Delta Turns to Partitions for Feel of ‘Premium Economy’ in Coach

  • Dividers will separate priciest domestic main-cabin seats
  • Airline inches closer toward international rivals' offerings

Delta Air Lines Inc.’s quest to add a dash of luxury and exclusivity to its priciest economy seats will mean erecting some walls.

Once the U.S. government approves, Delta will install partitions to separate its extra-legroom “Comfort+” section from the rest of the main cabin on domestic jets, spokesman Anthony Black said Monday. The first such divider is still “months away,” though Delta is putting up similar panels for First Class, Black said.

The enclosures are among several changes Delta is making to persuade coach fliers to upgrade to Comfort+ seats, which have a few inches of extra space and other perks including priority boarding and dedicated overhead bins. Comfort+ tickets will go on sale in May as a new fare class, instead of as an option after buying a main-cabin seat.

“It raises the bar and sets the ball in motion for another round of product evolution,” airline consultant Samuel Engel said.

While a Comfort+ fare can vary, on May 22 a one-way Comfort+ fare from Atlanta to Boston cost $49 more than a comparable main cabin ticket, according to Delta’s website.

Moving Toward

Delta is inching closer to the “premium economy” cabins found on foreign carriers including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, Engel said. While Delta’s Comfort+ seats offer more legroom, they’re not as wide as those typically found in overseas rivals’ premium economy cabins, Engel said.

On Virgin Atlantic, which is 49 percent owned by Delta, the premium-economy cabin is separate from regular coach, and includes its own cabin crew, according to the airline.

Delta’s Comfort+ will remain part of the economy cabin and share the the same flight attendants, Black said. The goal, he said, is to create a separation between people who have paid the higher Comfort+ fare and the rest of the coach travelers, Black said.

The airline has been planning a divider between its extra-legroom seats -- found at the front of coach -- and the rest of its main cabin at least since December. That’s when Delta unveiled five fare classes, spanning the highest-service Delta One on international and transcontinental U.S. routes to Basic Economy at the low end.

Delta is still evaluating how the partitions would look and feel, and Black was unable to give details. Jets used on overseas flights might also get the panels, he said. Every aircraft type will require its own federal certification, Black said, which could push out completion of the project to a couple of years. 

Engel, who works with consultant ICF International in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that by adding partitions and upgrading the perks in Comfort+, Delta is packaging together items that many coach fliers like without incurring a business-class fare.

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