Three reasons why JetBlue’s new Terminal 5 at JFK can do wonders for the brand

In my recent brand review of Qatar Airways’ Business and First Class, I mentioned that the X-Factor in the whole experience was actually on the ground – their exclusive terminal for premium passengers in transit.

I experienced similar feelings last Friday, as I was given a private tour of JetBlue Airways’ swanky new Terminal 5 (old TWA terminal) at JFK airport in New York. Given the large proportion of time travelers spend in terminals these days, especially for short-haul flights, what JetBlue has created at JFK can be a game-changer. And here are three reasons why I feel it can do wonders for the already well-loved airline brand that is JetBlue.

1. It didn’t feel like a traditional US airport (at all!)

JetBlue terminal 5As  you walk in to T5, the first thing that strikes you the feeling of space – lots of it. That’s created by the high ceilings and tons of natural light coming through the glass panes. Moreover, there’s soft music playing at T5 (reminded my of Singapore Changi!). Counters are conveniently positioned for travelers coming by train or by taxi. It all looked very efficient, with short lines on a Friday evening. One of the reasons is the security checks.

T5 is the first terminal to be built in the US after 9/11, hence it is optimized for the security checks that have come since then. And that’s why, you wouldn’t feel the normal anxiety, with much shorter line. Moreover, the TSA agents’ uniform color is the same blue as JetBlue’s staff – and I think that helps put you at ease too, since you unconsciously perceive the agents as courteous by default.

But this was just the start of the very-different airport experience than those you must have been used to in the US.

2. Optimized to provide a great customer experience

Once you go through security, it just gets better. There are beautifully designed up-scale restaurants in the main concourse and a slew of shopping choices. There’s even a gate-side spa! For the kids, there was a playground sponsored by FisherPrice. My favorite, though, was the fact that there’s blazing-fast free wifi and bean-bag styled cushions right by the gates where you could snooze while waiting for your flight.

I was told that the view from the cushions is also the closest you can get to a runway in JFK – great for spotters like me.  But the most fascinating fact that I learnt on the tour was almost everything was psychologically optimized – like spaced-out horizontal JetBlue menulines on the floor to create a “slow down” feeling that helps reduce anxiety, and restrooms on the left (for arriving passengers) and news stands on the right (for those departing).

But here’s what would sweep most people off their feet. Right by the gates, I saw small TV screens. When I explored further, they turned out to be touch-screen menus from all the restaurants in the terminal. You just had to choose what to eat, swipe your credit card and wallah! Your food is delivered to you. And you never need to run again to catch the flight if you answered your craving for a last good meal for a few hours.

Everything was optimized to provide a great experience, even the shoe-shine specialists, who’ve been flown in from California!

3. JetBlue’s customer service centers

In times when airlines like Ryanair have announced the elimination of all check-in counters and United has terminated its only customer service call center, JetBlue continues to impress. In both sections of the concourse, there were dedicated customer service centers and kiosks where passengers (and crew) could easily re-check in for cancelled flights or seek any other flight information.

Here’s the X-factor – all counters are staffed by JetBlue’s own, and not outsourced. That means that they not only uphold JetBlue’s customer service standards, but also have the autonomy to best help the customer out. And trust me, in crunch situations (like these), it makes a ton of difference.

So what does this mean for the JetBlue brand?

I think once a passenger has traveled through T5, he wouldn’t want to go back to any other airport terminals in New York City if given a choice. It’s like I’d never switch back to Windows, now that I’ve tasted the Mac magic =)

And in the long term, T5’s complimentary nature to JetBlue, the airline, will pay off in more ways than one. Don’t you think?

JetBlue terminal plane

Special thanks to Morgan Johnston (see interview) who spent half a day so passionately showing me and the CEO of ACA Associates around JetBlue’s HQ and then JFK. Personally, I felt like a child being given the private tour of a Hershey’s factory – and I loved every bit of it!

