MONEY Airlines

Flyers, Media React to JetBlue’s Upcoming Fees

JetBlue follows other U.S. airlines into the realm of baggage fees and less leg room. The company announced Wednesday it would introduce new customer policy changes starting in 2015.

This week JetBlue said it is reducing average legroom and introducing a new fare structure that means passengers buying the lowest-price tickets will have to pay extra if they want to check luggage.

The changes, which will be instituted starting in 2015, will leave Southwest Airlines as the only domestic carrier to grant free checked bags (two of them, in fact) for all passengers.

Shrinking legroom will come as a result of 15 more seats being added to JetBlue’s Airbus A320 planes. Even after squeezing in the new rows of seats, JetBlue’s average legroom will be 33.1 inches, which is still slightly more than what the typical passenger on Southwest or Virgin America can expect.

But the real heartbreaker to travelers is likely to be the new “Fare Families” structure, which consists of three bundled options that travelers must choose from when booking a flight. At the low end of the pricing spectrum, tickets do not include a checked bag. Passengers who pay higher fares are entitled to checked bags (one at the middle level, two at the high end), and also get bonus loyalty points.

Exact details on pricing and what specific amenities are and aren’t included in the various fares haven’t been released yet.

MONEY Airlines

A New Era Has Begun for JetBlue, and Travelers Will Hate It

Customers check in at JetBlue's counter at John F. Kennedy Airport in the Queens borough of New York City.
Andrew Burton—Getty Images

At JetBlue, legroom is disappearing and checked baggage will soon cost extra. In other words, the airline you fell in love with is following the playbook of airlines that everyone hates.

When word spread back in September that JetBlue CEO Dave Barger was stepping down from his post in early 2015, two interesting things happened: 1) The company stock soared, rising 5% immediately after the news; and 2) travelers who loved JetBlue for its customers-first policies began to panic.

As Fortune put it, equity analysts tended to view Barger “as being ‘overly concerned’ with passengers and their comfort, which they feel, has come at the expense of shareholders.” With Barger and his pesky, stubbornly customer-friendly policies out of the way, JetBlue—under the leadership of new CEO, former British Airways executive Robin Hayes—could hop on the pathway to higher and higher profits by implementing more fees and cost-cutting measures on par with other airlines.

Consequently, the change at the top was welcomed by investors and dreaded by flyers and travel advocates who loved JetBlue specifically because it didn’t engage in the very nickel-and-diming policies analysts were pushing for. Even before it was announced that Barger was out, Marketwatch foresaw the likelihood that JetBlue would soon begin “putting customers second,” while first and foremost pleasing investors by jacking up fees and cutting back on amenities. Frequent flyer expert Tim Winship described Barger’s departure as “the beginning of the end for JetBlue as we know it,” while noting the risks inherent in the airline’s likely policy shift:

Such changes would be wrenching for JetBlue loyalists, for whom the roomier seating and relative absence of nuisance fees have been key reasons to book JetBlue over the competition. Even the number-crunchers acknowledge that a remodeled JetBlue would jeopardize the considerable brand equity the airline has built up over the years.

Nonetheless, this week JetBlue announced that it is reducing average legroom and introducing a new fare structure that means passengers buying the lowest-price tickets will have to pay extra if they want to check luggage. The changes, which will be instituted starting in 2015, will leave Southwest Airlines as the only domestic carrier to grant free checked bags (two of them, in fact) for all passengers.

Shrinking legroom will come as a result of 15 more seats being added to JetBlue’s Airbus A320 planes. Even after squeezing in the new rows of seats, JetBlue’s average legroom will be 33.1 inches, which is still slightly more than what the typical passenger on Southwest or Virgin America can expect. The real heartbreaker to travelers is likely to be the new “Fare Families” structure, which consists of three bundled options that travelers must choose from when booking a flight. At the low end of the pricing spectrum, tickets do not include a checked bag. Passengers who pay higher fares are entitled to checked bags (one at the middle level, two at the high end), and also get bonus loyalty points.

Exact details on pricing and what specific amenities are and aren’t included in the various fares haven’t been released yet. JetBlue became immensely popular among travelers for perks including free snacks and free entertainment on seatback screens. Presumably, even at the low end JetBlue passengers will get more than the “Bare Fares” of Spirit Airlines, which include with almost nothing other than basic transportation—even water and seat reservations cost extra. But JetBlue’s moves certainly seem inspired by the example set by Spirit, which is widely known as one of the simultaneously most hated and most profitable airlines.

