If you’re looking to fly between New York JFK and San Francisco, you’ve got a bevy of airlines to choose from. In terms of in-flight services, however, there are two standouts in the crowd – US low-cost operators JetBlue Airways and Virgin America.
Though located on opposite sides of the USA (JetBlue at JFK and Virgin at San Francisco), the similarities between these two Airbus A320 operators are obvious (and well-reported). But competition is going to get even more fierce in the coming months. Here’s why.
JetBlue CEO Dave Barger today revealed the all-economy carrier is looking at allowing customers to pay more for greater seat pitch in the cabin. Translation - JetBlue wants to provide a business-class seating product (it’s just not clear yet if that is what the airline will call it). The plan will be unveiled by the start of the second quarter.
This development is not entirely a surprise. JetBlue last year reduced capacity on its A320s to accommodate additional legroom in the front of the cabin. But, from an in-flight perspective, it brings the eight-year-old airline into closer competitive range to start-up - and two-class operator Virgin.
Added to that, both carriers are very serious about driving ancillary revenue. Virgin will shortly permit passengers to order a variety of upscale items via its “Red” seat-back in-flight entertainment (IFE) system, which uses Panasonic hardware and has about as many bells and whistles as a domestic traveller could ask for.
JetBlue, on the other hand, recently launched a “cashless cabin” whereby it accepts major credit or debit cards for in-flight purchases using handheld devices. Passengers can currently purchase alcoholic beverages this way, but in-flight offerings will be made available in the future.
There is at least one major area where JetBlue and Virgin will try to differentiate themselves. The former plans to offer a limited in-flight connectivity service for free to the entire cabin via technology from subsidiary LiveTV. The latter intends to charge for broader AirCell connectivity in its main cabin. Time will tell which will be the better path to travel.
Nonetheless, both carriers deserve to be commended for figuring out what US passengers want – live television, connectivity and a credit-card swipe.
As Dave Barger said today at the Raymond James conference in New York: IFE is now “the cost of entry” for airlines. “Eight year old kids are making purchasing decisions” in the cabin!
(Photo above left of Virgin America's IFE system; below right of LiveTV promo shot from Livetvifs.com)