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

  1. I hope that Jetblue is trying to dissect the NPS data, to see what really matters. With more and more of us bringing our own entertainment onboard, it’s got to be the seat that matters. The current seats on the A320s are showing their age and aren’t very comfy for a transcon. I’m skeptical that slimline will fix all of that. And doesn’t 165 mean an extra flight attendant? 15 more seats pays for that at increased margin?

    1. The other benefit is this brings the flight attendant to passenger ratio from 1 FA for 50 passengers to 1 FA per 41.25 passengers. In theory that should increase service quality quite a bit (when people aren’t staring at the screens..)

    2. Neil – The beauty of the NPS score is that is it’s so simple. There isn’t any data to dissect. But I do wonder if some of the increase is due to things like in-seat power and wifi (which is still rolling out on the A320s but is on all A321s). You could figure out the wifi bit by just comparing flights with it vs flights without it. But it’s tough to know what is driving the person’s decision on each flight.

  2. Cranky – i’m not as “trusting” as you regarding that the changes. I think that most anyone who closely follows this airline expected the ceo change and product and service change. Why, because ever since they let go of Mr. Neeleman the airline has not been the same (there may be exceptions due to the early momentum the ceo built). The airline was envisioned and operated with ‘bringing humanity back to travel’. The PR still repeats this mantra but in the same release it states that it will be just like the other airlines (my words). This is what the wall street analysts called for and are to get. Do they have the same network as legacies, No; do they have the same financial support, No. So, this decision, IMO ladies and gentleman, brings an official end to the ‘bringing humanity back to travel’. The only caveat is if Neeleman’s Azul buys into jetblue and connects them.

    1. Let us remember that Neeleman’s JetBlue brought us a bunch of passengers confined in A320s without enough gates to deplane them and barely enough space to park the planes at JFK.

      Sometimes “Inspiring Humanity” is an aspirational goal, and you’ve gotta take care of the lower levels of the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Airline Passenger needs like food and getting them out of the tube in a reasonable amount of time.

      1. true. the man made a mistake and his response was a passenger bill of rights and eventually his firing. You highlight an event, a major event at that, and ignore how the airline had, up to that point and specially after Neeleman’s firing, brought humanity back to travel.

        I tend to ignore your postings because, IMO, they are foolhardy.

    2. IO Neeleman was a visionary but not an operations guys by his own admission. Barger did a lot to strength the B6 balance sheet, going from $6 million cash on hand in one quarter to $1b plus. Neeleman almost grew jetBlue into bankruptcy or insolvency with too many planes. Imagine if B6 tried to take 36 planes a year during the recession.

      Also, don’t forget that Barger hinted at fare families months ago. It is not a result of immediate Wall street unrest.

      1. “Neeleman was a visionary but not an operations guy”–Agreed and that is why he hired continental’s newark hub ops. guy, Mr. Barger.

        “Barger did a lot to strength the B6 balance sheet”….. “Neeleman almost grew jetBlue into bankruptcy or insolvency”—–i don’t know enough about barger growing the cash pile but i’ll take your word; as for neeleman growing jetblue into bk/insolvency I’d say that it is speculation because that was not a problem when he was the ceo and we’d have to speculate his response to the economic downturn.

        “Barger hinted at fare families months ago. It is not a result of immediate Wall street unrest.”– I don’t recall him hinting at fare families so if you have proof then provide. I’d say that the fact that there was wall street analyst unrest points that whatever he said or did was not to their satisfaction.

  3. Cranky – last year you asked the audience to opine/forecast what would happen in 2014 to airlines. Do you mind re-posting it along with the comments so we, airline dorks, can have a laugh at our expense.

    thanks and hope you and your family have a good thanks giving.

  4. “””””I think it’s related to the fact that JetBlue has built up such a strong relationship with its customers”””””

    Well if Southwest can still fool people that they have the lowest fares and are still the darling of the airline industry, then Jetblue may still be able to fool people that everything is the same even with 15 more seats added.

