Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

These are odd times for airlines.

Why, last week United Airlines announced second quarter results that were actually better than ugly financial types expected.

That was peculiar and caused some cheering at United HQ.

Then there's Delta Air Lines.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that Delta had done the perfectly unthinkable. It actually decided not to stuff its Boeing 777-200s with the maximum amount of seats.

Instead, it's actually making Economy Class seats wider. 

This is the sort of thing that would make, say, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker -- champion of stuffing as many seats as possible onto planes -- hiccup without pause for at least a week.

It seems, though, that Delta may be undergoing a level of Botoxing that might actually make Economy Class passengers feel, well, liked.


The airline has long enjoyed the most ancient fleet of the major airlines. I understand it uses a couple of old galleons with engines attached.

It's finally doing something about it.

Firstly, as FlightGlobal reports, the airline is "quietly" euthanizing its MD-90 planes. 

These dingy old rustbuckets -- average age 21.3 years -- always made me feel as if they were powered by the engines of several old Hoovers. Even though they're a significant upgrade over the MD-88s, also being retired by Delta, which have an average age of 27.7.

Now, Delta tells me the MD-90s will be replaced by "factory-new Boeing 737-900ERs and Airbus A321s with large overhead bins, inflight entertainment and power ports at every seat."

This all sounded like good news.

FlightGlobal does mention that one of the likely reasons these planes are being put to sleep is that maintaining them has become very costly. Getting hold of spare parts isn't easy.

Still, perhaps the new planes will, you might think, offer a slight upgrade in Economy Class comfort. More of that in a minute.

No sooner had I wiped my brow on hearing this news than I discovered more. 

During its second-quarter earnings call, Delta CEO Ed Bastian declared that the airline's new Airbus A220 planes will be put into service at the beginning of 2019.

These are planes that just might enjoy a few extra creature comforts, such as remarkably (relatively) wide Economy Class seats and a peculiarly quiet cabin.

Delta was the first U.S. airline to offer its support for what was then the Bombardier C-Series of planes. (Airbus took a majority share of the company, which meant threatened government tariffs could be avoided.)

Delta will be the first U.S. airline to invite passengers inside and fly them around.

Please, I'm not naive enough to imagine that the airline doesn't think it'll make more money out of such moves.

It will be fascinating to see, however, whether it makes more money because customers choose it over, say, United and American because of creature comforts.

Economy Class creature comforts, that is.

Then again, I delved into Delta's latest 10Q filing and saw dark portents.

The airline speaks of investment in aircraft modifications, "the majority of which relate to increasing the seat density and enhancing the cabins on our domestic fleet."

Ah. Oh. Densification. The stuffing of as many seats as possible onto planes.

I dutifully trudged to Delta's own website to check on its MD-90s, Airbus 321s and Boeing 737-900ERs.

By the airline's own figures, the MD-90 enjoys a seat pitch -- the distance between the back of one seat and the back of the one in front -- of 30-31 inches. The seats are 18 inches wide. 

The Airbus A321 enjoys the very same numbers.

Then there's the 737-900ER. While the seat pitch is allegedly the same, the width of the seats is down to 17.3 inches. 


Well, at least the planes will smell new.

Published on: Jul 22, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.