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JetBlue's new premium transcontinental 'Mint Service' is pretty refreshing

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    'Mint' features a new entertainment system.JetBlue

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    Awake in 'Mint' condition.JetBlue

I shouldn't even be telling you all this, because if word gets out then all the JetBlue "Mint" flights will be sold out. 

After all, at this writing, there's only one flight a day, with just 16 seats in each direction on the New York JFK to LAX route. (They'll be adding a red-eye flight soon, however).

Mint is what JetBlue calls its premium cabin, launched with much fanfare on June 16 with fares starting at $599 each way, far less than what United, Delta and American charge for their trans-con routes. 

(Full disclosure: I was not invited to the launch ceremony or other events. I just used 35,000 TrueBlue points to write this review. I think I'm on some kind of JetBlue blacklist dating from the time I sat next to former CEO David Neeleman on a flight and complained about a surly flight attendant. He promptly turned away and said nothing for the rest of the flight to Nassau).

JetBlue doesn't call their new cabin business or first class, heavens no. That would sound too un-Jetblue-like. So Mint it is. With mint cocktails and mint ice cream and lots of other minty stuff.

So here's Mint:

Lounges

One thing I thought I'd miss is the lounge access that American, United and Delta give to customers flying in business or first class (you don't need to be a lounge member if you're flying on the JFK-LAX route in business or first). However, at LAX there's a Virgin America lounge near the JetBlue gates. The JetBlue LAX gates can be a zoo, so it is definitely worth using the lounge.  It costs $40 per visit to non-members, or free to Priority Pass or American Express Platinum members who get their free Priority Pass card. And at JFK, there's a similar lounge near gate 26 in the JetBlue terminal. So even if you have to pay, with $599 fares vs. $2500 on the other airlines, you're all set.

Boarding

We had tweeted that we'd be flying Mint, and surprise, the woman who would be our flight attendant on the flight tweeted back. Kat was very nice.  In fact, the entire crew was super.  A little packet with earplugs and eye shades was already at our seat, and Kat came round with Mint's signature mint cocktail (with or without vodka). There's no canned safety demo video—it's all done manually. Four of the seats are singles, with no one seated next to you, so there is no crawling over your neighbor to reach the aisle. (So far these seats are being sold for the same as the double seats, but that could change depending on demand).

The seats

I have to say that these are probably the most comfortable lie flat seats ever. They seem to be partially air filled, and you can adjust the firmness. There's also a massage function (very subtle, but it works); a shoulder height adjustable reading light in addition to the overhead lights; a lumbar support; easy-to-reach AC power outlet, USB and earphone jacks (unlike on American's new A321T jets where you have to contort to reach them); and a little pocket near the outlets for your smartphone. 

I usually end up squirming after a few hours in any business class seat, but I sat still in these. They're still very narrow at the shoulders in the lie-flat position (unlike Singapore Airlines' business class seats which are really wide), but they're still extremely comfortable (United's business/first seats on their 757 transcontinental jets are also squirm-proof).

The food

It is definitely the best airplane food since the Concorde, maybe even better. Don't scoff until you try it. JetBlue has teamed up with a New York City restaurant called Saxon+Parole, which frankly I'd never heard of, even though I live in New York part time, and it is outstanding. Really. After a welcome taste of chilled carrot and ginger soup with cilantro and a spicy marshmallow (yes, really!), we had a choice of three of the following tapas sized dishes: Portbello mushroom mousse with truffles, whiskey jelly and crostini; Corn custard and poached lobster with corn salad and picked chili peppers; Roasted Atlantic cod with white beans and fennel; Ribeye and fingerling potatoes with a plate-licking balsamic-ginger reduction; and Fontina-stuffed gnocchi with creamed leeks and black truffles. For desert, seasonal fruit salad with organic mint chocolate chip ice cream from Brooklyn's famed Blue Marble. Everything was better than most New York Michelin 3-star restaurants I've visited (I know, I can hardly believe it myself). As my seat companion remarked, "Why can't all airlines do this?" The only downsides were the rolls and bread. A bit stale, but oh well.

The entertainment system

This could be improved. Although JetBlue now has 100 TV channels and satellite radio, there were only five movies available and nothing I wanted to see. American Airlines has a much better selection of on demand music, TV and movies (although no satellite TV, and a word of warning, there are no movies on AA's transcontinental service in economy until the fall while they switch from a free model to a paid one). However, WiFi is free for now on JetBlue. Also, there are no Bose noise-canceling headphones in Mint as you'll find on American's transcontinental in business and first.

Upgrades

Another thing to consider is that JetBlue doesn't have elite level frequent flyer upgrades, as do American, Delta and United. And they currently have fewer flights than the big guys, with their almost hourly service on the JFK-LAX route. So if your Mint plane goes technical, you're going to get stuck on a regular plane. But other than that, especially considering the price difference, Mint is going to be a huge success. In fact, American and United have already adjusted some of their business class fares downward to compete, on some days and times. Just don't take my seat.

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and founder of the low-airfare listing site Airfarewatchdog.com.