First it was just a bit of extra leg room. Then, a year ago, free food and drinks were added to the offering. A month ago a new curtain in the cabin was included. The evolution of the Delta ComfortPlus product has been steady and determined. The latest move is the recent announcement that these seats will now be sold as a new class of service rather than just an ancillary fee-based upgrade for passengers. Delta has positioned itself as the first US-based carrier to market a distinct Premium Economy product to travelers. Maybe.
The company is holding short of calling it a separate cabin in the marketing materials, saying that, “Delta Comfort+, Main Cabin, and Basic Economy are three experiences within our Main Cabin.” But they are sold as separate fare buckets and there are a number of differences in the offerings, sufficiently such that in practice this is a separate product offering. Especially when looking at the way the company is describing upgrades and the fact that Comfort+ seating is in dedicated seats within the cabin which receive different benefits and service levels. Moreover, partner travel booked in Premium Economy now allows selection of Comfort+ on Delta segments in the reservation. Every indication is that Delta is going big on the shift.
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The Comfort Plus split exists today only in the domestic US market. That creates some challenges and raises several questions. For an international traveler with a domestic segment connecting to the gateway it will not be possible to “upgrade” to a Comfort+ seat on just the domestic leg. There are also questions about the Medallion upgrade process by which a traveler may automatically be upgraded from an aisle or window in the main cabin to a middle in ComfortPlus. That’s not always a trade travelers want to make.
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And then there is the even bigger question surrounding the international market. The main difference between the US carriers and their international competition in the “better than economy but not quite business class” space has been seat width on the long-haul aircraft. The US carriers have resisted building in a proper Premium Economy cabin with both seat pitch and width. For Delta to sell the Comfort+ product internationally that must change. And I expect it will.
Figure it will take a bit of time yet to get the product positioned and final decisions made, but I fully expect to see a proper Premium Economy product on Delta’s long-haul fleet in the not too distant future. It will better align with Air France and KLM for the Transatlantic joint venture operations and also help the company control growth (i.e. keep ASMs in check) which steadily increasing revenue (or at least revenue potential).
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