Delta Introduces Comfort Basic Economy+

As travelers in the US finally get used to the idea of Basic Economy, Delta has decided to make things even more complex. The airline invented Basic Economy years ago, but it only accelerated the rollout through its short-haul network in recent months. With American, Alaska, and United adopting the barebones fare and Hawaiian and JetBlue preparing to join the party, Delta has now decided to take the next step. Say hello to Comfort Basic Economy+. I had the chance to talk with execs at the airline to learn more.

Why on Earth would Delta feel the need to add another fare brand after the dizzying array of brands it already has out there? According to the airline, it felt there was a niche that wasn’t being properly served. Delta CEO Ed Bastian explained it to me:

With Basic Economy, we found a way to serve the people who cared about price above all. With Comfort+, we attract people who care about space and extra amenities. So why not create something that combines the best of both worlds for those who are interested?

If you don’t understand what he’s talking about, you’re not alone. I suppose the best way to think about this is to look at the product attributes of the new brand.

  • The lowest price while seated in Comfort+ seats with extra legroom
  • Recline is locked (can be unlocked for an additional fee)
  • Carry-on allowed, but no dedicated bin space
  • Boards just before Basic Economy but after everyone else
  • No extra amenities like normal Comfort+
  • No seat assignment
  • No upgrades or elite qualifying miles
  • No refunds/changes

In other words, it’s a Basic Economy-type of product for those people who want extra legroom and nothing else. This will be priced below Comfort+ and above Basic Economy. Sometimes that will be cheaper than Main Cabin and sometimes it won’t. That will depend upon the spread between the fares for any given flights at any given time.

Clear as mud, right? Well get used to it, because this is just the beginning. Ed continued:

Basic Economy was just the start. Now with Comfort Basic Economy+ rolled out, we have more ideas. Look for Premium Delta Basic Select, Delta First Class Basic , and One Basic Delta. The last one we might call Delta Two, but we’re still working on the naming.

With our industry-leading service and product, we already attract those people who are looking for a premium experience. But for those people who just care about the seat and the space and couldn’t care less about service and amenities, we want to be their airline as well.

Ed noted that he knows some people won’t like this plan because of the additional complexity, but they shouldn’t blame his airline. “We have to do this because of the Middle East carriers and their massive, unfair government subsidies.” I tried to get more clarity on how those are connected, but he would not go into further detail.

I also spoke with Delta President Glen Hauenstein about this. Glen has recently been behind the move toward a more visual branding identity, so I was particularly curious how they came up with that… yellowish… color for the Comfort Basic Economy+ brand. Interestingly, he said it was a competitive move on two levels.

With United starting to adopt purple as part of its palette, I knew we needed something distinct. I thought to myself, why not ochre? That’s something that nobody is using.

And he would indeed be right. Spirit may have adopted yellow, but I can’t say I’ve seen ochre. It does hearken back to the old Southwest Desert Gold, and that’s by design. Glen went on:

Southwest may have abandoned that classic color in favor of a garish blue to paint their airplanes, but we knew that we could use it to our advantage. Southwest has been the king of branding and has convinced millions of Americans that they are the cheapest and best option even when they clearly aren’t. We wanted to snag some of that mojo.

Apparently Delta wants to take more from Southwest than just branding as it’s trying a new boarding process for Comfort Basic Economy+ passengers.

After Comfort+ passengers board, flight attendants will be instructed to go through the cabin and lock the reclines of all empty Comfort+ seats. Then, when Comfort Basic Economy+ passengers board, they will just take any open seat in the Comfort+ zone. There will be no seat assignments. Consider this a test. If it goes over well, Basic Economy will follow the same path in regular coach.

I asked Ranjan Goswami, VP of In-Flight Field Operation how Delta’s flight attendants would feel about these additional duties during boarding. Wouldn’t that anger them and possibly push them toward joining a union? He said no, the opposite was true.

Our flight attendants love this idea. There’s something cathartic about locking the recline on a seat. It’s physical work that lets them take out their frustrations with obnoxious passengers in a productive way. Plus, if a regular Comfort+ passenger causes trouble, they’ve been given the authority to lock seats for those people as punishment. It’s been very well-received.

The new product goes on sale today, April 1. Except it won’t, because it’s April 1. I realize this one sounds a little too real and could actually happen, but you can breathe easy for now. This isn’t real… yet.

Happy April Fools Day to all!

