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

You want to believe that a company that prides itself on a certain customer-centricity believes in it in all aspects.

Last week, however, I wrote about a particular route on which Delta appeared to be passing minimally enhanced Economy Class tickets off as Premium Economy.

The particular example involved booking a trip from London to LAX via Google Flights.

It seemed as if the Delta price was far more attractive compared to that of its codeshare partner Virgin Atlantic.

The price difference was more than $1,000. 

Who wouldn't want that bargain? Well, everyone who didn't notice -- because there was no easy way to notice -- that the flight was actually in Economy Delight, Virgin's (very) slightly enhanced Economy Class.

Which is still very much Economy Class.

The anomaly was first dramatized by Gilbert Ott at God Save The Points, who called it a "mistake."

After my article, however, Ott offered a few more examples of how extensive the problem might be. It seems, indeed, that Delta's own flights are also displayed in what might appear to be a deceptive manner.

Goodness, is it entertaining.

Delta, you see, has a real Premium Economy Class, which it's currently expanding. It's called Delta Premium Select and it's mostly on its Airbus A350 planes.

It also has something called Comfort+. Which is a little like Google+: Something that really isn't all that worthwhile. Yet Delta calls it "A Premium Flying Experience," despite the fact that it mostly resembles, say, Main Cabin Extra on American Airlines.

So when you book a Premium Economy flight on Delta via Google Flights on some routes, you get offered Comfort+. Because there's no Premium Select to be had.

You get no adequate explanation that this is an ordinary Economy Class seat perched in the Economy Class cabin, but with a little more legroom and added extras like a pillow and a blanket.

After all, you've searched for Premium Economy flights, right? And Premium Economy seats are very different from Economy Class seats and are always in a separate cabin.

Ott examined Boston to Paris and LAX to Tokyo's Haneda airport and, as did I, found even when Delta isn't the cheapest, it's still offering you mere Comfort+ and not Premium Select.

I also found that, for example, Delta didn't offer the cheapest fare by far on JFK-Frankfurt, but you still had to click through to the Delta site to discover this was Comfort+. How many people would notice?

Often, though, Delta has the cheapest price. You're taken to Delta's own website. There, you get Comfort+, not Premium Select. 

Even then, how are you to know that Comfort+ isn't actually Premium Economy?

I asked Delta for its thoughts last week and its spokeswoman blamed Google:

It's time for third-party displays, including Google Flights, to invest in the technology necessary to display the various products available so customers can view all their options clearly, just as Delta has done for customers on delta.com. 

Delta still insists that it's in the forefront of ensuring that its customers have "consistent, transparent access to all of Delta's products, no matter where they shop."

It does seem odd for an airline -- prone as they all are to vast technological breakdowns -- to blame one of the world's more sophisticated tech companies. 

Then again, I've repeatedly asked Google for its view and have failed to elicit a response.

Ultimately, you have to imagine that some people -- and I've heard it's happened -- go through the whole booking process, pay their money, think they have a rare bargain and only discover they've bought an inferior product when they get on the plane.

And then they get very upset.

I've tried to find other airlines that are similarly affected, but haven't been successful.

It's odd that Delta seems to believe Google should solve the problem, instead of following its own brand parameters and ensuring customers aren't fooled by, say, making sure the fare code doesn't intimate a true Premium Economy standard.

When you claim your brand difference revolves around treating customers better, why risk being associated with what seems to be a low-level bait-and-switch?

Or perhaps even a premium level bait-and-switch?

Published on: Sep 9, 2018