Welcome to my first (and longish!) attempt at a trip report! I wish I had the opportunity to start with some far-flung adventure, but I’ll just have to settle for something a little more mundane: a hop down to Tampa to visit family on Tax Day!
(note: I just read this on finishing, and there’s as much about the experience at the terminals – and the people I encountered - as there is about the flights! Oh, well, they’re called “trip reports”, not “flight reports”, and on a short trip like this, you spend as much time at the airport as you do on the plane! But be warned – I’m told I have a tendency to go off on tangents…)
Flight: JetBlue 63
15 April 2005
New York – Kennedy (JFK) to Tampa (TPA)
Aircraft: N570JB (“Devil With A Blue Dress On”)
Scheduled Departure: 0630
Actual Departure: 0628
Scheduled Arrival: 0915
Actual Arrival: 0900
Load Factor: est. 95%
I got up at 4 AM, which, since I got to sleep at 1:15, qualified as a minor achievement in and of itself, and managed to get myself and my bags (backpack, rolling bag, golf clubs) out the door at 4:45 and down to the garage to pick up my car. I pulled into the parking lot of T6 at 5:20 - a new personal record from Manhattan to JFK, and accomplished without too much speeding either.
I was worried for a moment as I started to cross the street from the parking lot, as there seemed to be a lot of people (for 5:30 AM, anyway) at curbside check-in. Once I got inside, though, the lines were short, and I made for the automated kiosks, having never used them before. When B6 first came out with them, they were only for passengers who weren’t checking bags, I never noticed that they now had them for “checkers” as well until my flight in February, and by then I was about to the end of the regular check-in line anyway. I was pleased to discover that JetBlue’s version of these are very user-friendly, and are a great choice when they’re working right. Ah, but therein lies the problem: while the cluster of four machines I was at were all working, the next group of four to my right had serious problems - two were off-line and a third was out of paper. From the “oh, not again” sort of remarks that the JetBlue folks examining the machines were making, I gather that this is a common problem.
Anyway, I had no problem with the machine I chose, had my boarding pass in about 20 seconds, and moved over to get into the bag-check queue. I generally like the way JetBlue handles this – instead of the “use the machine, then wait until your bag tags are printed and someone screams your name” method I’ve seen elsewhere, here you get your pass, get in a line, and when you get up to the counter the employee runs off your tags. The setup is apparently supposed to work so that each bank of four machines has its own line, but some passenger had apparently screwed about with those nylon-belt-queue-demarcation-thingies (what’s the right name for those?) and disrupted the system – two different banks of ACIMs (automated check-in machines –yes, I just made that up) were feeding a single bag-check CSR. The line was moving smoothly, so there really wasn’t a problem here - none of us in line even realized it was supposed to work differently until a JetBlue employee came over and fixed it.
Well, now we had a problem, as some nebbish little twit in front of me decided it was now time to throw a hissy-fit since he’s been in line all of – maybe – five or six minutes, still has one person in front of him, and now someone in the newly-created second line (which should have been there all along) might get to go before him. The B6 staffer politely listened, and then said something quietly. I’m not sure what, but The Twit returned to his companion and continued to fume. But at least I couldn't hear him now! I considered lending his companion (wife or long-term girlfriend, I’m guessing by her “here we go again” expression) my noise-reducing headphones.
In the meantime, I waited patiently whilst observing my fellow passengers. T6, on this fine April morning, was relatively quiet, but it’s always fun to watch people in the airport, especially in New York for a domestic flight. There’s the usual combination of little elderly ladies (some of which have been retrofitted with the small-yapping-dog option), families with incredible amounts of luggage (which, since I have never mastered the art of traveling light, have my sympathies), young couples (frequently bickering at this point in the travel process for some reason I’ve never fully understood) and, like any airport with a lot of Florida-bound flights, lots of middle-aged men with golf clubs.
