Category: Airline reviews

JetBlue continues to offer the best in-flight experience of any domestic airline – and that isn’t changing

JetBlue continues to offer the best in-flight experience of any domestic airline – and that isn’t changing

I recently got to fly JetBlue from Boston to San Francisco, which is always a treat. While it’s certainly not the first time I’ve flown them, it was my first flight on them since I started this blog, and I thought I’d take some time to talk about why I love JetBlue so much (even if they missed out on a chance to become even more amazing by acquiring fellow amazing airline Virgin America).

I first flew JetBlue in 2008 when I needed to book a trip to the Bay Area for a job interview. I booked it because it was the cheapest flight, but immediately, I was impressed with the in-flight TV, great leg room, and lots of quality free snacks. Three years later, they would become the biggest carrier out of Boston’s Logan International Airport, demonstrating that Boston is indeed a big enough market for a major airline to establish a hub there, rather than having their passengers connect through another city to get to their final destination.

A little over a year ago, people freaked out when JetBlue announced that they would be cutting back on leg room and adding checked bag fees. People thought JetBlue was selling out and becoming another big airline that didn’t care about its customers. Lost in the hubbub was the fact that JetBlue still will offer the most leg room (33.1 inches in economy) out of any US domestic carrier. And after flying them last week, I can attest that they still offer the best in-flight experience of any domestic carrier (I hesitate to actually call them the best domestic carrier, as Virgin America’s in-flight experience is almost as good, and they have a better on-time record).


If you’re a sports fan (especially of Boston teams), it’s a pretty fun experience to fly JetBlue out of Logan Airport, as the entrance to the Terminal C features the numerous championship banners that Boston sports teams have won.


As JetBlue has become the biggest carrier out of Logan, Terminal C is now almost exclusively JetBlue flights, save for flights on Emirates and Cape Air (both of whom they partner with) and Sun Country. The mood at the gate was a little festive, as they were celebrating the launch of its new Mint (first-class) cabin on transcontinental flights (which I have heard great things about, but doesn’t really have a place on this blog).



I’ve always been impressed with how JetBlue manages to stay one step ahead of the competition. They were the only domestic airline offering free in-flight TV in 2008, and only now eight years later is this starting to become standard on the larger airlines, though many have not rolled it out to their full fleet yet.

Given that free in-flight TV no longer sets JetBlue apart from the competition, they’ve now aimed to stand out by not only offering free wifi, but wifi that actually works well. If you’ve ever tried to use Gogo Inflight wifi, you’ve probably ended up later cursing yourself for spending money on such an unreliable product. How bad is it? It’s so bad that American Airlines sued them to get out of their contract.

As JetBlue prides itself on customer satisfaction, rather than settle for a contract with a company that provides inferior wifi, they designed their own wifi, known as Fly-Fi. It’s free for basic internet usage like checking email and Facebook, and $10/hour for faster internet for things like streaming (though you can reduce the cost with a card like the Discover It Miles which covers up to $30/year of in-flight wifi). The basic internet also allows for free Amazon streaming.

IMG_20160324_221002 As the NCAA regional semifinals were also on, I did a little bit of multi-tasking, working on my blog, watching basketball in real-time, and doing work for my actual job (and I had no problems connecting to my company’s secure VPN and accessing files on the network).

IMG_20160324_221125If you grew up in the 90s, you might also remember VH1’s Pop-Up Video, which I watched for a little while and learned about Prince’s “1999.”

IMG_20160324_191753As you can see from the above photos, while these seats wouldn’t be mistaken for business class, I still had enough leg room for my 6’7″ frame.

With free in-flight TV, free wifi, plenty of leg room, and free jumbo-sized brand-name snacks and drinks, the 6-hour flight went by very smoothly, to the point that the recent announcements about scaling back do not bother me. Yes, while it would be nice in an ideal world to have free checked bags, JetBlue does need to please the investors somehow, and given that they’re still mostly a domestic carrier, I imagine most people will be able to pack everything they need into a carry-on suitcase.

Of course, for those who just do not want to pay this much money for all these nice amenities, there’s always Spirit.

Have a question? Feel free to email me, or post in the comments below.


