JetBlueʼs math shows less is more in A320 layout

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At a time when numerous carriers are racing to order slimline seats to increase cabin density, JetBlue remains an outlier, reasoning that its less dense configuration on its Airbus A320s and Embraer 190s produces favorable economic results.

During a recent discussion with investors, JetBlue executives fielded questions about its strategy of creating a product that appeals to customers too price sensitive for network carriers, but who appreciate some frills in their passenger experience (#PaxEx). The carrierʼs cabin configurations are designed to appeal to that target space.

Explaining JetBlueʼs logic regarding the economics of offering a less dense cabin, company president Robin Hayes said when the airline examines adding a row or two of seats on the A320 “not only do we sort of displace the Even More revenue that we sell, but we did add an additional flight attendant, and thatʼs a big cabin overhang, thatʼs a big cost you get”.

JetBlueʼs Even More product offering includes extra legroom, expedited security in some markets and early boarding. The carrier estimates it should fetch 190 million in revenue from the product suite in 2014.

“The revenue youʼre generating with an extra six to 12 seats, youʼre chasing the lowest fare, even when youʼre running a full flight youʼre chasing the lowest fares out there,” Hayes remarked, noting that often the fares for those additional seats “are a fraction of the average fare…so when you run the math what it says to us is that our configuration at the moment on the 320 [150 seats] and the 190 [100 seats] is absolutely optimized.”

Delving into JetBlueʼs business model, Hayes concluded there is a small group of customers that travel a lot that are well-served by network carriers. “Then you have another group of ultra flight sensitive customers who go down to the other end of the market, the ultra low cost.”

JetBlue reasons that the “vast majority of people are underserved by those two models. And so thatʼs where we fit in”, Hayes said.

Even as JetBlue concludes that adding seats to its existing aircraft is financially unsound, the carrier is introducing larger-gauge Airbus A321s. However, the 190-seat configuration of JetBlueʼs A321s that do not feature the new Mint premium cabin is still less than the 214 seats featured on A321s operated by ultra low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines.

Spiritʼs A320s also are configured with 24 more seats than JetBlueʼs A320 configuration. The seat pitch offered by the two carriers also reflects JetBlueʼs strategy of targeting the middle market. Spiritʼs 28in pitch on the A320s is 6in tighter than the 34in pitch in JetBlueʼs A320 cabin. For a growing number of passengers, 6in may just be worth shelling out a few extra bucks to guarantee a minimum level of comfort.

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