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Delta Air Lines soon will introduce a new, enclosed long-haul business class suite — complete with sliding doors for privacy — a product it is betting will help it compare favorably against some of the world’s most popular airlines.
The new suite will start flying in the fall of 2017 when Delta takes delivery of its first Airbus 350. Delta will install the cabin on its small existing Boeing 777 fleet, but it will take about four years until all those planes have the new seats.
The new cabin is a calculated move by Delta to increase luxury on a set of longer, highly competitive routes with the highest fares. Unlike United Airlines, which will install its new Polaris seat on many of its long-haul widebody aircraft, Delta is putting this cabin on fewer than 50 planes. The A350 and Boeing 777 are Delta’s longest-range aircraft, and they should mainly fly to Asia, Africa, and Australia. The smaller aircraft Delta flies to Europe and Latin America are expected to keep the business class they have.
Still, more so than United, which chose a dense configuration for Polaris class, Delta is innovating with its new cabin. According to Delta, no carrier has ever installed an entire business class cabin with privacy doors. They are are usually only found in first class, though JetBlue has enclosed suites on one quarter of the business class seats it flies from San Francisco and Los Angeles to New York.
With its announcement Tuesday, Delta has also leapfrogged Qatar Airways, Delta’s occasional public nemesis. While Delta and Qatar do not compete directly, Delta argues Qatar and two other Gulf airlines, Etihad Airways and Emirates Airline, receive unfair government subsidies and should be blocked from adding more U.S. routes. Delta views Qatar as a competitor on one-stop routes to the Middle East, India, and Africa.
Qatar Airways, which in June started flying to Delta’s home city of Atlanta, has said it may introduce a “super business class” this fall, complete with sliding door suites.
In addition to the sliding door, Delta’s new suite will feature several other passenger-friendly amenities, including an 18-inch high-resolution monitor, a memory foam-enhanced cushion, and compartments for shoes, headphones, and laptops.
Delta also will introduce a new premium economy cabin on its A350s. Seats are expected to be wider than regular economy, with better legroom and improved food and drink. Delta also plans to add premium economy to its Boeing 777s, executives said earlier this year.