JetBlue goes upmarket with premium seats
The scrappy upstart airline has struggled lately, and some analysts question the wisdom of sacrificing coach capacity for more expensive options.
As The Wall Street Journal notes, JetBlue will add what it calls "lie-flat" seats on New Airbus 321 aircraft starting next year on the popular New York-Los Angeles and New York-San Francisco routes where the company lags rivals.
The new seats will feature air cushions with adjustable firmness, a massage function, a 15-inch widescreen television and a "wake me for service" indicator for customers who choose to sleep in. JetBlue will also offer a completely separate single-suite seat that features a closeable door for privacy. Anyone who buys the premium seats will get hot meals and free alcoholic beverages.
Until now, the company had all-coach seating and didn't offer varying tiers of service. But, as the Journal notes, JetBlue had little choice but to shed its egalitarian roots, since that's not where the market is growing. Moreover, the upstart carrier has struggled lately.
Still, some experts are skeptical that the new seats will do much good for JetBlue. One analyst wonders whether the airline will be able to offset the loss of 31 coach seats with passengers paying higher fares.
"The real benefit of lie-flat seats comes on international routes," Jim Corridore, an analyst with S&P Capital IQ, told The Associated Press.
The company recently reported disappointing quarterly results. Shares have jumped by about 14% this year, underperforming larger rivals such as Delta (DAL), which saw shares surge by 85%, and Southwest Airlines (LUV), whose shares have jumped by 59%. J.P. Morgan analyst Jamie Baker found that JetBlue's decline in operating margin was the worst of any airline he covered, Reuters says.
JetBlue, which recently earned its ninth consecutive J.D. Power & Associates award in airline customer satisfaction among low-cost carriers, isn't forgetting about its other passengers. Next year, the company will "refresh the core JetBlue experience" with a new seat design with movable headrests, a new entertainment system with up to 100 DirecTV (DTV) channels, USB ports, and more legroom in coach than any other U.S. airline.
Whether Wall Street will be patient with JetBlue as the company tries to appeal to both casual and business travelers won't be apparent for a while.
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I like JetBlue and AirTran They know how to treat passengers. No-one is just a number with them,
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