    1. Perhaps, but imo it will last less. i take the amount of time (i.e. momentum), ~30 years, southwest was the low fare and service king into account. jetblue brought ‘humanity back to travel for ~5-7 years.

  5. i hate most airline seats. i would never be so bold as to label any coach seat as “comfortable”, i would just say that some are less uncomfortable than others. i have sat in slimline seats a few times. on flights longer than about 90 minutes, i start getting really uncomfortable. i just don’t like them. also, perhaps there’s a legit reason for this, but would it be so hard to put a little lumbar support on airline seats? pretty please?

    70+ flights this year and a bad back. it would be nice if airline seats showed a little kindness for our lower backs.

  6. I have no faith in B6. The fact that they announced this at an investment event and not a PR/Marketing event speaks volumes to me. If this is the way they are going, I would not be surprised if there is no B6 in 5 years.

    The Big Three can get away with that kind of thing because they have the route network and entrenched customer base to afford to piss on customers. B6 has a very small route network and a weak loyalty program. Beyond their Mint service on transcons what is their differentiator now? DL offers free IFE and snacks on many (most?) B6 routes. Yes, B6 still offers slightly more pitch but would people really pay a premium for that? I can’t see it.

    1. OK, some things need to get clearned up. First off your not correct about the loyalty program, they we’re given awards as among the best or THE best.

      Delta has a crappy one service limited snack program, the JetBlue network will double in the next several years as they remain a growth airline, and then some afterwards, so your not looking long term, and Delta’s IFE is still way below par, they will not have 100 channels of seat-back 10in TV’s it will be mostly wifi based which JetBlue already is rolling out a superior Fly-fy portal for FREE and customers will be happy to enjoy even more entertainment than “Any Other Airline in the World”
      Best part the customers will have it for free and JetBlue will still make money monetizing the Fly-Fy via business partners like Verizon and Time. Its a win-win and revenue booster while not always looking at the passengers to boost revenue like everyone else.

      1. SkyPesos might not be anything special but at least you have the possibility of upgrades. Not so on B6. No free upgrades to Even More Space seats. If you are a high end elite on Delta you are doing better than a Mosaic elite on JetBlue. Plus your points can be redeemed to lots more destinations.

        Delta has 18 channels of TV right now. So fewer than JetBlue but they have the majors and it is certainly good enough. Delta’s snack selection may not be five star dining but neither is JetBlue’s. Snacks are snacks at this point. I certainly wouldn’t fly JetBlue simply because they offer potato chips.

        JetBlue may be “growing” but they are a long way from offering the breadth of network that the legacies have right now.

        The value proposition for JettBlue is much weaker now than it was before. If you aren’t going to have a route network like the legacies, lots of frequency plus fewer fees like WN or low low prices like Spirit, I just don’t see how you compete.

  7. I still don’t get how they are going to add 2.5 rows and only lose a seat of pitch? Are they going to take out the rear galley? Otherwise, it’s a bunch of spin to say that their planes will be just as comfortable when in reality they aren’t.

      1. Pitch is defined as the distance from a point in a seat to the same exact point of the seat in front of it. Seat thickness is not a factor in determining seat pitch.

        1. southbay – Seat pitch is going down, of course, so that helps. But we don’t know what the mix of regular and extra legroom seating will be either. We’ll need to see a seat map. But you’re right, I wonder if this means they’ll have to reconfigure a galley or something.

  8. I agree on the seat comfort issue. As someone who is 5’11” with a 42″ waist, I know I’m wide and can barely wedge my hips into airline seats, though thankfully without intruding into others’ space. That said, after flying the slimline seats recently, I just can’t seem to get as comfortable in them as I can in the other seats, and can’t sleep on planes as well in the slimline seats.

    Economy Comfort is starting to look more and more attractive for future flights, though I would be very hesitant to spend much more than $10 per hour of flight time on it, and would check to see if the seats were better too, not just the pitch. At the very least, I can understand why some of the airport shops offering clothed massages seem to be doing such brisk business.

