Why JetBlue’s Baggage Change Leaves United Airlines on its Own (2024)

Skift Take

As JetBlue makes carry-on bags free for all passengers, is United's isolated market positioning becoming increasingly untenable?

Gordon Smith

JetBlue is making a big change to its baggage policy. From September, the airline will allow all passengers — even those on its most restrictive ‘Blue Basic’ fare — to bring a carry-on bag for no extra charge.

The customer-friendly move applies to everyone traveling from September 6, regardless of when the ticket was purchased. Until that date, Blue Basic guests who don’t fall into one of the exempted categories, need to pay $65 for the first or second checked bag, and $180 for a third.

The policy change brings JetBlue in line with most of its peers. American, Delta, Southwest, and Alaska all allow ‘free’ carry-on bags, plus a smaller underseat personal item, across all fare categories.

United Goes it Alone

However, one very big name is missing from that list. JetBlue’s announcement leaves United Airlines as the only major U.S. network carrier to charge its Basic Economy passengers for a carry-on. While United has carve-outs for long-haul routes and select international services, a fee applies for domestic flights and many regional links.

United’s policy states: “Carry-on bags are not included unless you’re flying to Canada, South America, across the Atlantic or on an international flight across the Pacific.”

Its website advises that Basic Economy passengers “can prepay to check a bag or check a carry-on at [the] gate for the regular bag fee plus an additional $25.” United currently charges $35 for the first prepaid checked bag, rising to $40 when not booked in advance. In effect, this means a non-compliant bag could cost $65 to be checked at the gate.

JetBlue’s Premium Push

After a rough few years, JetBlue is hoping the changes will help it regain lost ground. The carrier’s attempts at growth — whether through the Northeast Alliance with American Airlines or its merger with Spirit Airlines — have been struck down in court. It’s also struggled with overcapacity in core markets and has pulled out of other cities altogether.

Speaking shortly after her appointment as JetBlue CEO earlier this year, Joanna Geraghty said the airline is “returning to the business fundamentals.”

“We’ve got to fully leverage our unique position in the market, and with three years of distractions associated with the NEA [Northeast Alliance] and associated with Spirit, we’ve got a lot of work to do to get JetBlue back to profitability,” Geraghty said in March.

In a statement on Wednesday, JetBlue President, Marty St. George described carry-on bags as “an important part of travel to customers.”

“When presented with a choice between JetBlue’s award-winning service and another carrier’s basic offering, we want JetBlue to be the easy winner… As flying becomes cheaper and more accessible for a spectrum of customers, a one-size-fits-all offering no longer works,” said St. George.

Despite the carry-on enhancements, Blue Basic customers will remain the final group to board and tickets are subject to cancellation fees that do not apply to other fare categories. Full details are available to view here.

What is United’s Strategy?

Being the only airline out of the ‘big five’ not to offer free carry-ons could seem counterproductive for United. When JetBlue’s change comes into effect on September 6, it will become an even clearer differentiator among price-conscious travelers.

However, despite the questionable optics, United could actually find strength in its relative isolation.

Keeping its Basic Economy product in its stripped-back form should allow United to compete more effectively on price. Put simply, passengers who don’t need a larger carry-on won’t be overpaying for the unused right to bring one on board. Those who do need one can fly with another airline or buy one of United’s less restrictive fare options. It remains to be seen if this strategy will pay off in the long run.

Skift has approached United Airlines for comment.

Are U.S. Airlines Getting Friendlier?

Come September, United will find itself squeezed on two fronts. Along with all of its more upscale counterparts offering complimentary carry-ons as standard, even ‘ultra-low-cost airlines’ are making big customer service improvements.

Last month, Frontier announced significant changes to its fare structure and removed change fees for most of its fare classes. The Denver-based operator said the moves were part of a wider program which it billed as “The New Frontier.”

Just a few days later, Spirit quietly changed its policies. The budget carrier no longer charges change fees for any fare classes, except for group bookings. Spirit previously charged anywhere from $69 to $119 to change or cancel a reservation, depending on the number of days before a departure.

Both Frontier and Spirit continue to charge for carry-on or checked bags when buying their most restrictive fares.

A Regulatory Consideration?

The various changes at multiple major carriers comes as the Department of Transportation released a final rule on junk fees. This requires airlines to disclose all fees related to checked baggage, carry-ons, changing a reservation, or canceling one.

In May, several major U.S. airlines, along with industry trade group Airlines for America, filed a lawsuit against the rule, arguing that it was a regulatory overreach that could create more confusion for consumers.

American, Delta, United, JetBlue, Alaska, and Hawaiian are among those taking part in the action.

In a statement, JetBlue told Skift that its changes were unrelated to the recent DOT ruling: “JetBlue already provides clear and transparent information on what is included in our fare options and our onboard experience. This change aims to increase customer satisfaction and ensure customers who want to choose a basic economy fare have every reason to pick JetBlue.”

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Why JetBlue’s Baggage Change Leaves United Airlines on its Own (2024)

FAQs

Why is JetBlue getting rid of carry-on? ›

JetBlue had previously offered a free carry-on upon the introduction of the Basic Blue fare in 2019, but removed the perk in 2021 “to further reduce the fare and stimulate travel demand after the COVID-19 pandemic,” a representative for JetBlue explained in an emailed statement provided to Nexstar.

