Sometimes industry pressure and trends are too strong for any single airline to stand up to. This is certainly the case with “unbundling.” Unbundling is the idea that airline customers shouldn’t pay for services they don’t need. A decade and more ago, the cost of an airline ticket included the transport, a seat assignment, a meal, etc. In the mid-2000s airlines began to “unbundle” these products, offering them to passengers a la carte. After all, if you don’t have a checked bag or want a meal, why should you pay for one as part of your ticket? The theory went that base airfares would decline and passengers could pay for the add-ons they needed on a per-flight basis.
It’s difficult to measure if base airfares actually declined, as airlines have been aggressively cutting capacity at the same time, which drives fare prices up. We’ll never know for sure, though Spirit Airlines – the king of unbundling – does tend to have very cheap base airfares. Just be prepared to pay for both carry-on and checked bags, and just about everything else short of using the lavatory.
JetBlue’s changes are an acknowledgment that it’s tough to go against industry pressure. It will now charge for checked bags (on its new “basic” fares) and begin adding seats to aircraft in the next few years to increase per-flight revenue. While this will decrease legroom for the rest of the economy cabin, JetBlue’s average legroom will remain above the industry average.
This is one more reason why earning elite status with your airline of choice is more important than ever. With waived bag fees and free access to extra legroom seating, among many other benefits, loyalty pays big dividends among travelers these days.