And that's not just a turn of phrase as these aircraft are still few in number and most flyers likely won't know that they're actually flying on one until they've stepped onboard. 

Here's how the new interior won be back as a customer. 

Flying from New York to Fort Myers earlier this month, I thought I was in for another routine flight down the coast until I noticed at check-in that the JetBlue Airbus A320 I was flying on had 27 rows instead of 25, a telltale sign that this was one of the newly refurbished aircraft.

Lo and behold, it was! JetBlue began the two-phase restyling program in 2018 and luckily, this was a "phase two" aircraft with its newest interior.

The new seats a sorely-needed modern upgrade to the old light gray seating that has been featured on JetBlue's aircraft since day one in 2000. Here's what the older seats look like.

Those tired, albeit plush leather seats have been replaced with these darker gray slimline seats that have a lot less meat on their bones than their predecessors but are way more stylish.

A lot more color has also been injected into the cabin, a refreshing sight after years of enduring the old, bland style.

Orange, for example, signifies an "even more space" row and seat.

Normal seats, known as "core," are marked with a blue stripe under the headrest.

JetBlue branding is also more prevalent across the plane, starting with this welcome sign that tells passengers the name of the plane on which they're flying.

This was my seat for the flight, 23A, a window seat in the back of the plane. JetBlue is boarding back to front during the pandemic so pick a seat in the back if you want to board first.

Read More: I flew on JetBlue for the first time during the pandemic and had a sterling onboard experience that couldn't make up for a chaotic terminal and last-minute flight cancellation

The first thing I noticed beyond the thinner padding is that there's actually a real headrest that's adjustable.

There's also in-seat power at each row with two USB charging ports and a 110v AC power outlet. The other charging port is located under the seat-back screen.

Even the seat-back pocket has a new look with three pockets in total and a device holder in the center.

And while still generous, legroom has also been reduced from 34 to 32 inches for core seats.

The legroom reduction allows for two extra rows in the back of the plane, 26 and 27. Non-restyled Airbus A320s in JetBlue's fleet stop at 25.

But as if being right next to the lavatory wasn't reason enough to avoid the last row, there's also no window. Row 26 should be the absolute furthest back you go on this plane.

Speaking of the lavatory, the restyled aircraft also come with a reconfigured rear galley and smaller lavatories, the door to one is actually located behind a flight attendant jumpseat.

Having spent a total of six hours in this plane across two flights, the reduction in legroom and padding wasn't even noticeable and I was comfortable throughout.

But the real story here is the in-flight entertainment system.

The screen is massive. At 10.1 inches, it nearly takes up the entire seat-back.

And it's nearly double the size of its 5.6-inch predecessor.

The new system is also highly personalized, that's why I got this familiar greeting.

I just had to enter my confirmation number on the next screen and all my JetBlue information appeared.

Pairing a device to use as a remote control is also a new option as the new seats do not come with remotes embedded in the armrests.

It's a perfect solution for people who don't want to touch the screens during the pandemic…

Though Jetblue also provides these antiseptic towels when boarding that can be used to clean the screen.

The main landing page is also personalized with destination information and details about the new system. No more previews and advertisements playing during boarding.

The on-demand section is its greatest feature as the old system was all live television or movies played on a loop. JetBlue first brought on-demand to A321 aircraft when they were first delivered in 2013 and it's now finally on the A320 fleet.

A wide variety of movies and television shows were on offer. Not so many new releases, though, since it's been slim pickings during the pandemic.

Movies ranged from newish blockbusters like 1917 to classics like Citizen Kane and Casablanca.

There's no music section on the system but podcasts and audiobooks are on offer.

And a small selection of games also helps pass the time. Battleship and Solitaire were my favorites for the flight.

The classic live streaming DirecTV is also available but viewers don't have to scroll through the channels anymore as there's a guide that shows what's on now and what will be on later in the day, as well as how far along a program is.

The quality was impeccable, true high-definition on a wide screen.

Closed captioning and Spanish audio are also available.

Just don't make the same mistake I did and forget to bring your 3.5-millimeter headphones.

Another upgrade from the old system is the moving 3D map feature.

In addition to showing the exact location of the aircraft, flight information is constantly scrolling across the top of the screen including time to destination, local time, and distance to destination, among others.

And unlike the old system where you'd have to wait for the information to recycle, it's all available in real-time at the press of an icon.

The view isn't limited to the flight path as I could scroll to any place on Earth.

Flight information is also available on every page without having to go back to the map.

Each page has a plane symbol in the upper right-hand corner that tells me the flight status, estimated time of arrival, and how much longer is left in-flight.

And picture-in-picture functionality allows the user to explore the rest of the system while still watching a movie or viewing the map.

On the old system, you'd have to settle for having the map channel open on the screen next to you if there was nobody sitting in the adjacent seat. This system allows me to watch The King of Staten Island and know exactly what we're flying over.

On-demand movies and TV shows can be paused, fast-forwarded, and rewound, with instant replay capabilities, as well.

Other than entertainment, the system is chock full of informational displays like what's on the in-flight menu for the month or JetBlue's new safety policies.

And there's a kids section with family-friendly movies, TV shows, and games.

Tooling around with the system definitely made the flight down to Florida pass by quicker.

I was so plugged into the new system that I almost forgot to take in the views of New York City as we departed.

Once we were settled into the aircraft, the mood-lighting kicked in. A soft shade of blue, of course, filled the aircraft.

And JetBlue's free WiFi didn't disappoint either as the new gate-to-gate offering allowed me to connect on the ground in New York all the way until our arrival in Fort Myers with no hiccups.

This was one flight I almost wished was longer so I could fully enjoy the system.

I wouldn't mind flying JetBlue for every single domestic flight if I could fly on this aircraft as it was truly a refreshing experience compared to its older planes. The restyling and in-flight entertainment upgrades were long overdue but JetBlue didn't disappoint with the finished product. 

Only 49 out of JetBlue's 130 Airbus A320 aircraft have been restyled in this latest design with the pandemic pumping the brakes on the effort, a JetBlue spokesperson confirmed to Business Insider. The program just resumed in September with the 50th aircraft now currently undergoing the transformation but JetBlue doesn't have a new projected end as of now. 

An additional 20 A320s are already fitted with the "phase one" interior with a less advanced in-flight entertainment system and cabin interior, though still better than the original. 

 

 

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