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Delta Lays Claim to “Most First Class” Title

Delta Lays Claim to “Most First Class” Title

By the summer of 2013, Delta will add more than 1,200 first-class seats to its fleet. That’s over and above the recent addition of first-class seating on all Delta Connection regional jets with more than 60 seats.

For context, that amounts to a 13 percent increase over the airline’s current supply of first-class seats, which account for 11 percent of Delta’s total seating. Here’s the breakdown:

Bottom line: According to Delta, the airline already has more first-class seats than its competitors, and it’s adding even more. In addition, "Delta also is the only U.S. carrier to offer a First Class cabin on every domestic flight longer than 750 miles, or approximately 2.5 hours."

The seating upgrade represents a significant shift in focus for an industry that has been stuck in shrink mode for the past few years.

Not only have the airlines reduced capacity overall, they have also disproportionately reduced the number of first-class seats. That’s because part of the recession-fueled seat-shedding has taken the form of equipment downgrades: switching from wide-body jets (B747 or B777, for instance) to narrow bodies (B737, A320), and from narrow bodies to regional jets. Generally, the smaller aircraft not only have fewer first-class seats, but a smaller percentage of first-class seats, with many regional jets offering no first class at all.

More Upgrade Opportunities

While Delta surely has its eye on the bottom line—first-class tickets are highly profitable—the move is as much about appeasing elite-level SkyMiles members as it is about selling more first-class tickets.

In fact, the subhead of Delta’s news release addresses that goal directly: "Airline increases First Class seating by 13 percent, creating up to one million new upgrade opportunities annually for SkyMiles members."

An upgrade to first class is the featured benefit of elite status; and elite status is the key to recognizing an airlines’ best customers—and, critically, locking in their highly profitable business.

So whether Delta sells its first-class seats or gives them away, there’s a financial upside for the airline.

Of course with business travel on the rebound, the demand for paid first-class seats will increase, which means that not all of the additional seats will be made available for elite upgrades. But some will, and the net effect for would-be upgraders should be a positive one.

Reader Reality Check

Can any SkyMiles elite members comment on their success rate in obtaining complimentary domestic upgrades?

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  • les

    Getting very ugly on Delta. As a Diamond Member I more often than not sit in coach, with no upgrade. Even upgrade certificates are getting very difficult to use.

  • Tom

    I’m a Silver member and get upgraded at least half of the time that I fly. I’m not in a Delta hub with tons of people with status on every plane nor do I fly typical business days (Monday morning, Thursday night) which certainly helps. I fly Delta all of the time solely because of the upgrade potential.

  • rob

    I fly SDF to GRB monthly and get upgraded 3 out of 4 segments. I guess because no one wants to go to Green Bay in the winter (haha).
    Going to JAX monthly is a little harder – maybe 50% success.
    I usually fly on L,U or T codes. When I fly Q or H, my success rates is higher.

  • donh

    They can claim bragging rights all they want however they have amongst the most stingy program with regard to award seat availability in the nation.Proven statistically.The irony is that their own partners are typically fairer than Delta when trying to redeem Delta miles for award flights.Added to that it took a group of professional industry folks to teach Delta how to book their own partner awards.The training for their agents is highly inadequate though they try to please their customers.
    I am not in the habit of supporting with my revenue any airline that has poor consumer relations and bad inventory of award seats except at extorionate redemption levels.
    Who cares how many seats they have if you can’t redeem them.At the end of the day isn’t it all about the quality of the experience and the value even if one can possibly excuse Delta for everything else it fails at?My friend from IBM just came back from a trip on a Delta international flight and called it a poor experience.The food was inediblen ( he knew in advance to bring his own) and the service onboard was inadequate to be polite.Is big with more seats the keys to Deltas future success story?I wish them well.The TSA has their no fly list.Delta remains on my no fly list or as a last resort.A happy overall One World and Star Alliance guy reaching 7 million miles between just those two programs
    Superior to Delta and Skyteam 1000%!

