Could Coach Get Any Worse? Delta Found a Way with New Class of Fares

Laura Begley Bloom
Editor-in-Chief

Change is in the air at Delta (Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP)

In October, Yahoo Travel reported that a major U.S. carrier was contemplating an “Economy Minus” class, which would be even worse than regular economy class.

And guess what: it’s here. On Monday, Delta announced that the airline will have a hyper-restrictive new class of service called Basic Economy: no changes to tickets, no seat assignments, no upgrading. 

“Basic Economy is Delta’s way of lowering the price to fight Spirit and to attract the Spirit customer,” says business travel blogger Joe Brancatelli of JoeSentMe.com

The new class was part of a bigger announcement that the airline will have five new levels of serviceNow, instead of economy, premium economy, and business class, you’ll have Basic Economy, Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+, DeltaOne, and First Class — just because booking a plane ticket wasn’t confusing enough.

Related: What Could Be Worse Than Economy Class? Airline Reportedly Considering “Economy Minus”

“We’re providing Delta customers with a thoughtful, well-defined spectrum of options as they make decisions about travel,” said Glen Hauenstein, Delta’s Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer. 

But aviation experts disagree. “The airlines say they’re introducing new products to offer consumers more choice,” William J. McGee, author of  Attention All Passengers: the Airlines’ Dangerous Descent and How to Reclaim our Skies told Yahoo Travel. ”What they’re really doing is responding to Wall Street investors who want them to cram more of us into tighter seats as they charge more and higher fees.”

So what does it all mean? Here’s a breakdown of the new cabins, which will go into effect in March.

Related: No More Fees, Please! 5 Airline Extras We Can’t Stand (and Some We Don’t Mind)

Delta’s new Comfort+ class (Photo: Delta)

Basic Economy: This service was originally introduced in some markets in 2012. Look for the cheapest prices, along with the most restrictive rules: no changes to tickets, no seat assignments, no upgrading. Complimentary non-alcoholic beverages and snacks. WiFi when available.

Main Cabin: This is what you currently think of as coach class: some flexibility with tickets, ability to choose a seat. Like Basic Economy, there are complimentary non-alcoholic beverages and snacks. On long-haul international flights, passengers also get meal service (with free alcoholic drinks) and a sleeping kit.

Delta Comfort+: The old Premium Economy, at the front of the main cabin has been rebranded Delta Comfort+. Look for four more inches of leg room than standard coach-class seats, priority boarding, complimentary alcoholic beverages, and “premium snacks” on longer flights. On transcontinental flights from New York to L.A. and San Francisco, passengers also get a pillow and a blanket (thanks, Delta!).

Related: Air New Zealand Named World’s Top Airline; U.S. Carriers Shut Out

This is what First Class will look like on Delta (Photo: Delta)

First Class: Next up is First Class, offered on short-haul international and all domestic routes. You’ll get quilted seat covers, access to power outlets on many planes, meals on flights longer than 900 miles, complimentary alcoholic beverages.

DeltaOne: This is the highest class, a rebranding of Business Elite, which was previously available on long-haul international and cross-country flights. Flat seats, and Westin’s “Heavenly” linens are just some of the perks at the front of the plane.

Related: Airline Don’ts: Never Get ‘Passenger Shamed’ Again

But experts aren’t impressed. “What Delta is doing is a rebranding. None of the products are new and it means nothing to travelers,” says Brancatelli. “Oh wait, there’s one place where it changed — now you’ll get a free drink in Comfort+.”

Brancatelli also predicts that Basic Economy passengers will be relegated to the middle seat. “Based on current load factors, this means that if you don’t have a reservation, the chance of getting a window or an aisle seat is virtually nil.”

McGee is even harsher in his criticism: “This is not at all a bright development for passengers. In fact, I think it’s part of a larger degradation.”

"There was a time when airlines introduced service enhancements,” McGee says. “Now they are racing to introduce service ‘dehancements’ to widen the caste system that already separates most of us from those in the front of the plane.”

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