During the earliest years of JetBlue Airways, the company offered an incredible employee incentive. This incentive was an all-expense paid trip to Toulouse, France, for a group of employees to bring back their brand new Airbus 320 aircraft from the Airbus Factory in Toulouse to JFK International Airport.
There were several ways to be chosen for these flights. One way was through a contest to name the airplane for every new aircraft delivery. The name had to have the color blue in it, and if the name was chosen, the employee was rewarded with this very special incentive trip to Toulouse. Other employees selected for this trip were considered excellent for their expertise. Since I was one of the ‘Founders’ of JetBlue, a ‘Founder’ being considered a previous airline employee who decided to leave an established carrier and take a chance on a new start-up, the name of the plane that we brought back to JFK was called “Blue-T-Ful.”
Approximately 13 crew members, with spouses or significant others, were from all over the company’s network. We were taken on several interesting tours – the first being the highlights of Toulouse. On the second day, we were taken to Carcassonne, a medieval walled city and a World Heritage site located between Toulouse and the Mediterranean. We were also taken to the Musee Toulouse-Lautrec in Albi, France, which houses over 1,000 of the artist Toulouse-Lautrec’s artworks.
The ultimate tour was of the Airbus factory. At that time, the Airbus Model A380 was still being constructed and tested, and we could see the inside of a mock-up version. Also, we had the opportunity to view A380 aircraft being test-flown and performing takeoffs and landings (touch and goes) outside the factory.
During our free time, we spent several hours walking through the city between Central Du Midi and River Garonne. The Old Town of Toulouse is famous for its narrow pedestrian streets, coral-colored shops, and churches. On our free day, we chose to go to a Beach Town on the Mediterranean Sea. It was at the end of August, and it was an ideal beach day and experience.
The trip’s final day was the highlight of our journey, for it was time to bring back our new A320 aircraft! This flight was operated under different FAA rules. It was considered a Part 91 ferry flight, with currently retired pilots commanding the aircraft and no flight attendants required. The flight deck door was open during the entire flight, and everyone had the opportunity to take turns sitting with the pilots. Airbus personnel catered the flight with delicious food that we served ourselves. My husband, Jonathan Katz, assisted with serving the food and acted as a flight attendant.
During the takeoff from Toulouse, the airplane was struck by lightning. The pilots decided it was safe to continue on to Goosebay, Canada, for the necessary refueling. My husband was able to view the landing on the flight deck. During our stop in Goosebay, the onboard JetBlue maintenance personnel performed a mandatory lightning strike inspection and found the airplane airworthy. We continued to JFK International Airport, and then the airplane proceeded to another maintenance base in Florida, where the JetBlue live televisions were installed. JetBlue is remembered as the first air carrier in the United States to have live television on all of its aircraft. LiveTV was originally owned by JetBlue and sold later on to Thales.
This unique experience was one of the best memories of my airline career.