My Imaginary Discussion on Delta’s New Domestic Economy Comfort Class

Last week, Delta announced that it would bring its version of United’s Economy Plus, Economy Comfort to most of its fleet. This sounds like great news, and it is for just about everyone. When something like this happens, it can’t be completely good, however.

So, who would look at this with the harshest eye? Potentially an entry level Delta elite frequent flier out of Atlanta. I’m not sure why, but I have this enduring image of a stereotypical Delta elite who looks like Colonel Sanders and sounds like Foghorn Leghorn. Ridiculous? Sure. But then I started playing out an interview with Colonel Leghorn in my warped little mind on Economy Comfort. Here it is.

Colonel Leghorn I say, I say, what’s happenin’ here?
Cranky: Well, last summer, Delta decided to introduce The Ultimate Delta Frequent FlierEconomy Comfort seats to international flights. Like United’s Economy Plus, it mostly meant a few extra inches of legroom in the same exact seat as you’d find in regular coach. But it also came with extra recline, priority boarding, and free drinks. Not a bad proposition, and apparently it worked well. Now, Delta will bring the offering to its domestic fleet – any jet with more than 50 seats on it will have Economy Comfort. This will be in place for travel beginning next summer (though you might get lucky and snag some legroom before then on a converted airplane).

The Colonel: Internat’nal Economy Comfort ain’t bad, I guess, since I’ll never spring for an M fare to upgrade to Business Class. Is this the same thing?
Cranky: Not quite. If you purchase a domestic Economy Comfort seat, you’ll get more legroom. You’ll also get priority boarding. Neither of those change. But you won’t get any more recline (Delta says it’s because on shorter flights, people need to work while on longer flights they need to sleep) and you won’t get free drinks.

The Colonel: I’m a drunk, so that’s just downright unpleasant. But I say, I still love my legroom. How do I get it?
Cranky: If you were a Diamond, Platinum, or Gold Medallion member, you’d get it for free. But since you’re just a Silver Medallion, you get a 50 percent discount if you buy in advance or you get it free at the time of check-in (if available). Full fare passengers get it included as well (something that United took away years ago). Everyone else can just pay up if they want it. It’s $19 to $99 each way.

The Colonel: What in tarnation?! I deserve to get for free, I say. So my Kentucky Fried Travel Agent can just reserve it for me, right?
Cranky: Not so much. It can only be done directly through Delta, whether online, at a kiosk, or over the phone.

The Colonel: I’m not thrilled, son, but I only plan on reserving those seats if my much-deserved and never paid-for upgrade fails to come through. Wait, they aren’t cuttin’ First Class, are they?
Cranky: On most airplanes, the number of First Class seats won’t change, but that’s not the case everywhere. You elites who love your upgrades won’t be thrilled if you’re on an A320. According to Delta spokesperson Chris Kelly, A320s will lose “a few” First Class seats. I take that to mean 4 of the 16 seats will disappear. Any more than that and there will be mutiny. If you saw the post on FlyerTalk with the proposed configurations, ignore it. They aren’t right, and the MD-90 will not be losing First Class seats as noted there.

The Colonel: Son of a biscuit. Guess I won’t be flying A320s anymore. But what if there are too many higher elites and my upgrade fails to come through? Are there are a lot of these Comfort seats for me to sit in?
Cranky: Delta says the first 3 to 5 rows of coach will be Economy Comfort. That means 12 to 20 on a big regional jet, 15 to 25 on an MD-80/90, and 18 to 30 on an A319/A320/737/757 aircraft. That’s less than United, which has 50 seats on a 757 and even 28 on the big regional jet. But it’s better than nothing.

The Colonel: That ain’t good, especially if them other elites get ‘em first. But what if the worst thing I could possibly imagine happens, and I get stuck in Economy Discomfort with the rest of the chickens? I will, I say, yell at the nearest gate agent and remind him how important I am.
Cranky: It shouldn’t be much different than today, though we’ll see exactly what happens. Delta says that regular coach seat pitch won’t change and that the legroom will come by “removing a negligible number of seats from the current cabin configuration.” Not sure what a negligible number is, but hey, we’ll find out soon enough. The airline can also move “monuments” around – galleys, lavs, etc – to try to squeeze out some more room. Not sure if that’s the plan, but it would make some sense. Lastly, if you look at the press release, it’s clearly stated that “Delta’s standard Economy Class seat pitch is currently 31 inches.” According to SeatGuru, however, the A319 has 30-32″ pitch, the 737s have 31-32″ pitch, and 757s show 31-33″ pitch. Something tells me the days of 32 or 33″ pitch may be gone as a way to make room.