It’s nothing special, but for $99 one-way to Iceland, it’s hard to beat WOW Air

It’s nothing special, but for $99 one-way to Iceland, it’s hard to beat WOW Air


Ever since seeing the Northern Lights last year, it’s made me want to go back to the far northern regions of the world to see them as often as possible. Combined with the fact that Iceland is supposed to be one of the most beautiful countries in the world, when budget carrier WOW Air announced nonstop service from Boston to Reykjavik starting at $99 one-way, it was a no-brainer to take advantage of this.

Unfortunately, the $99 fares for the dates that worked for me were all gone, but I still managed to book a nonstop flight for $369 roundtrip. (The flight would have been $389 had I booked it in US dollars, but by taking advantage of the option to book in foreign currencies, I leveraged the plummeting Canadian dollar to save $20). On top of that, $250 of this was reimbursed back to me thanks to the annual airfare credit on my Citi Prestige, which I consider to the be the best all-around travel card.

Now, in most of the cities from which they’re flying, WOW air is competing heavily with the flag carrier of Iceland, Icelandair. While I have not flown them (nor do I have immediate plans to do so), Icelandair is generally considered to be a very good airline, famous for their generous stopover rules in Reykjavik and ambient Northern Lights-like lighting. They also tend to be significantly more expensive. By trying to compete with them in many of their markets, WOW Air is taking a gamble that there’s a significant part of the population out there that doesn’t mind opting for a Spirit Airlines-like model(which isn’t so bad) where people pay significantly lower base fares, but sacrifice comfort, and are charged fees for everything. Judging from the capacity of yesterday’s flight, as well as the fact that they’ve extended their schedule well into this year, and even launched service from new markets like San Francisco, it seems to be working so far.

Brief aside: I’ve sometimes heard concerns from people about the safety risks of numerous budget airlines, and wondering if they can trust them. However, it is important to keep in mind that in order to be approved for commercial air service to and from the United States, an airline has to meet numerous stringent safety regulations. This is partially why there is no nonstop service between the United States and Bali, as Indonesia has the worst airline safety record in the world. In other words, if the airline you’re thinking of flying has been approved to fly in and out of the United States, you don’t need to worry.


Similar to most budget carriers, they have a very strict weight limit for carry-on baggage (or as the Europeans call it, “hand luggage”) of 5kg or 11 pounds, as well as the typical carry-on size of [INSERT DIMENSIONS]. In other words, you can bring the suitcase you usually do, but it has to be much lighter than usual. Now, how extreme you are about packing really depends on whether your goal is to save as much money as possible, or just to be happy with a good deal. Even if you pay for a higher carry-on allowance and checked baggage, the cost of your flight will still be significantly lower than the equivalent on Icelandair. Of course, I fall into the first category.

After packing everything which I thought I needed for a week, it turns my suitcase was at 15 pounds. Luckily, there are ways to get around this weight limit. While WOW does not allow an additional “personal item” like most airlines, they do allow “one duty-free shopping bag.” I thought this was rather odd, but I wasn’t going to complain. Luckily, I had my shopping bag from my layover in Dubai (whose airport is arguably the biggest duty-free shopping destination in the world) and slipped my laptop into it. Now, a plastic bag is no substitute for a real laptop case, so I made a note to myself to slip my laptop into my suitcase as soon I got my baggage approved (Of course, as Murphy’s law would have it, when walking out to get my free UberPool to the airport), I took quite a spill on the sidewalk, but my laptop survived). On top of that, I took advantage of the rather deep pockets in my winter coat and put a considerable amount of shirts and socks in those too, getting the final weight down to just over 11 pounds.


Given that WOW needs to weigh all luggage, they do not allow online check-in, which is a huge annoyance. Needing to hop on a work call at 3:30pm with my flight at 6pm, I arrived at the airport at 3pm, hoping that they would open their check-in desk earlier than the stated two hours before flight departure. Luckily, they were open. The person at the check-in desk looked skeptically at my suitcase, thinking it would be over the weight limit, but was impressed when I just barely made it under. However, he didn’t even look at the duty-free bag I was carrying. For all I know, I could have been holding an entirely separate carryon bag and I wouldn’t have been charged. Nonetheless, the important part was over. I had been issued my boarding pass and had my luggage approved. On top of that, because I had checked in so early, I got a seat very close to the front. I then transferred everything into my suitcase.

Unfortunately (and this is an issue unique to Logan Airport in Boston), WOW Air departs from the two international gates that are sectioned off from the rest of the international terminal, so there is not a whole lot to do in the waiting area. I opted to go to the bigger part of the terminal so I could take my call from the Air France lounge.


