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Delta eyes luxury for long-haul flights

Delta is phasing in a “new” approach for its long-distance routes: amenities. The struggling carrier says it will quickly renovate 100 of its nearly 500 full-size planes used on long-haul routes to include digital television, video games, and music throughout the plane. Each jet will have two cabins, with first-class getting leather seats.

The airline says the first batch of upgraded planes will be used for transcontinental routes, and within two years the outfitted planes will fly on all domestic routes longer than 1,750 miles.

What we’re seeing here is Delta’s move to a) boost revenue, and b) capitalize on what it learned from its Song experience. Near as I can tell, that lesson is that the airline’s overhead costs are too high to compete with low-cost lines like JetBlue that also offer amenity-rich planes; it can, however, make use of “luxury” items on more expensive (read: less competitive) long-distance routes.

Delta’s chief operating officer, Jim Whitehurst, puts a positive spin on the move, telling Aviation Now that the airline should never have taken away in-flight perks and is now moving to bring them back. Whitehurst there is speaking specifically about Delta’s plans for international expansion—which appears to be the cornerstone of its plan to return to profitability—but it seems the spirit of his words extends throughout carrier’s product.

This may be another sign that the major airlines realize we as travelers have reached a breaking point. You can only take away so many things (like free meals, snacks, pillows, blankets) before customer loyalty becomes a thing of the past. Now, I think we’re seeing the airlines start to come full circle. When the question is “what can we do to win customers back?” the answer, almost certainly, is “give them a better product.”

And they’d better—because the flights certainly aren’t getting any cheaper.

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