I generally don’t fly JetBlue or Virgin America. In fact, my last JetBlue flight was in 2001 when my dad and I went for a college visit to the University of Rochester, and my last Virgin America flight was right when I moved to L.A. in 2008 – before I learned how easy it is to get elite status on a legacy carrier if you’re frequently flying transcons. This isn’t because there’s anything wrong with them – their planes are newer and more comfortable in coach than those of most, if not all, legacy carriers. It also isn’t because they are inconvenient for me to fly, as, out of New York, both carriers fly to most of my most frequent domestic destinations. And they generally have competitive fares to those destinations. But, they don’t really fly to my infrequent destinations – aka smaller cities and those in the middle of the country. Moreover, their rewards programs are of low value to me. Not only are both revenue-based earning (meaning a $300 fare from New York to Boston or L.A. to San Francisco earns more points than a $250 fare from New York to L.A.), but there are no real aspirational award redemptions. For me, having the option of hoarding miles to be used for first and business class travel to Asia, Europe, and Southern South America is worth a lot. Finally, even though both have rolled out elite status programs in the past week, it is of limited value in Jetblue’s one-cabin planes, or Virgin’s always cheap to upgrade to the front planes, and in lounge-less terminals. For infrequent travelers though, both are great airlines, and in fact I often recommend my immediate family fly them given their travel patterns (NY-LA or SF when I lived there (VX and B6), and NY-Florida for the rest of existence (B6)).
But recently I found myself on a JetBlue plane.
I was invited to go to Provincetown for a long weekend with a special friend. I wanted to maximize my time there, while also using as little vacation days as possible as I’m running low and want to keep a few in my pocket for the fall. Provincetown, for those who don’t know is on the very tip of Cape Cod – where the little hook curves back in towards Boston. Provincetown is only fifty miles as the crow flies from Boston but, due to the geography, actually a 2.5 hour-plus drive.
The most common way of getting to “P-town” is the ferry from Boston. But the timing of the ferries wasn’t great for me. There was no real way to work most of the day in New York, then take a train or bus to Boston in time to grab a ferry. If I wanted to take an early morning ferry, I’d have to go up the night before and get a hotel in Boston. Plus, the train/ferry option isn’t that cheap. The ferry is $115 roundtrip. Add in an Amtrak ticket, and you’re talking at least $225 plus interterminal transportation.
The other option is to fly from Boston. Regional carrier Cape Air, which operates in other markets both for itself and as an express carrier for larger airlines, flies many daily flights from Boston to Provincetown, as well as thrice weekly flights from White Plains to Provincetown, all on Cessna 9-seaters. The White Plains service was not only superpricey, but unavailable on the days I wanted. (Although Cape Air does provide bus service from White Plains airport to midtown Manhattan.) The best part of the Cape Air service from my perspective was that there are evening flights from Boston and early morning flights from Provincetown.
I had a few options as to how to book my Cape Air ticket. You can buy a ticket directly from Cape Air for the BOS-PVC legs, which were also available on some online travel agencies. You could also book on one ticket New York – Boston – Provincetown tickets on combinations of American and Cape Air or JetBlue and Cape Air on the American/JetBlue websites or online agencies. (Although Delta and United purportedly have partner arrangements with Cape Air, I could not find a way to book a through ticket on one reservation.)
As a Delta flier, I was tempted to buy separate Delta tickets to Boston, and then Cape Air tickets to/from P-town. At the same time, United’s summer promo awarding a ton of miles for each roundtrip flight was still in effect, so that option was enticing. In the end, though, convenience won out (price and schedule was close on all of them). JetBlue not only allowed me to book one ticket, but JetBlue also shares a terminal with Cape Air in Boston, making for a super easy connection.
So a few weeks later, I found myself on the Airtrain to JetBlue’s behemoth T5 terminal at JFK. After a looong walk from the Airtrain, past the old Saarinen TWA Terminal 5, I reached a somewhat confusing check-in area. I eventually found the bag drop line, though, which was short, and checked my bag all the way through to Provincetown.
