JetBlue T5 opens at JFK airport

October 22, 2008, 9:08 PM UTC

By Jessica Shambora

Today marks the opening of Terminal 5, or T5, JetBlue’s flashy new $743 million home at JFK, an event I have been anticipating with, perhaps, excessive zeal.

Over the past few years, the JetBlue terminal at JFK has been the portal through which I have traveled back and forth between the San Francisco Bay Area, where I grew up, and New York City, my new home. I’ve done that trip an average of six times a year. Which is to say, I could probably draw a map of that terminal to scale. I am also familiar with its myriad flaws, from cramped and grimy restrooms to dark and dingy gate areas.

My excitement grew when I learned I was to be on board the second plane to arrive at the new terminal. As my flight prepared to leave Denver late last night, the captain told us that, although we were ready to depart earlier than scheduled, he had strict instructions not to do so since a flight from Burbank had been awarded the honor of the first plane to arrive. (Later, a customer service rep at one of several “Just Ask” help counters at T5 informed me that J.D. Power himself had been on board the historic flight.)

Disembarking flight #98, I had high expectations, based on JetBlue’s hype and my own hopes. T5 was indeed clean, bright and spacious, with a European, minimalist aesthetic. But it’s still just an airport. I tested the seating — quite ergonomic (but why black and not bright blue?). And I wanted to try out “re:vive,” which allows customers to use touch-screen monitors to order meals that are delivered to the gate area a la table-service dining. But that program wasn’t yet up and running.

Wandering into the 55,000-square-foot central marketplace, I found two raised seating areas. The rows of steps were reportedly inspired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art; overhead, a ring of screens displayed images of people walking. Three chic restaurants straight out of Manhattan’s Meatpacking district lined one side of the marketplace. A food court redolent of a cross between fast food and Whole Foods lined the other. “It’s very futuristic, feels like the Jetsons,” said Leslie Hsu, an entrepreneur from Millburn, N.J., who was munching on organic, gluten-free baked goods and orange Mint bottled water.

Generally, though, travelers seemed unfazed (disclaimer: it was 6 a.m.). Some made use of free WiFi. Others were curled up, exhausted, in an area with colorful geometric furniture. Meanwhile, the JetBlue troops scampered about, shaking hands and slapping each other on the back.

Captain Grant Johnson, who piloted my flight from Denver, eagerly told us that T5 “reinforces our commitment to our customers, despite the hiccups with the economy and fuel prices. This is an investment looking out 10, 20 years.”

He’s right in suggesting that T5 could provide a morale boost — and may help lift JetBlue’s 30% market share of passengers at JFK. Good news is sorely needed since JetBlue is likely to report a third-quarter loss on Thursday. And the stock is trading at $5 a share, which is near its all-time low and down from a high of $30 five years ago. At least JetBlue is making sure that its consumers aren’t suffering as much as its investors are.

For more on JetBlue, read founder and former CEO David Neeleman’s Postcards guest post.

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