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Inside JetBlue's Terminal 5 Trial Run

August 25, 2008 at 8:00 AM | by | ()

It was a beautiful day for a fake flight: The sky was blue, the sun was bright and the Airtrain was quickly depositing 1,000 people onto JetBlue's new turf behind Eero Saarinen's iconic TWA Terminal at JFK.

Saturday's event, the JetBlue T5 Trial Run, involved groups of New York-area TrueBlue members (us), JetBlue family and press who would put the terminal through the paces without actually flying anyone anywhere.

Last week when we received the email confirming our place in Group A--scheduled to start the first run-through at 9 am--our stomach sank at the thought of having to be out on the A train to JFK in the wee hours of a Saturday morning. But to the airport we went!

Panicking as if we had a real flight to catch, we thankfully arrived right on time and entered a wing of the new T5 terminal directly from the Airtrain platform, through what will one day be more than just construction doors. The moving sidewalks weren't operative yet, and the escalators weren't doing much better.

From the Airtrain entrance bridge, we descended down into the ticketing and departures hall. JetBlue agents were smiling and chatting with each other behind the counters, already comfortable in their spiffy new home. We continued straight out to where curbside drop-off will one day be for a breakfast buffet.

We were briefed by JetBlue CEO Dave Barger before receiving individual folders with our fake passenger names, confirmation numbers, flights and directions. Ms. Deatest, our alias, was to dutifully check into her 11:30 flight to Boston Logan, pass through security, chill at the gate and return to pick up a checked duffel from baggage claim before enjoying an afternoon barbecue party.

The crowd, even this early in the morning, was extremely diverse and surprisingly game to play airport. Whole families with strollers, couples with their own fake baggage, handicapped passengers in wheelchairs and obvious aviation enthusiasts all were thoroughly focused on their fake itineraries.

After grabbing our free, empty T5 duffel, we opted for the self-check-in kiosk which had been programmed with our flight information. With Ms. Deatest's boarding pass printed and her bag checked through to Boston, we left the airy ticketing area to test the security checkpoint.

We're happy to report that despite the flood of fake passengers descending on them at once, the TSA agents were pleasant. We'll see how this stands up in October, when screeners face real passengers with no concept of the current liquids restrictions. (Yes, people like that still exist.)

Unlike JetBlue's current Terminal 6 at JFK, with its two security tubes leading to the gates, the security lines at Terminal 5 will be the hierarchical self-selecting sort. This didn't matter much during the trial, but it's nice to know we may be able to zip through the "expert traveler" line in the future.

Just beyond security is what we're calling the "Infohalo," a suspended ring of screens showing nothing but propaganda for the airline's "Jetting" campaign; we're assuming this will one day have flight data or other info. This central atrium is also the retail and dining nexus of the terminal, with a bunch of those fancy touch-screen order taking/digital charging stations (not yet installed) and sit-down restaurant options. You'll also find stores like Lacoste and Muji to Go.

The terminal spaces are large and clean and happily devoid of any distracting decorations or obstacles to traffic flow; passengers are here to jet, not meander through an art gallery or learn about the history of the Rockaways. JetBlue has also foregone use of the leather Eames Sling airport seating for a similar mesh version not lacking in style.

It was around the time we were contemplating the carpet pattern that JetBlue's Twitter presence, Morgan Johnston, spotted us (cover blown!) and asked how we were liking the whole experience. We told him that everyone seemed excited about everything (especially the bright, unexpected graphics in the bathroom entrances, pictured) and that we had a plum view to watch actual flights taxiing out of Terminal 6.

Back under the Infohalo, we headed down halting escalators to a sleek and shiny new baggage claim area done up in bright orange and striking blue. One-by-one, our checked duffels emerged showing no signs of damage and we went right back out to start the curbside party, overlapping with the arrival of a new group of fake passengers.

Although the tempting white curves of Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal were tantalizingly close, the trial run did not include checking 'em out. Instead, Dave Barger asked how many of us had once flown out of it--quite a few people had--and explained that the TWA signage will be kept as an homage to the airline and the era. We all got a little sentimental over our hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken sandwiches before Dave raffled off a few pairs of free round-trip tickets.

Finally heading back on the Airtrain around noon with a full stomach, a new bag, a sunburned nose and a renewed sense of hope for the airline industry, we called almost everyone we knew to talk about T5, but it seemed no one was interested in hearing about our Saturday hanging out at the airport. In October, when the terminal opens for real business, actual passengers will be calling home about it too, raving about the touch-screen ordering systems and about the does-not-wrinkle, easy-clean underwear they bought under the Infohalo. We cannot wait.

Related Stories:
· T5 at JFK coverage [Jaunted]

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