Why Delta’s New Premium Economy is Worse Than American’s

Premium economy is generally a product offered on international flights. It’s been a mainstay of many airlines in Europe and Asia for years. It’s new to US airlines, having been introduced by American about 8 months ago and soon to be introduced by Delta. (United is working on their own plan.)

Think of premium economy as being like first class on a US domestic flight. It’s a bigger, wider seat with some more legroom but it’s nothing like a business class bed, not even an old school angled bed seat. (In fact, commenter Mark pointed out that if you book a domestic connection in conjunction with premium economy internationally you are booked into first class for your domestic segment.)

Delta now has premium economy on the schedule with their brand new Airbus A350 flying Detroit – Tokyo Narita starting October 30.

So it’s worth understanding what that product looks like and how it compares to premium economy at other airlines. To me there’s one thing that makes it simply not competitive: Delta’s premium economy seating is 2-4-2.

Now that’s the same as Singapore Airlines on the Airbus A350.

The thing is though that Singapore’s premium economy seating is tight in terms of seat width.

American Airlines premium economy is 2-3-2 or 7-across on their Boeing 787-9.

The Airbus A350 that Delta (and Singapore) use are a little bit wider — perhaps half a foot — than the Boeing 787… but not a full seat wider.

On the other hand Delta’s premium economy seats have foot rests while American’s have foot rests only in the bulkhead and foot bars in other rows.

When the product was first announced I assumed Delta’s premium economy would be better than American’s. But as long as I can get the bulkhead on American, their Boeing 787 premium economy is a no brainer over Delta’s A350 in my opinion.

Now, American’s Boeing 777s will have 2-4-2 seating in premium economy. But a Boeing 777 cabin is better than half a foot wider than an Airbus A350, a foot wider than a Boeing 787, so it’ll be comparable to the width American is offering in premium economy on their 787.

Put another way, Delta’s economy cabin has 9 seats per row and premium economy has 8 seats per row in their Airbus A350. American’s economy has 9 seats per row and premium economy has 7 seats per row in their Boeing 787. American’s economy is tighter (inferior), while they take away two seats for premium economy and Delta takes away only one.

Delta would no doubt say that they’re ‘making better use of space’ and I bet the seats fit more snugly against the window. That will let them get some additional seat width. But 8-across premium economy is just tighter and more claustrophobic on similar aircraft.

I’d be willing to bet that if and when American finally takes delivery of the A350s they’ve ordered their drive towards densification will mean they go 8-across in premium economy on that aircraft, too. But for now given the choice I’d certainly take an American 787 in premium economy over a Delta A350 in the same cabin, though the reverse is true for regular economy.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. A point of correction: at least on United, for the past 2 years I have connected from Germany on Lufthansa Business Class to United to ORD from Newark and Dulles, I was booked in economy coach. Pathetic sense of consumer experience!

  2. Why can’t the U.S. carriers ever get it right be it Delta or American ? I did China Airlines (CI) this past fall on their 777-300 between JFK and TPE. While it was 8 abreast (compared to 9 in regular economy) the most distinguishing feature of it that each premium seat was a “shell” hence when the person in front of you reclined, they did so “within the shell” which meant they were never plowing into your lap. Don’t believe either Delta or AA has that feature.

  3. Given the fact that most Americans are nearly obese, especially in the south, you’d think Delta would have a little more awareness when it comes to personal space in Premium Economy.

  4. Both American and Delta will have the same seats with the same pitch. B/E Aerospace MiQ. So what is the problem?

  5. It would be nice if DL updated the info on its website (and Seatguru) to include the layout and dimensions of A350 seating.

  6. As near as I can tell — and please correct me if I’m wrong — but a) regardless of whether it’s 2-3-2 or 2-4-2 seating, unless you have an aisle seat, you will still have to step over ONE person to get to the aisle; b) regardless of whether it’s 2-3-2 or 2-4-2 seating, isn’t the “horizontal” factor all about the seat width? What’s the seat width of Delta’s Premium Economy on an A350 versus that of an American Airlines 777?

  7. But Delta’s soft product will be better than American’s. Unless you barely fit the width of the seat, then width becomes moot. Seat recline and pitch is the comfort indicator. Seating with knees at a right angle for 8 plus hours is what one avoids in premium economy. That footrest on Delta helps as well. As @Jason Brandt Lewis mentions, difference between the 2-3-2 and 2-4-2 is negligible as someone still has to cross over another seat to get to the aisle. Even with Delta’s IT melt downs, I’d go for Delta PE over AA’s PE.

  8. I don’t see a very meaningful difference here, especially as you’re comparing across two different aircraft

  9. Seems like Air France is still going to be a leader in this type of seating section. They are 2-3-2 on the 787-9 with an increased pitch from 38″ to 40″. I don’t know why AA and Delta can’t do better. These seats are more like main cabin extra than a true premium econ seat. 2-4-2 is not my idea of a good time unless I’m in the 2 section along the sides.

  10. the a350 cabin is almost 5 feet wider than the 787-9. therefore, theres more room for seats. do you know the dimensions of the seats? it doesnt say in your article. in the end, i think the seats themselves are the same. and take into account the service,amenities, and food/beverage.

  11. What I don’t understand is why a “premium” product with 3 or 4 seats in the middle section of the cabin can’t have a little extra space or wider armrest between the middle seat(s) and the side seats. Even a little privacy wall. At least the armrest in domestic first-class is wide enough to give both passengers space and a little privacy.

  12. I think this article is verging on “troll” status. It’s much ado about nothing. Are we forgetting that we’re talking about Premium ECONOMY here? Both the hard & soft product will be a step up from economy, and very welcome on long-haul flights. The author does point out that the A350 is only marginally wider than the 787, but does not confirm if reduced aisle width contributes to the ability to put another seat in the row. In the end, it will allow Delta to accommodate more people in this class of service. I do not see a formal premium economy product coming to domestic-US aircraft, save for true transcons. Just doesn’t make sense from a profitability standpoint, as well as the ability to deliver any kind of enhanced service when you’re on a flight from Dallas to Phoenix.

  13. Have you flown the AA PY? The leg rests are terrible. Useless, IMO.

    Footrests > leg rests on these types of seats.

  14. Also, Delta PY gets you an F seat on a domestic connecting leg. AA gets you their celebrated 30-31″ Y seat.

    I think that puts DL nicely ahead on an INTL ticket with a domestic connection, easily.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *