Not Just More ‘Passenger Comfort’ — More Passengers

My first thought on reading this headline — Delta to Improve Passenger Comfort on 225 Domestic Narrowbody Aircraft — was to wonder how many additional seats Delta is going to cram onto those jets.

Call me a cynic, but I was right. The upgrade is going to add about 1,500 seats to 182 jets.

My second thought was to wonder who decided that that narrowbody is one word. I believe it’s a compound modifier requiring a hyphen: narrow-body. (Anyway, it means the aircraft has only one aisle.)

So the story is not, as Delta would have it, all about passenger comfort and convenience. But the news is not all bad for passengers, either.

All 225 jets, amounting to nearly a third of Delta’s fleet, will get power outlets at every seat, a very welcome improvement. Most will also get larger overhead bins, also welcome. Bag fees have pushed people to max out their carry-on bags and we need the space. Slightly more than half the aircraft (the ones that are Airbus jets inherited from Northwest Airlines) will get wider seats.

Most of the aircraft will also get in-seat video. This doesn’t seem to comport with the trend toward people carrying their own entertainment devices. But many people like that amenity, and it may have more to do with revenue for those rental movies than anything else.

Also new lavatories, adjustable headrests and blah, blah whatever. That’s pretty much what passengers get and I’ll take it. What Delta gets is lots and lots more seats. I’ll try to break it down a little.

Boeing 757-200

On 43 domestic 757-200s, Delta will squeeze in 19 additional seats, increasing capacity from 180 to 199. Where does the extra space come from? Well, some of it comes from cutting the first-class section from 24 seats to 20. And some of it comes from new, slimmer seat backs that take up less space.

And I suspect some of it may come from reducing leg room (seat pitch) in coach, though that’s hard to tell. Delta’s news release says nothing about seat pitch on the Boeing aircraft, which is what makes me a bit suspicious. (Also, I’m suspicious by nature. And from experience.)

The leg room picture is also clouded by those new seats. Because seat pitch is calculated from the middle of the seat back in front to the middle of the seat back behind, a thinner seat back will actually provide a bit more leg room while the seat pitch remains the same.

While passengers in coach will suffer most, as per usual, it’s not all good in first class. It seems very unlikely Delta would cut the leg room in first. But reducing the number of seats in first means that frequent fliers who use points and status for upgrades on a space-available basis will be more likely to find themselves stuck in coach. A bump in the number of “economy comfort” seats from 20 to 29 may offer some slight solace.

I can’t quite figure out exactly how many seats Delta will gain on the seven international 757-200s it is refurbishing because I’m not sure which planes they’re talking about among the remaining seven configurations. My guess is 18 seats on each of those aircraft.

Boeing 737-800

It looks like it might be all good news on the 737-800, which is the stretch version of the 737. Delta says it will make over 43 of them, adding power outlets, in-seat video, new cabin lighting and updated lavatories. But the seat configuration looks to stay exactly the same.

Airbus 319

Delta will add six seats in coach on the Airbus 319, bringing the total to 132. The seat pitches actually look slightly better. Some seats had as little as 30 inches of leg room and all will have 31 inches, according to Delta.

The increase in seat width is nice, too, from the ridiculously narrow standard of 17.2 inches to 18 inches. This may involve angled seats, as it doesn’t seem likely the aisle can get any narrower.

Airbus 320

Good news for premium fliers on the A320s, which will get four more seats in first class, improving upgrade opportunities. Another six seats will be added in coach, where the squeeze will be concentrated. Delta says the seat pitch will be 31 inches, which may be a bit worse because some seats supposedly have 32 inches now. These jets get the wider seats, too.

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