JetBlue announced on Wednesday that it will add 15 seats to its 150-seat Airbus A320s in 2016. That will reduce average seat pitch from 34.7 inches to 33.1 inches, which is still more generous than the 31 – 32 inch average across the industry.
In addition, JetBlue’s cheapest fares will no longer include first checked bag free.
We don’t know yet which seats JetBlue will be reducing legroom for to accommodate additional seating (reducing their extra legroom seats, or squeezing all seats, or in what proportion a combination of the two). And we don’t know how much JetBlue’s check bag feels will be. But it’s a clear sign that being more generous to customers in economy isn’t a business model that works, which is unfortunate but probably true.
People say they want better seating, but most of them won’t pay for it. Spirit Airlines performs well financially with the least comfortable seats (they don’t even recline, they sit upright, or as Spirit says they are ‘pre-reclined’). There’s a difference between stated preference and revealed preference.
American Airlines tried to give everyone better legroom in the early past of the last decade. It was “More Room Throughout Coach” and everyone got a couple of extra inches of legroom on every aircraft. Customers didn’t choose American over their competitors even at a similar price point. Because revealed preference is that people choose on schedule and price and not comfort. So American killed the plan and put the seats back in.
When planes are full, as they are now, pulling out seats means the airlines have to raise price (to break even, even). And that’s not what consumers want. The point here is that consumers say legroom is what they want, but they don’t actually make decisions that way.
I would love it if the seats in back had more legroom. I hate that American has been adding seats back into aircraft even in 2014 (reducing the number of Main Cabin Extra seats). As an elite member I get these for free, but fewer of them means they’re harder to get. And I’d actually pay a premium for the comfort. But not enough customers will to sustain it throughout the cabin.
And that’s why JetBlue is moving to less comfortable seating, and why they won’t give customers for free the checked bag other airlines charge for. Remember as well that checked bag fees that are not part of a fare are not subject to the federal 7.5% excise tax on domestic airfare. By unbundling the ticket price, even if total revenue doesn’t rise they shield the portion of travel cost that’s categorized as a bag fee from this tax.