Believe it or not, this trip marked the first flights that I had taken without adult supervision. I had been on a plane without my parents before, but had always been escorted by some chaperone. My brother and I decided to visit our grandmother who had recently moved to the Palm Beach area in Florida, and found that our two-week long vacation from school would present a fine opportunity for such a visit. Originally, we were to drive to JFK from our Connecticut home, about an hour and a half trip, but decided against it after reading the unbelievably expensive rates for the parking garage outside Terminal 6. So our father drove us to the airport on a beautiful Saturday morning, one day following a nasty rainstorm. The rain left us a blue sky, cooler temperatures and a gusty breeze, a perfect day for flying. We decided on JetBlue for a number of reasons. Of course, we knew from prior experience that JetBlue is an amazing airline for inflight amenities. JFK is probably the most efficient airport in the New York area, and delays would be a factor on this busiest travel day of the year.
Following a brief delay on the Van Wyck Expressway (normal for NYC), we arrived at JetBlue’s terminal 6 at about 8:15 AM. The airport was packed. The lineup for the AA terminals was huge on the access road, and the JetBlue curbside was doing some business. Anyway, my brother and I decided to check in inside the terminal as we were wearing very light jackets in preparation for the Floridian sun. We waited for less than 15 minutes in the freezing cold terminal (curbside might have been warmer). As we prepared to check in, two employees made the rounds offering luggage tags and complimentary orange juice. Another nice Blue touch was the television screens above the ticket counter showcasing the channels available aboard all flights. As we approached the front of the queue, an automated voice directed us to ticket counter six. A very jolly ticketing agent greeted us and joked as she took her time checking us in. Even though we had booked the flight months in advance, we hadn’t been able to secure seats on the website. Smiling, the agent assured us that we would have “excellent” seats. It turned out that she assigned us to the bulkhead, seats 1A and B. This was another first. After picking up the latest issue of FHM from Hudson News, we made our way upstairs and through security. This was an intense experience. Private security has been replaced by the TSA. Wow! I was impressed. A JetBlue agent checked our boarding passes and ID’s as we made our way into the screening area. I was forced to take my jacket, hat and vest off and put them through the conveyor belt along with my laptop which I actually had to remove from its case and place in a basket. As I cleared the metal detector, I attempted to dress myself again and was directed by a TSA agent to move forward. Another woman made sure that my laptop was removed from the conveyor belt quickly to assure its safety. These people really know what they are doing and are an unbelievably calming force (or disconcerting probably for more nervous flyers. We made our way to Gate 12 in the bustling circular concourse where a face painter was entertaining younger children. Soon we found seats to the left of the gate door and began to wait. And wait. And wait some more. Finally, around the scheduled departure time of 10:40, the gate agent announced that the new departure time would be 11:30 AM. I soon found that the reason of delay was the absence of the aircraft, which was stuck in Buffalo where snow was falling. I walked to the screen in the center of the concourse to find that the airplane was about halfway to New York and discovered the arrival of the flight audibly over my scanner, which I had hidden in my carry on. In this new world of terrorism I find that it’s best to be discreet. Terminal 6 is really unchanged from the time when JetBlue moved in. There are a couple new newsstands and shops but the terminal is in dire need of an update. I remarked to my brother “This flight is going to…” and a man standing in front of me remarked “be from hell,” as the army of young children on board had already used up their toys and were restless. While I was waiting for the plane to arrive, I watched several aircraft taxi to and from their gates. Some notables include quite a few AA A300s destined for the Caribbean, two BA 747-400s inbound from LHR, a Korean Air 747-400, an SQ 747-400 from SIN/AMS and the America West “America from Coast to Coast” 757. Over the scanner, arrivals were also announced for a JAL 744, an Avianca 767, and quite a few JetBlue, Delta and American birds. Finally, after what seemed like hours of waiting, we were called to board our waiting A320, Blue Belle.
