Destination St. Thomas: In the Air

jetblue-boston.jpgEver since Sarah shared her love for St. John's Maho Bay, I've been thinking about traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands. So I felt immensely fortunate when the USVI Department of Tourism recently invited me to explore one or more of the islands for a press tour. If I were going alone or with Jon, I definitely would have wanted to compare St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix; however, given that my editorial interest was family friendly travel, I brought Laurel (which the USVI DOT kindly accommodated financially, in addition to my expenses), and given that I'm still nursing I brought Violet too (no expenses). I also decided to fulfill a life list item and pay my Mom's way so she could enjoy a vacation. I have a lot of handy travel information to share (including answering travel Q&A from readers), so I'll be reporting across two (possibly three) posts. The first focuses on air travel.
This press trip was coordinated to coincide with JetBlue's inaugural direct flight to St. Thomas. It's been a while since I have flown JetBlue (since my trip to Atlantis actually) and this experience -- coupled with the very recent memory of three flights within the last two months (one cross-country with Laurel and Violet) -- has solidified that I must check JetBlue first in the future. The main differences -- all making traveling with two kids way easier -- included the following:

  • First bag free. I've always been a light packer so when I fly solo I typically carry on my luggage. However, carrying on isn't always easy when traveling with kids, plus I'm convinced that the mob mentality often evident at departure gates is at least in part attributed to fear of not getting a space for one's carry-on luggage in the overhead bins (and not wanting to pay to check bags). Though yes, you add time by having to go to baggage claim, when traveling with kids, it's great if you can lighten your load and check bags without worrying about extra cost. And in both directions, I did not see the panicky line assembly that I saw on my last three trips on other airlines.

  • A little extra check in help. Traveling both directions (i.e., not just because the flight departing Boston was the inaugural flight), a gate agent approached me to tag my stroller and booster. This was a small gesture, but really appreciated, especially given that in Boston Laurel and my Mom headed off to the Kidport and it would have been a nuisance to navigate Violet, stroller, and Laurel, my Mom, and my personal effects to the counter to get the tags.

  • Legroom. Many airlines talk about offering more legroom, but I've flown United, American, AirTran, and Delta in the last couple of months and unless you're in the emergency exit row (which you can't be if you're traveling with kids) or you opt to pay for more legroom, it's tight. Sometimes really tight. And I'm not even that tall. The legroom on JetBlue is the most accommodating I've experienced, which is particularly handy when you're traveling with a squirmy baby.

  • Snacks. Admittedly, I wasn't wild about the more substantial snack boxes we purchased on the return flight (tuckered out and fighting a cold, I completely brain cramped on buying dinner for the plane) but if you just need light snacks it's really very nice that JetBlue still offers free snacks. And tasty ones. Also, unlimited. Not like I would know anything about that.

  • Diaper friendly. Arguably the biggest unexpected bonus for me was the fact that JetBlue offers changing tables in the bathrooms, which meant that I did not (as on other flights this fall) have to lie Violet on the floor of the galley (yuck, even with a changing mat). I discovered this completely by accident when I first took Laurel to the bathroom and she made me squeeze in there with her. The table drops down above the toilet and is aligned and fitted to drop down to wedge between the wall and sink/counter level so there's nowhere for baby to roll side to side and babies can even gaze happily at themselves in the mirror. Awesome!

    In a nutshell, I was thrilled with JetBlue, particularly from the family friendly angle, and highly recommend you consider flying with them (my mom is also now totally a fan!). It's excellent that they now fly direct to St. Thomas (as well as other tropical destinations), though it's a bit of a bummer that you cannot fly back direct in the reverse. On the return flight we had to fly to San Juan to refuel and though it was a short 20-minute trip, the overall process added an extra hour to our return travel. Meanwhile, I'm truly sad they don't fly to Nashville (my next trip). Even though my Nashville journey will be solo, I would love to enjoy less carry-on baggage mayhem, more legroom, snacks, and great service.