The Colonel: I guess this sounds fine and dandy, but I’ll still tell Delta that I’m not getting rewarded enough for flying on really cheap tickets. I’ll just threaten to leave and then forget, I say, forget to actually do it. Besides, where will I go? With AirTran goin’ all-coach and cuttin’ seat assignments when it gets eaten up by Southwest, that airline simply ain’t an option for this big bird.
Cranky: You said it, Colonel, not me.

23 Responses to My Imaginary Discussion on Delta’s New Domestic Economy Comfort Class

  1. Jon says:

    Prior to EC, your chances of getting upgraded as an Atlanta-based Silver were already about 1%, so this shouldn’t change much.

    • JM says:

      Absolutely correct. I am a Silver here in Atlanta and rarely get upgraded. Although I don’t look like Col. Leghorn, mind you.
      JM

  2. A says:

    I see this as way to placate the Silver Elites without adding more F seats, nothing more, nothing less. I highly doubt many leisure travelers will be putting down $19-99 ea. way just for some more legroom, especially after they get clipped for $25 bag check fees. Additionally my corporate travel doesn’t cover “upgrades” so this would be unavailable to me unless I were to cough up my own cash.

    Since domestically you don’t get any free booze or food this isn’t even a throwback to the good ol’ days of flying (for a fee). And why do you get so little for you dollar? Oh, because Delta knows nobody is going to pay for it. This is plain and simple the cheapest way to get that “Atlanta based Silver Elite” to quit bitchin’.

    My theory stands that airlines devote too much energy to pampering their so-called “elites” instead of actually selling the seats up front. My opinion remains that rewards programs should be changed or phased out all together. Of course I’d miss my free flights and rare upgrade, but financially I think it would be a win for the airlines.

    • ancdude says:

      A while back, CF posted an article about AS lowering the price of their First Class seats in order to increase revenue. As an MVP Gold, I will miss some upgrades, but I have already purchased First Class (on a less than 7-day purchase where I was going to be paying full fare anyway) as the price is less than $100 more than “Full Flex.” So – someone is doing as you suggest.

    • CF says:

      I can’t imagine that it’s just a way to placate Silvers. If DL was losing Silvers, maybe they would do something about it, but I haven’t seen anything showing that’s the case. Instead, DL probably has seen good revenue from Economy Comfort internationally and they’re eyeing UA/CO and probably thinking about the loyalty fight in NYC with them. People do pay for Economy Plus on United, and I think Delta is seeing the same opportunity.

  3. Jason H says:

    Let me just say it, because you know someone will… I am appalled, appalled I say at the inaccurate depiction of Southerners. What in tarnation are you thinkin’ son?

    Seriously though, funny article and valid points. I do think that DL is treating their first level elites much better than UA/CO is doing with their new E+ policy. So it is a win in that respect.

    I’m also with “A” in the thought that airlines are devoting way too much energy to placating elites and in turn tick off us non-elites that will pay last minute high dollar fares only to spend the flight in a middle seat at the back since they filled the first class cabin with their “elite” flyers. That makes me hoppin’ mad every time.

    • CF says:

      You may be kidding, but at least one email I got today was seriously offended by my portrayal of Southerners. *sigh*

      Agreed on DL vs UA/CO. The 50% discounts is a nice nod to the importance of Silvers but also brings revenue in the door. I think it makes a lot of sense to do it that way.

  4. Ian L says:

    So, how much pitch will these seats actually have? 34″ would not be worth paying for. 35-36″ plus early boarding might be worthwhile (as a F9 Economy flier who kics up to STRETCH every so often).

  5. The only issue with this Economy ‘whatever’ type program is still that middle seat. I would rather be in a regular economy aisle seat then pay to move up front to a middle ‘whatever they call it’ seat.

    And on a short segment it’s not worth the price.

  6. Michael says:

    This still won’t get me flying Delta any more often… I flew something like 75K miles last year between Frontier and AirTran out of Atlanta. It’s not that Delta is a bad airline, there are just too many elite Delta FF’s in Atlanta.