JetBlue Airways Flight 1
Saturday December 21, 2002
Once settled in seats 1 D and E, my brother and I waited barely five minutes for the flight deck door to be shut, the main cabin door sealed and the jetway retracted. Sitting behind a clear bulkhead does have its advantages as the process of shutting the door is fascinating. We pushed an hour behind schedule, a rarity for JetBlue, and began a rather swift and rough taxi to the active runway. On our way, our young flight attendant read the safety procedure from a small book while her partner demonstrated the uses of the seatbelt, life jacket and oxygen mask. The flight attendant stumbled over her words quite frequently, and it was clear that she was new to the airline. I would have to say that this crew was the most disappointing that I had ever seen on JetBlue but still blew the competition away. Our captain revved Blue Belle’s engines while turning onto the active and we were soon rotating from runway 31L (I think) after a very short 30 second roll or so. Soon after takeoff, we passed over Belle Harbor, the scene of the AA A300 disaster, and cut the engines for noise abatement. I am always amazed at the very short span of time between takeoff and passing over Belle Harbor, a spooky idea considering the crash. Passengers on the right were treated to a nice view of Manhattan and the skyline and Brooklyn while those on the left looked out over the flat expanse of Long Island. Soon enough, we were over water and over some clouds which produced some small bumps forcing the captain to keep the seatbelt sign on until we were over Delaware. For the first half-hour of the flight, the LiveTV system was not working, although it began to transmit once we reached cruising altitude. Once it was working, we had a choice of channels including History, Travel, Discovery, Learning, Arts and Entertainment, NBC, CNN Headline News, Nickelodeon, TV Land, Boomerang, and VH1 Classic. I was most perturbed when the captain interrupted an amazing Aerosmith video with a talk about our route. Our A320 took us over the Atlantic until we made landfall at Cape Hatteras, NC. We passed over the Outer Banks of North Carolina for about fifteen minutes before heading out to sea. The next landfall was made over Fort Lauderdale at 4,500 feet. The flight was uneventful. Babies were crying, passengers were speaking too loudly, flight attendants had to reprimand those standing in the aisle during the meal service, and everyone complained about the delayed departure. What more could one ask from a domestic flight in the US? I chose the New York style snack mix (which didn’t make me think of New York or of any place in particular) and a soda. My brother was pretty hungry and decided to ask the younger flight attendant for a bag of animal crackers after his first snack which was happily answered with two bags, a nice touch. By the way, for all those who are wondering, I got the full can of soda. While standing in line for the lav, I overheard the flight attendants talking and, sure enough, the younger one was new to the airline. She mentioned that her first trip to FLL was the night before, which was an instant indication of her lack of seniority since the highest density company route is JFK-FLL-JFK. I found it interesting that the two f/a’s ate their own food bought at JFK after all of the pax had finished. One mentioned that she was queasy after not eating for a long time. For the rest of the cruise, the two sat in their jumpseats, responding to call buttons whenever needed, and read and conversed for the most part. Off the coast of Daytona Beach, the Captain decreased thrust and began a slow descent. By the time we were close to West Palm Beach, we had only descended to about 15,000 feet. At this time, however, the seatbelt sign was finally switched on and we dropped fast. My brother held his ear in agony as we dropped swiftly. Soon enough we made the westward turn and began our familiar final descent over Fort Lauderdale passing over Port Everglades and the plethora of cruise ships, then the airport, then the many wealthy developments before making a U-Turn over the Everglades and coming in low over I-95. We hit some considerable wind sheer on short finals and touched down past the numbers. Seriously, I don’t think that I have ever landed at FLL or PBI without significant chop. Hmmm… A quick burst of reverse thrust was assisted by use of the breaks before being switched off and then turned on even more before we turned onto a taxiway and headed towards the new terminal, Concourse C, home to JetBlue, Continental, Northwest and America West.
Minutes after landing, Blue Belle powered down at gate C6, JetBlue’s new gate, and the flight attendants opened the main cabin door. Before the service rep could make her welcome announcement, we were out the door into the beautiful C concourse. Compared to the boisterous T6 at JFK, this terminal was a breath of fresh air. Soft music played and the mood was very subdued. Chili’s, the terminal eatery, was packed with outbound travelers, and the pace was a serene welcome to the Sunshine state. Several aircraft were docked at the C concourse, including a NW 757 and a Continental 737-700. Interestingly enough, our flight, JetBlue 1, was marked on the terminal information display as arriving from Dulles and Long Beach. Now I know that IAD-FLL currently operates twice daily, but LGB-FLL? Could this be a precursor to the long anticipated route? It appeared that each airline in the terminal had several flights left to their hub cities, including Continental to Newark and Houston, Northwest to Minneapolis and Detroit, and America West to Phoenix and Vegas. The baggage claim was empty except for the plethora of relatives greeting their counterparts arriving from New York. Fatigued after that experience of a flight, we quickly ran out of the terminal into our waiting car.
