I flew on JetBlue for the first time since it began filling planes to capacity and found it's still doing more than most to keep flyers safe

Thomas Pallini
·10 min read
Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider
  • JetBlue Airways has been slowly returning to normal and abandoning pandemic-era protocols.

  • Middle seats are no longer blocked and back-to-front boarding was recently discarded.

  • I still felt perfectly safe on the airline and was impressed with its array of safety measures.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

JetBlue is firmly on the road back to normal as the pandemic enters its second year.

JetBlue Airways Airbus A321
A JetBlue Airways Airbus A321. Philip Pilosian / Shutterstock.com

Flights are being filled to capacity as the airline stopped blocking seats in January following the Christmas travel rush. Middle seats had been blocked until October 15, 2020, around the time Southwest Airlines also announced an end to its policy.

Flying JetBlue Airways Airbus A320 New Phase 2 Interior
Flying on a JetBlue Airways Airbus A320 with a new interior. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Read More: JetBlue will soon fill its planes to capacity and is offering refunds for travelers who don't want to fly on the airline as a result

But it didn't stop there, JetBlue has been gradually moving away from pandemic-era safety measures like back-to-front boarding and has brought back fan favorites like soft drinks and more snacks in the in-flight service.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

After flying JetBlue during the summer at the height of its safety efforts, I decided to take JetBlue home from Los Angeles to New York in March on one of its flagship routes. Here's what flying JetBlue Airways is like in 2021.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Los Angeles is JetBlue's new West Coast hub, having moved operations from nearby Long Beach during the pandemic.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

JetBlue doesn't have an entire terminal to itself as it does in New York here at LAX but it makes the space work.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Check-in kiosks were spaced and JetBlue even installed social distancing reminders on the floor.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Hand sanitizer stations were available next to the bag drop station.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

And even the regular check-in line had multiple social distancing and face mask reminders from both the airline and the airport, in addition to plexiglass partitions at check-in counters. It was the most impressive setup I'd seen in the terminal.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

JetBlue, like many US airlines, now requires customers to acknowledge a health declaration at check-in. I had to affirm that I didn't have any COVID-19 symptoms, been exposed to the virus, or tested positive for the virus.

Flying JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider via JetBlue Airways

I also had to agree to JetBlue's face covering policy and affirm I didn't have a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater.

Flying JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider via JetBlue Airways

I used the kiosk to print my boarding pass and was reminded about the touch-free option by using the JetBlue mobile application to do everything from check-in to get a mobile boarding pass. Customers checking a bag could also just scan their boarding pass and the bag tag would automatically print without having to touch the screen.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I booked JetBlue's version of basic economy for this flight but I was luckily still assigned a window seat. Most of the middle seats went empty on the flight and I was glad to see JetBlue wasn't randomly assigned seats as some other airlines are for basic economy flyers.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Ticket in hand, I headed to the gate and saw some of the same safety features. Plexiglass partitions were installed at the check-in counter and the airport had installed social distancing placards on the floor but that was about it.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Boarding soon began in JetBlue's standard procedure based on groups. There was surprisingly no pre-boarding reminder to wear masks

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Passengers boarding first included JetBlue elite status holders, those traveling in Mint business class, active duty military, families with small children, customers with disabilities, and travelers with "Even More Space" seats.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

JetBlue gave up on back-to-front boarding in early March.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: JetBlue is abandoning back-to-front boarding as more travelers take to the skies and vaccinations take off

Inside the jetway, the airport had installed its own social distancing placards, saving JetBlue the trouble. These placards are largely ignored but are still a good gesture.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Flight attendants kindly welcomed us on board but didn't offer anything in the way of hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes. I later found out that they were available on request.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: JetBlue Airways

The aircraft, however, was perfectly clean. I had no concerns whatsoever in that regard.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

JetBlue is beefing up aircraft cleanings and disinfecting planes by means of "fogging" with an electrostatic sprayer, a common industry standard.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: Delta, United, and American are 'fogging' their planes to make them safe for travel amid coronavirus — here's what that means

Source: JetBlue Airways

I got to my seat, 25A, and settled in for the overnight flight to New York.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Everything about the seat was clean and I didn't have any worry there whatsoever.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Health and safety aside, I was immediately reminded why flying on JetBlue is one of the best ways to cross the country, especially when flying on this aircraft.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The Airbus A321 fleet, including the A321 and A321neo, are incredibly modern and comfortable. I'd flown across the US on four different airlines in two days but when I sat down on the JetBlue flight, it felt like home.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

These aircraft feature one of JetBlue's older in-flight entertainment products but they still offer touch-screen capabilities, high-definition displays, on-demand content, and a map screen.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

It also helped that the airline offers 32 inches of legroom in economy on this aircraft.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The front of the aircraft naturally filled first thanks to the new boarding procedure but the aircraft was empty enough where the back started to fill before too many people were settled up front.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Even though it was an empty flight to New York, flight attendants asked passengers to go to their assigned seats first before moving around the cabin.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Flight attendants also reminded passengers of the safety features of the aircraft including its high-efficiency particular air filters, or HEPA filters, and reassuringly said that the aircraft was just cleaned and disinfected.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

It was also made clear that wearing a mask was required by federal law.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

We departed Los Angeles with around three-quarters of the plane full.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I lucked out and had the middle seat open but not every row was so lucky.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

After departure, the entertainment screens showed a video outlining the health and safety features of the aircraft to reassure passengers. Airlines tend to do this at the gate but I was glad to see it on the aircraft right in front of passengers.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The "dos and don'ts" of flying on JetBlue were explained including wearing a face covering...

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

And don't crowd the aisle. This one was interesting considering JetBlue had just removed back-to-front boarding and its middle seat block.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Even more messaging was available on the map channel.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

This kind of messaging goes a long way to reassure flyers returning to the skies for the first time during the pandemic.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

We quickly departed Los Angeles and turned eastbound towards New York. The in-flight service began shortly after takeoff.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I was pleasantly surprised to see that JetBlue had gotten rid of the plastic bag service and was serving actual soft drinks. I even got the full can.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Customers also had a choice of snacks including cookies, chips, Cheez-Its, or a granola bar. I went for the cookies.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The rest of the flight progressed smoothly as most passengers tried to get some sleep in on the five-hour flight.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

New York soon came into view and the flight was approaching its natural end.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

When we landed, there was a reminder to social distance when deplaning but most didn't heed that warning. It's only natural for flyers to get up as soon as the seat belt sign turns off.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Walking off the plane, I noticed JetBlue had installed its own safety placards in the jetway.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The terminal in New York was also way better equipped than in Los Angeles. JetBlue had installed its own hand sanitizers at the gate...

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Automated boarding gates were available to reduce contact with the gate agents...

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

And seats in the gate area were even blocked off, in addition to social distancing placards lining the falls and plexiglass partitions installed at the gate.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Overall, JetBlue did a great job at ensuring passengers are safe in both of its hubs, even though it is shedding off some social distancing efforts as more flyers take to the skies. The flight felt closer to a normal experience but there was still a strong emphasis on health and safety at every turn.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

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