Delta Introduces Premium Economy to Replace Comfort+ on Certain Aircraft

Nearly a year ago, American announced that it would launch a true premium economy product on international aircraft. This was surprising for one reason: Delta hadn’t done it first. Last week Delta announced its own long-awaited offering, called Delta Premium. There are a lot of similarities between the products, there is one big difference.

Today, as you know, United (Economy Plus), American (Main Cabin Extra), and Delta (Comfort+) all have extra legroom sections on their fleets. Some may call these “premium economy” sections but they aren’t. They are coach seats with coach service and just have a little extra legroom. (Delta did add some more amenities to the product, but it’s still basically coach with more room.)

A true premium economy cabin is a separate cabin with different seats and improved service. European and Asian carriers have had premium economy for some time now, but it hadn’t made it to the US until now. Why? Well, airlines put a bunch of money to take their business class offerings upmarket while coach stayed the same or got tighter. That widening gulf provided an opportunity for a new cabin to fit in between, giving coach travelers the ability to upgrade to a better experience for a moderate fare increase.

US carriers spent much of the 2000s holding on for dear life. That meant they had subpar business classes. That combined with extra legroom sections meant the airlines didn’t think there was enough of a market for the product. But as those airlines started to make money and pour it back into their products, business class got better and the gulf widened. Enter premium economy.

Continuum of Awesomeness

As with American’s product, Delta’s premium economy will be a small cabin with a few extra inches of legoom (“up to” 38 inches of pitch). The seats will also be slightly wider than regular coach at “up to” 19 inches. Each seat will have a leg rest. (American only has leg rests in the first row. Other rows have footrests that come down from the seat in front.) Both will have amenity kits and noise-canceling headphones available along with improved meals. Delta, unlike American, also throws in a pre-departure beverage and SkyPriority check-in and security lines.

As Comfort+ is in most markets today, Premium will be sold as a separate fare, and not as an upgrade. I assume pricing will be similar to what we see with other airlines, a few hundred dollars more than coach each way, but it’s not for sale yet because it’s not on an airplane yet.

Delta will roll this out on its A350 fleet when it’s delivered. It expects to have it flying next Fall. The A350, remember is also the airplane Delta will use to roll out its new business class seat with a door. That business class is also going on the 777 fleet, and premium economy will be on that aircraft as well. While it could roll out to other fleets, none are being announced now. The A350s and 777s will fly the longest routes in the network, so I’m guessing this will sell very well.

You know what’s going to make it sell even better? Comfort+ seating will not be installed on these airplanes. And that is the biggest difference versus American. American is putting both a premium economy and an extra legroom product on its airplanes. High tier Delta elite frequent fliers won’t be happy. They could sit in Comfort+ for free, but they won’t be able to do that in Premium. (Diamonds can use their Global upgrades if they want, but that seems like a waste, especially since they can still go straight from coach to biz.)

I actually find it really interesting that Delta will ditch Comfort+ on these aircraft. It’s a popular product that could coexist with premium economy. Either Delta disagrees with me, or it’s just a distribution issue.

Remember, American sells Main Cabin Extra as an upsell after you buy a coach ticket. That doesn’t require setting aside fare buckets for that. But Delta has started selling Comfort+ as a separate fare and that means it needs its own fare bucket. To sell Premium, it will need to dedicate fare buckets for that as well, also using W if not more classes. The upshot of this may mean that Comfort+ and Premium can’t exist on the same airplane. It would be a real shame (and quite short-sighted) if that’s the reason Delta has done this.

That being said, I do think Premium will do well for Delta. It looks like a solid, if not spectacular, entry into the premium economy market.

