Want to stretch out those legs on a long flight? You'll have to pay the price.
Facing a weak economy, JetBlue Airlines announced Wednesday it will offer customers the chance to buy additional leg room, starting at $10. For shelling out extra, travelers flying April 1 or later will receive four more inches of legroom on certain jets to kick back and relax. The longer the flight, the more you'll pay for the perk.
To be sure, JetBlue isn't the only one examining creative ways to make a buck. United and US Airways recently began charging $25 to check a second bag. Strapped for cash and staring down sky-high fuel prices, airlines across the country are finding it difficult to raise fares enough to offset fuel costs, so they're looking for other ways to squeeze money from passengers.
"I think it tells us the airlines are willing to nickel and dime us to remain profitable — to keep their heads above water," said aviation consultant Richard Aboulafia of Teal Group.
Whether providing perks for a price, upping airfares, flying fewer or smaller planes, or considering mergers, airlines are doing all they can to stay afloat. But with jet fuel soaring above $100 per barrel — up 30 percent in recent months — some say the industry is in dire straits.
"The idea that we once had low-fare airlines is now a thing of the past," said aviation economist Darryl Jenkins. "This thing on jet fuel is just a killer."
According to airline ticket research site, Farecompare.com, last week alone brought an onslaught of $50 fare hikes, and some fares have increased as much as 22 percent during the last year.
"They can't raise a leisure ticket price to $500," said Rick Seaney, CEO of Farecompare.com. "People just won't go."
In an indication of trying times, Delta Airlines announced Tuesday that it will offer voluntary buyouts to 30,000 eligible employees, or half of its staff. In a memo, Delta CEO Richard Anderson said the carrier's 2008 fuel bill is expected to increase by nearly $900 million compared to its business plan, which was based on $90-per-barrel fuel.
Meantime, JetBlue is hoping sweeteners like extra leg room will do the trick. Most seats on the JetBlue planes that are offering the carrier's latest option have 34 inches of pitch, while the new option will have 38. Roomier seats are available in the first few rows of the aircraft, as well as for those seated in the exit row.
"Our new value-added legroom product gives customers the option to make their flight even more comfortable and enjoyable with Even More Legroom, but not at the expense of other customers," Dave Barger, CEO of JetBlue Airways, said in a statement.