I was a little disappointed with the relative lack of attractive young women, but the last time I was here was in mid-February during the Spring Break migration, so my expectations were probably too high. And it was a little hard to enjoy the view in February anyway…I found myself being interrupted by practical thoughts like “it’s colder than Hillary Clinton’s SOUL outside, how the hell can you be wearing a bare-midriff shirt today?”) But don’t worry, I managed somehow. However, while I was denied that (ahem) aesthetic benefit on this trip, I was able to amuse myself with a good laugh at …well, I run the risk of someone not seeing the humour in this, but the word “guidos” is the only one that possibly captures the concept – early 20s white guys with deep (and presumably fake, being that it’s mid-April) tans, wearing ribbed tanks or velour track suits (where the HELL do they buy those? I haven’t seen one in a mall since, oh, the late ‘80s. Is there a “GuidoMart” that I’m not aware of?) and talking a mile a minute with an accent that sounds lifted from a really bad movie’s idea of NJ, Brooklyn, or Staten Island, apparently on their way to Florida to party. A worthy goal, and one I've engaged in more than once, but a little hard to take at “oh-dark-thirty” with very little caffeine in the bloodstream. One particular wife-beater-wearer this morning also had that curious mental affliction where he holds his arms way out as if his muscles are much larger than they actually are. (In case you’re curious, there’ actually a term for this - bodybuilders call it “Imaginary Lat Syndrome”, or ILS. (“Lats” – short for latissimus dorsi - are the wide muscles of the upper back.) While I’m not a bodybuilder, I’ve trained in relatively hardcore gyms over the years and have observed ILS sufferers many times. It never fails to amuse.)
I got up to the counter after waiting four or five minutes. The Twit was still at the counter, making some poor CSR’s life miserable as he tried to get his seat assignments changed. Of course, he could have done that himself with the ACIM, but, as we’ve firmly established here, he IS a twit. A JetBlue employee took my rolling bag and golf clubs, asked me how many golf clubs I had (which, since I just got new ones, I had to stop and think about, and later realized I’d miscounted) and made me sign liability-limiting forms for the clubs and the suitcase. The latter struck me as a little odd – I’ve checked this Skyroll before without a problem, including on B6 - but the CSR insisted it’s a “soft bag” and thus I have to sign. The lack of caffeine is really starting to tell, so I signed it and left.
Up the escalator and off to the magical land of Security! Actually, my experience today was fine, although I could have really lived without the human beat box behind me (yep, at 5:40 AM this little punk was making beat-box noises. I threw him a couple of lethal, low-blood-sugar-fueled glares and he stopped.) No major incidents to report dealing with the TSA – they kept the lines moving briskly and were polite, with just a hint of New York brusqueness, which is normal. Unfortunately, I must report that the “well, removing your shoes is optional but if you don’t we’ll make your day miserable” crap has made its way to JFK-T6. Dammit. I thought I only had to put up with that stupidity in Tampa. Anyway, the entire security process only took a few minutes.
After security, I went to get food. My original intention was to grab a breakfast burrito at the little Mexican place – those are good! – but the line was long and it was now about 5:50, so decided to get something I could take on the plane without making a mess and inducing drooling in my fellow passengers. I managed to sidestep the pack of guidos I encountered back at check-in as they made their way toward the Mexican stand (one of them remarked on his fervent hope that they’re selling beer at this time of day), and ducked into a sandwich shop. They had bagels, but the line for bagels just was not moving, my patience was wearing thin and I was getting testy. (I get cranky when I get really hungry – I blame this on diabetes, my brother blames it on me being misanthropic.) I really needed caffeine and food. So I grabbed a chicken salad sandwich and a Diet Coke and made for the gate.