Boarding began 45 minutes before the flight. Not surprising, almost everyone was under 40, to the point that one older couple remarked, “Why are we the only old people here?” I guess older people really do prefer to pay extra for the amenities on Icelandair.


The first thing I noticed was the bright magenta uniforms of the flight attendants, who were all gorgeous tall Nordic women with their hair tied back in a bun. While they had a very slight accent, their English was nonetheless excellent, which is consistent with what I’d heard about Iceland residents. I thought it was odd that they were doing all of the pre-flight announcements in both English and Icelandic – not only were most of the passengers Americans, but English proficiency in Iceland is very high. A few minutes before the flight, they amusingly announced that there were no Icelandic passengers on board, and therefore would be giving all subsequent announcements in only English. I guess Icelanders really like Icelandair, and/or don’t have any interest in visiting Boston.


The aircraft itself was very nondescript, save for some cute seat covers and vomit bags. The leg room was smaller than usual, but I knew that going in. I put my most of my stuff in the overhead bins, and settled into my seat, which did have power outlets, a surprising amenity.


Despite some light snow, the flight mostly took off on time. The flight itself was mostly uneventful. Given that we were departing at 6pm and arriving at 4am (both local times), I am not quite sure why they kept the lights on the whole time, asit made it harder to sleep. There were quite a lot of young men on the flight likely feeling proud of the fact that they had scored a $99 fare and were using this as an excuse to purchase copious amounts of alcohol, and got pretty rowdy (if you live in Boston or have been to Boston, you know the type of people I’m talking about). The flight attendants enjoyed some of their flirting, but mostly seemed annoyed with them. Right before landing, one of them spilled his drink all over himself, which was delightful schadenfreude to the rest of us.

As expected, there was no complimentary food or beverages going in, which is why I made sure to eat and drink enough before the flight. For a longer flight, I would have packed a meal for the flight, but for a five-hour flight, this didn’t seem necessary. As is the case with most things in Iceland, food/drink tended to be very expensive, with sandwiches somewhere in the $10 range. There were no in-flight amenities like Wi-Fi or movies/TV, though one could rent iPads to watch movies on. Furthermore, as it was an overnight trans-Atlantic flight, there was very little to look at out of the windows, save for some city lights in Maine and Canada at the beginning.

The in-flight magazines were surprisingly good, with quite a lot of real original content, as opposed to the typical articles being pushed by an advertiser. In particular, there was a very interesting article about the upcoming presidential election in Iceland. At one point, the article mentioned a past election had a “paltry” turnout at 63%, which I found quite amusing as a US citizen. Iceland is also famous for having the first democratically elected female president in the world (other than Eva Peron, who initially succeeded her husband), and was unanimously loved throughout the country during her 16-year tenure as president. Unfortunately, while there were quite a lot of “off the beaten path” articles about what to do in Iceland, the articles on what to do in San Francisco and Boston felt like they’d been copied and pasted from a tourism bureau website.

We arrived in Reykjavik slightly ahead of schedule, after which I staked out a spot in the airport to nap until my friend arrived from New York a few hours later.


While I was expecting the last section to be much longer, there really just isn’t a whole lot to write about, positive or negative. In the end, WOW Air is just yet another budget carrier which is realizing the model of having low base fares and charging fees for almost everything is quite profitable. Would I take it again? Absolutely. I knew what I was getting myself into ahead of time, and prepared adequately and had no problems.

However, given that WOW Air is now essentially competing with Norwegian Air Shuttle to offer cheap one-stop flights into Europe from many cities in the US (for example, you can take WOW to Paris from San Francisco by stopping in Reykavik, or you can take Norwegian to Paris from Oakland  by stopping in Oslo or Stockholm, both for far lower than a nonstop flight on Air France), I would much prefer Norwegian if I had the choice, even if it was just slightly more. While Norwegian is still ultimately a budget carrier, they tend to go above the basic expectations of a typical budget carrier by offering things like Wi-Fi and free movies, not to mention a little more leg room. Of course, they do also keep fares low through questionable labor practices, which I’m a little less comfortable embracing. (For more on why I love Norwegian, refer to this post.

But for a $99 nonstop flight to Iceland, WOW Air is hard to beat, and there are still quite a few $99 flights available from a variety of cities.

