JetBlue announced last night that it would no longer allow customers who purchase basic economy tickets to bring larger carry-on items onboard. This is a terrible idea that will backfire.
JetBlue Introduces Carry-On Ban For Basic Economy Fares
The concept seems reasonable, doesn’t it? If you buy the cheapest fare, you cannot take a larger carry-on bag onboard so passengers who pay more are guaranteed space in the overhead bin.
Basic economy fares, by the way, are a sold by airlines as a way to unbundle and offer customers cheaper fares, but historically they have simply replaced the existing lowest fares, meaning your fares go up if you want to bring a larger carry-on item onboard or reserve a seat.
JetBlue says this move is “to align its restrictions with those of the no-frills carriers,” but this is not really the case.
Instead, JetBlue goes beyond even Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit by not even allowing customers the option to pay extra to bring a larger carry-on item onboard. Yes, you’ll have to check it or leave it behind, since the overhead bin space will be reserved for those who pay more. Or you can “upfare” to a higher fare class, likely paying much more than the cost of a checked bag.
So much for direct competition with the so-called “ultra low cost carriers”…
Plus, new aircraft are intended to accommodate one larger rollerboard-style item per passenger, so space should not be an issue if all customers place their personal items under the seat in front of them.
Why New JetBlue Policy May Backfire
Even though it has been a decade since Spirit first introduced fees for larger carry-on items, nasty brawls that frequently pop up on Spirit Airlines are often linked to consumer confusion over carry-on fees.
While JetBlue’s new carry-on prohibition on basic economy fares will not kick in until July 20, 2021 (for tickets booked on or after February 26, 2021), that’s still only a limited time to educate a customer base still accustomed to being allowed a larger carry-on item and smaller personal item.
American Airlines, JetBlue’s partner, tried the same approach with its basic economy fares in 2017, but received so much consumer backlash that it abandoned it a year later and now allows basic economy customers to bring onboard a full-sized carry-on item.
United Airlines also introduced a ban on larger carry-on items for its basic economy customers in 2017, but in my experience does not strictly enforce it.
The point is, consumers can be trained, but carriers which have introduced carry-on fees have encountered many irate consumers when the information does not permeate through all booking channels. Online travel agencies should ensure that the new JetBlue carry-on prohibitions are clearly disclosed.
Exceptions To New JetBlue Carry-On Restrictions
Four groups will be spared from JetBlue’s new carry-on restrictions on basic economy fares:
- Mosaic members (who get a carry-on bag and early boarding with all fares)
- Travelers that are combining a Blue Basic fare with an Even More® Space seat
- Active military
- Unaccompanied minors
The second exception may be a nice loophole: if you’re get hit with the prospect of a hefty checked baggage fee at the gate, perhaps just upgrade to an Even More Space seat with an extra five inches of legroom instead.
I can already predict the articles I’ll be writing this summer: angry fights in the gate area when customers attempt to board and are told their larger carry-on item must stay behind.
JetBlue is struggling between the being an uber-premium carrier and a budget carrier. While the pandemic is a good time to experiment, it better “find itself” sooner rather than later. My prediction is this experiment will not end well. No one appreciates nickel and diming, especially without adequate disclosure.