Want to feel just a bit more “special” in the Delta Comfort Plus (Comfort+) cabin? The company is installing a soft divider overhead to make the seats feel a bit more like a separate cabin on board. The retrofits are starting on the MD88 fleet (shown below) and will continue from there. Unlike similar curtain arrangements used on many European carriers to separate economy from EuroBiz these will be fixed in place; the Comfort Plus cabin will not vary in size.
We've heard @delta will install partitions between Main Cabin & #Delta Comfort+. Here it is on MD88 N905DL. pic.twitter.com/X1OM09B5U9
— Eric (@GoldboxATL) October 12, 2015
Combine the divider with free food and drinks on eligible routes and the Delta Comfort Plus offering is starting to look a whole lot like a separate class of service on board. Except that it is not sold that way. It is still an add-on feature to a regular economy ticket (free for some Medallion members, paid for most passengers). And that add-on has generated a lot of revenue for the company lately. Delta recently reported a 42% increase year-over-year in revenue from Comfort Plus seat sales. I doubt that adding the divider/curtain is going to make that number increase in any material way but the company is definitely working to distinguish the offering in every way it can, short of selling Comfort+ as a separate cabin in the booking system.
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Of course, once it has a more defined separation of physical space on board, it is possible that the shift will be made to sell it as a separate cabin. Small steps towards differentiation, spaced out over time, is a longstanding means by which marketers adjust customer expectations and “ease in” to a new product line. Selling Comfort Plus separately would potentially impact upgrades, fare filings and even government fee obligations (departing the UK the APD would be double!) but it also would potentially mean a more mature revenue model (i.e. more cash for the company).
One of the main things holding back from selling Comfort+ as a true “premium economy” is that the seat width is the same as the regular economy section. And, as of today, only American Airlines (of the US carriers) has some planes where the extra leg room seats also come with extra width, though that’s also because they made the regular economy seats even narrower, not because the better seats are wider. And even there it is not universal across the fleet and the company is moving away from that practice.
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I’m still not convinced that we’ll see a US carrier selling a true Premium Economy product in the near future, but Delta is the closest of the lot. And the company has been will to push boundaries on similar fronts in the past. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.
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With more differentiation, I could see DL eventually making adjustments to the upcharge for Comfort+ (right now they seem to be more reasonable than say, United for Econ+), as well as what elites get (free vs. discounted upcharge depending on status, timeframe for free access, etc.) That being said, until the seat width is changed, it can’t compete with the real W-class premium economy cabins on BA, VS and AF across the atlantic, and NH, JL, CX and SQ on transpac, so I’m not sure DL could successfully sell it as a different cabin.
This is Delta working on another enhancement to SkyMiles – once all the curtains are installed, they’ll rename this to Premium Economy, thus restricting economy class ticket holders (you can only upgrade once class!) to PE. Then they will only allow economy passengers to upgrade to PE on partners – effectively eliminating J class upgrades from coach in the SkyMiles program…. Hell, that will be so popular, they might even rename SkyMiles to SkySmiles!
Yes, the upgrade change (Y->W or W->C rather than Y->C) would almost certainly happen, just like at nearly every other airline which has implemented a Premium Economy cabin.
I agree that it is not especially competitive in the global market right now, but the economy products from US carriers are also generally seen as uncompetitive in the global space. It might not really be that much of a difference.
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