It’s no secret that passengers hate the cramped seats in economy class, especially given the fact that seat sizes have shrunk by an average of 2 inches in width over the past 40 years. But several leading airlines announced plans to let travelers stretch their legs a little more — if they’re willing to upgrade from economy.
This month, CNBC rounded up new improvements that the “big four” airlines have planned for their business, premium and first-class sections. Delta and United Airlines are adding privacy wings to some first-class seats on domestic flights. American Airlines plans to renovate the Flagship First Class sections on some of its 777 planes, turning them into 70-suite business class cabins that feature sliding doors and “lie flat” that can fully recline. And last year, Delta announced plans to add lie-flat seats to 155 of its own Airbus A321neo planes.
There are a lot of numbers behind these decisions, but it all comes down to an increased number of passengers being willing to pay a little extra (or in some cases, a lot) to be more comfortable. Even before the airline industry rebounded from its lean years during the pandemic, passengers showed preferences for upgraded seating.
“Getting from A to B isn’t necessarily what they’re selling anymore. Anyone can do that,” Edward Dryden, president of the interiors unit of Collins Aerospace, told CNBC. “It’s that experience within the cabin.”
Economy seats currently account for 79.3% of tickets sold for flights between the U.S. and Europe, down from almost 82% in 2018. Meanwhile, the percentage of premium economy seats has grown by 2.2%, and business class ticket sales grew to the tune of 0.6%.
Delta in particular has posted record earnings for the second quarter of this year, which it attributes to the increased demand for premium seating. The airline now expects premium ticket sales to account for a 35% of its revenue this year, which is projected to be $19 billion.