Delta Rolls out Premium Economy on Long Haul Flights

As the new United ponders whether or not to keep its Economy Plus premium economy product, Delta has decided to jump into the game for the first time. Starting in May, you’ll be able to fly in Economy Comfort on international flights for $80 to $160 each way.

Delta Launches New Premium Economy Class

This product is similar to Economy Plus in several ways. First of all, the seat itself is the exact same seat you’ll find in regular economy (which I assume we should now call Economy Discomfort?) And like Economy Plus on United, Delta fliers will get a few extra inches of legroom. But instead of explaining it this way, let’s do a handy comparison table:

United Economy Plus Delta Economy Comfort
Legroom Up to 5 more inches Up to 4 more inches
Recline No difference 50% more
Seat Type Same as coach Same as coach
Alcohol Same as coach No charge
Early Boarding? No Yes
Flight Application All airplanes with more than 70 seats Only international airplanes (including JFK-LA/SF)
Cost $9-$129 per flight $80-$160 one way
Cost for Top Elites No charge for 1K No charge for Platinum/ Diamond and companions
Cost for Lower Elites No charge for Premier Exec, Premier, Premier Associate 50% off for Gold, 25% off for Silver
Cost for Full Fare Economy Ticket Holders $9-$129 per flight No extra charge
How to Book Direct or via travel agents Direct only
When to Book Anytime During certain time period before departure (no details yet)

So there you have it. It’s kind of a mixed bag. If all you want is extra legroom, then United is probably going to be a better value. That’s particularly true if you have a long domestic connection because Delta won’t even offer it on the domestic leg. But Delta has really tried to build this up into more of a separate product with early boarding and free drinks. I like that because it makes it seem like there’s more value to be had in different ways.

I know the Delta Silver and Gold members will be up in arms over the fact that they don’t get free access to Economy Comfort, but it actually makes a lot of sense. On the 767, for example, this will only be the first four rows of coach. That means there will only be 28 seats available. United, however, has 71 seats in Economy Plus. So it makes sense that United would offer it for free to all elites while Delta only offers it to its top elites. Otherwise, Delta would run out of room relatively quickly and would end up angering a lot of elites. So, instead by offering discounted access, Delta still recognizes its elites but helps keep demand at a manageable level.

There are still questions that I couldn’t get answered, though I tried. It sounds like the announcement today is really just an announcement of the concept. The full details won’t be out for a little while. Here are some of the things I want to know.

  • We know that this will be on all 747s, A330s, and 777s. The international 767s and 757s (including JFK-LA/SF) will get it as well, but we don’t know exact details of how many seats each will have. The 767s will have four rows. The 757s will apparently only have Economy Comfort on one side of the aisle, but I don’t know how many rows on that side will have it.
  • It appears that there is no standard. Delta says “…suffice it to say the average is 31 seats per aircraft and you’ll find about that many on the majority of our international aircraft. The outliers are the 757s (12) and the 747s (42).”

  • Delta’s new international standard is to have power in the first 10 rows of coach. These seats will be part of those 10 rows, but the release makes it sound like not all are guaranteed to have power. We’ll see if that changes.
  • There will be power onboard in all Economy Comfort seats when the power retrofit is complete in 2013.

  • It’s unclear to me if this fee is per flight or per direction. For most people, that will be the same thing since you’ll have only one international flight each way. But what about those people going LA to Tokyo to Bangkok? Or Atlanta to Amsterdam to Mumbai?
  • What if you’re on one of the few domestic flights on an international airplane, like the flight from LA to Atlanta on a 777? Will Economy Comfort be sold on those flights or will they just be given away to elite members and not sold?
  • These seats will not be sold and will be held back for elites to use.

I’m waiting to get some clearer answer on this from Delta, but it sounds like all of the answers may not be known yet. I do find it interesting that Delta has chosen to go with the same seat as is used in coach while Air France opted for a new seat in its Premium Voyageur class. It makes you wonder if, having seen Air France’s sales numbers from the seat, Delta decided the investment wasn’t worth it but there was enough demand for more legroom to make this lesser product worthwhile.

Overall, I like the idea. Economy Plus was always a great differentiator for United that helped foster loyalty. Delta can now try to tap into that same benefit. Of course, the bigger question now is whether or not the new United will decide to stick with Economy Plus. I imagine it will in one form or another. I just want to hear the details.

[Updated 2/8 @ 1135a with info from Delta answering questions.]

35 Responses to Delta Rolls out Premium Economy on Long Haul Flights

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  2. AC says:

    Actually, Delta followed the lead of its alliance partner KLM (part of AirFrance-KLM), and also took the same names and similar rules.
    Looks like they looked at the numbers of Air France’s and KLM’s premium economy offers and it looked like KLM’s is more profitable.