Over the next few weeks, I will be making some more posts about my Iceland trip, about which I have been absurdly excited for quite some time.

Have questions about something? Have your own WOW Air experience? Feel free to e-mail me, or post in the comments below.


How I beat Spirit Airlines at their own game, and in the process realized I may not need to pack so much

How I beat Spirit Airlines at their own game, and in the process realized I may not need to pack so much

While I’m guessing most of you are very familiar with Spirit Airlines, perhaps from your own past experience, for those that aren’t, Spirit is considered a pioneer among Ultra Low-Cost Carriers, or ULCCs. This is a fancy term for airlines that offer very low fares, but charge you for literally everything imaginable. Though extremely controversial, Spirit for many years has been the most profitable domestic airline, and also is generally considered to be the main reason we’ve seen many of the bigger airlines start to charge more fees. There are many people that have very strong negative opinions about Spirit Airlines due to their controversial business model, but their defense has always been that they are very transparent upfront about all of the fees. I decided recently to see for myself if this was true.
I try to book my flights using frequent flyer miles as much as I can, but I also like to try to avoid wasting miles on domestic flights that could be used for more valuable international award flights. I signed up for the Spirit Airlines World Elite MasterCard last year, which gave me 15,000 Free Spirit Miles after my first purchase, added on an additional 8,000 miles by taking their “Hate Thousand Miles” survey, and then an additional 5,000 miles through buying toothpaste from Wal-Mart using their online shopping portal. (Funny enough, they tried to sell us on the card during the flight, claiming that they offered an “industry-leading frequent flyer program.”)
Not surprisingly, Spirit also makes it extremely hard to redeem their frequent flyer miles for flights, charging 12,500 miles for one-way cross-country flights on certain mid-week days, but 45,000 on most other days, including weekends. Given that right now I do have the luxury of being able to fly midweek, I figured I might as well take advantage of this, and booked a roundtrip flight for 25,000. While all airlines will tack on a $5.60 “security fee” each way for award resrevations, Spirit also adds on a $15 fee if you book your reservation less than six months in advance. I don’t really know anyone who plans short-distance budget air travel more than six months in advance, but I decided to suck it up and pay that fee, but no other fees to them.
There’s certainly no shortage of opportunities to pay additional fees during the booking process though, first, to add a hotel:


Then, a car:



A “bundle” including seat assignment, carry-on/checked bags, and airport check-in:




A confirmation that I didn’t want to pre-purchase any checked bags or carry-on:sure

A chance to choose my seat:


A chance to purchase flight change insurance:


And lastly, a chance to join their “$9 Fare Club” that actually costs more than $9:



I said no each time.
24 hours before my flight yesterday, I got an e-mail reminder from Spirit to check-in, reminding me that I could print out my boarding pass at home and avoid paying a $10 fee to print it out at the airport. Yes, I realize this is absurd, but it’s not that hard to print it out in advance. During the online check-in process, they tried again to upsell me on seats, checked baggage, carry-ons, and other packages, and I continued to say no.
This is definitely the best boarding pass I’ve ever had. Who includes a crossword puzzle as in-flight entertainment?!

Of course, the real challenge was going to be not bringing a carry-on, as I had declined to purchase one in advance for $35, even knowing that I would be charged $50 to add one at the check-in counter, or $100 at the gate! Spirit does however allow one personal item, no bigger than 16x14x12. While most people will use a small backpack, I didn’t have one that small, so I instead decided to use my laptop case. After emptying everything out, I first placed my laptop in it, then a few pants, shirts, and underwear, as well as toiletries and power cords/chargers.

I then rolled up some v-necks and socks, and put them into the front pockets of my hoodie. My pockets were indeed bulging, but I was certainly within their requirements (not to mention I knew I would have access to laundry). I started to wonder why I didn’t pack like this more often….
Of course, I wasn’t out of the woods yet. Spirit also makes money by charging for everything on board, including food and drink, as well as by cramming as many seats as possible into their airline, giving them the least leg room of any domestic airline (28″). While I was pretty confident I could avoid paying any fees, I was less sure if a 6’7″ person like me could tolerate a cross-country flight with so little legroom.
Luckily, thanks to my Citi Prestige card, I had free access to the Air France lounge at Logan Airport, where I not only loaded up on food in advance of the flight:

but also on “sleeping medications”:


I proceeded to the gate, where they very clearly let me know that I would be charged $100 if my carry-on did not fit the stated dimensions:


