It is not unusual to see a company attempt rebranding when they are in trouble. In the case of Delta Air Lines, it just might be a case of having too much money and not knowing what to do with it.
Delta announced some unusual updates to their program beginning March 1, 2015. With no explanation, Delta decided to rename their Business Elite service Delta One. Other than the name change, the only surprise here was Delta noting this applies to their JFK-LAX/SFO flights but did not mention flights to Seattle. Given the way they are building up SEA to be hub-like, this omission might have been intentional or accidental.
On a roll, they renamed their Economy Comfort section Comfort Plus. Since United Airlines already calls their premium economy seats Economy Plus,
maybe this a nod back to United for copying many of Delta’s elite ‘enhancements’. Both sections will have new seat covers, always appreciated.
Receiving less attention is what they will be calling Basic Economy. This is an expansion of their sometimes-offered “E” class fares, designed for those who are on a budget. You will get no seat assignments and there are no ticket changes allowed. Also, these passengers will be the last to board. In other words, don’t expect any overhead bin space. Medallions will not be entitled to upgrade, either to the forward cabin or Comfort Plus, but will earn mileage accrual. These changes are effective February 1, 2015.
A real program enhancement will be limiting Comfort Plus overhead bins presumably only for those passengers. This is supposed to insure that those who are seated in the back will not use this forward space for their own bags. Enforcement, of course, requires a monitor. We will see how this goes.
The biggest news from the announcement relates to their Comfort Plus seats. Delta very recently – and quietly – removed their prized Have One On Us drink coupons from the boarding passes of elite Medallions who did not receive first class upgrades. In place of the HOOU’s, Delta will be offering free drinks and snacks (on “longer” flights) to those sitting in the re-named Comfort Plus seats. The airline has not announced if they will continue to include a few of the old HOOU coupons in the new 2015 Medallion packages set to go out to elites next month.
Gold level Medallions will have access to these seats only 72 hrs before the flight time and Silver level will be able to reserve the seats 24 hrs ahead. As before, Diamonds and Platinums will have access to these seats at time of booking. The biggest losers in these changes may be Delta’s Golds because they can not book the Comfort Plus seats for free until T-72. No doubt many will be watching the unreliable seat maps very carefully to get at least an idea if these seats are disappearing. As I said a few years ago, Gold became the new Silver level and the downward trend in benefits will continue for at least another year.
The biggest winners here may be the road warriors who book their flights only a few days before departure. Previously they were relegated to whatever seats may be available, often meaning a poor seat somewhere in the back. Beginning next March, this might improve for them. Or maybe not.
With respect to domestic and limited international travel, Comfort Plus offers real distinction over the remainder of the economy cabin. And no doubt, Delta will be selling these Comfort Plus seats to anyone. In one scenario, this may mean less available seats for all of Delta’s Medallions because they are purchased by non-elites. On the other hand, there is another possibility that those who have been buying discount first class tickets will save some money by purchasing Comfort Plus instead. To the extent this opens up seats in the first class cabin, higher tier elites can be upgraded to fill the front cabin, leaving lower level elites with their freed up Comfort Plus.
In the broader sense, probably not much of a change but of course, this will vary depending on things like airport, route, destination, and day of the week.