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JetBlue to introduce roomier seats (for a price)

Low-cost carrier JetBlue, already known for its in-flight perks like leather seats and seatback entertainment systems, announced this week it plans to make the seats at the front of its planes even roomier—for a price, that is.

The airline is currently reconfiguring of all of its A320 aircraft and plans to have the changes complete by the middle of February. It will remove one row of seats to reduce the total number per plane to 150 (down from 156), resulting in “36 inches of pitch for the first 11 rows of seats and 34 inches of pitch for the rest,” according to a Travel Weekly report.

JetBlue plans to “hold out a few of the 36-inch seats for the highest-paying customers,” according to CEO Jeff Neeleman. Although the airline isn’t calling it “first class,” that’s basically what it is: a way to appeal to flyers who might want to pay extra for a better seat.

This is not the airline’s first move toward catering to customers willing to pay more for a “premium” product. In December, JetBlue announced it would sell extra-fuzzy blankets for $5 to those willing to dish out the extra dough. It also sells special headsets for those who aren’t satisfied with the ones the airline provides for free.

So what’s the harm in all this? In theory, nothing, so long as the standard product doesn’t get diminished in the process. That’s why I don’t really have a problem with selling better blankets to those who want them.

But in this case, we’re losing six low-cost seats per plane, and we may end up paying more if we want to sit in the first 11 rows. (Though I want to stress that right now JetBlue is still saying only “a few” of the seats will be set aside for higher-paying customers.) Ultimately, though, we’re looking at the possibility that perhaps a third of the plane could be devoted to those who want to pay more. That’s potentially one-third of the plane that’s no longer available at the lowest prices.

Or, putting it another way, this has the potential to be a de facto price increase. I don’t know of anyone who wants that.

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