Delta Air Lines announced this week a new aircraft cabin for international flights that is meant to bridge the gap between economy and business classes.
The introduction of premium economy is Delta’s latest attempt to attract higher-paying customers. It’s also an attempt to keep pace with its competitors already vying for this middle market. The new cabin, marketed as Delta Premium, will start appearing on some of its new Airbus A350s next fall and Boeing 777s in 2018.
This month, American Airlines began flying planes outfitted with this type of cabin — a class broadly called ‘premium economy’ within the industry — on select international flights. The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline will start selling the fare category early next year.
Meanwhile, international carriers like Air France, British Airways, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic, have offered premium economy seats for several years.
Delta Premium is a step below Delta One, the airline’s class that offers flatbed seating. But it comes with more space, customized service and better amenities than are found at the various economy levels. Premium seats have up to 8 inches of additional legroom over economy and about 75 percent greater recline. There are adjustable food and head rests, power ports, larger high-resolution monitors and noise-canceling headphones.
This new tier is similar to Delta’s existing first-class cabin — primarily flown on domestic routes and select international routes — but with more modern, branded perks. The Atlanta-based carrier is quick to tout its amenities for this new class, which include Westin blankets and a Tumi kit with Malin+Goetz body products.
Apart from the physical differences, a seat in premium economy includes personalized service from a flight attendant, just as Delta One and First Class customers receive.
Delta declined to offer an estimate of the price increase, but premium economy tickets for trans-Atlantic flights on average cost 85 percent more than economy tickets when sold in advance, according to SeatGuru by Trip Advisor.
That average drops to 35 percent when booked close to departure.
By comparison, Lufthansa charges about 140 percent more for premium economy class than for economy on a round trip between MSP and Munich that is booked out a few weeks, and 70 percent more for a flight that is booked closer to the departure date.
Air France charges about 130 percent more for premium economy than economy on a round trip between MSP and Paris that is booked out a few weeks.
“Delta Premium is Delta’s latest example of paying careful attention to what customers tell us they want and responding with unique products designed to meet their individual needs,” Tim Mapes, Delta’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said in a statement.
The airline continues to make other changes to its cabin and fare structure, including in-the-back cheap seats, as it tries to attract a wide-range of passengers with varying priorities.