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
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
"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
"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.