a row of seats in an airplane

Why would any business intentionally make their product worse during a pandemic, let alone an airline?

JetBlue is emailing travelers to let them know about new fare structures which make standard economy tickets “better”, but make the lowest fares, the ones which grab headlines, hearts and eyeballs – worse.

They say it’s to streamline things, help guarantee overhead bin space and make travel simpler, but there’s a variety of reasons why that’s simply untrue.

As US airlines continue to beg for government bailouts, after already receiving $65 billion combined in payroll grants, subsidies and loans, JetBlue is using their share of the money to squeeze passengers more, even as it begs people to fly again. The timing is also unfortunate, given JetBlue’s overwhelming positive unveil for London flights.

It doesn’t mean the changes can’t occasionally be decent news for the most price conscious customers, or even those buying more expensive fares, but it’s important to paint a clear picture of what’s hype, and what’s real with JetBlue’s new economy proposition…

a row of seats in an airplane

JetBlue Bans Full Size Carry On’s For ‘Blue Basic’ Economy Fares

This change from JetBlue, bans ‘Blue Basic’, which are the lowest fares offered, from bringing a full sized carry on bag on board. The change is inherently negative. It means you can take less at a good price than you could before. It’s cost cutting.

To spin it, they promise $25 to people who buy regular ‘Blue’ or ‘Blue Extra’ fares who are forced to gate check the bag. So great, I’ll have to pay more to guarantee space, or bring the bag I could before – but you’re already dishing out compensation on the basis you won’t deliver, before it starts.

A fare which allowed you to bring a full sized roller bag on board yesterday, soon won’t. JetBlue’s ban on ‘Blue Basic’ fares bringing a full sized bag on board applies to tickets sold from February 25th, 2021, for flights after July 20th, 2021.

Even that’s a bit confusing. What if I buy a ticket on February 26th, for July 19th? Assume it’s ok to still bring a full sized carry on, on board? It’s much easier when an airline just says this applies to all new tickets sold for travel after X date.

That change is taking something away which previously was a part of the deal, and allowed those who didn’t need a checked bag to travel at a reasonable price. Very few people can realistically travel with only a backpack, purse or other ‘small person item which fits under the seat in front’, which is proof JetBlue doesn’t actually want to sell these to you.

They want you to pay more what used to come standard.

Other US airlines including Delta and American tried this, and found it was a disaster, and only United remains this stingy of ‘legacy’ airlines. Even Sprit and Frontier allow you to purchase full sized carry on space for a modest fee, which these fares don’t even offer!

In Europe, legacy airlines including British Airways learned their lesson from too much cost cutting, and have reintroduced most previous benefits, and use full sized carry on access at low prices to sway travelers away from low cost carriers.

Basically, if you’re price comparing JetBlue ‘Blue Basic’ and Spirit Airlines, and the only option if you want a full sized carry on is a huge difference in price for standard ‘Blue’ or ‘Blue Extra’ which allows one, JetBlue is pushing you to actually book with Spirit or Frontier, where a modest fee gets the full sized carry on, onboard.

Do note: Mosaic members are given an exception to the no full sized carry on policy, as are active duty service members, as well as unaccompanied minors. Oddly, anyone who buys basic ,but then buys an extra legroom seat is also exempt.

a bed in a plane

Overhead Bins Are Bigger Now Anyway!

As passengers rightfully maximizing carry on allowances has become more of a thing, in response to airlines removing free checked bags, the overhead bins have become overcrowded.

People hate getting on board to find there’s no space near their seat to put their big bag, and end up gate checking it, or taking a walk of shame down the aisle. JetBlue purports this will stop that, but is it even necessary?

Some old planes struggled to cope, true, but airlines retrofitted cabins, and bought new planes which offer a minimum 60% more space for overhead compartments. In other words, the argument that it’s about space is increasingly BS, as overhead bins grow across the JetBlue fleet.

With these new bins, you can slide a roller in on its side, and it fits thanks to the added depth and height. It’s something the airline has toted in marketing, which makes any claims that the big benefit of this new policy is to “guarantee overhead bin space” for non ‘Blue Basic’ customers a bit of a laugh.

No Change Fees For Everything But ‘Blue Basic’

Every legacy US airline, which JetBlue somewhat fits the mold of, has dropped change fees on all fares except for basic economy. Months too late, JetBlue is finally joining in on the fun and eliminating change and cancellation fees too. No points for originality, or for the timing – but it’s good news.

Fare differences still apply, but airlines found that too few people were willing to pay the $200-$450 fee on top of any fare difference, and the draconian fees were actually counter productive to the travel rebound. JetBlue is offering flexibility through March which pretty much eliminates all fees anyway.

Under the newly announced rules, all fare classes except for ‘Blue Basic’, which is effectively JetBlue’s “shame class” (cue Game Of Thrones scene) will pay a difference in fare only. ‘Blue Basic’ will pay a $100 change fee, plus fare difference, and $200 for any international flights.

Why JetBlue, Why Now?

Just weeks ago, JetBlue wowed travelers around the world with the promise of lower fares between the East Coast and London, and innovative new cabins to support the effort. It was all smiles.

And just as the positivity was brimming, this. JetBlue is going where few airlines still go, effectively creating a shame class for the people who value the lowest fares, but love the airline.

Delta and American, which arguably seen as the two most forward thinking US legacy airlines quickly reversed course on early basic economy learnings, due to a myriad of issues such as extra work in policing these issues at gates, and confusion it presented passengers who for decades have always thought “if it fits in the box, I can take it on board”.

It’s nice to see that JetBlue is using taxpayer dollars to make their experience worse for the passengers who are the most price sensitive, while effectively doing nothing at all for everyone else, other than a guarantee that their bag that already fit, will fit.

You can read through the changes directly from JetBlue here.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Well said Gilbert!

    JetBlue is channeling BA here at home in their approach to lower revenue-recognition travelers.
    Good news is that the travelling public are already bitter, and have very long memories.

    Vote with your wallets.

  2. I’ve been hoarding JetBlue miles for a while in anticipation of their soon-to-be-implemented pond-jumping capabilities.

    So much for that idea. Thanks for nuthin’, JetBlue :-/

    1. I think the transatlantic offering is still really valuable and could be a game changer. I remain optimistic there. I just don’t see the business case, or the customer case for willfully making a product ‘worse’ during a pandemic, as they’ve done here with economy. All the best!

  3. I’m fine with this. Basic is basic, pay for more. As long as the rate you pay for more is reasonable, this is the most flexible and price efficient for the customer way of doing things.

    And let’s not pretend Jet Blue’s passenger experience is comparable to Spirit given Spirit’s 28 inch pitch.

  4. I hate Jet blue basic fare! I didn’t know it forbids overhead carry on until too late. What a pain. There should be an intervention in the ticketing process where you must choose not to have an overhead carry on to make sure people know. It has always assumed you get a carry on with a ticket. This is just crap. People on a tight schedule have to go to baggage claim and miss their appointment waiting for bags to appear. Not good enough, jet blue.

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