Thursday, June 5, 2014

Delta upgrades Economy Comfort on transcontinental routes

Delta Air Lines on June 4 announced that it will be providing upgraded amenities to its Economy Comfort customers on flights from New York's JFK Airport to Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and Seattle (SEA).

Delta (NYSE: DAL) said this latest change is designed “to improve travel through its investments in the customer experience” and will provide Economy Comfort customers with complimentary pillows, blankets and food options in flight.

Luvo sandwich wraps
Those food options include Luvo sandwich wraps and a full-size bottle of water on all flights, and Luvo frozen Greek yogurt bars as a mid-flight snack “on most flights except those flights leaving the West Coast after 9 p.m.,” Delta said.

Those benefits are in addition to those already extended to Economy Comfort customers, including a “sleep kit” that includes eyeshades and earplugs; priority boarding; seats with more legroom; and free beer, wine and spirits in flight.

The extra benefits come at a cost “[S]tarting at $99 per flight segment” on the transcontinental routes, the airline said in a news release announcing the amenities upgrade and on its website.

While the additional benefits are definitely value-adds, the extra space provided may be modest.

For a real-world example, I researched a sample round-trip pair from JFK to SEA, leaving July 12 and returning a week later.

According to SeatGuru.com, both Flight 440 westbound and eastbound Flight 2588 will be on Boeing 757-200 aircraft. Economy Comfort seating on those aircraft offer a pitch – the distance from the back of one seat to the back of the seat in front of it – of 35 inches, compared to pitch of 31-33 inches in Economy. However, both Economy Comfort and standard Economy seats are the same width - 17.2 inches - which I found uncomfortably narrow during a cross-country trip on Delta last year.

The first leg of my trip was from SEA to Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) on a Boeing 757. The seat width was the same as those on the 757s in my sample trip above; approximately the width of two sheets of copier paper. For the second leg, from MSP to Jacksonville, Florida (JAX), I rode aboard a Delta ERJ-170. Surprisingly, my seat on that regional jet was 18.25 inches wide and that extra inch made it noticeably more comfortable than my seat on the bigger plane.

By mid-June, Delta will operate three newly refurbished Boeing 757 aircraft dedicated to the JFK-LAX route. Those aircraft will feature lie-flat seats in BusinessElite class and Economy Comfort seats with slightly more recline than the current configuration. Further, all transcontinental flights between JFK and LAX, SFO and SEA will be on refurbished aircraft by summer 2015.

Delta's longer range plan is to refurbish the planes it uses on transcontinental routes to be "as similar as you can get to an international-style aircraft," a Delta spokesperson told TheTravelPro.

Comfort Economy seating
Those who want Economy Comfort seating face a challenge not faced by those who choose either Economy, Business, or First Class: using Delta’s web site, a customer cannot choose Economy Comfort and see what the cost is before making a commitment to a specific trip.

However, one can at least see whether Economy Comfort seats are available before booking. Clicking on the “View seats” link allows customers to see whether Economy Comfort seats are available prior to committing to a particular flight, although the seat map does not indicate the additional cost for the upgrade.

Currently, the cost of an upgrade to Economy Comfort is $99 per segment for the three transcontinental routes. Upgrade prices vary by route.

At that rate, Economy Comfort is considerably less expensive than the next available class of service. When researching my sample flight pair, I was offered the option of upgrading to Business Class, “[F]or just $516 more per person each way.” That would have taken my total round trip cost from $750 to $1782; upgrading to Economy Comfort would result in a ticket cost of $948 for the round trip.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of travel.

Photos provided by Delta Air Lines
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