Delta Will Add Full Premium Economy Product Next Year
Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines has announced that it plans to offer a full premium economy class option by next year. The airline currently offers a step up from regular economy class called Comfort +. These are basically economy class seats with extra leg room and better food. The other legacy carriers have similar offerings, but none have the same kind of premium economy product that international carriers like Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa offer as a separate class.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian announced the coming launch of a full-fledged premium economy offering by saying that the move was necessary if Delta wanted to really compete with international carriers. “When you look at the international stage, the international competition has moved to premium economy as a cabin and service and product of itself.”
That is an important distinction.
Right now, Delta sells its Comfort + seats as upgrades. not fully independent products. People who want extra leg room have to first purchase an economy class seat and then pay a fee (usually in the $100-$200 range) to upgrade.
READ MORE: American Airlines To Add ‘Premium Economy’
According to Bastian, Comfort + will now be sold as an entirely separate product on domestic flights. That means that instead of being hit with an upsell, passengers can book the premium seats directly, just like they can book business or first class seats. The airline would sell an experience similar to Comfort + as a premium economy option on long haul international flights.
Delta has seen the upside of premium economy. The class has been very successful for Virgin Atlantic. The UK-based airline, of which Delta owns 49 percent, was one of the earliest adopters of the idea that people would buy a product that was between economy and business class. Other members of the SkyTeam alliance, such as Air France, have also been seeing good results from offering a full-fledged premium economy product.
As Delta starts expanding its international presence, especially in the hotly contested transpacific market, premium economy could become a vital tool for competition. This could especially be true if the other legacy carriers are slow to adopt a similar strategy of selling their premium econ seats as a separate class (instead of an upgrade).
Adopting premium economy as a class would accomplish one other thing as well: it would allow Delta and other airlines to create a wider gap between regular economy and business class. By adding lie-flat seats, better meal options, better airport lounges and other amenities to business class, Delta and its competitors are catering to a small demographic of fliers who are willing to pay. However, these upgrades to higher classes have created a bigger gap between economy class and business/first. Premium economy makes that gap less noticeable.
Airplanes are becoming more and more segmented. Could the next move be to install even-smaller seats at the back of the plane for some sort of ultra-cheap “sub-economy” class? Delta sells basic economy fares on some routes. These are economy seats without extra perks like seat choice. Since Comfort + began as an upsell, it is conceivable that airlines could eventually create cabins that offer a more-cramped “step down” from economy class.
For now, though, Delta passengers who are dreading sitting in economy class on overseas or cross-country flights will have something to look forward to next year.
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