I didn’t actually spend much time in the Terminal, as subway issues delayed my airport arrival. The Terminal was very crowded, though. Before reaching the gates (but past security), there’s a main shopping/food court area, which reminded me of European airports. Even with the crowds, there was plenty of seating, and free wifi throughout. The piers themselves were more traditional, although they had special seating areas with outlets and touch screens to order food to your seat.
A standard chaotic domestic boarding process ensued, but I was soon on board. Alas, the middle seat passenger in my row really could not fit in one seat, making for a bit of an uncomfortable ride. The seats definitely were a notch above the standard legacy carrier coach seat, particularly in terms of legroom. There was also free Direct TV in each seatback. One area where JetBlue has long stood out is on its free snack service. On the short flight (38 minutes in the air), the FAs announced it would be an “express service,” with limited options. They came down the aisle first with bottles of water, taking orders for other drinks, and then returning with full cans of soda and cups of ice. Next was a pass-through with options of the famed Terra Blue chips or mini Chocolate chip cookies. And then we started our initial descent!
We touched down in Boston a little early, and I had plenty of time to wander the terminal in Logan. Logan also has free wifi though, so I caught up on some work.
This is where it got interesting. Cape Air has one gate at Logan, from which it flies to a combination of New England vacation spots and rural Northern New England locales. The gate area was thus eclecticon a Thursday evening. There were a lot of women in pearls, a lot of former frat boys in boat shoes, and some people ready to get back to fishing.
When I landed in Boston, I had to check-in at the Gate, as JetBlue doesn’t give you your Cape Air boarding pass. This is partially because Cape Air has to weigh your carry-ons and also figure out passengers’ weights to ensure balancing for flights. As a friend told me before I left, this is not a time to round down when asked about your weight.
About five minutes after scheduled boarding time, the nine passengers were escorted downstairs and onto the tarmac. There’s no such thing as a “carry-on” on a Cessna, as all bags and personal items had to be loaded into the wing. A gate agent eye-balled us and directed us onto the plane in size order from biggest to smallest – with the biggest getting to sit next to the pilot, and the two women on our flight taking the last two seats. After the shortest safety presentation ever, we started taxiing, and then soon were told there was a problem with the plane and returned to the gate area. This does not instill a lot of confidence when you’re on a tiny tiny plane!
We were told they’d get another plane for us, so we had to disembark and wait on the tarmac while they unloaded our carry-ons, then head back into the terminal. Since there are no boarding pass stubs for Cape Air, we were handed Southwest style neon cards to mark to serve as “boarding passes” when we eventually reboarded. About fifteen minutes later, we were back on board, and, this time, airborne.
The flight was gorgeous, as you fly (sloooowwwwlllllyyyy) at a very low altitude of 1,000 feet, due not only to the fact you’re in a non-pressurized cabin but also the congested airspace, and can see all of the small islands in the Bay. The sun was just starting to go down, and about 30 minutes later, we were at the Provincetown “Airport,” which is one gate, one counter, and a vending machine. My checked bag must have been put on the earlier flight, as it was already waiting at the “baggage claim” (a 15 foot piece of steel outside) when we landed. I had pre-arranged a taxi, and I was in town fifteen minutes after landing.
My return was largely uneventful except for one thing. The flight departed at 6am, so the day before, I figured I’d arrange for a taxi at 5am. The first three taxi companies I called wouldn’t pick me up so early, but I lucked out on the third. When the driver picked us up just before 5, though, she told us, “You guys know the airport doesn’t open til 5:30 right?” Whoops. We got to the airport around 5:10 and prepared for a 20 minute wait watching the sunrise, but a friendly Cape Air agent turned on the lights and opened the door at around 5:20. There was a pot of coffee with an honor system cash box for fifty cents, so I was content.
The terminal started “filling up” with the 9 passengers for our flight, and boarding was announced – meaning we passed through the full-size security screening machines and then stood in a 10’ by 10’ area before being escorted to our plane and an early departure into Boston – which I’m pretty sure was Logan’s first arrival of the day at 6:25.
Overall, a fun trip, and a good experience on Cape Air and Jet Blue.