JetBlue has begun charging $30 for a first checked bag, making it the first U.S. carrier that is not an ultralow-cost carrier to alter the fee from the industry standard of $25.
The increase went into effect Monday for all new bookings. JetBlue has also increased its fee for a second checked bag from $35 to $40.
“As a matter of good business, we constantly review and adjust our ancillary pricing to ensure a healthy business so we can continue offering the best customer experience of any U.S. airline,” JetBlue spokesman Doug McGraw explained in an email Monday.
McGraw emphasized JetBlue’s economy class service offerings, including free WiFi and live television, free snacks and, “the most legroom in coach.”
JetBlue’s move comes as U.S. airlines are seeing profit margins squeezed by higher fuel costs and stagnant airfares. The adjusted pretax margin at JetBlue was 8.2% in the spring quarter, down from 17.7% a year earlier.
U.S. airlines often follow one another with changes in service offerings and fees. But it remains to be seen whether JetBlue, the nation’s sixth largest airline, will move the market.
George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog.com, thinks it will. “I’ve been predicting this for years that bag fee inflation would help airlines cope with high fuel prices rather than raising fares,” he wrote in an email Monday. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see fees adjusted for distance flown at some point. Other airlines will follow. They always do once a competitor takes the first step.”
Gary Leff, who writes the View from the Wing blog, isn’t so sure. “JetBlue isn’t generally an industry trendsetter, though undoubtedly other airlines will be watching what happens,” he wrote in an email Monday. “This move puts JetBlue at a $5 fare disadvantage against their competitors as customers increasingly have visibility into total trip costs and will see when a higher checked bag fee makes JetBlue the more expensive travel choice.”
To counter that disadvantage, Leff said, JetBlue will need to publish airfares that are $5 lower than competitors in order to offer the same total trip cost for those who are checking bags.