JetBlue plans no-frills fares for 2019, vows not to make passengers 'feel like second-class citizens' 

Key Points
  • JetBlue says it will start offering the no-frills fare class next year.
  • Large airlines such as Delta, United and American already offer basic economy.
  • JetBlue could charge for seat selection in exchange for a lower fare.
A Jet Blue aircraft takes off from Long Beach Airport in Long Beach, CA.
Tim Rue | Bloomberg | Getty Images

JetBlue Airways is jumping on the basic economy bandwagon.

The New York-based carrier is planning to unveil no-frills fares next year, as it competes with similar offerings from larger U.S. competitors whose cheapest tickets don't include free advance seat selection or the ability to change travel dates.

"At JetBlue, we never liked the 'no frills' approach," said JetBlue COO and President Joanna Geraghty in a note to employees that was posted on the airline's blog. "But with these competitors now offering basic economy on many routes we fly, customer behavior suggests our success is at risk if we do not disrupt this market by lowering fares without sacrificing the experience."

JetBlue didn't say exactly what the new fares would strip out, but it hinted that ticket changes and free advance seat selection may not be included. The airline industry is seeking measures to increase revenue as fuel costs climb and dent profits. JetBlue last month raised its fee to check a bag by $5 to $30, a move that was followed by several other carriers as they battle higher fuel costs. JetBlue also increased ticket change fees.

"Customers who opt for this fare will agree to some limits, which might include things like boarding order, seating and change/cancellation flexibility, but we will not make them feel like second-class citizens," Geraghty said in her note.

Geraghty said the new fares will still include free on-board Wi-Fi, snacks, soft drinks and a carry-on bag.

Basic economy fares are now offered by Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines, as well as a host of foreign carriers. Airline executives have not been shy that they gauge their success partly on how many passengers pay the higher fare to avoid basic economy, which can be $50 cheaper than regular economy tickets on domestic routes.

"Basic economy is not a price cut," American's president Robert Isom said last year. Low-cost airlines including Spirit and Frontier already charge for add-ons such as cabin baggage and seat selection.

Up until earlier this month, American, like United, did not allow basic economy passengers to bring a carry-on bag for the overhead bin. It dropped that requirement, which brought its product more in line with basic economy offered by Delta, whose basic economy tickets include a full-size carry-on bag.

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