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53 Responses to Delta Introduces Comfort Basic Economy+

  1. grichard says:

    I could kinda see it.

    I’ve sat in the gate for multiple Delta flights, listening to the gate agent call up low-level elites to say “Your Comfort Plus upgrade can clear… but only to a middle seat. Do you want it?” I could totally picture Delta trying to monetize that niche…

  2. Matthew Pouy says:

    Delta First Class Basic…what the hell do you get there? How do the FAs keep track of who gets what amenities during service?

    This sounds needlessly complicated

  3. Bandmeeting says:

    I totally agree. Let’s see, in normalspeak we’d have first, business, premium economy and economy. Nothing there worthy of a head scratch. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of airlines knows what those are.

    Main cabin? Is that a desirable or undesirable part of the plane. Someone at that airline isn’t thinking very clearly.

  4. ReallyRIC says:

    Oh. My. God. Well played, Brett. I rolled my eyes so hard and had to put my phone down because this was so extra. Then I realized what day it was.

  5. Tim Dunn says:

    Happy April Fools to you too.

    This too shall pass before anything life- changing takes place today.

  6. PJ Fiske says:

    As usual on a Cranky April Fools Day, I’m ROTFL.

    Awesome Brett!

    PJ Fiske Proud Original Desert Gold SWA Flight Attendant (but supporter of Garish Blue movement)

  7. outerspaceguy says:

    Well played. For that, you sir shall get a seat in Delta First Class Basic .

  8. Bill from DC says:

    Bravo, had me until the very end!

  9. Michael says:

    YOU MADE ME WASTE 5 MINUTES OF MY LIFE READING THAT TO THE END TO FIND OUT IT WAS A JOKE

    Get Outlook for Android

  10. iahphx says:

    Nice job. My first reaction was “are you kidding me, but I guess Delta could be doing something this silly.” Then I got to “recline is locked (can be unlocked for an additional fee)” and I remembered what day it was.

  11. Chris says:

    I could picture this part actually being well received by the FAs. “Our flight attendants love this idea. There’s something cathartic about locking the recline on a seat. It’s physical work that lets them take out their frustrations with obnoxious passengers in a productive way.”

  12. Gthomas10 says:

    I fell for it hook and sinker. Grover

  13. Carter says:

    Every year I forget and every year I’m ashamed at how far into the article I get before I remember. I was getting so worked up until I read “Premium Delta Basic Select”. Well done.

  14. Gary Peters says:

    I was braced for my first April Fools email, but not from you! OMG – I was really worried about how I could still get my free cocktail when seated in Comfort + as a DL Diamond member. Good show!

  15. peter says:

    Hahahahahaha. As I was reading this I was trying to figure out how you would squeeze all those colors on to a C Series or a 717. You had me going there Happy April Fools Day. (From a fool)

  16. Vinay Vasuki says:

    You really had me going there! I especially liked the ‘cathartic release’ of the flight attendants when the lock the recline of an obnoxious passenger!! Don’t give them ideas Cranky—I wouldn’t put it past this industry to put this into place!!

  17. Jason says:

    Very well played. The chartreuse was a nice touch in the sea of Delta’s red blue purple color scheme.

  18. MeanMeosh says:

    Happy April Fool’s Day. Now please, stop giving the folks at Delta ideas… :)

  19. Doug Swalen says:

    This would have been more believable if you hadn’t included this statement at the very beginning which made me stop and do a double take…

    “As travelers in the US finally get used to the idea of Basic Economy”

  20. CLTflyer says:

    …The sad thing is, it COULD be happening, and you may have given some airline somewhere an idea… Happy AFD!

  21. Patrick says:

    Nice one! You had me for the first half of the article.

  22. Ben in DC says:

    Cranky, you’ve gotten so good at these April Fool’s Day posts. I don’t know if that’s your amazing creativity, the state of the airline industry, or a little bit of both! I fell for it hook, line, and sinker! Well done.

  23. Gary73 says:

    The “interesting” thing is that every talking point used to explain Delta’s new services HAS been used to introduce other new “products” and “enhancements”. So watch out. Don’t give Delta any ideas. Coach is cramped enough as it Is.

  24. David SF eastbay says:

    Lock the reclines on seats…..hahahaha

    The annual Cranky April Fool’s post strikes again.

