JetBlue is Making Changes That You Think You Won’t Like, But You Might Be Wrong

Remember when we talked about what Wall Street wanted JetBlue to do in order to improve financial performance? Well, JetBlue agrees. The airline has announced that it’s going to add more seats to its airplanes and start charging for bags. But it’s not that simple. As you would expect from JetBlue, the airline is being very thoughtful about how it’s doing this.

Three Fare Families Coming Soon
When it comes to charging for bags, JetBlue is doing it through fare families.

JetBlue New Fare Families

You can probably guess which one of these I made up (if not, you need serious help), but the other three are real and were taken straight from the investor presentation.

The exact plan isn’t entirely clear, but the base level, called “Better,” will have what you get today minus a checked bag. The next level up is “Even Better,” and that will have what you get today plus some additional number of frequent flier points and “other benefits,” whatever that may be. Lastly, we have “Best” (anyone else reminded of Cold Stone Creamery’s size names?) which includes 2 bags, even more frequent flier points, and some greater level of flexibility.

Until we know what “other benefits” are and what the pricepoints are, it’s hard to fully judge this. But I’ve always been a fan of fare families, despite the tax penalty. (If bags and other things are broken out as optional fees, then taxes aren’t paid on them, but in fare bundles, they are.) The key to a successful fare family is pricing the different options right. And we just don’t know what that’s going to look like yet.

The new structure is supposed to roll out officially in mid-2015 sometime, so I’m sure I’ll write more about it then.

15 More Seats on the A320
If you saw the news that JetBlue would add 15 seats to its A320s, you were probably not happy. Nobody likes that, right? Well, JetBlue seems convinced you’re going to like this.

The A320s today have 150 seats onboard. JetBlue is going to add 15 and go all the way up to 165 seats. We’ve all seen this before. The airline will use slimline seats to reduce the footprint and then shrink seat pitch to get more seats onboard. The thinner seats offset the loss of seat pitch meaning that personal space stays the same. JetBlue says you’ll be happy with this.

If you’re NOT skeptical, I’d be amazed. After all, United promised better comfort when it went to slimline seats. Um, no. Southwest said the same. Nope. Really everyone has made this claim and most of the time it’s not true. So why should you believe JetBlue?

Well, JetBlue already has the new seat it’s going to use on the A321s in the fleet. It includes a bigger screen, better inflight entertainment system, and in-seat power. I believe this will all be included when they do the retrofit on the A320s.

JetBlue uses the Net Promoter Score to measure satisfaction. You just ask one question. “How likely is it that you would recommend JetBlue to a friend or colleague?” The results from people in regular coach (the “core” experience) on the A321s are 15 points higher than those on the A320s in the current seats.

That’s a pretty clear indicator that the experience is better, though some of the bells and whistles like in-seat power are going to inflate it. Still, if the seats were bad, these results would not be this good.

But, there’s one issue. The A321 has 33 inch seat pitch in the back, but the A320 will have one inch less. Is this going to make a difference? Well, it’s still a good couple inches more than the other guys have with their slimline seats. I guess I’ll really need to try this out to see if I agree. The only problem is that the refits don’t begin until 2016, so it’s pretty far away.

I haven’t flown JetBlue’s A321 yet, but the airline has offered to let me sit on one for awhile at LAX when it’s on the ground. I might have to take them up on that offer. And then I’ll have to see if I can get a feel for whether one inch will make a difference. But for some reason I’m willing to bet that this will be comfortable.

Why am I so trusting? I think it’s related to the fact that JetBlue has built up such a strong relationship with its customers. If it does something that really screws them, the airline is sunk. I can only assume that JetBlue has poured a ton of effort into this, and the airline knows that it’s going to be ok. If it’s not, then this airline is going to ruin what it’s built.

Until we can really try it out, however, it’s all just speculation.

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