  7. Sanjeev M says:

    Agreed. This is an outstanding move so DL can actually SELL more F seats instead of giving them away all the time.

    For AA though this is different. If AA uses E+ as a way to satisfy its Silver Elites, people would run away fast. If there’s one thing AA knows how to do better than anyone else, it’s the loyalty and corporate program.

  8. FRANK says:

    If you were a Diamond, Platinum, or Gold Medallion member, you?d get it for free. But since you?re just a Silver Medallion, you get a 50 percent discount if you buy in advance or you get it free at the time of check-in (if available). Full fare passengers get it included as well (something that United took away years ago). Everyone else can just pay up if they want it. It?s $19 to $99 each way.
    =========================================================

    So? What’s wrong with this priority of giving this product to it’s freq flyer members? Members now have the chance to upgrade to First AND Economy Comfort Class. That’s 30 MORE SEATS that are somewhat roomier then coach class. Many fliers place themselves on waiting list for first, now they have a second opportunity to more room.
    How many segments/miles put you at Silver with Delta????

    • JM says:

      The last sentence is an interesting observation.

      I live in Atlanta, meaning that I don’t use our airport as a connecting hub. I would easily qualify for a higher SkyMiles status (based on segments) if I lived in other places in the Southeast, like Florida or Alabama, and had to connect via Atlanta.

      Not a unique phenomenon to DL, of course. The same would be true if I were in Charlotte and was primarily a US customer, for instance.

      Still, Delta has been my carrier of choice for many years now (20+) and I am still Silver because of where I live. I’ve done 20 Delta segments this year so far and about 20K miles on DL in 2011. Also pay $500 per year for the Delta Reserve AMEX.

      It’s a trade-off, of course. It’s great to live in a city where I can get on a plane to so many places nonstop.

      Still, not all ATL Silvers are a bunch of greedy bums who want something for nothing like Col. Leghorn!

    • CF says:

      Are you talking to the figment of my imagination, FRANK?!?

      I see nothing wrong with this policy at all and never said that I did. Makes perfect sense to me.

  9. CP says:

    I think you wrote this article just so you could try out your ‘Colonel Sanders’ voice. :)

  10. Jake says:

    Hilarious. The graphic makes the post.

    It seems to me that the changes surrounding this will have the effect of killing a lot of desire to try for silver (much to the delight of many gold+’s). Between Delta and United there seems to be far less incentive to get to that 25k milestone if I have to wait until 24 hours out just to get a middle premium seat. What’s left really? Boarding in zone 2?

    It might be smart for Delta to take up selling priority services like early boarding, or maybe get creative… “Beginning Jan. 1, our new “Smiles” program guarantees that your gate agent will greet you in a pleasant manner when boarding in zones 3 or below.” (Prices would vary by scheduled flight duration.)

  11. travelnate says:

    I just flew JFK-ATL on an international 757 (was supposed to have been an A330-200 and was seated in Economy Comfort) and got 10D. When I boarded, I realized it was an international bird and sorta got excited.

    Until I noticed they put Economy Comfort on ONLY THE LEFT SIDE and it was maybe 4 rows deep. From my seat, I looked at 11ABC and took note during the flight, it really didn’t appear to be much more room. Plus it was odd that the seats were only on the LEFT side. 10D felt tight anyway.

    :/

    (oh, and I did get upgraded to F out of ATL and I’m only a silver!)

  12. Cedarglen says:

    A good (and funny) post. Thanks. I for one, just won’t buy it. Anytime I’m willing to buy p a bit, the BC/FC is more convenient. The Economy Plus (and other terms) trend is a mostly a joke and in the end, most often does not provide a better ride. Free drinks? Free meal (of the long-gone coach class)? pitch someone else. I’ve learned t o eat before I go or pack it with me. Short of foreign-flag International First, airline food continues to decline, even when thay collect cash for it. It truly sucks. And, after 40+ years of flying, I know better than to drink alcohol in that environment. I usually pass, even when in FC. Think People! Think! Then say “No Thanks!.”

  13. Kaycee says:

    You talk about legroom and pitch. I swear every time I fly I feel like I’m more crowded than before. I don’t think it’s because I’m getting bigger. I’m a petite woman and I honestly don’t know how a normal sized man could fit in some of these seats.

  14. Ron says:

    Isn’t it about time someone came up with a 5-across premium economy product for the 320/757/737?

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