    • JayB says:

      Did I read that “Enhanced”-Comfort-Basic-Economy+ entitles you to a key to recline for your seat, in some parts of some cabins, on some flights, not including code-sharing flights as listed in the governing contract of carriage, and not for tickets sold in Venezuela or otherwise designated countries, as designated in Rule 143 or other rules, and we have the right to limit the number of keys issued on any given flight, see additional rules and regulations for further restrictions…World without end, Amen!

      Happy April Fool’s Day, all!

  25. JayB says:

    For those of us who have been reading your blog for some time, we kinda’ expected this. But still, well done!

    Just wondering, were you somehow behind the problems so many carriers had this morning trying to get up and going? How was it that AA seemed to be one of the only carriers that didn’t have any problems, and with you seeming to be pretty close to those people? Maybe AA had problems, too, but I didn’t read that.

  26. Hank B says:

    Is their a coin slot to unlock the recline?

  27. Alan says:

    This article is proof that the apocalypse is upon us! Is Delta acquainted with jumping the shark?

  28. Jerry Noel says:

    Well done, Brett! I hope you had a few laughs while composing this!
    Sadly, some of this could actually come into the market.
    The recline lock may be replaced by an electronic shock mechanism in the seat bottom cushion whereby if you pay for basic economy and move to an empty comfort+ seat after takeoff, well you know the rest.

  29. Chuck says:

    This was just perfectly crafted. I literally — reading the entire article — just went back and forth between “This is a joke, right?” and “Delta wouldn’t do something this dumb; United would.” Well done!

  30. Ian L says:

    Well played, sir.

    Basic Comfort+ Economy does exist though, just not on Delta. That’s Stretch on Frontier. Domestic F Basic likewise exists, on Spriit (Big Front Seat). And yes, I’d totally buy this.

  31. I’d really like Basic Delta One. You know you won’t get a bad seat and I would pay extra for the recline to a flat bed position.

    • David M says:

      Me too. I’d love to have a nice seat but could do without the extra frills for transoceanic flights. But I suspect the cost is really in the lost real estate and no so much in the amenities, so Basic Delta One wouldn’t really cost that much less than Delta One.

    • CF says:

      southbay – I agree with that completely (and I feel like I wrote it up somewhere). Give me a flat bed with no frills, and I’m a happy person. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of who makes it happen first.

  32. SEAN says:

    Great one Brett!

    Here’s WestJet’s own video on this special day. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kZ7WT8RACk&w=560&h=315%5D

    • Hajime Sano says:

      That was awesome SEAN! Thanks for the share. Do you know if there are models on this flight? :-)

  33. 121Pilot says:

    Well played sir.

  34. Richard says:

    ah you must have had so much fun writing this. especially “Delta Two”. creasing.

  35. flyplayne says:

    Nickle and dime you to death. Guess they could put “recline charges” on ALL economy seats. What a money maker that should be. Come to think of it, how about charging “basic economy” folks for seats in the gate area? Otherwise you just have to stand there until departure. Probably the only reason they don’t, is that the airport probably owns the gates and just leases them to the airlines. Of course if the airlines offered to cut the airport in for a percentage of the take?? HMMMM?

  36. Hajime Sano says:

    Brett, I eagerly awaited your April Fool’s Day post. You did not disappoint!

  37. Marky Mark says:

    What’s sad is how convoluted the different fare types have become that this was so believable. I got way further into the article than I should have before I figured out it was an April Fool’s post. And I work for a major carrier… I was reading it worrying about how long until we roll out something just as crazy. Well played!

  38. jxshannon2 says:

    Uh, how much was real and how much April Fool?

    • CF says:

      jxshannon2 – All of it fake… for now. I feel like I’ll write a post some day that points back to this one as being a prediction instead of a joke.

  39. icranna says:

    Dammit, Kranky! Swallowed this hook, line and sinker, despite being aware of the date. Way too believable…

  40. SkyVoice says:

    WOOO HOOO ! ! ! The setup & the sting has been played here to perfection!

  41. adamr says:

    you had me till the ‘recline is locked’ part.

    then i knew to check the date again.

  42. VidPS says:

    Bill Maher summarizes airline classes perfectly: https://youtu.be/r_ehr58MMGU?t=166

  43. Icarus says:

    Idiotic idea…locking seats and no bin space what if the seat next door reclines ?

    No meal for passenger in 12A but ok for the one in 12B

    You simply can’t have customers experiencing different levels of service in the same cabin

    What next ? Basic business class ?
    Seat won’t recline.

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