Delta’s Big Branding Exercise Reflects Changes That Have Already Been Made, Not New Ones


You’d think from the tone of Delta’s announcement yesterday that there were some huge changes being made to the airline’s product. That’s not the case. This is really Delta’s attempt to do a better job of branding what it’s already been building over the last several years. I won’t call it lipstick on a pig, because I think Delta’s product is relatively good. But you get the point. This is more about optics and expectations than it is any substantive change going forward. Though that doesn’t mean the airline won’t do more in the future.

The announcement is that Delta is rebranding most of its classes of service. If you’re an airline historian, the naming might sound familiar. Delta seems to have taken some cues from TWA, of all airlines. The naming changes don’t come across as cohesive to me, but I’ll let you judge that. Here’s what’s happening.

BusinessElite –> Delta One
Delta’s BusinessElite class, its premium cabin on international long haul flights and big transcon routes, will become Delta One. Remember when TWA created Trans World One? Reading through the TWA release, I imagine it sounds a lot like what was discussed at Delta.

Our target is the frequent flier buying business class tickets who hopes to upgrade to first class. We’ve eliminated that anxiety because Trans World One service, in the front cabin, offers first class services for the price of business.

Seems about right since Delta has no international First Class. If Delta gets rid of “Business” in the name, then people will stop associating it with a Business Class, or so I imagine the conversation went. And to be fair, if you last flew Delta in BusinessElite even five years ago, you’d be shocked at how much better it is today.

The only other reason I can think of to make this change is if there was concern about name confusion with United’s BusinessFirst. But that’s hard to believe considering Delta just renamed its coach cabin to match the name used by a competitor. (We’ll talk about that below.)

Considering how much has changed over the last several years, is anything changing due to this announcement? New seat covers. That’s it.

First Class –> First Class
Delta doesn’t have a long haul international First Class, as we discussed, but on its North American flights, the name remains the same. I’ve always found the “First Class” name strange on domestic flights since it’s barely better than a premium economy product, but Delta is keeping this as is. Is anything changing? Yes, seat covers. Again. That’s it.

Economy Comfort –> Comfort+
Delta Comfort+
Economy Comfort will turn into Comfort+. (Yes, it’s the symbol, not the word “plus.”) That’s quite a generic name, so I’ve included the image above as a handy guide to avoid confusion. I had to include TWA’s Comfort Class even though that was a “more room through coach” kind of offer. Sounds like someone in Delta marketing had TWA on the brain.

There was talk that this would be a true premium economy offering with different seats and food but that’s not happening. This is still just an extra legroom seat but some amenities are being bulked up. Yes, there are new seat covers, but there’s a little more here. It looks like Comfort+ travelers will also now get dedicated overhead bin storage. On domestic flights, they’ll also get free alcohol and, on flights over 900 miles, free premium snacks. (International travelers already got that.) This is on top of things like free entertainment, which was announced over the summer, and amenity kits on longer haul flights.

Apparently this is enough for Delta to start pulling this away as a benefit for elites. Gold elites used to be able to reserve these seats at the time of booking but now they have to wait until 72 hours prior to travel. Silvers still can’t reserve until check-in. Oh, and I’m told that while Silvers used to get a discount if they wanted to purchase the seat in advance, that discount will be going away as well.

Economy –> Main Cabin
The regular old coach cabin, which Delta called Economy, will now become Main Cabin. If Delta was trying to avoid confusion with other airlines, then this flies in the face of that idea. American already calls its coach offering Main Cabin. Seems to me that Delta wants to get away from the “economy” name because it sounds cheap. But hey, it is what it is. No branding exercise is going to change that in this cabin.

What’s actually changing? NOT seat covers! Actually, nothing is changing at all. Delta’s regular coach cabin is already more a premium offering compared to others. You still get free cookies/pretzels/peanuts and there is some free streaming entertainment. Apparently Delta didn’t feel the need to add any more to the product in this round of changes.

Basic Economy –> Basic Economy
You’d think Delta would have called this “Basic Main Cabin” but no. The “economy” name might sound too cheap for regular coach, but for the Basic Economy product, Delta’s making it clear this is all about price. This is sort of a coming out party for what Delta has been experimenting with for a long time. (I wrote about it two and half years ago.)

Basic Economy isn’t a separate cabin. People onboard will be treated exactly the same as those in, ahem, Main Cabin. But it’s meant to compete with ultra low cost carriers so it’s the cheapest fare on the airplane. In the markets where it exists (usually in markets where Spirit flies), you can buy this fare but you won’t get an advance seat assignment and you won’t be allowed to make any changes to the ticket. Use it or lose it, as they say.

So that’s it. It’s really just one big branding effort. I get the idea of wanting a consistent brand to reflect all the improvements that have been made over the past few years, but this doesn’t really come across as all that consistent. Delta One, First Class, Comfort+, Main Cabin, Basic Economy… do those seem in any way related? Not really (though maybe future enhancements will make it somehow seem different). I like the new seat covers a lot from a visual perspective, but I would have hoped for something more cohesive to show that the brands are all part of the same airline.

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27 comments on “Delta’s Big Branding Exercise Reflects Changes That Have Already Been Made, Not New Ones

  1. I agree with your notes on the lack of cohesiveness in the naming.

    But as a Platinum, the longer Golds need to wait for Comfort +, the better it is for me, as someone who books a lot of last minute tickets. Yee haw.

  2. Delta also reduced mileage earning a few weeks ago. again.

    I love the DL product. And as a PM, the service is really good. But these constant devaluations hidden behind pomp and press releases of “enhancements” is getting really annoying. They take away benefits every change they get, it seems. And no, new seat covers don’t excite me.

    When I wrote to Delta about the skymiles changes, I got a generic response that “many bloggers are upset”. I’m not a blogger, Im a 100,000 mile loyal customer.

  3. I may be a Lone Ranger on this, but I recently flew a Delta 767 from LAX to ATL. I wanted to like Delta but, the flight was oversold by 18 passengers, didn’t matter that some of us had “pre reserved” to volunteer seats – they still wanted me to wait in a huge line to consider getting a voucher so I declined, the boarding process is truly a disorganized cattle call with everyone crowding up, the TVs on the plane didn’t work, and the Economy (oops, sorry, the Main Cabin) seats were the most awful I have sat in. Ever. My butt, which has plenty of padding, was in horrible pain 2 hours into the flight. The only highlights were a cabin crew who was stellar and pilots who were kind and landed that bird remarkably, no thud or anything. But if not for the people, the rest of the product, IMHO left quite a bit to be desired.

  4. Interesting how over the years while the rest of the world called the back of the plane Economy, here in the states we called it Coach so it didn’t sound like a cheap product. Now DL is going to use ‘Economy’ to make it sound cheap to compete with the low cost carriers. Seems to me if you make one part of the airplane sound cheap, it makes the whole airplane sound cheap. And I don’t mean cheap as in low cost, but cheap as in crappy.

  5. Also looks like Gold Medallions also lost their C+ discount on International travel if they want to pay for it. Granted, they can wait for T-72 and hope for a seat (or two if traveling with spouse/etc.)

    And today, BE, PM and DM can access the arrivals lounge at LHR T3.

  6. The biggest thing I see is the addition of a drink and a snack for those in C+, with the snack coming only on flights of 900 miles or more. Other than that, it’s just a bunch of shuffling the deck chairs. Zzzzz.

  7. I agree that the naming seems odd. I would think they would have gone with something that, at least, linked the product together. Delta One, Delta First, Delta Comfort, Delta Main, Delta Basic would make more sense to me. At least, from a brand perspective. But who am I?? I don’t get paid the big bucks to make decisions like this.

  8. My main objection is the removal of the discounts for Gold (international) and Silver and the complimentary domestic access for Golds to Economy Comfort or whatever it’s now called with very little notice.

