While frequent flyer programs have gotten less competitive over the past three years, and many blame airline consolidation, in many ways airline product has gotten more competitive.
Most of the attention goes to premium cabins. Delta will will introduce suites with doors in business class. United’s new Polaris business class will finally mean direct aisle access and their new meals and bedding have already launched.
United Bedding and Pajamas
United and American are debuting new business class only lounges. And American probably has my current favorite business class seat of any US or European airline, the B/E Super Diamond, on its new Boeing 787-9. The trim (and dividers between middle seats!) are better on Qatar and Virgin Australia, but it’s still a very good seat.
US airlines have been especially profitable in recent years, with low fuel prices. Indeed they’ve been earning a plurality of the world’s airline profits, billions of dollars each quarter. Ticket prices have been falling much to the chagrin of Wall Street and so they’re trying things like Basic Economy to try to get passengers to pay more for what they receive today.
At the same time the major US legacy airlines have even been improving the experience in coach. And that’s important, because even with Basic Economy fares those airlines are better experiences than the ultra low cost carriers like Spirit and Allegiant.
- More legroom
- More redundant route network, to get you where you’re going when something goes wrong with your flight
- Better on time performance
And once you board, regardless of your fare, you still get the standard inflight experience.
American has a decent snack basket in first class though I wish they’d change things up more often than they do. The current popcorn isn’t bad, though I’m not sure popcorn on a plane makes sense for cleaning (United has tried this in economy).
Over time the best economy snack baskets have been on JetBlue, and they’ve become known for their Terra Blue Chips.
Now Delta, which is testing free meals in coach on their premium New York – Los Angeles and San Francisco flights, is improving their free snacks in coach.
December 14 Delta-branded peanuts and pretzels will come to an end, replaced by larger offerings of “Snyder’s of Hanover® pretzels, Squirrel Brand Honey Roasted peanuts and NatureBox Apple Cinnamon Yogurt Bars.” And don’t worry because “Biscoff cookies will remain in service.”
The complimentary snacks will be available in the Main Cabin on flights over 250 miles. Customers on shorter flights within North America – from 251 to 599 miles – will now receive a choice of Biscoff cookies or Snyder’s of Hanover® pretzels, whereas customers were only offered one choice previously. Flights over 600 miles will now offer four choices, instead of three, offering Snyder’s of Hanover® pretzels, Squirrel Brand Honey Roasted peanuts, a NatureBox Apple Cinnamon Yogurt Bar or Biscoff cookies.
Additionally, customers on international flights will receive a choice of Snyder’s of Hanover® pretzels or Squirrel Brand Honey Roasted peanuts.
We’re a long way from when United offered celebrity chef meals in economy and when they retrofit galley carts to serve McDonalds in coach keeping the burger warm while the lettuce and bun stayed cool. So this may be something of ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ but it’s still a positive move improving the customer experience.
Meanwhile inflight entertainment — much of it free — is now available to passengers in economy on many aircraft that wasn’t around back in the early 90s when United partnered with McDonalds.
So where’s all the bad stuff about coach? Full flights and more seats in coach (and uncomfortable slimline seats), long waits at security, and fees for seats and checked bags that used to be bundled in fares and so are a sore spot. Those things, sadly, don’t appear to be changing soon.