JetBlue will raise bar on coach comforts

"More inches of legroom than any other U.S. airlines' coach cabin." That's how JetBlue's David Neeleman characterized his airline's coach-class seating following a reconfiguration expected to be completed by March 2007. (The JetBlue news release is here.)

After JetBlue removes one row of seats from the forward section of each its Airbus 320 jets, the resulting pitch—the industry term for the distance between seats, or legroom—will be at least 36 inches in rows 1 to 11, and at least 34 inches in rows 12 to 25. Neeleman claims that will give JetBlue bragging rights for the most coach legroom of any U.S. airline. (United's Economy Plus, which features similar legroom, shouldn't be included in the comparison, since that's a fourth class of service.)

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In a counterintuitive calculation, JetBlue figures that fewer seats will actually translate into higher profits. That's due to the cost savings achieved by reducing from four to three the number of required flight attendants and the fuel savings from the weight reduction of removing seats.

JetBlue has an enviable track record of embarrassing the established airlines, delivering a better product, with style and verve, at a lower price. This move cements their reputation as a giant killer. And more importantly, it raises the bar for coach-class comfort for the entire industry.

When American abandoned its "More Room Throughout Coach" program in 2004, I called the pullback short sighted. JetBlue may yet prove me right.

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