    Complimentary domestic Economy Comfort access at booking was an advertised feature of the 2015 Medallion program, part of my consideration in retaining Gold for the 2015 Medallion year. (I’m Platinum in 2014.) Yes, Delta’s lawyers have ensured that they can change the program whenever they want, so their butts are covered legally. And it may even be a good idea, given that DL doesn’t have enough Economy Comfort seats to meet the combined sales demand and the number of passengers they give it to for free — I often can’t get an economy comfort seat even 2 months in advance. But it’s certainly misleading advertising to change the perks this late in the game.

  9. Too confusing and “over-branding”. Why can’t airlines keep it simple and talk about two choices — “We offer TWO cabins – Business and Coach”, (with the added option of getting extra leg-room and amenities in the first six rows of coach for a fee) ?
    However, very bothersome to me is that the Economy Plus, Economy Comfort, Economy, Comfort Plus or whatever term they want to use will now become another “elitist” location on airplanes that passengers will demand, argue and debate about. Unless they separate it with a curtain, passengers will want to poach those seats and others will wonder why someone sitting in the same “coach” cabin are being offered free drinks and snacks. And what happens when flights are oversold in the non-economy plus rows? Right, those passengers default to the economy plus seats left in the better front of the coach cabin. So you’ve paid $100 extra and now Joe Schmoe nobody with his wife and two year old are squeezing in beside you and getting the amenities gratis.
    What the airlines are doing is taking the original F-Class, Business class cabins and reducing them to just Business Class and Coach class with a hybrid section of coach for “special”, “elite” customers just making for more angst and frustration.

    1. I’d assume it will be handled like it is today, where those seats are still a part of the economy cabin, but are only assigned for free if there are pax without assignments and no seats left behind them at the time of the flight.

  10. What I REALLY like is Cranky’s choice of underlying ads for his red X’s! Really
    sums up the difference between F, C (or J) and Y.

  11. I didn’t read anything positive here. Of the US airlines I quite like DL compared to the few flights I take on AA and UA. The new 737-900’s are very comfortable. That said I’ll give the same gripe I always give about living in “flyover country” and never racking up major miles doing international or transcon travel. The lowly golds and silvers, i.e. me, take it on the chin again and again and again. All airlines are making me want to video conference more and skip the travel all together.

    And a word about domestic F, the perk is the WIDER seat. On Sunday I was flying home and had to “cuddle” for 2 hours with a 250+ lb man. Not my idea of fun. The legroom is nice but economy, ahem, main cabin seating is one of the only places in our society where people willingly let people violate their personal space.

  12. Once again, Delta is devaluing the experience for its elite flyers. Today it’s only a big negative impact for gold (and in this case, positive for platinum and diamond), but I’m with Noah – every time there’s a change, they herald it as a wonderful improvement, but buried inside the message is the way they’re making the experience worse.

    I know Basic Economy has been around for some time, but it seems to be rolling out more broadly of late — and complaints are always met with “offering more choice to the customer”. Nonsense. They continue to treat their elite flyers badly. I guess I have to decide (for what feels like the 10th time) if this is enough to make me jump ship. It never has been before, and I’m sad to say that I’ll probably stick around this time too because it’s death by a thousand cuts, rather than all at once….

  13. Long past the time all of the airlines got rid of these mileage programs. They no longer provide much of anything of value. What will get them customer loyalty is some good old fashioned service and treating there paying customers with some respect.

  14. Airline travel can be one of the most wonderful things life can serve up. But it’s amazing, now certainly not surprising anymore, how the airlines can make even the most simple aspects of travel confusing.

    Cabin clasess, fares, flight numbering, boarding procedures, figuring out how to connect from one flight to the next, frequent flier programs, you name it. I guess it’s “we do it because we can!” Certainly, not because it’s what customers want, at least in my opinion. I really feel sorry for the airline employees who have try to explain all of this to us travellers, but it isn’t hard to understand why they may take the attitude: why bother!

    1. Jay. I’d hate to see the product that you design and sell. What is it a bus seat?

      Designing and naming products is an art, and by definition you won’t make everyone happy and thats fine.

      Airlines are able to offer cheap seats because they offer expensive seats. That really expensive Delta One seat makes those Main Cabin seats cheaper.

