JetBlue invited 1,000 of their True Blue members to participate in a trial run of their new JFK terminal, Terminal Five, a terminal built behind the original TWA Terminal Five. I was really excited to participate, take pictures, give feedback and tour the area without the pressure of actually having to get on a flight.
After getting a free coffee and croissant at a massive buffet, I took a seat underneath a tent set up on the closed-off departure ramp in front of the terminal. A representative came around and handed us our "scripts" which told us our name, where we were headed, how we were going to check in our bags (which were provided to us), and flight and gate number. Apparently, some of them even had instructions on whether to be angry - or not - or maybe the guy was kidding! I was to play Mrs. RB Birdstest going to Seattle, Washington on flight 175.
The terminal is really nice. It's curved and full of natural light. The space is wide and open and with a clean modern feel. The signs are clear and it feels like I'm in a space for traveling.
Time to check-in. I considered the check-in process to be inefficient: I had to go to the self-service kiosk to check in. Since I also had a bag to check, I had to take my boarding pass to a bag drop counter where I was asked for my pass and my ID. They took my pass, gave me another one and then I had to take my bag and put it on the conveyor belt. (I never check in bags, but my understanding is that this process of self-handling the baggage drop off is new). Really, if the intention is to be self-service, going to a bag counter was woefully inefficient and time consuming.
After checking my bag, I entered the security line. This terminal had many, many lines and three zones: family zone for those with kids that take longer, the casual traveler for people who are your regular travelers and the expert zone for your jetsetters.
Once pass security, the new terminal was pretty, but still under construction. They plan to have many restaurants and representatives gave brief talks on the menu, the process and showed pictures of what it would look like. These were all restaurants not fast food joints, and JetBlue seemed to be aiming for an overall richer travel experience at the airport instead of a bus terminal feel.
The actual gates were beautiful with JetBlue's color-scheme carpets, comfortable chairs and nice flat screen TVs. No signs of wireless access or areas you could plug in your laptop, though. The gates were sunny and at the end of gate 15 (my gate), a wall of windows allowed for watching planes land.
I "boarded" my flight to Seattle which amounted to me handing over my pass and then sitting down at the gate (we did not get on a plane). Fifteen minutes later, we "landed" and were to go to baggage claim to retrieve our bags.
Baggage claim looked like every other baggage claim I've ever seen but not as opressive. A nice touch was a nod to the old TWA building by including a bright orange carpet around each of the carousels.
Afterwards, JetBlue had a BBQ outside of the tent, and they thankfully had veggie burgers for vegetarians, free ticket giveaways (I didn't win), and thank you gifts consisting of a hat, buttons and cute luggage tags. Oh, and the bag we checked in was ours to keep.
So what about the original TWA terminal that was in eyeshot of were we all were? A few of us in attendance had hoped to also take a tour of the TWA terminal but it's six months away from completion and a construction site inside.
The original Terminal Five, built in 1962 by Eero Saarinen, which operated until TWA closed its doors in 2001. The Saarinen terminal was known for it's beauty and modernity that evoked feelings of adventure, the exhilaration and romance of flying that, even in it's current state of construction, it still manages to evoke. (Photo of original TWA terminal five by photoscream. If you want to see more photos, check out the TWA flickr pool.)
JetBlue is renovating the building and it will house an aviation museum and restaurants. My understanding is that a lot of the original elements of terminal have been removed. That's too bad.
The one thing that I felt was missing from the new Terminal Five was some modern kitsch. Here they are, building a new terminal, renovating a landmark old one and they aren't taking any kitschy liberties with the interior design? JetBlue is a fun airline marketing themselves as Jetting - not flying - and trying to distinguish themselves from the other airlines and the negative feelings flying evokes these days. I'd like to see more utilization of one of the most beautiful buildings that symbolizes Jetting and the wonders of aviation. Perhaps that feeling will be there once the original building is opened.
That said, I had a truly enjoyable experience today going through a trial run. I had a lot of feedback and it was great to see executives actively pursuing critiques from everyone. Even Port Authority representatives were there to listen to us. It was clear that JetBlue wants to make this terminal an exceptional place and wants to create a pleasant travel experience. Thanks JetBlue!