Often when an airline rolls out a new aircraft type, it’s done with great fanfare. It’s not every day that a new airplane gets inducted into the fleet, after all. Delta put its A220 (TAFKACS: The Airplane Formerly Known as C Series) into service last week, and it has been promoting the launch as you’d expect. But it’s really a combination of the aircraft’s built-in customer-friendly features the forward-thinking work Delta has done in outfitting it that makes this such a great branding exercise for the airline. It’s hard to imagine one of the other big carriers in the US being able to pull this off the same way.
At Delta, the A220s will help supplement the 717s already flying (and will eventually replace them). They will also take over some flying from retiring MD-88s. All of these airplanes have 5-abreast seating, so chances of getting a middle seat are low. Even though it isn’t a change from the MD-88/717, it’s still a sharp contrast to the 737 and A320 family aircraft that most other airlines are flying with twice as many middle seats. It’s something Delta might as well talk about since nobody else in the US is taking delivery of the airplane just yet.
The biggest news, however, is the amount of personal space onboard. These seats are very wide (18.6 inches) and have generous pitch (32 inches) in coach. That’s more than an inch wider than what you’ll find on 737s and up to a couple inches greater pitch than what you’ll find in coach on American’s newest configurations. While the seat width is really set by the cabin size, the seat pitch is entirely within Delta’s control.
Another thing under Delta’s control is inflight entertainment. While airlines like American proudly announce they’ll remove seatback video systems in favor of streaming to consumer devices, Delta is giving people both options. And the A220 is Delta’s first attempt to show off a new wireless seat-back system. Each seat has its own large screen, but there are no wires and no boxes under the seats ruining legroom. That makes it easier for maintenance purposes and more comfortable for travelers.
There are also gimmicky things that have caught people’s eyes, like the fact that there’s a window in the lav. (This even made it into on Saturday.)
With this kind of experience, Delta has tried to maximize positive press coverage, even of the airplane. As you can imagine, it worked. Here are some examples of the press coverage the airplane has generated:
- – Forbes
- – CBS
- – Runway Girl Network
- – ABC
- – Point Me to the Plane
This effort has done nothing but help boost Delta’s standing in the public eye as having the best customer experience among the big three US carriers.
That’s not to say there isn’t a downside. If people hear about the A220 too much and then end up on an MD-88, they might be wondering what happened. But the positive vibe around the brand is well worth it for Delta since much of its fleet already offers a consistent experience, and this is just the next step forward.
This rings particularly true when you look at the other big airlines, American in particular. American has a very inconsistent experience across its fleet (if you’ve flown a legacy US Airways A321, you know what I mean.) American’s goal now isn’t to innovate and bring in new customer-friendly experiences for its travelers. Its goal appears to be simply to catch up and be consistent with an offering that includes fast wifi, power ports, and streaming video on the domestic fleet.
That’s a nice baseline, but it’s hardly inspiring. And when American rolls out a new airplane like the 737 MAX (not an entirely new type like the A220 but still something new that the airline could have used to promote a forward-thinking stance), it really doesn’t have much to say. Without any positive news, the media seized on American’s initial plan to put 29-inch pitch in some rows of coach (which didn’t happen) along with the tiny lavs onboard (which other airlines use as well). There wasn’t much to brag about, so the negative shaped the headlines.
Those headlines have added to the narrative that American is falling behind, just as the headlines for Delta’s A220 have helped the airline strengthen the already-strong brand image that it is an innovator and leader in taking care of its customers. Delta was certainly smart to take advantage of the built-in customer-friendly features of the A220, but it went a step beyond. And it is going to be rewarded for that.