The new JetBlue A320 family SpaceFlex V2 galley/lavatory combination is a pain for pretty much everyone involved. Cabin crew are unhappy with the cramped space. Passengers get squished in the lavatories. And the kit itself suffered significant reliability issues, part of a long delay in getting A320 retrofits started.
During a recent video message to cabin crew addressing a variety of issues JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes commented on the new galley configuration and was somewhat surprisingly blunt in his feelings around the product. He doesn’t like it either.
Do I love the fact that we have to go to Space Flex [v2]? No, of course not. It creates a much bigger challenge for our crew members to provide that service.
That hurts, but maybe not as much as his further thoughts, suggesting that “we have to do it” anyways. Then again, Hayes was chosen to replace Dave Barger as CEO in large part because he would be willing to make such changes.
The new galley/lav space is part of the aircraft interior retrofit project that, in theory, should be a good thing for passengers. New seats, upgraded entertainment systems, power outlets are just a few of the benefits being delivered.
But there are also cuts coming. Bowing to pressure from Wall Street (i.e. “we have to do it”) the carrier is adding two extra rows of seats and shrinking the galley space to combine it with the lavatory area. Even with the additional rows JetBlue’s average legroom will still lead the US industry, but the changes attract plenty of negative press. And the delays in getting the work started and long conversion timeline certainly don’t help, either.
Read more: JetBlue’s A320 retrofit finally underway
On the plus side, the squeeze is not as bad as initially planned. A half row of extra seats that was previously planned (165 seats total) was scrapped to help the flight attendants out. The company also made some small but significant adjustments to the amenities in the rear space to help with crew comfort. The initial design lacked air vents and power ports in the galley. Those were added in thanks to crewmember input. And given the heavy use of the digital devices on board for the service it makes a lot of sense to make sure the crew can keep those charged. Plus there’s the part where, generally speaking, happier crew means happier passengers.
Could the densification have been avoided? Probably not. The pressure from investors was significant and even the delay in getting the additional capacity into the market leads to many questions about how the carrier will scale and control costs. Those challenges are especially pointed given the relatively small market share the carrier supports. JetBlue must walk a fine line between upsetting investors in the short term and upsetting passengers which destroys brand loyalty in the long term. That’s rarely an easy path to navigate.