JetBlue E190 Review: What is it Like Flying on the Aging Aircraft?

The Embraer 190 has long been a workhorse for JetBlue’s regional service.  The fleet of 60 aircraft have played a large role in bringing the airline to smaller airports. Now that many of these planes have been in service for over a decade, the airline has announced plans to replace the entire fleet of E190s in 2020. In the meantime, what is it like flying on the regional jet? I took a few flights to find out.

Cabin

The cabins on the E190 are acceptable if underwhelming.  Being an older plane it obviously lacks some of the bells and whistles now standard in modern aircraft; dimmable LED lighting and newly designed seats for example. The seats are comfortable and legroom is ample at 32”, true to the airlines famous claim, “most legroom in coach”.  This provides the baseline requirements for a good experience, but they are rather ugly, especially when compared to other JetBlue planes sporting the newly redesigned interior.  More on that later.

In-Flight Entertainment

JetBlue offers good entertainment options to keep you busy in-flight, but your experience with the system may vary.  All flights offer free WiFi, or Fly-Fi as they call it, which is an impressive perk from a budget friendly airline when most of the big players still charge for access.

All flights also come equipped with seat-back TVs, but this is where the quality starts to differ.  The revamped cabin design found on the A321 and being rolled out to A320s puts a large HD touchscreen in front of you with a welcome screen ready to guide you to whatever content you’re after.  On the E190 you will find the chunky, square, low-resolution displays cycling through ads, assuming the display in your seat is working at all.

IFE wasn’t working on this flight

My experience here has been very hit-or-miss.  Of the five times I have been on the E190, twice the display at my assigned seat was broken, but I was able to move to a working seat.  On my most recent flight however, the flight attendant informed us that the system was not working at all on our flight. While a little disappointing, it was hardly a problem.

Since this is the smallest jet in the JetBlue fleet it makes sense that it is commonly found on shorter routes. That last trip was Washington DC to Boston, a one hour flight. The smartphone in my pocket loaded with books, movies, podcasts and games was more than enough to keep me busy until landing.

About that Luggage…

This is a regional jet we are talking about, and if there is one thing regional jets are notorious for its limited access to overhead bins.  If you’ve ever flown on one you may remember the gate attendant asking for volunteers to gate check their carry on bags before boarding begins which most people will promptly ignore.  Ten minutes later you are standing in the isle watching someone struggle to stuff a bloated roller bag into the overhead bin that seems to be two sizes too small. Sadly for now the only way around this on any regional jet is booking a flight that may not be full and keeping your fingers crossed.

Redesign

JetBlue has been making some big changes.  New planes are being delivered, old planes are being remodeled, in-flight entertainment has been upgraded, award winning business class service has been added to some transcontinental routes, even the website is getting a face lift.  Left out from all of this modernization is the E190, which makes the aircraft seem alienated from the brand and a disappointing alternative to the new service being provided.

Conclusions

Flying on an E190 with JetBlue shouldn’t be a terrible experience, but the fleet has certainly started showing its age. In its current state the fleet no longer has a place with the airline’s ongoing modernization.  The introduction of new Airbus A321 planes, rolling out a new take on domestic business class with their Mint service, and the renovation of existing A320s with a redesigned cabin puts the E190 far below the image and experience JetBlue is working hard to craft.  The time has come to remodel or replace, and they’ve chosen to replace.

The Successor

Orders have been placed for 60 of the new Airbus A220-300. While little has been announced regarding how the airline plans to customize the cabin, the aircraft itself has a lot to offer in the way of passenger comfort.  For starters, it is built with larger overhead bins that should help alleviate the gate check issue plaguing jets of this size.

Plans to start phasing out E190 are set to begin in 2020 with the fleet expected to be replaced entirely by 2025.  Originally the Bombardier CSeries, Airbus acquired a majority stake in the project and rebranded the plane as the A220.  Already operating the Airbus A320 family, the replacement of Embraer regional jets will give JetBlue a fleet of aircraft from a single manufacturer.  Operating aircraft from a single manufacturer, or often operating just a single aircraft family, is a strategy used by budget carriers to keep maintenance and training costs low.  The training and certification needed for flight attendants, pilots and maintenance workers along with the cost of keeping an inventory of spare parts available for every type plane being used puts a large cost on operating a variety of aircraft families.

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Monti
Writing about aviation and points. Specifically interested in Australia and New England regional airports.
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