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17 Comments on "Delta Introduces Premium Economy to Replace Comfort+ on Certain Aircraft"

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noahkimmel
Member
Having just flown Virgin Premium economy on a 787-9, I was super impressed – it was better than domestic F on Delta. They manage to do Upper Class, Premium Economy, Extra Legroom, Economy. The Delta product is long overdue, but it seems to be another devaluation for frequent fliers, which hurts since more and more companies (like mine) have travel policies of coach/economy on all flights. It would be nice if you could at least list for an upgrade to it like you can domestic – many people will still pay, but no empty cabins and fewer grumpy Medallions in… Read more »
Jon
Member

Great summary of the changes here! It will be interesting to see how Delta handles not having a Y+ product. Admittedly, I can understand their reservations with still offering something like Y+ long-haul for fear of cannibalizing the already relatively small market of customers who can afford more than Y, but aren’t willing to pay for J.

gbarrett
Member

More evidence of the demise of the frequent flyer programs and benefits..

Todd Richardson
Guest
I think the US Airlines need to look at Virgin Australia’s 777 approach. Premium economy is out of range for many people but Virgin Australia offers an extra legroom section in economy. Smaller cabin, first to board so you get first crack at overhead bins, and first to be served meals so pretty much guaranteed to get your first choice. Now they also have 3 3 3 seating throughout their 777 in economy which makes comparison difficult, but on a A350 the 3-3-3 is more economical. I can’t afford the 150-200% increase to premium economy, but extra legroom for $200… Read more »
Gary Peters
Member
Agree that, as a Delta DM, the loss of the C+ seating in lieu of PE might make me unhappy, depending on the fare difference. VS and AF PE flights I’ve flown on have a 2-3-2 configuration, whereas Delta’s will be 2-4-2. I’ve also been able to book European flights on VS and AF from DTW/JFK/BOS in PE for a few hundred dollars more, which was well worth it compared to J. Will be interested to see the precise routings where PE will be used on the A350. [cid:image001.png@01D238DB.E9F38690] NOTICE: Information contained in this transmission to the named addressee is… Read more »
Tim Dunn
Member
Delta’s standard economy seats on the A350 and 777 will be wider than American or United’s standard seats on their 787s or 777s (at least where United has committed to 10 abreast coach as American is doing on their entire 777 fleet) since Delta has not so far decided to go with 10 abreast standard economy on the 777 and the A350 is wider than the 787. Thus, the seat width difference between Delta’s standard economy/C+ seat and new Premium seat is not as great as it is for American or United. Delta also appears to be targeting its Premium… Read more »
A
Guest
Did I read that correct, medallion members will not have any upgrade option even if nobody “buys” a premium economy seat?! I’ve long been an advocate of selling the product up front rather than giving it away to people with status, that said, if nobody pays for it the airlines should absolutely offer it to their best customers. The change to “requesting” an upgrade to C+ seating has been an abysmal failure in my mind. I often don’t request due to the risk I’ll get stuck in a middle seat whereas I’d rather have my aisle seat another 10 rows… Read more »
southbay flier
Guest

A Diamond can use a GUC to get into W, but they can also use the same GUC to go from Y to J, so it’s really just a consolation prize.

Gary Peters
Member

Agreed, and the W fare class is nowhere close to being worth a GUC in J.

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Tim Dunn
Member

There is a good chance that both American and Delta will update their upgrade policies closer to when they sell seats – which they can only do when they announce routes.

I may be wrong but I don’t think American is selling their premium economy cabin even though they have aircraft with it.

121Pilot
Guest
Remember the old United Recliner seats in Buisness from the late 90’s early 2000’s? Not lie flat but like a big recliner seat and having flown it across the pond several times I always enjoyed it. That kind of seat is to my way of thinking old school Buisness class and while it doesn’t hold a candle to the current generation its still light years ahead of the premium economy offerings I’ve seen so far. Point being the graph might need some tweaking. That being said as these offerings get better I suspect the price differential is going to grow… Read more »
Georjet
Guest

I fly Delta often and like the airline. But the new slim line seats SUCK! They SUCK in economy and they SUCK in the first class cabin and they will SUCK in premium economy as well.

MartyNearDFW
Guest

“Continuum of Awesomeness” is, well, awesome and needs to be a thing beyond CrankyFlier.com.

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