With United still suffering from residual post-merger indigestion and American-US Airways just entering the assimilation maze, Delta Air Lines is emerging as the trendsetter among giant domestic airlines. Don't be surprised if the new American and United adopt a "me too" strategy on the Delta pattern.
Delta's latest move is a $770 million "refreshment" of its 757-200, 737-800, and A319/320 fleets to "improve passenger comfort." But that's a bit of a misnomer: Sure, some of the changes will actually improve passenger comfort, but Delta is also focused on the "comfort" of its annual profit report.
Among the changes:
Clearly, onboard connectivity will be a big push for large airlines. And many will use satellite Wi-Fi, which works over oceans and provides more bandwidth than the land-based system. But the Gogo land-based system is also expanding, increasing bandwidth, and now covering populated areas of Canada. Some airlines have expressed the view that lots of entertainment will distract economy passengers from the miseries of ever-tightening cattle car seats.
In these days of stiff fees for checked baggage, big bins are becoming a must for any airline. This, too, is an area where Delta is ahead of its competition.
The trend isn't clear here: Some lines, including United, Hawaiian, Frontier, JetBlue, pre-merger American and KLM, offer similar semi-premium economy. But most big foreign lines have opted for a much better true premium economy, with more legroom still, wider seats, better cabin service -- and higher fares. So far, among the long-haul domestic lines, Alaska and Virgin America haven't gone either way.
Lie-flat seats is the new worldwide business class standard for intercontinental flights and U.S. premium transcontinental nonstops. American and United are moving in the same direction; Hawaiian hasn't. On premium transcons, American, JetBlue and United will be competitive; Virgin America will not.
Squeezing more and more seats in economy cabins is another worldwide trend. Supposedly, slimmer seats provide improved legroom, but many lines will instead add more seat rows at tighter spacing.
Other airlines will make similar moves. As airlines increase eligibility through credit card deals and other promotions, clubs are bound to become more crowded.
Contact Ed Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.