Seasoned travelers know that sitting closer to the front of the plane means you can get on and (perhaps more importantly) off the plane faster than those sitting further back. JetBlue Airways lets passengers pick their seats at the time of purchase as long as they didn’t book a basic economy fare.
As of January 28, JetBlue is now charging up to $49 extra for what it is calling “Core Preferred” seats, the aisle and window seats in the rows directly behind JetBlue’s Even More Space premium economy cabin; these seats used to be available with no added charge for all but basic economy passengers. While the Even More Space seats have additional legroom, the Core Preferred fee is just for the seat.
The preferred seat fee is a change for JetBlue but it’s nothing new for a U.S. airline. Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and United Airlines all charge for a similar product they call preferred seats. Even ultra-low-cost airlines like Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines, which charge for all seat selections, charge more for seats closer to the front. The only major airline that doesn’t is Southwest Airlines, which famously has no seat selection at all and a free-form boarding process.
The winner here is JetBlue’s Mosaic members, passengers who have gained elite status with the airline because they either fly it so much or spend a lot on the airline’s cobranded credit card. They are allowed to choose any preferred seat at no extra charge at booking as long as they don’t purchase a basic economy fare. Now those seats are more likely to be available for these passengers whenever they book. Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue’s president, COO, and incoming CEO, told investors in a January 30 earnings call that offering this perk is “another way to reward our most loyal Mosaic customers.”
On the other hand, the move is a loss for customers who always booked their flights early and got their pick of the seats on the plane. They’ll have to either pay more or start flying more to get the elite Mosaic perks.
A quest for profitability
While many may groan at the mere idea of yet another new fee charged by an airline, those who watch the airline space appear split on JetBlue’s new preferred seat fee.
Ben Schlappig of One Mile at a Time railed against it as another “junk fee,” while Carissa Rawson of Upgraded Points said it was understandable and “ensures JetBlue still maintains a competitive edge in the rapidly evolving airline industry.”
In a statement to AFAR, JetBlue was transparent about the reason for the new fee.
“The introduction of preferred seating, in line with many other airlines, allows us to continue to offer our low fares and great service, while making progress toward returning to profitability,” the airline said.
This theme of profitability was also prevalent in statements JetBlue made surrounding its fourth-quarter earnings, which it announced on January 30.
“2024 is an important year of change for JetBlue and we are taking aggressive action, including launching $300 million of revenue initiatives, to return to profitability and deliver value for our shareholders,” Geraghty, who will become JetBlue’s new CEO on February 12, said in an earnings release.
Geraghty said the airline is planning to increase revenue by expanding the work it does with online travel agencies, better balancing the airline’s network of routes to adjust for demand, doubling down on its strong leisure travel markets, and launching new loyalty initiatives.
JetBlue has had a rough start to 2024, with a federal judge in January blocking the airline’s proposed $3.8 billion merger with Spirit Airlines over competition concerns. The airlines are appealing, with a hearing set for June. The New York–based airline was planning on using the ultra-low-cost carrier’s pilots, planes, and existing infrastructure to grow into the fifth-largest airline in the USA. With that future now in question, JetBlue must plot a new path forward.