I’m sorry that this post is long and has relatively few pictures. I know that other air-travel nerds will read it. The rest of you, I don’t blame you if you skip it and come back next week (more about Mexico!).
JetBlue–which I like to think of as my local airline, because its HQ is just a few subway stops down the tracks, at Queens Plaza–started direct service between JFK and Albuquerque on April 22. I booked tickets immediately upon hearing the announcement, in the winter. (Actually, I only booked them one way, because the return is a red-eye, and I am 40, and I cannot hack that any longer.)
It wasn’t until I was getting close to the day of departure that I realized I was going to be on the inaugural flight. One clue was that I had gotten a strangely solicitous and personal phone call from a JetBlue rep asking if it was OK if they changed the flight time to a few hours earlier. “Why, yes,” I magnanimously told them, “by all means.” I left out the part about how I don’t have a day job, so what do I care? They gave me a $50 travel credit for my suffering, and asked if that would be sufficient. I don’t think anyone has ever tried to placate me like that.
The morning of departure, I emailed my old roommate, who is more of an air-travel nerd than me, and asked if he’d ever taken an inaugural flight. What could I expect? I was imagining the back third of the plane taken up by mariachi bands, free-flowing margaritas, etc, etc. Aaron said no, he’d never done this himself, but he emailed me this link.
Well, I admit I was a little deflated. It didn’t look very glamorous–though airport lighting can suck the glamour out of anything. But there might be cake! I packed my bags and hiked it to JFK.
(Now, here is where I’d like to respectfully suggest that JetBlue change the flight to depart from LGA. Because that’s right by my house. JFK is a schlep. I mean, if they’re asking my opinion about the flight times and all…)
Anyway, I got to JFK, eyes peeled for special treatment and cakes. Au contraire: The Albuquerque flight wasn’t even on the board, and when I asked the security guy if I should be worried about that, he said, “Oh, what? Weren’t they calling that an hour ago?”
I had had that very personal convo with the JetBlue lady, so I did not panic. “Uhhh, wait, gate 15,” the security guy finally said. Which I guess is the gate for special occasions, because that’s where the party started.
That party was catered by a very well-meaning but clueless NYC operation. A buffet table was draped with those stripey Mexican blankets, and the guacamole was spiked with pineapple. There was orange-mango juice. And churros. And, horror of Tex-Mex horrors, chili con carne.
Enh, whatever. I’m used to people thinking New Mexico is Mexico, or Texas. And you go to Albuquerque with the caterers you have, not the caterers you wish you had. It was nice to see a cute buffet, surrounded by people in suits all congratulating each other. From the adjacent gate, passengers on a delayed Buffalo flight looked on with envy.
One excellent-ly Albuquerque detail was a poster someone had made of the Sandia Peak Tramway emblazoned with the JetBlue logo. That made up for any lack of green chile, which I couldn’t realistically have expected anyway.
There was an American Girl doll making the rounds. Apparently the new one is from Albuquerque.
Around boarding time, the speeches began. Mayor Berry of Albuquerque was there to personally welcome us all. There was an awkward ribbon-cutting ceremony.
And then we all got on and settled in. The captain made a speech about New Mexico history, which made me a little verklempt. So did the guy wearing a big turquoise bolo tie.
One nice thing about travel in New Mexico is you can always get a nice glass of bubbly, because the really good winery Gruet is based in Albuquerque. And lo–the head flight attendant let us know that they’d be passing out free glasses of Gruet sparkling wine. And there were beers from Marble Brewery in the back, free for the taking. Free booze–this officially trumped the DFW-BOS flight!
Because I had read that other post about the BOS-DFW flight, I was primed for games and prizes. I had made mental note when the captain said this was JetBlue’s 77th destination city, and I had a few other bits of B6 trivia up my sleeve.
But the big prize (a balloon ride and free nights at the excellent Andaluz hotel, and tix on JetBlue) was for a guessing game about how much fuel the flight was using. I am embarrassed to say that I was off by a factor of 7. The woman next to me, who spoke no English (‘Que es?’ she asked me; ‘Es un juego, sobre gasolina,’ I told her), guessed much better.
The rest of the prizes were given bingo-style, based on our seat numbers. This meant a lot of second tries, because JetBlue employees were in lots of seats. I’d guess the flight was about three-quarters full, with maybe a third of the people having some official reason to be there.
Mayor Berry had a custom apron with his name on it, and he passed out snacks. Let’s just say his main qualification for being a flight attendant is being tall enough to reach inside the overhead bins. The woman next to me went Terra Chips-less.
I had gotten to shake hands and even swap cards with the mayor, while we were waiting to board. He joked that he had “begged” the JetBlue CEO to start flights. It’s probably my own built-in insecurity I have about the relative importance of Albuquerque in this world, but I imagine this might be slightly true.
When we were close to Albuquerque, the captain let us know that we’d be welcomed by fire trucks that would spray the plane with water. It’s an industry tradition, apparently, for inaugural flights, called a “shower of affection. (“We’re trying to change that,” he said, sounding a little embarrassed. I’m not the only one who thinks this sounds vaguely dirty?).
Our approach was great–way up north, then circling back south and flying low over the Sandia foothills, right up against the mountains. If we hadn’t left NYC about 45 minutes late (mechanical issues; slightly embarrassing), we would’ve hit at prime watermelon-pink time. It was still beautiful. Definitely worth rescheduling the flight time for.
When we deplaned, we were greeted by the mayor, yet again (poor guy, dashing here and there to his marks!), and a group of Pueblo people in their full dance finery. A guy was playing a flute, and we all got colorful corn necklaces. (I’d been wondering what the NM equivalent of a lei would be! Of course–corn necklaces. I don’t think I’ve had one of those since elementary school.) The Sunport staff was all standing around in matching yellow polo shirts, waving and saying welcome.
Again, verklempt. I always get a surge of affection when I get off the plane in Albuquerque–there’s something good about the airport, even. And it was 10 times that on that night.
My mom had said, “Where do I meet you?” She didn’t know whether JetBlue had a labeled spot in the arrivals lane at the airport. She needn’t have worried.
So, we never got any cake. But we did get goodie bags with some very silly goodies. (A giant plastic JetBlue cup–was that some kind of dig at Bloomberg?) I gave my brother the freeze-dried green chile stew, but I kept the Sunport luggage tag, and the mini version of the tramway poster. Whoever thought that up is a genius.
Thanks, JetBlue. Thanks, Mayor Berry. I hope this flight keeps running. It makes me proud to be from ‘Burque!