      1. If you think all I want is the cheapes fare, you have me confused with someone else. I recognize differences in service but just because something is priced higher, it is not necessarily better.

        Airline pricing, and much everything else with this industry, I find is overly complicated, unnecessarily so. Simplicity is a foreign word to airlines. Why make anything simple when you can get away with complexity, and get people to pay more than they need to and not have them know it. Oh, how lucky they are just to get a seat!

        I will repeat, I don’t expect any airline to give away seats. I don’t expect every airline to offer the same type of service. Airlines can handle customers, process passengers, and reward loyalty anyway they wish. Be transparent with what you are trying to do and keep everything as simple as possible, even so the least frequent of customers can understand it and be given opportunity to find the best service for the lowest price.

        Yes, branding and all of this may be an art. And, I may be a dinosaur, unable to see art that is out there. I don’t think so. And no, though I grew during regulation, I don’t want re-regulation ever, ever. I so respect the Kahns, the Crandalls and the Kellehers. I don’t see their types today and I miss them. It’s the industry’s loss.

        1. Geez Jay. Delta has five different products, only four of which are available on any given plane. Show me another industry that provides so few options.

          The loyalty plans are complicated yes. But they’re optional. I look it as something I get for free from the airline. Could it be simpler? Probably. Honestly I think they should decouple status and earning rewards, it’d make more sense.

          As for pricing? It is because there are several different markets shown on top of each other at the same time.. If all you’re doing is buying a ticket and flying on it, buy the cheapest ticket, if a customer want more flexibility, yeah then its more complicated, but its because the customer wants more flexibility.

  15. The video that was in the e-mail DL sent me showed a cabin divider between Comfort+ and Main Cabin, which I’ve never seen before. I think it wasn’t really a bulkhead (which is good, since it preserves under-seat storage), but it was a visual break between the cabins. Do they plan to add that to all airplanes? I like it.

    1. CP – Got an answer on this one. “The video work is all CGI work and
      doesn’t actually appear in real-life yet. Today, we don’t have dividers and
      we don’t have a timeline for when or if they will appear, but I’ve been
      told we are planning to move forward. We couldn’t include that detail in
      the press materials because of a few unknowns such as timing, mod schedules
      …” So it does sound promising in the future, but it’s not firm.

      1. Thanks for the investigation! I like that they plan to add them–adds a bit of distinction to the Comfort+ cabin, and also helps–on (rare!) flights where those seats may remain empty–passengers understand that they should not occupy the seats if they haven’t paid for them.

  16. Honest question: Does anyone even pay attention to the name of the economy product that they’re buying? It doesn’t have any effect on anyone booking through orbitz, kayak, etc, and no frequent flier is going to care. So the point of the exercise is, to me, ridiculous. I wonder how many millions of dollars were spent on this.

    1. Mike – Probably not, you’re right. But I do think people pay attention to
      the Economy Plus/Main Cabin Extra/Economy Comfort brand names. With Delta
      trying to differentiate even more with Basic Economy, it’s not a bad idea
      to try to brand it more.

  17. there are two big deals here:

    1. the expansion of E class (basic economy) fares to more routes. currently you can only find them on route where delta competes with ULCCs. i am not sure how many seats fall into that fare bucket now or will in the future, but i have found it to be a pain in the butt…
    i fly a couple of times a week for work. my company uses a popular corporate travel agency for bookings. the airfare booking mechanism will only present you with the cheapest fare class available. i have been presented with delta E fares recently which hame made it impossible for me to select a seat. both times i cancelled the booking (for free within the first 24 hrs) and just waited a couple of days until an L/U/T fare showed up. it only cost about $20 more per roundtrip, so it wasn’t a big deal, but if this continues booking business travel will be more difficult. at minimum i want to be able to choose my seat and be upgrade-eligible when i travel.

    2. gold medallions will not be able to pick C+ seats at booking. as a PM, if i am able to avoid those pesky E-class fares i’ll have a better chance at C+ with less competition.

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