JetBlue’s changes are clearly aimed at pleasing investors—shares of the company stock jumped more than 4% on Wednesday, nearing a seven-year high—but Hayes, currently the airline’s president, still claimed that the company was focused on delivering “the best travel experience for our customers.” In a statement accompanying JetBlue’s press release, Hayes is also quoted saying that JetBlue remains different from the pack. “As we focus on executing this plan,” Hayes said, “JetBlue’s core mission to Inspire Humanity and its differentiated model of serving underserved customers remain unchanged.”

Travelers seem to feel quite differently about the matter. The very active traveler community at the Flyertalk forum has been bashing the changes because they remove what made JetBlue special and worth seeking out, and turn the carrier into just another (hated, annoying, nickel-and-diming) carrier. “Lovely. The ‘We’ll attract more customers by being exactly like every other airline’ move,” commented one Flyertalk member. “Charging for bags and a crappy FF [frequent flier] program? What a combo!” commented another. “Seriously though, they’ve completely lost their appeal.”

Another highlighted how Southwest will soon be the only major domestic carrier including free checked bags with flights: “Now, especially if I have a bag, Southwest will be the way to go…and I hate Southwest.”

TIME

The Knee Defender Is Cheating—And Of Course Guys Love It

No Leg Room
Getty Images

One person should not have the right to determine his own destiny while the rest of us suffer

If you have been busy following real news about people with real problems you might not know that on Sunday, on a flight between Newark and Denver, a woman dumped a cup of water on a man sitting behind her when he prevented her from reclining her seat back with a device called a Knee Defender.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the man who purchased the Knee Defender and the woman who reclined her airplane seat into the knee defender and subsequently dumped a cup of water on his head are both total jerks. Anyone who can’t control themselves 40,000 in the air and causes stress for their fellow passengers and flight attendants needs to be alerted to the whole “other people in the world” thing. That said, the Knee Defender guy is probably more of a jerk than the woman who reclined. Why? Well, this is perhaps a bit of a sophomoric defense. But…

He Started It.

If you made a list of things you’d expect to see on an airplane, among “fellow travelers,” “suitcases” and “small packets of nuts,” you would also very likely list “reclining seats.” Reclining seats are to be expected, a known entity. They are part of the Social Contract.

What is not part of the Social Contract? The Knee Defender. The Knee Defender has only been around since 2003. Justin Bieber is older than the Knee Defender, and only slightly more obnoxious. When you buy an airline ticket, you think, Oh, maybe I will watch a show about giraffes on the Discovery Channel. Or, maybe I will drink tomato juice. Or, maybe I will sit next to my future wife. Or, maybe I will sit next to someone who smells. But you don’t think, Maybe the person behind me will have a little plastic device with its own key that keeps the seat from reclining, because why shouldn’t one person have the right to determine his own destiny while the rest of us suffer?

Buying a Knee Defender is cheating. It is like insider trading, but worse, because not everyone expects to get rich. Everyone does expect to recline.

Another thing about the Knee Defender that sucks: its tagline (“Standing Up For The Right Of The Tall Guy to Sit Down”). I can just hear the company spokesperson(man) saying, “Women also buy the Knee Defender,” and I am sure that, indeed, the company has five or six female customers. But the fact that “guy” is in the tagline, well, it’s clear that the target market is a man who is absolutely horrified that he might have to be uncomfortable for a few hours, i.e. men.

Putting a giant thing up in the sky that moves through the air and needs to be scheduled in such a way that it doesn’t run into other giant things in the sky is complicated and expensive. I am not going to say that the airlines are our friends, but I think they have a lot to deal with. Gas costs a lot. Employees cost a lot. Weather happens. And you can’t ever make everyone happy.

Yes, the seats on airplanes are very small. I don’t think anyone would argue with that, except of course people who fly First Class all the time, and they are too busy complaining about paying taxes to complain about air travel. But air travel is mostly a miracle and a privilege. You can get from coast to coast in five hours, and you can do so because you have at least some disposable income. We’ve gotten so used to it, however, that we forget how amazing it is.

I can just hear the Knee Defender guy right now: So what am I supposed to do then? Just be squished for five hours? Well, until there’s a better solution, yes, squished—just like the rest of us. When it gets really bad, just think about how the Donner Party crossed the country. Now that is uncomfortable.

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