  3. your last bullet touches on one major problem, treating some domestic long-haul flights differently from others. nothing annoyed me more as a frequent flyer than having one perk or amenity on a LAX-JFK flight that was not available on SFO-IAD or LAX-ATL (assuming the same airline, obviously).

    consistency of service is a MUST or else the airline ends up offering 20 different types of service like UA (which i assume the CO people will resolve eventually). inconsistent service is probably the primary gripe of the most frequent flyers. so let’s imagine this is available only on JFK-LAX/SFO. how annoying will that be for DL’s cadre of BOS flyers? what about the million platinum elites in ATL who fly to LAX/SFO? the ATL x-cons are generally only about a half hour or so longer than the east coast flights. you see the slippery slope here because, if in ATL, the DTW people will then expect it. IMO any major service offering has to be an all-or-nothing proposition.

    • Jason H says:

      I see nothing wrong with the limited domestic offering to start with. After all they are going against the AA and UA premium product on the JFK-LAX/SFO flights and they need to be competitive in that market. I also don’t really have a problem with the current domestic offerings on DL. You are already more than likely to be on a pimped-out aircraft with all the goodies, which is a heck of a lot better than what you will likely fly on with any of the other major carriers.

      This makes a heck of a lot more sense in the international market. Sitting coach for SLC-CDG or DTW-NRT can be miserable. This can make those long flights much more enjoyable and that is where it makes sense.

    • CF says:

      I think separating out JFK-LAX/SFO is fine since the offering is more of an international product anyway. Remember, Delta uses internationally-configured airplanes for this route and it competes against the last 3-cabin offerings in the US from United and American.

      I did get some clarification and updated the post. It looks like all other domestic flights on international airplanes will not be sold as Economy Comfort. Seats will be held for elites to reserve.

      • Ben says:

        I am not a road warrior who is flying every week, but I will say as a Silver Elite on Delta, I always find it pretty easy to move up to first class on domestic flights, so I don’t mind that they don’t offer the E Comfort to me for free. Even if I don’t get bumped up, I find the bulkhead seating and exit rows make up for it.

  4. Alex Hill says:

    Doesn’t Delta offer free alcohol in long-haul coach already? Or is the “comfort economy” alcohol better than what’s offered to “discomfort economy”?

  5. Evan says:

    As an elite on DL today, don’t you get elite-only access to exit row and bulkhead seating in advance?

    So what happens to those seats? If they become part of Economy Comfort, then suddenly Silver and Golds get their access to seats taken away!

    I understand the philosophy of limited Economy Comfort to Diamond/Platinum on int’l flights, but seems like they’re going to have a tricky time of eliminating a benefit for Silver/Gold if that ends up being the case.

    • CF says:

      Yes, that’s a good point. I believe that these seats will cut into the seats that are currently held for elites.

    • tking18 says:

      I imagine that it might take up the first exit row, but the overwing exit rows probably won’t be considered EconomyComfort.

  6. So they put out info on a new service but don’t have all the details to answer all the questions people would have. That’s not very smart.

    As was said above, DL has to complete JFK/EWR-SFO/LAX with American, United, Continential, JetBlue, and Virgin America so it must do something to not be last in that market. They don’t need to do anything special to/from ATL.

    It may back fire on them if company’s are not willing to pay if the traveler pays for the up-seating. Will people be willing to pay the amount out of their own pocket knowing they can’t put it on their expense account.

  7. Dan says:

    Has UA actually said they don’t know if they’re keeping E+, or do we just assume because there has been no announcement one way or the other, that they may get rid of it?

    That said, whatever airline will sell me a few more inches of legroom (beyond 31″ pitch) will get first crack at my European business. For Asia trips, I’ll work my leisure flights around consolidator business fares, FF miles, or some such.

    I’ve flown to Europe both in J (DL 767 CVG-CDG) and Y (NW A330 DTW-FRA.) When I flew NW, I was able to get row 10, which was the bulkhead. (I’ve also done SIN-NRT-SEA on the A330 sitting in the Y bulkhead, with a stop in NRT.) On an 8 hour flight, I don’t the Y bulkhead — I won’t pay much of a premium for J. The flights aren’t long enough to eat dinner, watch a movie, and get any real sleep. So yeah, whoever will sell me access to more than 31″ of pitch will get my first consideration.

    • CF says:

      The new United has said that it will review everything. I believe it was announced on the recent earnings call that a decision on this will be made within the next couple months.

  8. Rich says:

    You have to appreciate the brutal honesty – you want any kind of ‘comfort’? That costs extra. Are they making room for this by reducing the pitch in Economy Discomfort?

    • tking18 says:

      From what I’ve heard, they’re removing coach rows to make the change. Apparently they’re not going to reduce pitch at this time.

    • CF says:

      tking18 is right. Legroom is not shrinking in the back. Rows are just being removed.

  9. Bobber says:

    E+ might not automatically gain early boarding privileges, but in practice most people in E+ are Prem Exec, Prem or seating area 1 in any case, so it amounts to the same thing.

