Maybe Delta should call its premium economy section “Discomfort+” or “Comfort-“ because no matter how you cut it, the product is not comfortable.
Okay, I give Delta credit for at least legitimately stretching the seat pitch (distance front to rear, measured in inches from seat back to seat back) in the Comfort+ rows. That’s honest.
By contrast, American Airlines’ premium economy (called MCE for “Main cabin Extra”) seats on their A319, A320, A321 aircraft are just as close together (pitch) as the rows in the back of the plane. Even the AA FAs told me there is no difference between MCE seat pitch and sardine class seat pitch on those Airbus models.
Delta or American, though, so-called premium economy lacks any extra seat WIDTH from the rest of coach, and with Americans tubbier than ever these days (myself included, sadly), squeezing into a tiny seat and fighting for elbow space with one’s neighbors is no fun. It’s agony.
Making matters worse, on a recent Delta 757 gussied up with their brand new cabin refurbishment, including tacky blue LED accent lighting outlining the overhead control panel, I was assigned Comfort+ 15A, a window seat just behind first class. I was smushed up against the fuselage and felt like a clove of garlic in a press. I couldn’t move side to side once the middle seat was occupied.
But I had lots of leg room.
While in my torture seat, I had plenty of time to deconstruct why I was so compressed, so claustrophobic, so uncomfortable. Delta has reconfigured domestic 757 first class compartments from 6 rows of first to 5 by squeezing them tighter and putting 2 rows of Comfort+ (rows 15 & 16) in the tiny space. Seat 15A, a window seat right behind row 5 of first class, has tons of leg room but zero—ZERO!—width. Crushed against the window, I could not move laterally at all.
But Delta achieved their aim, that is, to add two rows deemed “comfortable” to an already tight forward cabin area. Probably looked good on paper, but I doubt a designer actually tried one after installation.
Luckily, it was just a one hour RDU/ATL flight. I could not have survived a longer misery.
So why was this so-called “Comfort+” so much less comfortable than the 12-14 hour flights I took on Emirates in coach earlier this year? Those long legs, by the way, were in Emirates’ ordinary coach seats not any wider than my Delta coach seats.
My answer is, I don’t know for sure, but I know the difference is real.
However, I can point out some elements that might make the Delta (or AA) coach experience versus the Emirates coach experience feel different:
- On four long Emirates flights I managed to snag aisle seats. Aisle seats always seem more comfortable to me, though I feel cramped and spiritually compromised even in aisle seats on DL and AA flights.
- Usually we measure seat comfort in two dimensions: front to rear and side to side. The Emirates flights were all on widebody airplanes that had relatively high interior ceiling designs, which contributed to a feeling of greater space in a third dimension: vertical. I think perhaps the vertical spatial component made me feel more comfortable despite the same old cramped seat. Delta and American can’t offer that advantage on the usual domestic aircraft in service.
- Emirates had oodles of cabin staff, unlike U.S. carriers. Emirates flight attendants offered hot towels and boarding beverages on the ground, and they were ever-present with food, beverages, and to offer assistance with genuine smiles during the entire flights. I was nonplussed by their great attitudes and service.
- Emirates provides complimentary headphones and a deep selection of entertainment via seatback flat-screens, so it’s impossible to become bored. The phones are cheap but adequate for listening while watching.
- I’ve already mentioned that Emirates FAs are constantly busy with service offerings of food and drink. In addition, snacks, water, and juices are set up at several galleys throughout coach in the big planes, and passengers are encouraged to help themselves while walking around. Only first class sections get that kind of attention on flights within the USA.
- Getting up often on Emirates to stretch, walk, visit the lav, have a snack or grab a water, are encouraged, too, which makes the flight go faster and attenuates the physical and mental pain of being strapped in a coach seat. While this is tolerated on long Delta flights, such as the 16-hour DL200/201 between ATL and JNB, the flight attendants on U.S. carriers are much more likely to ask passengers to sit down. During short flights within the United States, cabin crews frown on leaving one’s seat except to make trips to the lav and get fidgety even then in clear air if a queue forms. The desire to keep us buckled in feels too much like shackles and deepens the anguish already upon us in the uncomfortable seats.
I pondered this all while shoehorned into 15A and trying not to shriek in frustration for an hour and five minutes to Atlanta. On my long journey flying over five decades to reach five million miles on Delta, I never envisioned that in my golden years I’d be subjected to such discomfort in a seat the airline hypocritically deems an upgrade. Delta’s notion of a fitting reward for my lifetime of loyalty doesn’t jive with my own.