During our stay in the Sunshine State, we went to Boomer’s Fun Center, a complex packed with screaming little kids, probably the same little devils from our flight down judging by the intensity of their screams. Boomers is right next to Boca Raton Airport (KBCT) which was packed with corporate jets and some other general aviation aircraft. A large concrete wall separates the outdoor portion of the complex from the busy airport. I spotted a large number of Lear Jets, Gulfstreams, and a couple Citations in addition to turbine Cessna-style aircraft and a couple biplanes. When a jet revved for takeoff, it sounded like a 747 was rolling due to our very close proximity. Another highlight of the activity was a late go-around due to high altitude.
After almost a week of balmy temperatures (actually it wasn’t that hot at all) and sunny days, it was time to go home to snowy New York. A car picked us up at the awful hour of 5:45 and sped down 95 towards Fort Lauderdale. I’ve truly never seen a driver cut a police car off but this guy came pretty close. Well, you can’t argue with efficiency (hehe). We arrived at FLL at 6:15 where the temperature was a tropical 48 degrees. Seriously, Florida was cold at night! After getting crap from the check in agent for my Jets hat (these Dolphins fans are relentless), I presented my drivers’ license to a very serious man for what could have easily been a security check in disguise. Can’t people be friendly at 6:15 in the morning? The airport, much to my surprise, was buzzing. The queue for JetBlue check in was about thirty people deep and the reason why didn’t surprise me once I discovered it. Two JetBlue flights, yes, two, were departing within thirty minutes of each other; the first to IAD and the second to JFK. So basically, the airport was jammed. I noticed that the B concourse was under significant construction and almost completed. The new terminal at FLL has two concourses, C and B. I have no idea what airlines B will play host to, but it is a symmetric replication of concourse C. After check in, we walked down the escalator to security which was also jammed. TSA also was running the show with the assistance of some seedy looking private people checking boarding passes. Once again, the TSA really impressed me. The security was very thorough without destroying efficiency or privacy. With less than an hour to go before departure, we found seats in front of gate C6 where True Blue awaited us beside its sister bound for IAD. Chili’s was not open, but a Cinnabon-type place was open serving breakfast instead (this place had tables and full-service dining in addition to cinnamon buns). After using the very clean men’s room and buying Outside Traveler, a great new travel magazine, I sat down and awaited boarding while the airport woke up. Being at the airport that early is special. There is something unique about travelling in the early morning that produces a feeling of excitement. Other departures in the concourse besides the JetBlue flight to IAD included a CO 757 to EWR, a CO Connection Beech to Nassau, and a NW DC-9 to DTW/GRR. Outside the concourse, many aircraft passed by on their way to the active. At least three DL 767s, an ATA new livery 757, an AirTran 717, an AA Super 80, and more than a few corporate jets taxied by. Around 7:20, our flight began to board. Once again, we boarded almost last and bounded down the jetway to our waiting ‘Bus.