I got to the gate at exactly 6 AM and admired the lovely white Airbus for a moment, making a note of the name for this report. Then I realized I’d forgotten my camera – and I wanted my first trip report to have pictures, dammit! Boarding had already started, and my row had been called, so I presented my boarding pass and headed down the jetway, smack into another encounter with the annoying people of the world. This one took the form of a mother talking to her little girl (I’m guessing four or five) in that falsely high, excessively loud, diabetes-inducingly sweet, and just too “up” voice that some mothers overuse so badly. “Look at the pretty plane, honey! Oh, we’re moving up now! Oh, look at the door!” Using up the last of my self-control, I managed to NOT suggest she shut the hell up, boarded, and made my way to seat 20C as fast as I could. The plane was about 20% full already, and the FAs were making pre-emptive “bins are shared space” and “step out of the aisle please” announcements. Eventually, I spotted a rather cute girl coming down the aisle…alone. Hopes rise! Then she ducked into another row. But wait, there’s a couple of attractive women just a few people down. Hopes stay up! But, alas, then the middle-aged couple who was right behind the first cutie pointed to 20A and B. Hopes are crushed like grapes! (*sigh*)
Safety announcements ensued and I laughed as I always do when they got to the seatbelt part (“Tommy Boy” was a great movie, wasn’t it?) I do appreciate the way B6 still has the FAs do the presentation rather than use a video. It’s a nice personal touch.
The plane finished filling up, and we pulled back on time (2 minutes early, if my watch was right.) We taxied to the runway - 13R, if I’m reading the map I just pulled up correctly - and found ourselves second in line for takeoff, right behind a TACA A320. Rotation was at 6:43, and we were on our way!
Climbout was smooth, but unfortunately we banked to the south, so those of us on the left didn’t get a view of the city. The FAs had to reset the LiveTV a couple of times to get it to work throughout the plane – I’ve seen this before, and always wondered how the system can boot up properly for only part of the plane. I popped on my noise-cancelling headphones - I left my Bose headphones on the plane a few trips ago, so I’m using the cheaper Plane Quiet version now. They don’t work quite as well as the Boses did, but on the other hand they’re much cheaper. You get 90-95% of the functionality for about 25% of the price, which I think is excellent value for money! I was pleased to discover that this plane has the enhanced video system, so I got to watch the news on BBC America.
The very cheerful FA took my drink order just as the BBC World news feed started to repeat itself. I channel-surfed and discovered one minor disappointment with the enhanced LiveTV – early in the morning a lot of the channels show nothing but infomercials. I landed on a really bad movie on USA just as the snack basket came around, and snagged my usual biscotti to go with my sandwich. The chicken salad was very bland, although the bread was good, and I resolved next time to get the breakfast burrito…even if my fellow passengers have to suffer.
The rest of the flight was very smooth, the bad movie stunned enough brain cells to let the time pass quickly (appropriate, as it was about some dorks trying to find a field of pot), and before I knew it, the pilot was telling us that we would be starting our descent shortly. So I hit the WC again, and – of course – just as I closed the lavatory door we hit the only major turbulence of the entire flight. We took some good knocks for a minute or two, but it smoothed out again just as I started back to my seat.
We overshot the city, swung around over Old Tampa Bay onto the usual approach, and had a very smooth landing on 36L at 8:55 AM. I’m not sure the pilot even used the thrust reversers – if he did, he didn’t use much thrust, as the landing was very quiet. After a quick taxi, we arrived at the gate at about 9 AM, fifteen minutes early. It took longer to get off the plane than usual today - in the past, JetBlue has offered dual-door disembarkation in Tampa when it wasn’t raining, but on this flight they didn’t. They pulled the airstair up to the back door, the orange path guides were in place outside (although there wasn’t a rope running between them – perhaps our early arrival caught the ground crew unready?), but the back door was never opened. I walked from Airside D to the groundside terminal – a novelty at TPA, but “D” had only one working people mover car. This was true back in February as well, so I’m presuming that with the impending closure of Airside D, they had one break down and simply elected not to fix it.