Why are JetBlue checked bags so expensive? ›

“The cost of transporting bags has gone up significantly due to increased wages and higher fuel costs, and we remain unprofitable since COVID. While we don't like increasing fees, we are making these adjustments to help get our company back to profitability and cover the increased costs,” a spokesperson said.

Did United raise baggage fees? ›

Going forward, travelers flying in North America will have to pay $5 more for each checked bag, an airline confirmed to Travel + Leisure. A first checked bag will now cost $40 (or $35 if travelers pay at least 24 hours in advance), and a second checked bag will now cost $50 (or $45 if travelers pay in advance).

How do I avoid paying baggage fees on JetBlue? ›

How Do I Avoid Paying JetBlue Baggage Fees?
  1. Become a Mosaic Member. With JetBlue, loyalty is rewarded with two free checked bags on all JetBlue-operated flights. ...
  2. Become a JetBlue Plus Cardmember. ...
  3. Fly Mint. ...
  4. Provide Military Documentation. ...
  5. Travel with a Carry-on.

Does JetBlue lost luggage a lot? ›

American Airlines, which owns Envoy, fared only slightly better. The airline lost or mishandled seven of every 1,000 bags checked on its flights. Travel + Leisure reader favorite JetBlue came in near the middle, with just over four mishandled bags per 1,000 checked items.

Did JetBlue change their baggage policy? ›

JetBlue Gives Blue Basic a Boost with Complimentary Carry-On Bag Starting September 6. NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- JetBlue (Nasdaq: JBLU) today announced it is elevating the value of its Blue Basic fare by including a free carry-on bag for customers flying beginning September 6, 2024, regardless of purchase date.

How strict is JetBlue with checked bags? ›

You are allowed two checked bags 60" (157.48 cm) in overall dimensions (length + width + height) or 50 pounds (22.68 kg). Bags that don't meet the dimensions and/or weight restrictions will incur a fee. The fee for a 3rd checked bag is $125, and the fee for a 4th checked bag (or more) is $150.

Do you have to pay for carry-on bags on JetBlue? ›

Any bag that won't fit under the seat in front of you will need to be checked prior to going through the security checkpoint at the airport. Carry-on bags brought to the boarding area will be checked at the gate for a fee of $65 for the first or second checked bag, or $180 for the third checked bag.

Did United join American JetBlue to raise checked bag fees? ›

became the latest US carrier to increase fees for checked bags as the industry faces inflationary pressures for labor and other rising expenses. The cost for North American passengers to check their first bag will rise $5 to $40 for all tickets purchased on or after Feb. 24, United said Friday in an emailed statement.

How to get free checked bag with United? ›

Free checked bags for United Cardmembers. United primary Cardmembers can check bags for free on United and United Express® flights. If you are traveling with a guest on the same reservation, they can also check their bags for free.

How do I get my baggage fee waived? ›

These are provided as guidelines only and approval is not guaranteed.
  1. Fly With Airlines That Don't Charge For Checked Baggage. ...
  2. Earn Elite Status With an Airline. ...
  3. Choose the Right Airline Credit Card. ...
  4. Choose a Travel Card With an Airline Fee Credit. ...
  5. Avoid Basic Economy. ...
  6. Pack Light and Don't Check a Bag.
Apr 18, 2024

Do I get a free bag with my JetBlue card? ›

5,000 points bonus each year after your JetBlue Plus Card account anniversary. Free first checked bag for you and up to 3 eligible travel companions on JetBlue-operated flights.

Can you take liquids on JetBlue? ›

You are allowed to bring one quart-sized bag of liquids or gels through the security checkpoint. These are limited to travel-sized containers that must be 3.4 ounces or less per item. With the exception of medications, any amount of liquid greater than 3.4 ounces, including alcohol, must be packed in your checked bags.

Does JetBlue really not allow carry-on bags? ›

You are allowed one carry-on item that must be placed in the overhead bin and not exceed external dimensions of 22in x 14in x 9in. You are allowed one checked bag 60" (157.48 cm) in overall dimensions (length + width + height) or 50 pounds (22.68 kg). The fee for the second bag is $45 and only available at the airport.

Is JetBlue now charging for carry-on? ›

Blue Basic fares

Any carry-on bag brought to the gate (aside from a personal item that fits under the seat in front of you) will incur a fee and need to be checked. The fee is $65 (if it would be your 1st or 2nd checked bag) or $180 (if it's your 3rd).

Does JetBlue Basic let you have a carry-on? ›

Currently, JetBlue's basic economy travelers — or “Blue Basic,” as JetBlue calls this tier — are only allowed “a personal item that fits under the seat in front of you,” per JetBlue's website. Carry-on bags brought to the gate will be checked at a fee of $65 for the first two, and $180 for a third.

Why does my plane ticket say no carry-on bag? ›

For most trips you can only bring one personal item when you're flying in Basic Economy. You can't bring a carry-on bag unless you're flying to South America, across the Atlantic or across the Pacific. All other bags have to be checked.

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