JetBlue is about to make some of its customers, well, blue.
The airline has been profitable this year, but apparently that's not enough for Wall Street. In order to appease investors, the company announced today that it will follow a business model familiar to passengers on Frontier, American and other airlines:offering multiple airfare "bundles," one of which won't include a free checked bag, and cramming more passengers into its planes by installing those abominable "slimline" seats.
It's not the only recent policy change to dismay customers. Earlier this year, the airline changed its once-generous full refund policy (in the form of a travel credit) in the event of a fare drop after purchase.
From the JetBlue media release:
"Beginning in the first half of 2015, customers will be able to choose between three branded fare bundle options. The first of these will be designed for customers who do not plan to check a bag, while the latter two will offer one and two free checked bags, respectively, along with other attractive benefits, including additional TrueBlue points and increased flexibility. This new merchandising platform will enable JetBlue to tailor its offering to individual customers' needs in a way that is simple and transparent."
That will leave only Southwest, for now, offering free checked bags.
This sounds similar to Frontier's pricing model, which offers its lowest fares if you pay for a checked and/or a carryon bag (Frontier used to offer three fare types, now reduced to two); American has a similar three-tiered model with its "choice" fares—in basic, essential, and plus flavors.
More seats, maybe not less legroom
Worse, perhaps, JetBlue is cramming 15 more seats into its Airbus 320's by installing those dreaded "slimline" seats that have less padding (or "give") in the bottom cushion, or at least that's how I experience them.
Again from the release, "the reconfigured cabin plan for the A320 will preserve JetBlue's product advantage and highly-rated customer experience while helping to generate higher returns. Using lighter, more comfortable seats, JetBlue will be able to increase the number seats on its planes while continuing to offer the most legroom in coach." Translation: the seat pitch (the distance between any one point on a seat and the same point on a seat in the adjacent row) is being reduced by one inch.
Even so, at 33 inches of pitch, JetBlue offers more space between seats than most airlines, which typically set rows 31 inches apart, and because the new seats will be slimmer there may be just as much knee room (actually more important than legroom) as before. And before we get all outraged, JetBlue still offers free inflight TV and free WiFi. But there won't be more overhead bins for those extra passengers, that's for sure.
JetBlue reckons they'll gain an extra $450 million per year with these new initiatives. But it may lose what made it special in the first place. At least the Terra Blues chips will be free, for now.