Delta Air Lines Inc. plans to increase first-class seating on its domestic fleet by 13 percent within three years to help win more of the business travelers who pay the highest fares.
The changes, to be finished by mid-2013, will add more than 1,200 new seats in response to customers’ interest in larger premium cabins, Delta said today in a statement. The Atlanta- based airline is shrinking galley space to make room.
“You put the investment where the returns are, and they’ve been successful in building demand for their business-class product at premium prices,” said Robert W. Mann, owner of consultant R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, New York.
Filling the most-expensive seats at the front of airplane cabins has been pivotal to U.S. airlines’ efforts to return to profit in 2010 while business travel rebounds following the recession. Corporate customers are prized because they typically pay the highest prices and take to the air more often.
“The ratio of a business-class fare to the average economy fare is probably 6- or 7-to-1,” Mann said in a telephone interview.
A round-trip first-class ticket for a flight departing tomorrow from New York’s Kennedy airport to Los Angeles would be $3,370, according to Delta’s website, and the cheapest coach fare would be $498.
Delta’s move is part of $2 billion in previously announced spending that includes installing lie-flat seats for overseas flights and overhauling facilities such as a terminal at Kennedy airport. First-class capacity is already the most among U.S. carriers, Delta said.
The latest upgrades will put two to six new first-class seats on Boeing Co. MD-88, MD-90 and 767-300 jets during 2011, and four first-class seats will be added to Boeing 757-200s by June 2013. Delta said it finished installing nine first-class seats earlier this year on some Bombardier Inc. CRJ-700 regional jets. With those planes, the changes cover 350 aircraft.
New seats will be “a significant advantage for our business customers,” Executive Vice President Glen Hauenstein said in the statement.
Economy seating also will increase, and legroom in first- and coach-class cabins will remain unchanged, according to Delta, the world’s second-largest carrier behind United Continental Holdings Inc.
Delta declined 7 cents to $12.57 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have gained 10 percent this year.
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