Marketing with Substance: JetBlue’s subtle nod to “passengers of size.”

By | September 1, 2010


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Hi, big guy!

This morning I was poking around JetBlue’s website, mostly looking to see if they’ve implemented in-flight wifi yet (they haven’t), when I ran across a new series of promotional videos of JetBlue customers explaining why JetBlue is so freaking awesome. I already knew JetBlue was pretty awesome, so under normal circumstances I’d ignore these videos, but one of the customers… looked like a big guy. I was intrigued, major airlines being so committed to the lie that “normal” customers equal thin customers, because this makes it easier to justify arbitrary and inconsistently-applied second-seat policies. So I watched (be warned, that link goes directly to an autoplay video that takes up the whole browser window).

The video shows a dudeguy sitting in a row of JetBlue seats set up in the middle of their Epic Terminal of Legend at JFK. If you’ve been to the JetBlue terminal at JFK, you know what I mean. It’s as if they remade Blade Runner and set it in an Apple Store. The dude enters the frame and sits down in the hated Middle Seat, armrests down, though as the video progresses, via the magic of editing, eventually the armrests go up. I wouldn’t call this guy fat, though fat is always in the eye of the beholder, and I’m sure some folk would. But he seems to me like a fairly normal-looking guy. My first reaction was, Good on you, JetBlue, for showing us a non-tiny passenger.

My second reaction was, Damn, that seat is still too small for him. Y’all know how I love arrows, so I’ve pointed out the telltale signs on the screenshot below.

Big guy, with arrows.

Early on in the video, the armrest on his right is up, and the one on his left is slowly rising. His shoulders are markedly broader than the seat back, even — HORRORS — encroaching on the next seat when he leans slightly to one side. Certainly, dude is splaying all over, as dudes are oft wont to do, but I doubt he’d sit much differently on an actual plane with actual people on either side. Dudes generally don’t think as much about their space as womenfolk do. We’re brought up different. The internalized pressure I may feel to draw my limbs in as much as possible — a laughable and futile effort — neither makes me any smaller, nor does it make the seat any bigger. Instead, it just makes me feel tense, resentful, and unhappy, which probably rubs off on my seatmates, and thus these days when I fly I make conscious efforts to not obsess over whether my shoulder is touching that of my neighbor.

What we have here is a pretty normal-looking semi-beefy guy who doesn’t really fit in what is, in my experience, a coach seat that is damn generous by the standards of other airlines. A company like JetBlue doesn’t make these choices by accident, and there’s something truly compelling about seeing a bigger person talking about how comfortable their seats are (“Almost as comfortable as my couch… almost.”) even if his size is never overtly addressed in the video. People who are bigger can look and think, hey, if that guy is comfortable, then I should be too. People who are smaller can look and think the same thing. Possibly most surprisingly — and don’t think this escapes the notice of JetBlue’s marketing department — those people who’ve been put off by the often-humiliating fatty-punishing debacles of other major airlines are given the chance to see JetBlue as a “safer” — or at least kinder — option.

I still think coach seats should be bigger — not massive, but just a bit more generous, for everyone’s comfort, for the comfort of bigger people, for the comfort of people sitting next to bigger people, for the comfort of people traveling with infants, for the comfort of people who want sufficient horizontal clearance to be able to type on their laptop without jabbing their seatmates with their elbows. But in the absence of bigger seats, I’ll take JetBlue’s quiet acknowledgment that their airplanes are filled with people of different sizes, and that they are all equally deserving of comfort.

Flying is anxiety-inducing enough — for me, feeling like the airline I’ve chosen respects me as a human being is a huge relief.


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