JetBlue | 80% of First Class at 20% the price

I recently flew cross country from the west coast for a family wedding. I hate long flights in coach. The seats are narrow, leg room is limited, and it is physically painful for me to hold in my elbows for five hours in order not to invade the space of the passenger seated next to me. For this reason, I usually try to use miles to upgrade ... or look for discounted first class fares.

But first class fares have risen drastically over the past year. When I priced two round-trip first class tickets on United, SFO-BOS, the price quoted was nearly $4,400. This trip, I tried a different strategy. I flew JetBlue, and I took advantage of a product called Even More Legroom.

Ever since April, the first rows of JetBlue's cabins have been reconfigured to provide a full 38" of legroom, more than most domestic carriers provide in their first class cabins. The price of one of these seats is just $20 more than a regular JetBlue seat. In addition, it is possible to book the middle seat to keep it unoccupied; simply list the name of the passenger as "Extra Seat." Bottom line: the two of us flew to Boston for about $900 round-trip. The seat between us was empty, offering a convenient place to keep our carry-ons.

What is my verdict? The headline says it all: 80% of First Class at 20% the price. There are three basic differences between JetBlue and first class.

1. JetBlue's seats are not that comfortable. While the space was fine, the seats provided no lumbar support, and the recline was minimal.

2. There is not a small separate forward cabin in JetBlue's A320 aircraft. However, being in row 2, I really didn't notice.

3. No meals, and no free alcohol. This is not a big issue for me, because who would choose to pay for airplane food, even up front? I simply packed a lunch of my own (a roast turkey sandwich on sliced Pain Au Levain bread with tomatoes and sprouts, some carrots and celery sticks, grapes, an apple, a banana) and supplemented it with JetBlue's offering of onboard snacks (chips, cookies, and such). Meals in domestic first class are a convenience, not a gastronomic adventure!

I would definitely do it again, but next time I'll simply bring a lower-back wedge pillow. JetBlue offers a pretty good bargain and provides DirectTV and satellite radio as well!

copyright (c) 2007 by David J. Ourisman. All rights reserved. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

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