Delta’s narrowbody makeover means MORE seats


Delta’s narrowbody fleet is getting a makeover over the next three years as part of the carrier’s efforts to “improve passenger comfort” on board. The updates are coming to the 757-200, 737-800, A319 and A320 fleets covering 225 aircraft. The updates will help to make the inflight experience more consistent for passengers while also offering real improvements to the inflight amenities. Oh, and slimline seats.

Delta currently has both Zodiac and B/E Aerospace seats installed in their fleet; they do not have any aircraft with the Recaro seat which routinely receives the worst reviews from passengers. Earlier this afternoon Runway Girl Network confirmed that this round of updates will include the installation of the B/E Aerospace Pinnacle seats, similar to the announcement made a couple months ago by United Airlines. That’s definitely a hint of good news, though there is still some reason for concern.

Some of the upgrades are unequivocally positive. In-seat entertainment and power nose-to-tail are things passengers are quite keen on these days and Delta will now be able to deliver that on nearly their entire mainline fleet. Larger overhead bins on the A319/A320s and 757-200s should similarly be quite well received.

At the same time, however, some of the changes are less compelling. Delta is installing slimline seats as part of the retrofit, a move which challenges the notion of improved passenger comfort. These seats are lighter (typically due to less padding) and, as the name implies, slimmer than the prior generation of aircraft seats which allows for more to fit on a plane without reducing the published “pitch” dimensions of the cabin. But that doesn’t mean the passengers keep the same personal space. Slimline seats typically have less storage and can often feel more cramped, even if the knee room is the same as older models.

Delta is adding more rows of economy class seats on more than 150 aircraft: three extra rows on the 757s and one extra on the Airbus. Taking the same planes about which there are already concerns of seats too cramped to fit the average passenger and increasing the number of people on board rarely ends well for the passengers, even if the seats are the most comfortable version of the slimline offering on the market. Delta is also reducing the number of first class seats in the 757s as part of the changes. It is not yet clear if this will also translate to the remaining seats realizing additional pitch (unlikely given the other increases in seating density) or other adjustments in the cabin layout. Delta did not respond to requests for comment.

Slim-line seats are the future for economy cabin passengers, promising higher seating density for the airlines and the same space for passengers. Unfortunately, however, most implementations thus far have also resulted in less personal storage space for passengers and, depending on the specific seating configuration used, often a less comfortable overall space for the customers. Still, don’t expect to see the trend changing anytime soon. Delta has similar seats on other aircraft in their fleet. And American Airlines and United Airlines are moving in the same direction on their comparable fleets as are many international carriers.

New lavatories will be installed as well as updates to the galleys and LED cabin lighting. For the A319, A320 and 757-200s there will also be new overhead bins installed. These new bins promise an increased capacity of 50% or more which should help alleviate the carry-on baggage crush airlines experience today, though that benefit is somewhat offset by the increase in the number of passengers as well. The installation of the seat-back entertainment means that the domestic narrow-body fleet will have a consistent offering of both stored content and live satellite TV available for travelers, in addition to inflight Wi-Fi from Gogo. This is all good news for passengers.

On the IFE front, both Delta and American continue to invest in in-seat systems while United has made it clear that their domestic fleet will shift to a BYOD/streaming solution in the coming years. United’s approach represents lower costs for the system installs and operating over time, though both American and Delta can leverage their existing gogo install base for the Gogo Vision platform if desired; that means potentially more options for their passengers. Certainly the split in direction on the in-seat IFE front is an interesting one to watch in a market where “follow-the-leader” seems to be a much more common approach.