Delta’s decision to continue to block seats while other airlines squeeze passengers in represents an interesting new dynamic within the U.S. market. Will Delta become America’s new premium airline?
Some may argue Delta already is the nation’s premium airline. After all, it is lauded for service, reliability, and in-flight amenities not just in premium cabins, but for economy class passengers. While other airlines rip out seat-back monitors, Delta offers them on nearly every flight.
But I’m talking about a move that would truly set it apart: keep middle seats open and charge a premium for doing so. Long before COVID-19, Delta believed it could extract a premium for its product. With its decision to extend middle seat blocking into autumn, could Delta be on the verge of truly trying to differentiate itself from others?
Through September 30th, Delta will generously cap the number of passengers on all flights:
- Delta One – 75% of capacity or less
- Premium Select, Comfort+, and Main Cabin – 60% or less
- First Class – 50% or less
That means you are virtually guaranteed an open seat next to you when you travel on Delta.
I don’t view this as about safety, though it will certainly make many passengers feel safer. Instead, I view this move as a calculated test. Will passengers pay a premium for greater peace of mind?
Having watched flights loads and TSA numbers closely over the last couple weeks, this is not just clever marketing. With schedules dramatically reduced but demand rebounding, flights are much fuller than they were even two weeks ago. In other words, Delta is theoretically taking a revenue hit by not filling up its planes.
While Delta says that it will respond to more demand by adding more flights or substituting larger aircraft at the last minute, imagine you have a product and can only sell 60% of it, even when you have 100% of it.
This is not a blog that run regressions and creates fancy charts tracking revenue differentials between American, United, and Delta. But generally, I’ll be watching the next few months to see if Delta can charge more for the same routes as others. Thus far, it looks like the answer is no.
As flight demand returns, Delta (and JetBlue) will have a decision to make: start selling middle seats or start charging a premium for leaving them open. This gives Delta a real opportunity to distinguish itself from its legacy rivals.
Do you think Delta can get away with charging a premium for leaving the middle seat open?
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