Given the stories I’d heard, I was kind of relishing an argument with the gate agents, but they didn’t even make me place my bag in the container to check, and just waved me on through. Success! I pinched myself a little:

As I boarded the plane, I noticed quite a lot of advertisements on the storage bins, yet another way Spirit keeps their fares low. I don’t know why more airlines don’t do this. I’ll also present this one without comment:


Since I didn’t want to pay extra to select my seat, they had assigned it for me, and I was in a window seat, next to a woman from Rhode Island who was flying to Las Vegas just to play slot machines. Right. While I always prefer aisle seat, at least it wasn’t the middle seat. Still, I was less than comfortable:

Thankfully, I flagged down a flight attendant and asked if there was something that could be done after takeoff, and much to my surprise, she was more than happy to move me to an exit row seat, which would have cost $50 if I selected it myself. After we were in the air, she motioned me forward, and I settled into my new exit row seat, allowing me more legroom than a regular economy seat on domestic airlines:


Not too long after, I happily drifted off to sleep, and spent most of the flight sleeping, before waking up to write this post for the remainder of the flight.

Given that I had gone into this flight dreading the experience, I have to say that Spirit exceeded my (admittedly very low) expectations. Of course, they’re certainly not in danger of dethroning JetBlue or Virgin America as my preferred domestic airline (I also did start to get a little hungry and thirsty at the five-hour mark), but I wouldn’t object to flying with them again if one of their many low-fare sales worked for me. (I highly recommend subscribing to their e-mail newsletter regardless of if you ever plan to fly them, solely for the risque marketing, yet another example of how they save money, as it costs them nothing for major newspapers to run stories on their controversial marketing).
Have a Spirit Airlines experience of your own that you’d like to share? Feel free to e-mail me or post in the comments below.

How I not only survived, but even enjoyed my $79 nonstop flight from Boston to the French Caribbean

How I not only survived, but even enjoyed my $79 nonstop flight from Boston to the French Caribbean

Several months ago, low-cost carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle announce nonstop service during the winter from Boston, Baltimore, and New York to the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

I was already familiar with Norwegian from the $400 nonstop roundtrip flight I booked with them from Oakland to Stockholm, but didn’t really understand why a Scandinavian airline was starting service between the East Coast and the French Caribbean. I also wasn’t about to complain.

I had been constantly checking their calendar for a good fare on dates that worked for me, and when I saw this weekend, I jumped on it and booked it, for $209 round trip, though I got most of that reimbursed thanks to the benefits on my Citi Prestige card (which I’ll get into later).

Unlike my previous experience on Norwegian, the check-in area was practically empty (unfortunately, they do not allow online boarding passes):

After getting past security, I went straight to the gate, only to discover we were delayed 20 minutes. Luckily, thanks to my Priority Pass card (from my Citi Prestige card), I and my friend had access to the Air France lounge immediately downstairs, where we had an unspectacular yet filling (and more importantly, free) lunch:


The plane looked like any other 737, other than the bright red draped over each seat. Leg room was sufficient, but due to the plane being fairly empty, I got to have my own version of “first class”, an entire row to myself:


As Norwegian is a budget carrier, they partially follow the Spirit Airlines model of charging for everything imaginable: food, drinks, checked bags, seat assignment, etc. Of course, on a 4-hour flight, no food or drink is manageable, but you might want to make alternate arrangements for a longer flight on Norwegian. They did come around offering food and drinks several times, with soda starting at $2.50. I didn’t ask about the cost of food.

Importantly, the one service that I did not have to pay for was the Wi-Fi, which, although not super fast, was free and more than enough for a short flight.

The “barf bags” did have a rather amusing message:


As we began our descent with the sun setting, they dimmed the cabin for some more ambient lighting.


Four hours after takeoff, we were in Guadeloupe, and for less than the cost of a night out on the town.

Given how many people I’ve talked to who haven’t heard about these flights, as well as the lack of advertising, it doesn’t seem like they are doing a very good job marketing these flights, as the flight was only a little more than half full.

I hope that enough people can start taking these flights, as I’d hate for see for them to drop this service. And there are still plenty of low fares available, if you can leave in late March, you can fly for $49:



I’ll be writing more detailed posts later on Norwegian Air Shuttle as well as my trip to Guadeloupe, but if you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to email me or ask a question in the comments below.