One of my few complaints with TPA is that a couple of years ago they moved the rental car desks on the “Blue” side to a remote building. Admittedly, the remote building isn’t that terribly remote – it’s just across the roadway for curbside pick-up - but it was nice to be able to get your hire car signed out while keeping an eye on the bag belt. I went over to the rental car center, and waited over a half-hour to get my car, despite there being only three people in front of me when I got there and two staffers working the desk. Finally, I got to go back to the terminal, and sure enough, the bag belt was empty, but my bags were waiting for me in the JetBlue office, where a very friendly staffer handed them over. JetBlue is very protective of golf clubs in TPA – you don’t have to show your claim check in Tampa when picking up luggage, and apparently golf clubs have had a tendency to wander off in the past. When I was in TPA in February, a B6 employee was pulling all the golf clubs off the belt as soon as they came through, and I had to show my driver’s license before I could take mine. I approve of this!
After a brief but annoying foray back to Thrifty when I discovered that I’d been assigned a Ford Taurus that (a) my hard-side golf club carrier wouldn’t fit in the trunk of, and (b) didn’t have a CD player, I finally got out of the airport. (And yes, complaining about the CD player may be a little picky, but I was going to run up a few hundred miles by myself in the car, and…it’s 2005, for God’s sake. The Kias out in the rental car garage had CD players - yes, I looked. I haven’t been offered a rental car without a CD player in 5 years, not even economy cars.)
Summary: The typical excellence I’ve come to expect from JetBlue, including an early arrival. The in-flight and ground staffs were generally excellent (the bag-check CSR in New York was a little brusque, but it was 5:30 so I try to keep my expectations reasonable and cut some slack here.) I was a little disappointed about not being able to leave the plane by the back and walk across the tarmac…I always enjoy seeing the planes from that perspective. And if what I overheard is common, B6 may have a little work to do on the reliability of the self-serve check-in machines.
Flight: JetBlue 24
17 April 2005
Tampa (TPA) to New York – Kennedy (JFK)
Scheduled Departure: 2030
Actual Departure: 2025
Scheduled Arrival: 2305
Actual Arrival: 2300
Load Factor: 100%
After three days visiting family, eating too much, playing some Bad Golf ™, and discovering I really suck at Halo 2, it was back to Tampa for the flight home. I arrived at TPA at 6:30, and Thrifty redeemed itself a little by checking in my car in less than five minutes, despite only having one employee working the check-in section. I rolled my bags into the groundside terminal to find absolutely no line at the JetBlue counter. Check in was quick, and the CSR wheeled my golf clubs to the elevator to hand-deliver them to the baggage area.
I went up the escalator and killed a little while trying to find something to eat. Nothing really struck my fancy - TPA, while my favourite airport in the world, is at best mediocre when it comes to food choices if you want something carry-on-friendly – so I just decided to get something at the airside and walked out to Airside D. Took all of two minutes to get through security, and other than the usual shoe-crap, nothing out of the ordinary here. I was considering getting something at the Ybor Cantina, but glanced at my watch and saw it was 7:45 – I’d managed to kill a little more time than I’d originally intended to. The employee (singular) at City Deli didn’t seem to be coping with her job very well, so I grabbed a sandwich and a dessert at Starbucks and a soda from the newsstand and went to the gate, where boarding started at 8 PM on the dot. I boarded and plopped down in 20C again.
A few minutes later I was joined in the row by an elderly, crabby couple…just once I would like to get on a flight to Tampa and get seated next to someone I’d actually like to spend a couple of hours with. And now, I’ll diverge into a rant for a moment: a few minutes later, the old man started singing. Not terribly loudly, but at a normal conversational volume. I made a couple of muttered remarks about it. Apparently the wife (in the centre seat) heard me and started whispering to him about a minute into his concert. They whispered back and forth for a good two minutes, and the conversation ended with him saying – loud enough for me to hear – “well, my singing isn’t that bad.” Well, actually it wasn’t that bad (as compared to, oh, say, mine), but that isn’t the point. It’s simply RUDE to inflict your musical tastes on other people, especially in an aluminum tube where you don’t have the option of leaving and at a time in the process where you can’t put on headphones. I don’t walk around with a boombox inflicting my noxious hard rock/emo/hardcore on everyone around me, and would appreciate the same courtesy. This is one of the few things about living in New York that drives me insane – for some regional cultural reason, it’s much more common to have people whistling in the workplace, train, etc. than it is back home in California.
