When light loads reduce the value proposition of Delta’s Comfort+


What is in-seat power worth on a transatlantic flight? This is the question your author faced when considering seat assignments on a recent Delta Air Lines flight from Brussels to New York City.

Booked on an economy class ticket and without the benefit of Medallion status, I had to decide if it was worth paying for a seat in the Comfort+ preferred seating section of the Boeing 767-400 to ensure access to a shared power outlet for the eight-hour trip.

There are only two rows of non-preferred seating with power available. By the time I’d booked my flights, the window seats in those rows were taken. Anything else with power meant no window or paying. Ultimately I chose to pay.

The up-charge was reasonable enough, I suppose, when combined with the extra legroom offered in Comfort+. At least that was the justification I used when I pulled out my credit card and paid the $90 for the seat. But here I am a couple of weeks later still not entirely sure I got my money’s worth.

Part of that comes from the fact that it was a trip on a Tuesday in the off-season, which is to say that there were a ton of empty seats on board. An empty adjacent seat would not have been too hard to arrange anywhere on board (I actually ended up with one at my Comfort+ seat) and several passengers secured the equivalent of lie-flat coach on board with three open seats. Personal space wasn’t a problem.

There are a few “dedicated” bins labeled for Comfort+, but on the 767-400 one of them is occupied by safety equipment and it’s unclear how the carrier can ensure those bins will only hold bags for Comfort+ passengers. I was in the bulkhead row so everything had to go overhead; some of my baggage ended up a few rows back. The light loads on board reduced the value proposition of these benefits.

Decent Comfort+ legroom on Delta's 767-400 at the bulkhead, but that tiny screen

The legroom for Comfort+ at the bulkhead on Delta’s 767-400 was decent, but that tiny screen… Image: Seth Miller

And the rest of the experience was decidedly economy and decidedly Delta. The seat was fine. I think the bulkhead was shorted on legroom but that’s a trade I made to not have anyone recline into me. The food was decent or maybe even good, at least for the first meal out of Brussels. The chicken had real flavor and the overall presentation was solid for a coach offering. I also love the Lily O’Brien’s chocolate cups.

The lunch catered out of Brussels was pretty good, especially the pot o' chocolate

The lunch catered out of Brussels was pretty good, especially the pot o’ chocolate. Image: Seth Miller

The Ku-band satellite connectivity provided by Gogo worked as expected and advertised. I was online throughout the flight and while I don’t recommend trying to upload a full rebuild of a website over the pipe, most typical browsing and communications functions worked just fine.

Scoring on the ever-critical “Could I get my work done?” scale, the answer was a solid yes for the vast majority of the flight. I could not stream video, as expected, but I was able to stream an audio feed of a corporate earnings call and report on the topic of Gogo wifi from the sky.

Ku-band satellite connectivity doing its thing

Ku-band satellite connectivity doing its thing. Image: Seth Miller

The biggest shortcoming to me overall was the inflight entertainment set-up. The good news is that the content is all free. The bad news is that the content typically does not become available until after the plane hits 10,000 feet. That was particularly frustrating given the 50-minute delay we encountered due to a mechanical issue prior to departure.

An easy way to placate otherwise frustrated passengers is to give them entertainment. The Delta IFE kit apparently does not support that by default. I was able to cajole a rather reluctant flight attendant into making it work while we were still on the ground but the fact that I asked seemed to shock them. If it can be manually activated while on the ground, then why not have it on all the time?

There were also some issues with the content. I’m not expecting all my favorite movies on every flight (though some say that’s coming eventually) but to have categories listed like HBO Stand-Up Comedy and then not have any selections in that category is a tease to passengers. And the tiny screens for bulkhead passengers are no fun either.

Ultimately I was paying for a little extra legroom and power. And I got both. I kept my laptop and PEDs charged throughout the flight. The power was necessary to do my job that day so it was worthwhile for this particular passenger. The rest of the trip was just another economy class ride over the ocean, which is wonderful and special in the way that flying always is, but definitely not all that different from any other product on offer.

Related Articles:


  1. my in-seat entertainment system was worth 15K on my latest flight but hey Ghostbusters in spanish was really funny. And, IMHO, their business first product needs work… Service 8 – food 3…

  2. Glen

    Air NZ do have a similar upgrade on there flights. There called preferred seats with extra leg room and priority boarding and they only charge $39 each way. Well worth paying for

  3. Power considerations aside, even when I’ve had status and can take an extra-legroom seat (whether DL C+, UA E+ or AA MCE) for free, it’s a close call on a light-load flight if I think an open middle next to me is more likely to hold solid in back then in the plus section. I’m not too tall, so I care more about elbow room than legroom. If the middle holds solid in back (or of course if I end up with lie-flat coach) but would have filled up front, then I’ve won the bet.

  4. Catherine Burnett

    “If it can be manually activated while on the ground, then why not have it on all the time?”
    Really? You think passengers need another thing to distract them during critical phases of flight? Most already have some sort of PED going from the time they board until the time they deplane, and most passengers are not prepared for any possible type of aircraft emergency. No inflight entertainment until 10,000 feet so that, if there’s any type of emergency, flight attendants have their attention.

    • Seatback entertainment which is available as an option (in addition to bring-your-own, which can’t use tray tables during this phase) is a safety enhancement – when it is overridden with the safety briefing. This is what happens with Air NZ, which has had gate-to-gate IFE for years.