JetBlue, one of the nation's biggest airlines, is taking hospitality to a new level. The carrier recently opened its own swanky hotel near its training center in Orlando, but even the most loyal JetBlue customers won't be booking a room, reports CBS News' Kris van Cleave.
At what its owners called the newest boutique hotel in Orlando, Florida, one would expect reservations to be in high demand. The facility includes 196 guest rooms, plenty of open space to work or relax, a restaurant and bar, a sun-soaked salt water pool and even a basketball court.
"Very kind of chic, when you walked into the lobby you felt like you were in a tech place. It's very modern," JetBlue employee Chris Bridges said.
But unlike Bridges, most wouldn't be spending a night there because its owner, JetBlue, built the four story hotel exclusively for one customer -- its employees.
The Lodge, as it's called, opened its doors in early March and Bridges, newly hired by the airline, was one of the very first guests.
"The Lodge was a beautiful facility, it's very bright and airy. It's really a great place," Bridges said.
Although technically more like a dormitory, The Lodge is intended to feel like a hotel. Front desk supervisor Jennifer Llamas has been in the hospitality business for 15 years and her current role isn't so different from that of a flight attendant.
"When they arrive here, we let them know where everything's here in The Lodge, so they don't get lost, so we're like, 'This our front door, your key will open here, this is the elevator,"' she said.
A big factor in the airline spending $32 million building its employees-only hotel is flight simulators at the training center next door.
Just steps away from The Lodge is JetBlue University, the company's training facility. Nearly half of the airlines 16,000 employees pass through the facility each year. Their stays can be as short as a few nights for basic orientation to six weeks for pilot training.
"I wish (regular guests) could see it, because I think they would appreciate the investment that we have made," JetBlue senior vice president of safety, security and training Warren Christie said. "But you are right, we anticipate that this will be filled with JetBlue crew members."
She said they're trying to encourage, by design, to not have their crew members spend their days in their rooms alone.
Christie says The Lodge was not built to save on hotel stays, but instead was designed to immerse guests in the company's culture from the moment they arrive.
Observers say the facility could help JetBlue stand out in an industry known for cost-cutting.
"JetBlue has really prided itself on having employees seem happy at what they do, and passengers feel that when they come on board," USA Today writer Charisse Jones said. "I think having the people stay there at the hotel, where they're actually being trained, kind of speaks to that culture and speaks to that brand and that's what they're trying to do."
Christie said they decided to do things differently -- an investment other airlines may not make.
"For us and for what is truly important to JetBlue about passion for customer service, it fit really nicely," Christie said.
JetBlue was spending $80 a night per person to put employees up in local hotels and it expects to operate the lodge at that price or less. One thing it does not have: room service. They want the guests to spend as little time in their rooms as possible so they can get to know each other better.