  • Nancy Engelsberg (NEJE)

    I have often been upgraded, though not necessarily on the coast to coast, the most important. The upgrade possibilities have been the principal reason I have been hesitating about jumping ship. Delta, alone among the major alliances, no longer offers an international First Class award ticket, which is what I want. I am a Gold medallion elite. When Singapore Airlines left the program last Spring, I told Delta that unless they found a substitute within the year I would stop flying with them. Their answer? “So long, it’s been good to know you.” I wrote a second time after meeting a million miler who felt as I did. I suggested they even have an integral member of their alliance with an excellent First Class. This time they said they would refer my comments to the proper authorities. I have just written again, and they are still busy referring, so in January I will go either to American or United.

  • Mark

    I am a Gold member and get upgraded approximately 75& of the time on domestic flights. I live in NY.

  • LK

    I’m Diamond this year on DL but will revert to Platinum next year where I usually am. I usually get upgraded domestically – but not always even with Diamond. Internationally, the required M, or higher fares, for upgrade are usually way more expensive than the lowest available coach fares that it is hard to justify spending about three times the money for a potential – not guaranteed – upgrade. But the times that I have done it, I usually get upgraded in the end, even if ugrades are not available before check-in.
    I’m also entry level Elite on UA and find their personnel a lot more cooperative in trying to help with upgrades, even with my comparatively low status. They also seem to require a lot less miles at the higher fares (similar to DL’s M fares)than DL. The thought to change alliance occurs to me from time to time, but I’ve been with DL so long and unless something drastic happens, I’ll probably follow old habit and stay.

  • Brad

    This is one thing Delta seems to be getting right. Now if they could just provide good customer service both in reservations and during the travel experience that would be great. My experiences on Continental have been markedly better than any on Delta. My last flight on DL actually had an on duty flight attendant having a heated discussion with a non-rev attendant right in the center aisle. It lasted over 20 minutes. Not very professional no matter how you look at it.

  • jrs

    I am a gold status w/DL and get Upgrades more than 50% of the time. Knowing that Business Travelers are going to increase in the next few years, glad to see DL is proactive to allow fliers with the 1st class option.
    I am also UAL Premium Executive and never get upgraded. So possibly I should consider spending more time w/DL to get higher status.

  • Tom

    I am Silver status, and have been Silver for the past several years. This year (2010) I have been upgraded on about 3 out of every 5 trips. On my current trip, I have been upgraded on all three legs of the trip.

  • harley

    I’ve been Silver with NWA and now Delta for the past four years. It used to be that upgrades were possible 75% of the time but lately its been closer to 25%. MSP is my home airport and a Delta hub, so I’m competing with more members and higher status members for those upgrades. Adding more first class seats can only help my cause.

  • dharrison

    As a Delta Diamond and United 1K, I can say that Delta is so much better to its frequent flyers than United. Every airline is getting ugly with its’ frequent flyers but United is the worst. It all has to do with how they treat they best customers. Even if you don’t get an upgrade which everyone wants, at least treat your best customers accordingly.

  • Chuck

    Diamond Medallion on Delta and Executive Platinum on American. US domestic I get upgraded on both airlines 95% of the time. Internationally, like another poster noted, getting an upgrade on Delta is restricted by fares so I almost never get an upgrade. On American you can use system wides or miles regardless of the fares. I hate to stop flying Delta as much as I used to but AA’s upgrade policy is much more generous.

  • HL

    Contrary to the reports on increased FC seating,, I have been on several Delta planes remodeled down to 3 first class rows on routes I fly. I’ve experienced many fewer upgrades since those changes were made. Consequently, I am demotivated to try to reach Delta Diamond status for 2011.

  • DAZ

    I have fluctuated between Silver and Gold on DL since 2007. Prior to that I was w/ UA fluctuating between the same levels from 00-07. I’m routinely flying trans-cons and occasional N/S from SEA down to LAS/LAX, but often on non-peak days and times. Anyhow, I’m just one guy, and everyone’s experiences are anecdotal, but for me….DL is heads and shoulders above UA. I get upgraded approx 50% of the time, and that is plenty enough for me, given that I am rather low on the pecking order. Just to play devil’s advocate, my father in the midwest travels even more than I, and he is a Continental junkie or pays V/F internationally if it’s a truly long haul…but despises DL domestic and int’t. Go figure.