Last week I flew on Delta from Seattle to Narita and decided to treat myself to an upgrade to Delta’s Economy Comfort section.
A moderate price offered appreciable benefits in return – four more inches of seat pitch, 50% greater seat recline, plus early boarding and ‘more’ – the more being rather vaguely explained as including, among other things, free drinks on the flight.
It is a while since I last flew Delta across the Pacific, but I vaguely remembered the drinks as being free in coach class anyway. Unless I missed something, it seemed they remained free for everyone in ‘the back of the bus’ on this flight, too.
However, the 10.5 hr flight had a very moderate $75 or so upgrade fee – about $7 per hour of flight, and if it would buy me a few hours of sleep and a bit more comfort while awake, maybe it would be worth it.
The experience proved to be better than expected. The extra 4″ of seat pitch did make a difference – while it might seem that 4″ is only about 12% extra space (ie from 32″ to 36″) and so of minimal impact, the reality is different. All the four extra inches go to leg and knee room. So if you ended up having a couple of inches of space in a normal seat, you end up with 6″ now – and that is a trebling of your overall sense of forward free space, definitely an impactful change for the better.
The extra space meant I could put one of my carry-ons under the seat in front and still stretch my legs out. And even with the seat in front presumably fully reclined, it wasn’t quite as ‘in your face’ as would normally be the case. So extra seat pitch was a definite plus.
Now for the the extra 50% of recline? There was certainly no confusing the seat with a fully lie-flat seat, it was still just a coach class seat, merely slightly further away from the seat in front, and which could tilt further back than normal. I’d been thinking that when you add 50% to an inadequate number to start with, you still end up with an inadequate number, but I was wrong about that. The extra tilt seemed a lot more than 50% extra, and did make a positive difference to comfort.
The big thing that wasn’t changed was the seat width. If we think about the three most important and constraining parameters of a coach class seat, the biggest one of all is probably seat width, as any of us who have been trapped in a middle seat for hours at a time can readily attest to. Sure, leaning back more is nice, but you still don’t get to lean far enough back, or have any sort of meaningful head support, as to make it anywhere close to ideal. And the increased seat pitch is nice, but not utterly essential. It is the seat width that most of us crave more of.
On the other hand, it was merely $75 extra. What can you expect for $75 more – surely not deluxe first class and silver service. I’ll pay the $85 or so fee on the return flight too. (Why is it $85 rather than $75? Because the return flight runs a bit longer from Beijing to Seattle than was the outbound flight from Seattle to Narita.)
Finally, the early boarding was nice, but because all the other people in the Economy Comfort cabin also got the same early boarding privilege, it meant there was still the usual rush to get overhead bin space. But the extra seat spacing meant there was a lower density of people compared to cubic feet of available overhead space, which perhaps slightly helped to give everyone a better chance of stowing a carry-on up above.
Overall, this upgrade is about as close to fair and possibly even good value as you can ever hope for on airlines these days. Recommended.