When JetBlue shrinks legroom on A320s, will the onboard experience improve?

JetBlue is refreshing the interiors on its A320s so they'll match the airline's new A321s. But the airline will take away some legroom. Photo: JetBlue Airways. 

JetBlue is refreshing the interiors on its A320s so they'll match the airline's new A321s. But the airline will take away some legroom. Photo: JetBlue Airways. 

In the second half of next year, JetBlue will begin adding 15 seats to all 130 of its A320s, part of a process the airline is calling "densification."

You would expect passengers to be less comfortable. Going from 150 seats to 165 on each plane is a considerable jump. But JetBlue executives argue you'll be happy, since this is part of an overall project to improve the onboard experience. 

"We actually think it will lead to an increase in our customer satisfaction levels," CEO Robin Hayes told analysts earlier this week. 

Yes, the legroom - now the most generous in the industry - will shrink. But the A320s are the oldest planes in JetBlue's feet, with an average age of 9.3 years as of Dec. 21, 2014. When the retrofit is finished, they'll look more like the airline's A321s - average age 0.6 years. [Those planes already have slightly less legroom.]

"I know the focus is on the densification, but it's actually a better product," Hayes said. "It's a new seat, it's a new light TV system."

Travelers could also receive slightly more attention. The Federal Aviation Administration requires U.S. airlines to have one flight attendant for every 50 passengers, so now JetBlue staffs A320s with three crew members. But with 165 seats, JetBlue will need four, which will "allow for more personalized service on board," Hayes said. 

Since there is an increased labor cost involved, one investment analyst asked whether the company is sure JetBlue will make money by adding seats. JetBlue executives responded that they are confident the new seats will turn a profit. Most of the time, they said, they will sell them. 

"We're still a company with a strong leisure orientation that's got extremely high peaks," Chief Commercial Officer Marty St. George said. "During those peak holiday period, the school vacations, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, we have times when there is close to infinite demand. ...We're also bullish about the benefit just on a normal course of business."

Do you believe JetBlue's argument that passengers will actually prefer the slightly tighter configuration? Each traveler will lose roughly one inch of legroom, though JetBlue will still retain more seat pitch than most major airlines. 


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