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Who Above All? New Bag Fees and Less Leg Room Give Loyal Customers the JetBlues‬‬‬

Last week on Blue Tails, the official blog for JetBlue, incoming CEO Robin Hayes broke the news that the airline has “a couple major initiatives for the future that will continue to evolve our product so we can maintain our competitive edge and deliver for our customers, our crew members, and our shareholders.”

Translation: Hey JetBlue customers, get ready for checked bag fees, tiered pricing structures, an end to free high-speed wi-fi, and less room for stretching out your (likely already-cramped) legs.

Beginning next year, JetBlue will do away with its current pricing (and one free checked bag per passenger policy) and introduce three new fare bundles that will give customers different options for paying for their checked baggage. They’ll also pursue “a unique new monetization strategy” that will likely put an end to free in-flight wireless. And, starting in mid-2016, JetBlue will perform a “cabin refresh” on its fleet of A320s. Ten-inch TV screens in every seat back, electronic charging ports, new lavatories, and more comfortable seats are all part of the refresh. But so is less leg room and a more crowded cabin, all thanks to the addition of 15 more seats per plane.

According to an official JetBlue press release, these changes are expected to generate the company more than $400 million annually by the beginning of 2017. But don’t worry, customers. “One thing that’s not changing,” reassures Hayes, “is our culture of service and our commitment to our customers.”

Despite the reassurance, many of JetBlue’s customers just aren’t buying it.

However many consumer hearts have been broken, the JetBlue changes actually aren’t much of a surprise. This summer, frequent flyer guru Tim Winship predicted, with eerie accuracy, that pricing and seating changes were in the air. “Such changes would be wrenching for JetBlue loyalists, for whom the roomier seating and relative absence of nuisance fees have been key reasons to book JetBlue over the competition,” he wrote. “Even the number-crunchers acknowledge that a remodeled JetBlue would jeopardize the considerable brand equity the airline has built up over the years.”

In an age where we’ve all become accustomed to the scaled-back, stripped-down amenities of the average in-flight experience, here’s the truth: up in the sky, it’s the little things that go the longest way for customers. And, until now, JetBlue has been very good about offering a lot of (free) little things.

Which is exactly why taking them away is such a big deal. Flyers love the JetBlue experience simply because it isn’t like any other airline’s. But when the airline whose motto is “You Above All,” the airline that prides itself on a culture of providing amazing customer experiences, announces plans for getting rid of the very things that customers love it for, people suddenly feel betrayed.

And, worst of all, customers may be starting to see the airline as undifferentiated in an industry where delightful experiences – because they’re so few and far between – are the ultimate differentiator. The future success of JetBlue, as it rolls out these changes, will therefore depend on its customers. Keep listening to them, and engage with them to find the new little things that they’ll love (even if they still have to pay for their checked bags).

Image by angeloangelo via Flickr

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