JetBlue Airways Flight 26
Friday December 27, 2002
Once on board and settled aboard one of JetBlue’s oldest aircraft (a mere two years young), I settled back in my chair to the chorus of seatbelt buckles and passenger briefings. Our flight attendants were a senior crew based out of FLL to my surprise, including one older lady whose name badge identified her as an inflight service coach. Two JetBlue employees, one a ground agent at FLL and the other a flight attendant on board, conversed for a while about their lives. They were obviously friends from their reactions at seeing each other. This really gave me a good impression of flight attendant life, as I have thought about possibly becoming an f/a for a few years to see the world from 35,000 feet. It seems like a great job. Just a few minutes behind schedule, our cabin door was sealed, the jetway retracted, and the push initiated. The captain started our two engines as the most senior f/a briefed the pax on safety and flight time, which was to be a short two hours and ten minutes. We taxied to the west-facing runway, the opposite of our arriving one, and departed seconds after an Airborne DC-9. Our takeoff roll was short, once again, and the landing gear retracted at exactly 8:00. Our route from FLL was the identical opposite of that from JFK. We passed over numerous housing developments and the mess of highways that is South Florida before making a right turn over the ‘Glades with a nice view of Miami and the airports (FLL, Opa Locka, MIA). We then were routed over the ocean before making landfall over the Outer Banks of North Carolina and then passing over the Atlantic until another landfall around Atlantic City, NJ. LiveTV worked flawlessly on this leg, and I tuned into the Today Show on NBC. JetBlue shows WNBC, the New York affiliate, and I laughed at the prospect of watching the local news anchors (Maurice DuBois, Jane Hanson, Chris Cimino) at 35,000 feet off the coast of Daytona Beach. I guess trivial things excite me. The large man seated in front of me reclined all the way after takeoff rendering my traytable inoperable due to my long legs. Luckily, the load factor was about 80% and the seat next to me was free for my bottled water, CD case, and snack mix (NY style according to the packaging once again). My row mate, a young woman who looked to be in her twenties, closed the window shade and her eyes right after takeoff and didn’t wake up until final approach into JFK. The lady seated next to my brother (who was right across the aisle in 6D) must have read the safety card for an hour. The bulk of pax on flight 26 were leisure, mostly with families, but a few businessmen and women could be found among the mix. The senior flight attendants did their job quietly and efficiently (although the training coach was kind of surly). An uneventful cruise with almost no chop at all was broken up with the decent message from the “training coach” over North Carolina! Clearly we had more than an hour left although she made the announcement about “helping JetBlue prepare for its next departure while still in the air.” While she announced this, she balanced a laptop in her hand. Clearly this was no normal flight attendant. Over the Jersey Shore, we began a slow descent into New York and the fasten seatbelt sign wasn’t illuminated until we passed through 18,000 feet and our rate of decent picked up noticeably. My rowmate still was asleep and I had to crane my neck for a view of the cloudless sky below. Passing through 5,000 feet, a man stood up to use the lavatory. “Sir,” the coach said, “you can’t be standing right now.” The man, quite desperate, retorted, “I have to use the bathroom now.” The not-so-amused f/a responded, “Well, I can’t stop you but I don’t want you to use it now.” The smirking man ran past her into the lavatory. This shows a complete lack of restraint by the most senior crew member in my opinion as we were less than ten minutes from touchdown. Finally, minutes before landing, my rowmate opened the window shade. Just two minutes from landing, we turned left over Point Lookout, NY, and I knew I was home. Immediately, I recognized the Jones Beach Water Tower and Concert Shell, and the Fire Island Lighthouse just visible farther to the East. We passed over Lido Beach, then Long Beach, then right over Island Park, where my cousins live and where I have seen quite a few aircraft on finals for JFK. We flew over the Five Towns and then over the Belt Parkway and Queens before touching down close to Terminal 6. We quickly taxied to the gate closest to baggage claim in the same rotunda that we departed from and deplaned in a matter of minutes. On the way out, the captain commented on my Jets hat as I attempted to thank him for the flight. Jeez, he’s a Fish fan too?
The JetBlue terminal was packed on this Friday morning. We briskly walked down the ramp to baggage claim where my mom was waiting for us. Our baggage took quite a while, which turned out to be a blessing as a typical New York fight broke out between a baggage handler and a very large and paranoid woman. Welcome to New York! The baggage claim still needs work, although a cinnamon bun stand (the same one as in FLL) has been added as well as smart looking signs for the Airtrain (if it ever opens). After our baggage arrived, we stepped out into the freezing cold of New York City and soon arrived at our car in the Terminal 6/5/4 garage. On our way out of the airport, I spotted a BA Concorde, an Air France Concorde, and an Aeromar aircraft along with the more frequent visitors to New York’s most efficient airport.
I hope that you enjoyed this rendition of one of the most unique trips in the United States, NYC-South Florida during Christmas vacation, always a good time. Oh, by the way, THE JETS MADE THE PLAYOFFS AND THE DOLPHINS CHOKED. HA!