Changes are coming to JetBlue's fee structure

Robin Hayes is walking a fine line.

The incoming JetBlue CEO has heard investors' calls for the airline to increase its ancillary revenues, as it continues to trail competitors on collecting fees from passengers.

At the same time, he needs to be careful not to damage JetBlue's image as an airline that treats customers differently from other legacy names, such as American and United.

"We're a company that's built with a great culture," Hayes told CNBC. "We have 16,500 crew members who love giving wonderful service to our customers, and that's not going to change."

JetBlue departures terminal at JFK
Robert Nickelsberg | Getty Images

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Before a ceremony to celebrate the opening of the airline's international arrival terminal at New York's John. F. Kennedy Airport, Hayes declined to outline how JetBlue's fee structure might evolve. But he admitted changes are coming.

"We certainly heard the feedback from investors and you know, we're committed to grow our returns," he said. "As our brand and product evolves, there will be new things that we're planning to do."

Hayes' vision for JetBlue will be outlined for Wall Street and investors at an investor meeting on Nov. 19. For many, the big question will be whether JetBlue expands its fees to include, among other things, charging for the first checked bag. Airlines rake in the majority of their revenues from such fees.

But these changes would be a big shift for JetBlue, which ranks fifth out of 15 U.S. carriers when it comes to collecting money for changing reservations or canceling and rebooking tickets, according to the Department of Transportation.

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The DOT data on baggage fee revenues for the first half of this year show JetBlue even further behind its competitors.

In the first six months, JetBlue collected a little more than $38 million in bag fees. That's well behind industry leader Delta, which took in more than $417 million during the same period.

Baggage fees by airline through Q2 2014

Rank
Airline
2014
1 Delta 417,706,000
2 United 310,680,000
3 American 267,941,000
4 US Airways 264,566,000
5 Spirit 118,365,000
6 Alaska 55,472,000
7 Frontier 52,520,000
8 Southwest 44,324,000
9 Allegiant 43,623,000
10 JetBlue 38,415,000
Bureau of Transportation Statistics

That disparity is one reason many on Wall Street expect JetBlue to start charging for the first checked bag. Right now, it charges $50 for the second piece of luggage that is checked, and $100 if a customer checks a third bag. Delta, on the other hand, charges $25 for the first checked bag, $35 for the second and $150 for the third.

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Despite changes, Hayes is adamant JetBlue will not alter its reputation with customers for being an airline that's more interested in service than in growing the bottom line.

"We truly believe that that's the right model. That's where we want to be," Hayes said.

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