JetBlue to charge for extra legroom, exit row seats

JetBlue, long committed to an egalitarian attitude in the sky, seems to be moving away from that plan slightly with the introduction of a “pay-for-legroom” scheme in their planes, beginning April 1 (and no, it is not a bad April Fool’s joke, unless they’ve enlisted the media to participate). Currently JetBlue offers 34-36″ pitch on their Airbus A320 planes and 32-33″ pitch on their Embraer E190s. The new scheme will make all the seats on the A320 34″ and increase the pitch for 4 rows to 38″, giving them the absolute title for most pitch for an economy seat (better than United’s Economy+, which is also a pay product). The E190s will only have the “Even More Legroom” (EML) program available for the exit rows. The 34″ throughout the A320s will still be industry leading and the buy-up for the 38″ pitch is only $10-20 per segment, depending on the flight length.

I completely understand the way United markets their E+ section. The other E- seats a cramped and hard to fit in and do anything else. JetBlue doesn’t have the same problem. With 34″ pitch in the other seats there isn’t much motivation for most people to pay more for the 38″ seat. Indeed, until they get bigger screens for their LiveTV system, it may make things worse because the screen will be too far away.

The 38″ pitch is on par with many legacy carriers’ domestic first class section, but this isn’t really that. CEO David Barger is very insistent that JetBlue is not going to be installing a second cabin, stating “We’re not going to a two-cabin airplane,” during an interview yesterday about the EML program. So it will be sortof like domestic F, but you still might be in a middle seat, there will not be preboarding, pre-departure drinks, free drinks or food at all (any more than economy gets) nor increased seat width. I guess that’s about fair for $10-20, but I’m still not sure that it is compelling considering how comfortable and spacious the rest of the seats are.

Not mentioned is a program to allow free access to the EML seats for frequent fliers (United does this) or the option to buy access to those seats as an annual pass (United does this, too). What about for the passengers who are buying the recently introduced fully refundable tickets? It will be interesting to see if the TrueBlue program can be modified to allow such things.

So again, JetBlue makes motions towards traditional legacy carrier. I think that the seats are priced cheap enough that they’ll actually make money with this plan, especially since they didn’t take any seats out of the plane. That being said, I can’t see myself ever paying the extra $10-20 for the legroom. I’ve done it on United for the E+ seat, but I wouldn’t bother when I’m already getting 34″ in the A320 or even 32″ in the E190. This also raises questions of airport assignment of those seats if no one wants to pay for them but a flight is sold out, something that will probably cause problems when people try to jockey for position to get them for free.

Yeah, it is a little ironic that they’re going live with the program on April Fool’s Day. It’d be fun to be a fly on the wall at JFK’s T6 that day; maybe I’ll go hang out and watch…

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.