    I hope E+ doesn’t disappear – it’s one of the few benefits left to us lower tier elites :(

  10. Billy says:

    I hope even more carriers join the bandwagon. The extra 50% recline is a nice touch too.

  11. Daren S says:

    I do think it’s a shame that they have gone for upgrading the seat and offering a bit more a differentiated product. One of the things I like about BA’s premium economy is that you can upgrade to Club World quite reasonably using miles. I like to use miles to upgrade one-way (a night flight) while I am happy to sit in premium economy during the day. Upgrading is an important part of loyalty and I don’t think this is enough to get me to switch.

  12. JayB says:

    Makes me wonder. What do airlines really know about our flight choices/histories/etc. They know EVERYTHING about our online flying. But, not the why, I guess. Sure, surveys of sorts, but unless something went wrong, do they really learn much from those surveys?

    More importantly, do they know everything about my flying a competitor? They seem to know everybody’s fares. [Thanks APTCO. But how did you ever get that antiturst immunity so that every airline knows everyone else's fares?]

    But, is it legal/illegal for airlines to share our personal travel habits among competitors? ["Hey, I see you flew AA yesterday. You're a good UA customer. Why did you fly AA and not us? What could we have done so that you would have flown us? How about for the future?]

    • I don’t know if it’s illegal for airlines to share travel habits, but I don’t think they’ll ever actually get there. Why would an airline want to help out their competitor?

      Also APTCO doesn’t have any antitrust issues since it’s just pivoting information. In any industry you look at your competitor’s prices, it’s just how it is.

    • CF says:

      Nicholas is right on both counts. I can’t imagine why an airline would ever share customer data with a competitor. There’s nothing illegal about that, theoretically, unless you’ve specifically said that the airline can’t share your information, I believe.

      As for ATPCO, it’s simply a clearinghouse. If private fares are filed, other airlines cannot see them. If public fares are filed, then the fares can be seen anywhere. ATPCO just provides a convenient way for airlines to distribute their fares to reservation systems and agencies.

  13. anonymous says:

    As a DL gold, i am not up in arms. I find the move quite sensible and the pricing with 50% off looks quite attractive to me to be honest. However i would have preferred new seats like AF. On that point i have a question, will it be possible to buy premium economy seats from DL on AF-operated flights?

    • CF says:

      I can’t imagine that will be possible at this point. I assume if you booked a Delta codeshare on an Air France flight, you would have to go to Air France to buy the upgrade and vice versa.

  14. Jim says:

    I really don’t care what Delta rolls out. I’ve shifted all my flying to USAirways and Continental, and I don’t use the American Express card anymore. Reason? Delta’s uncompetitive mileage award chart. For a recent first class trip to LAS, DL wanted 80,000 miles, while US was available for 45,000 and UA for 50,000. It’s a consistent problem.

    Goodbye, Delta!

  15. Pingback: Short Take: Delta’s New Economy Comfort versus United’s Economy Plus | Airline Reporter | An airline blog on the airline industry

  16. SK says:

    I see the 50% added recline as a negative…unless I’m in the bulkhead row, and there’s nobody in front of me reclining 50% further back into me. Apparently anyone sitting in the first row aft of Economy Comfort will have truly drawn the short straw…normal seat pitch, AND the seat in front of you reclines 50% further aft.

  17. I would love to see American join this game. I feel like they fall more and more behind all the time.

  18. TampaSmith says:

    Here’s something to ponder. I recently booked an international Delta flight for late Summer on a 767 and as a SkyMiles Gold customer reserved my preferred seating in row 4 of economy. Does that mean that I (and all other SkyMiles status customers who book economy rows 1-4 seating between now and May) will be bumped out of our seats involutarily when they reconfigure? Will we be notified? (or better yet upgraded?) And what about the poor soul who lands in row 5 economy and gets that extra 50% recline right into their face. Hmmm. No information on any of this from Delta, other than what is in the release.

  19. MikeH says:

    You’re right about Delta Elites being up in arms over having to pay extra for the seat. I flew to the Mideast on United and upgraded free. Delta, even with the discount, wants to charge me $120 one way. Alcohol is not such a big deal since most Mideast flights has one sleeping anyway. I’ll display my displeasure to Delta in the future by flying United!

    • Alex1611 says:

      I think this is a great idea to have E+ I’m 2m tall and disabled so can’t get a seat in an exit row and can’t afford the prices of BC so don’t mind paying the extra with 50% discount so I know I will get a seat with a bit more room. But would like to see it rolled out on all flights over a certain flight time Int and Dom, hope to see this kept going and not just another thing they give you for a year or two and then drop. I fly KLM and Air France as well and really happy with this option but would like to see them follow Air France and upgrade the actual seat as well. But as a disabled tall person I am glad they are offering this option now as I am sure a lot of disabled people who were denied exit rows.

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