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It used to be that Premium Economy on domestic U.S. routes was considered as a bonus for lucky economy passengers.
Elite passengers flying in coach could pick up the premium seats upon booking and enjoy a bit of extra leg room, while regular passengers could either pay for the extra space or roll the dice to find a seat at checkin. New changes coming to the way that Delta markets its Comfort+ seats, however, spell the end of its Premium Economy as we know it.
From 10,000 feet, the changes to Comfort+ articulated by Delta last week seem geared towards restricting free access to premium economy so that the airline can sell more seats in that cabin. After May 16 of 2016, elite passengers booking tickets on Delta will have to enter an upgrade queue to move into the Comfort+ cabin. Diamond and Platinum members will get upgraded “shortly after ticketing” while Gold and Silver members will get upgraded 72 and 24 hours respectively before flight.
Diamond and Platinum members currently are allowed to select Comfort+ seats at the time of booking while Gold and Silver members can select them at the 72 and 24 hour windows. With this new mechanism, Delta will upgrade members based on availability and then the onus is on passengers to select seats.
The booking mechanism for Comfort+ will also change. Coming up, passengers will be given the distinct option of booking a flight in Comfort+ along with economy or business, driving passengers into a specific fare bucket rather than letting them book economy tickets and then select the Comfort+ cabin during seat selection.
Elites will also only be able to bring along one companion within their reservation with the upgrade, a reduction from eight passengers before.
Combined, the changes all point to Delta tailoring Comfort+ as its own distinct and marketable class of service rather than a simple augment to the main cabin experience. The result may mean better Comfort+ bookings and better revenue for the airline — but elite passengers will take the brunt of the cuts.