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.
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.