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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.

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