I love going to Europe.
But I hate flying to Europe.
I got bored on a recent 9-hour flight to Spain and decided, a few hours after the initial "hurry up and finish service so we can turn off the cabin lights and everyone will go to sleep and leaves us alone" meal, to do a little measuring.
(You know you've run out of things to do when whipping out a tape measure sounds fun. You also know you packed poorly when when discover a tape measure in your backpack.)
My seat was 17 inches wide. Not terrible for me. Way too small for the gentleman beside me. Which, understandably, meant he shared some of my space.
The seat row was 30 inches deep, and the man in front of me (it's always a guy) immediately slammed his seat into full-recline to further shrink the space.
Hopes of flight attendant aside, I never fell asleep. No matter what body position I tried I couldn't make the geometry work.
So yeah: Happy to be in Spain.
Hated getting to Spain.
But on at least one airline that could be about to change.
Starting November 5, Delta Airlines plans to "significantly" upgrade coach service on international flights at least 6.5 hours long: A free welcome cocktail, hot towels (who doesn't love a hot towel), appetizers, and separate dessert service. Meal portions will be larger, too.
According to Allison Ausband, senior VP of inflight service, "We have not changed our service in twenty years in the main cabin. This is just a glaring opportunity for us."
Actually, that's not quite true. The in-flight experience in coach on most airlines has changed over the past twenty years: It's gotten worse. Narrower seats. Decreased leg room. Depending on the length of the flight, meals replaced by nuts, crackers, or cookies.
Delta hopes to turn that tide, especially on international flights. The longer you're on a plane the more you care about seat size, legroom, and service.
Washington, D.C. to Chicago? Shoehorn me in. I don't care.
Washington, D.C. to Munich? I care. A lot.
I'm not alone. Delta research shows that service matters more to customers on long international routes, especially since many non-U.S. airlines have maintained a higher level of coach service.
Which creates an opportunity Delta plans to seize. According to Jaime Jewell, director for inflight brand strategy and customer experience, "We're providing choices with elements of service to distract people from feeling like they're stuck in a metal tube for 10 hours. It's really about trying to take the airplane out of the experience a little bit."
Delta already had one advantage: Most of their coach seats are still laid out in 31-inch deep rows, and most seats are 18 inches wide. (Which doesn't sound like a lot... but is.) And many are now 18.5 inches wide.
While that means Delta can't squeeze as many passengers on a plane as United or American, that's okay. Over the past 1.5 years, reduced flight cancellations and improved on-time performance allowed Delta to generate higher profits than American and United combined.
And to charge more: So far this year, passengers flying Delta paid 9 percent more per mile than those flying United, and 2 percent more than those flying American.
Sometimes you can't save your way to profitability.
Sometimes you have to spend more and provide more, especially if you hope to create a competitive advantage.
Especially if you also hope to charge more, and still leave customers feeling good about what they receive.
Price always matters.
But value can matter even more.