    Personally, I will take a more comfortable seat over an extra inch or two of pitch or free TV and snacks any day. Free TV is nice to have but doesn’t add much value to me, as I tend to sleep, play smartphone games, or read books on flights.

  9. Also Cranky, it will be interesting to see how JetBlue markets these options to consumers, both those that find its flights directly on its web site and those who go to from Kayak and other travel aggregators. I’m wondering if they will try to focus on pushing the middle option to leisure travelers, perhaps by pricing and bracketing the others around it to make it seem more reasonable.

    For business travelers, it’s hard to see much added value by moving to the middle option (unless that comes with priority or semi-priority boarding), and I’m not sure how valuable the added flexibility of the top option will be for most business travelers.

      1. Agreed that leisure travelers are generally price sensitive, but I would also argue that they check a disproportionate number of bags.

        If you’re checking a bag anyway, how much more will it cost to “trade up” to the middle option? I could easily see the, “Checking a bag? Pay $X and get a free checked bag, plus all this too…” ad copy on the web site.

        Really, I’m just curious how JetBlue’s marketing team will try to get people to trade up and self select for this. I see this as a significant price discrimination ploy, and am interested to see how well it works.

        1. Kilroy – Of course, there’s nothing here that even says it has to be a set amount to buy up. They could vary the upsell amount by route, by season, even my TrueBlue membership if they wanted. I imagine the can do a lot of playing around with this.

  10. If JetBlue uses the same slimline seats as Alaska does, then I think they’re right. I’ve found the Alaska slimline seats to be as comfortable as the ones they replaced, and with better legroom. I love having the powerport in front of me as well.
    Cranky, I hereby volunteer to test out the new seats for you. If JetBlue gives you the tickets, I’ll fly a r/t anywhere from Seattle and write an article about the seats and experience.

    1. Grichard – Yeah, a little too small to tell, I guess. It’s a photo of a pile of cash with some guns from the DEA website.

  11. I fly Alaska all the time and I LOVE the new Recaro slimline seats they’re retrofitting into their planes, with one tiny quibble. The top pocket for all the paperwork and magazines is good. The tray table is fine. The power port is ace, though I haven’t yet thrown a meter on the USB port to find out how many amps (I’m guessing 1 based on Kindle Fire HDX charging time) and some of the AC outlets are already loose (which is to say that they don’t grip your charger’s plug too well… bend the arms of your charger’s plug out a teeny bit and it will stay in the outlet just fine). My gripe is that the little mesh pocket at the bottom is a slight improvement because you can see what’s in there but it’s too small. Also, I agree with Patrick Smith… this is America, where is my %*#()@ cup/bottle holder built into the seat in front of me!! Given how often I use my tray table for my tablet, or just have a drink and don’t need the whole table, a cup/bottle holder would be a HUGE improvement in my comfort.

    The seat itself is exceedingly comfortable for me, though at 5’2″ and ~150 lbs. I am not exactly the best judge of how it would be for a bigger person. Still, the headrest has adjustable wings, the padding is good, the seat doesn’t make you feel hot, and the legroom is really better than it used to be. The seats recline a few inches and it doesn’t seem to be as bad when the person in front of you reclines… maybe the slimmer seat makes a difference in perceived space there too.

    Anyway, if Jet Blue is going to use those Recaro seats, I’d call it a win, or at the very least, a break-even, for most folks.

  12. I have flown the AS slimline seats a few times. I thought they were fine on 2 hour flights. I thought they were very uncomfortable on 5-6 hours transcons.

    Also, about the fare bundles, not really sure they need to throw in extra RDMs and free TV to people who check bags. Unless they are trying to motivate people to check bags. But generally wanting to check bags and wanting more miles are separate desires, and one may want one without the other, so I’m not really sure that those bundles are so wise, or don’t piss off people who want one without the other.

  13. I fly many TransPacific flights and have learned to bring an additional seat cushion. If you feel that the seat is to thin, bring an additional cushion to sit on, your hiney as well as your back will thank you.

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