P.S: If you’re one of the 17 fellow aviation geeks who’ve read till here, I’d like to share with you something personal. I liked the relaxing cushions closest to the runway so much, that after bidding Morgan farewell, I went back there and was plane-spotting for over two hours, slumping in the cushions! You can view photos of the beautiful metal birds here.

So, what do you think? Is JetBlue’s T5 a game changer? Would it be good for the brand? What should airlines that do not have the luxury of having their own Terminal do, to achieve the same effect on their brands? Let’s discuss…

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Showing 15 comments
  • Roy Kamen

    I haven’t been to the new terminal but their new planes are great and their new TV spots are fantastic.. and I’m not saying that cause we did the sound for them… the creative team at JWT did a great job.

  • Bill Sell

    Another great reason for the touch screen menus at the gate to really rock – you don’t need to loose your precious seat at the gate and schlepp all of the bags to go stand in line to get a bite! That along would get me to travel jetBlue more than some of the other carriers. Seems like jetBlue really did think this one through incredibly well, and airport planners and airline executives should both take note. This recession will end and travelers will again gain the upper hand on things like service and airlines that abuse the passenger with fees, with major hassles and just plain customer disrespect (think big four airlines…) – we will vote with our money and our business.

  • Jane Mount

    I have to agree with this. I just flew through JetBlue’s JFK terminal a couple of hours ago. What a pleasure! I was on a family trip and my kids absolutely loved the free-form bean bags. We rested between flights, watched the runway (mom could get a close-by drink!). All was great! I fly a lot for business, and this experience was possibly my best in the last few years.

    (Sure beats the old terminal – where we were packed in like sardines, and there weren’t adequate bathroom facilities.)

  • Joseph Pries, MBA

    I just spent some time there this past weekend, it is indeed impressive. Having said that, Jetblue is not immune to the delays that come with JFK service. Flying out on Tuesday morning (USAirways A320 JFK-CLT), we sat on taxiway Yankee for a good 30 minutes, behind about 22 airplanes taxiing for 31L departure.

  • Jeff Pugel

    I haven ‘t been in the new T5 yet but from all I know it is one of the few terminals built around the brand essence of the airline. From the moment you walk in to the moment you get on the plane, it’s a total JetBlue experience which is great as it definitely sets JetBlue apart from all the other airlines as each does basically the same thing, getting you from point A to point B.

  • Roy Kamen

    I haven’t been to the new terminal either but their new planes are great and their new TV spots are fantastic.. and I’m not saying that cause we did the sound for them… the creative team at JWT did a great job

  • Jesse Landry

    I’ve asked my wife to come on dates with me to Terminal 5 – The best terminal in all the airports I’ve been in….

  • David Goodman

    I would agree, it is a wonderful terminal.

    Will be there next Friday night. Given that Friday’s are date night, I’ll look for two smoochers in the corner. If I see some, I will assume it is Jesse and his wife and walk over and introduce myself 🙂

  • Robin Daultani

    Great write-up, Shashank. Do post links to all your subsequent articles as well

  • Ken Price

    I’ve not been in JFK’s T5 but it sounds a bit like BA’s new T5 at Heathrow which is one of the best I’ve experienced. They don’t have the great food ordering system though.

  • Srinivas Rao

    Thanks for the tip on spotting, as a keen spotter I will keep in mind if I happen to be on T5.

  • Ovit Pursley

    The first time I ever flew JetBlue was from HOU to JFK. I really enjoyed the product, equipment and professionalism of the staff. Also, the free WiFi at the gate got me hooked. When in Houston, the best way to get to NYC is on JetBlue. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

  • Dean Kakridas

    In my opinion, T5, by itself, is not a game changer, but coupled with other compelling customer UX oriented initiatives in the pre-flight planning, in-flight, and post flight story-telling phases of the customer journey, is without question how airlines will win the loyalty (and wallet) of travelers.

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