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JetBlue's upgraded JFK terminal awaits islanders

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Quick and convenient: the self-service check-in kiosks at JetBlue's T5 lobby, and behind the weigh tables where customers are able to repack their luggage to meet flight requirements

From departure lounge nap stations to a post-security rooftop garden area, and even a produce-growing farm, innovations abound at JetBlue's home terminal in New York.

The airline made Bermuda one of its early overseas destination choices 10 years ago, and it is continuing to evolve its offerings and services as it competes for the loyalty of travellers flying from Bermuda to New York, Boston and beyond.

Last month the airline opened its new look lobby at JFK International Airport's terminal five, featuring self-service check-in terminals, weigh scale tables where customers can quickly repack their luggage to meet flight regulations, and self-drop bag facilities.

The lobby innovations are designed to reduce queues and make the passage through the terminal as seamless as possible, something that Bermuda-bound travellers can now experience for themselves. The airline has direct flights connecting Bermuda to New York and Boston.

JetBlue's innovations and forward-thinking approach go beyond the reworked lobby. Travellers from Bermuda passing through the terminal either to visit New York, catch a connecting flight or making a return flight to the island, will also benefit from a variety of airside enhancements.

Opened in 2008 and known as T5, it is JetBlue's home-town base and in many ways reflects the airline's values, outlook, and its “inspiring humanity” mission.

It does this in often surprising ways, for example with its farm. Yes, you read that right. JetBlue has a real farm, albeit on a small scale, outside the entrance to the departures terminal.

It is 24,000 square feet and consists of between 2,000 and 3,000 crates in which a large variety of vegetables and herbs are grown, including blue potatoes.

“We wanted to do something with this area rather than have a concrete space,” Sophia Mendelsohn, head of sustainability at JetBlue, explained to The Royal Gazette.

She said many people find plants and green spaces relaxing. Employees of the company helped drive the creation of the mini-farm.

“We decided to have a green space and we wanted to put something here that people would like. It's the world's first airport potato farm and it has an official farmer.”

Produce grown will help the airline and its partners within T5, particularly restaurants and eateries, become more self-sufficient. Some produce is given to foodbanks around New York, while JetBlue staff can also enjoy the harvest.

Food scraps from select restaurants in the terminal are turned into compost to create rich, organic soil that is used to grow the plants.

As for the aforementioned blue potatoes, they are the signature ingredient of the Terra Blues potato chips that are distributed for free on JetBlue flights. While only 1,000 pounds of the potatoes grow at the farm, it is hoped some will eventually end up as snack chips.

The farm is not the only green space at the terminal. There is the newly opened T5 Rooftop, which is the only post-security outdoor space at the airport open to the public. It is a shaded, roof top-style garden area, with gentle slopes covered in soft, artificial grass where travellers can sit or recline while enjoying fresh air. There are also seats and tables and a fenced off dog-walk area — called the T5 Wooftop.

Back inside the terminal is a central hub featuring restaurants and eateries. This area has two elevated seating platforms, with steps that also double as extra seating. And that's no accident — the design was inspired by the steps of the New York Public Library, a popular spot where people readily use the steps as makeshift seats.

Directly above the seating is a circular information display that is suspended by a lattice work of cables. Again, the elaborate design evokes a New York landmark, in this case the sweeping cabling patterns of Brooklyn Bridge.

New to the terminal are a number of Metronap stations where tired travellers can recline on a seat, which elevates their legs to a horizontal position, and enjoy a power nap with a large dome above their head to shield them from noise, light and the general bustle of the terminal.

The airline's link to Bermuda goes back to May 2006 when its inaugural flight to the island landed at L.F. Wade International Airport. That was a culmination of discussions between the company and the Bermuda Government that started in the early 2000s, shortly after the airline was formed.

JetBlue has since become one of the best-rated airlines in the US. It is regularly placed in the top three of the annual US airline quality rating list. This year it is second, as it was in 2012 and 2013. During the past eight years its lowest ranking was fourth in 2015.

JetBlue has a total of 219 aircraft, with 925 flights daily and connects to 96 destinations across the US, Caribbean and Latin America. On its longer flights it is expanding its premium service, known as Mint which, among other benefits, offers fully lie-flat seats that can be booked in two-seat or single seat configurations and a 15-inch in-flight entertainment screen.

From New York and Boston the Mint service is available on flights to a number of west coast destinations, and also to Barbados and Aruba. And this year, from New York, Mint is being rolled out on flights connecting with St Lucia and St Maarten.

Joanna Geraghty, executive vice-president, customer experience, speaking at last month's opening of the enhanced T5 lobby, said the majority of JetBlue's customers were happy with the new technology and self-service aspects that have helped speed up the checking-in process.

“One customer said it was just like being in an Apple store,” she said, adding that the system was working as it has reduced queues and given passengers more time to enjoy the facilities within T5.

Directly outside the terminal is an iconic structure from another era, the head house of the former TWA Flight Center designed by Eero Saarinen and opened in 1962. Although the landmark building has been out of use for 14 years it will soon be incorporated into a boutique hotel and conference centre.

Ms Geraghty said the sight of the stylish building on the doorstep of T5 acted as daily inspiration for JetBlue to continue to be on the lookout for innovations and innovative ways to do things.

“You look at it and say phenomenal brand, phenomenal icon — we need to be smart about our decisions, be thoughtful and careful about cost implications, and remember our people matter and our customers are important, because we want to be here 50 years from now,” she said.

“TWA was a powerful brand. We've got a great partner hotel company that is going to be building it out and that will open in a couple of years. And what better place to have a New York icon like TWA than in front of our terminal.”

The airline intends to put its new self-service terminals and other enhancements into other airports that it services.

Although there is no word on whether Bermuda will be in line for the new technologies, Ms Geraghty said JetBlue will be looking at other airports where it can install service improvements.

She said: “It's about creating an experience that customers want to come back to time and time again, and these investments are something that JetBlue has always done.”

Updated: The writer travelled as a guest of JetBlue to report on the official opening of its upgraded terminal lobby.

Forty winks: travellers enjoy a power rest in the nap stations at JetBlue’s Terminal Five, at JFK International Airport, New York (Photograph by Scott Neil)
Growing their own: vegetables and herbs at the JetBlue’s T5 farm, outside terminal five at JFK International Airport (Photograph by Scott Neil)
Golden era: the TWA Flight Center outside JetBlue's Terminal Five. The iconic building has acted as a source of inspiration for innovation within JetBlue's home terminal (Photograph by Scott Neil)
In service: a row of JetBlue planes at the airline's T5 terminal, at JFK International Airport, New York (Photograph by Scott Neil)