I started to say something, but decided that all that would accomplish is elevating my blood pressure, and it isn’t like I’m ever going to see these people again anyway. Also, about this time an incredibly loud family arrived behind us and started several minutes of bickering and snack distribution. I got bonked in the head with something relatively small and dense (I have no idea what), but the mother had the good grace to apologize, and I just told her “no worries” and counted the minutes until I could put my headphones on. One of the drawbacks to traveling to Florida is the concentration of families (or, to be more precise, children) on planes, but in all fairness, as soon as we pulled back from the gate, this family calmed down and was perfectly pleasant to be around all the way to JFK. I suspect that LiveTV had something to do with this.
Safety babble ensued, and I made a flight attendant laugh by chuckling at the seat-belt part. We pulled back at 8:25, five minutes early, taxied to 36L, and had no hold at the end of the runway. I love that, just turning right onto the runway without even slowing down, and immediately being pushed back into the seat by the acceleration. We rotated at 8:35 and were on our way.
This plane (and it was about this point that I realized I hadn’t gotten the name or registration when I boarded) also had the enhanced video. I was in the mood for a movie, but couldn’t find any description of the movies anywhere. JetBlue or Fox needs to consider improving this, either with on-screen info (if there is any, I missed it), or a seatback insert. Even a sign on the jetway would be good. I finally just gave up on the movie and channel-surfed for a while.
The flight was smooth and uneventful, although the service seemed a little more perfunctory than I’m used to on JetBlue. I think part of this is just that it’ was the end of the day and the FAs were a little tired, which is understandable. After we hit cruising altitude, I went to the lavvy just as they started taking drink orders. The FA took the orders for my row just after I left (I had to squeeze past her in the aisle), never circled back to get my order, and didn’t follow up later. A minor oversight, and perhaps she saw the 20 ounce bottle of Diet Coke I had and just figured I wouldn’t care, but usually B6 FAs are more careful about this. A few minutes later, the snack basket made its appearance, sandwich and biscotti eating followed, and I happily discovered that GSN was showing a Texas Hold-Em tournament.
As we began our approach, we seemed to do a lot more banking about than I’m used to for JFK landings, and during one particularly long turn the Live TV cut out and didn’t come back on until we were on final. We landed at 10:53 with a very sharp bounce, one of those ones where you can feel the entire plane hop back into the air a little, then taxied to the gate, with arrival on gate right at 11 PM, five minutes early. After a cheerful goodbye from the captain and FO, I made my way to the mild grubbiness of the baggage claim level. B6 has done about all they can with this area short of a full gut-renovation, but it still looks dark and dingy. My experiences with JetBlue have been better than with outher airlines’ New York operations when it comes to baggage (I’ve had waits at AA/LGA long enough to make me think some sort of labour dispute had broken out and been resolved since my plane landed!) and they didn’t disappoint here - my bags took about 10 minutes to come off. I bought the most expensive bottle of Diet Coke in my personal experience (almost three bucks!), made my way to the car, and drove home. All in all, a very good trip…now if only I could get my short game to work!
Summary: Another solid performance by JetBlue, with an on-time arrival and very good ground staff handling on both ends. Only the slightly perfunctory in-flight service kept this from being a perfect flight. (Oh, and the ridiculous soda prices at JFK – I don’t expect “street” pricing, but come on, guys, $2.80 for a bottle of soda that costs $1.25 in Manhattan?) If this is all I have to complain about, I'm a happy camper!
Next trip is to LAS in five weeks, again on JetBlue, and I will diligently file a report of debauchery and drunkenness...oh, and air travel. This will be my first flight on B6 to a West Coast destination, and I’m looking forward to it…and I’ll remember my camera this time!
(edited to change "CRM" to "CSR" at one point...don't ask where I got "CRM", 'cause I have no idea.)
[Edited 2005-04-30 20:34:11]