Last updated: 09:23 AM ET, Wed February 03 2016

JetBlue's Cabin Redesign: What Does It Mean for the Industry?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | February 01, 2016

JetBlue's Cabin Redesign: What Does It Mean for the Industry?

Photo courtesy of JetBlue

JetBlue has announced a major cabin upgrade for its entire fleet of Airbus A320s. In addition to a gate-to-gate wireless internet connection, the low-cost carrier’s planes will get slightly larger seats, more legroom and 10-inch seat-back screens (up from the current 5.6 inch models). Passengers can access Wi-Fi through the screens, so they will not have to bring their own devices onboard in order to take advantage of all the IFE offerings (which will include DirecTV and Amazon Instant Video access). 

JetBlue and Southwest are leading the way when it comes to gate-to-gate Wi-Fi. They are the first two U.S. carriers to offer internet connections below 10,000 feet. JetBlue is taking the idea a step further by connecting seat-back screens to the internet.

Set to take place between 2017 and 2019, this extensive remodeling project could do much more than simply make for a nicer ride on board JetBlue flights. With the domestic market being where it is, this remodel could blur the lines between low-cost and traditional carriers, touching off a new kind of competition amongst major airlines. 

As the success of Spirit in the U.S., Ryanair in Europe and AirAsia in the Far East have shown, airlines can compete on price alone. The aforementioned trio won’t win any awards for their customer service or their in-flight experiences, but people still fly them because they think they are getting the best possible fare. 

READ MORE: Who Will Challenge Ryanair’s Low-Cost Throne in Europe?

Now that fuel prices are low, major full-service carriers like American and Delta can compete with Spirit and its ultra-budget peers on price if necessary. What JetBlue’s redesign suggests, however, is that price might not be the only variable that passengers consider.

The sweet spot

JetBlue’s redesign seems to be focused on finding a happy middle ground between price and comfort. The airline definitely falls in the low-cost carrier realm. That probably won’t change after the sleek new cabins start appearing in 2017. At the same time, the enhanced in-flight entertainment, which will be free for passengers to access, and bigger seats will put JetBlue in a different class than Spirit, which has actually been known to brag about its lack of amenities. 

READ MORE: Why Did JetBlue Start Charging for Bags?

At this time, it doesn't seem like ‘Blue is planning to make these new features part of some sort of upsell strategy. There will probably be some extra enhancements that passengers can purchase in-flight, but the basics will be free for all. This also differentiates the low-cost carrier from legacy carriers, who have started to bring back some freebies, but who still charge for wireless internet access and make passengers upgrade to premium economy if they want more leg room. 

Airline service will probably never be as attentive as it was during the early days of commercial aviation, but JetBlue’s moves could get travelers to start expecting (or even demanding) more from their airline. We will see if ‘Blue’s new cabins and enhanced in-flight amenities earn it a bigger share of the market on competitive routes. If it has a positive impact on the carrier’s bottom line, then other airlines may start renovating their cabins as well. If it does not lead to bigger profits, however, competitors will probably start tending towards Spirit’s ultra-cheap a la carte pricing business model. 


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