Delta Air Lines is planning a new premium transcontinental product on some of its Airbus A321neo aircraft, in a signal that it will defend its position as the premium U.S. carrier amid renewed competition from other airlines.
The Atlanta-based carrier will configure 21 A321neos with 148 seats, including 16 Delta One lie-flat business class suites, according to a fleet guide shared with pilots on March 22 and viewed by Airline Weekly. In addition to the new suites, the aircraft will have 12 premium economy, 54 extra-legroom economy, and 66 economy seats. The guide did not include a timeline for when the premium configuration will enter service.
A Delta spokesperson declined to comment on the new layout.
Delta took delivery of its first of 155 A321neos in Hamburg on March 23. The aircraft is configured in what will be the airline’s standard domestic layout with 194 seats. The carrier plans to introduce the A321neo on longer domestic flights from its Boston hub in May.
The premium transcontinental market was, at least prior to the pandemic, one of the most lucrative — and competitive — in the U.S. Centered around flights between New York and both Los Angeles and San Francisco, nearly every major U.S. carrier offers its own elevated offering with lie-flat business class seats on the routes. JetBlue Airways unveiled an update to its premium Mint offering last June, and United Airlines is working on an updated offering that it will debut on the Boeing 737-10 that is due to enter service in 2023. American Airlines has its own offering on a small fleet of A321s.
Delta has 18 Boeing 757-200s with lie-flat premium seats, a layout it first introduced in 2013, that operate on both domestic transcontinental and some international routes. However, many travelers consider the product dated and in need of an update.
In addition to the new product, Delta is also working on a new premium lounge at its New York JFK hub. The club, dubbed the “Delta One Lounge,” will be built as part of a $1.3 billion expansion of Terminal 4 at the airport, according to a bond prospectus from the New York Transportation Development Corporation earlier in March. The new lounge is scheduled to open by December 2023.
The dual investments indicate that Delta takes the premium segment of the market seriously, and is willing to invest to defend its so-called premium position. This comes as competitors have worked to chip away at Delta’s lead, including the recent domestic premium product updates from JetBlue and United, and the latter’s announcement last year that it would install in-seat entertainment on all of its narrowbody aircraft by 2025.
“What we have in store for you in flight — and we’ll say more about this in the future — but it’s continually reinventing all of our premium products,” Delta President Glen Hauenstein said at the airline’s investor day in December. The next month, he said the carrier would defend its “competitive position” by further investments in premium products without providing specific details.
Delta has highlighted the rise in “premium leisure” demand, or holiday travelers who pay extra to fly in a premium cabin, during the pandemic. This has driven a fast recovery in premium revenues than of those for economy seats with the former returning to 84 percent of 2019 levels in the fourth quarter, or nine points higher than the latter.
The airline expects deliveries of 26 more A321neos this year, plus another 38 planes in 2023. The aircraft will partially replace the 100 757-200s in Delta’s fleet that, with an average age of 24.4 years at the end of 2021, are among the oldest aircraft that it flies.