In Fight For Premium Travelers Delta Air Lines Looks At Upgraded Meals

Delta Air Lines has announced that it is upgrading its meal services for Delta One and domestic first class customers starting next month. The focus will be on a limited set of routes targeting premium travel out of major cities on both coasts. The move comes as the fight for premium travelers on lucrative transcontinental routes is not slowing down but only intensifying.

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Delta Air Lines is adding new menu items to its premium cabins on transcontinental routes next month. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Delta Air Lines upgrades meal services

Delta is upgrading meal services to match more local tastes out of three major West Coast markets. The first includes San Francisco, where Delta will partner with Souvla, a local Greek chain. Souvla cuisine will be available on flights in premium cabins departing San Francisco (SFO) to Boston (BOS) and New York (JFK). Items like chicken salad and frozen Greek yogurt topped with vissino will make their way onboard the aircraft.

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Delta is going after local options on its premium transcontinental routes. Photo: Delta Air Lines


South of San Francisco, Delta is continuing to partner with chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. Food from these chefs already made its way to Delta’s cabins in June, and now new items will arrive this September. This includes vegetarian pearl couscous salads, hot pork shoulder sandwiches, caramelized red onion and rosemary focaccia. Food from these chefs will be served in premium cabins departing Los Angeles (LAX) for New York-JFK, Washington D.C. (DCA), and Boston.

Meanwhile, in New York, Delta is partnering with Union Square Events (USE). Menu items curated from USE will return this September. Items like braised short rib and cheesy twice-baked potato and a spinach and goat cheese frittata served with bacon and hashbrowns will be found onboard. Items from USE will be served in Delta One and first class on flights from New York-JFK to Seattle (SEA), Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

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Passengers should expect the new menu rollouts to start in September. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Delta’s newest West Coast hub, Seattle, will also see Delta partner to provide local items. Later this fall, Delta will bring Seattle-area highlights, like Skagit River Farms Polish kielbasa with Beecher’s cauliflower mash, pan-roasted chicken with fingerling potatoes, Skagit River Farms bacon, and Walla Walla caramelized onions in a kimchi butter sauce onboard. Fresh bread and desserts from local Seattle bakers will be available. These menu items will be served to premium customers flying from Seattle to New York-JFK and Boston.

Local flair for premium travelers

All of the meal items will be served either in the domestic first class or Delta One Cabin. Delta One exclusively flies between San Francisco and New York, Los Angeles to Washington D.C., and Los Angeles to New York. Most of the other routes also see Delta One service, though some will also find domestic first class fares for sale.

The general difference is that Delta One is a far superior product. Delta One includes a lie-flat seat in business class and full bedding. Meanwhile, first class customers traditionally receive just a recliner-style seat.

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Not every aircraft is the same, however. For example, the Boeing 767-400ER has a far superior business class product compared to the 767-300ERs. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

On most of these routes, Delta is looking to ensure it is flying mostly Delta One products, which means lie-flat seating. This is for a good reason. Some of these transcontinental routes can stretch over five hours, with some close to six hours, and premium customers paying top dollar are traditionally used to a lie-flat seat on those routes.

While many of these routes touch hubs like Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston, or New York, Delta carries a relatively high percentage of origin and destination travelers on these flights, which is why local cuisine may appeal to the more premium traveler.

Few travelers are likely to choose an airline just based on the food they offer. However, a positive onboard product experience can be a gateway to getting customers to stick with that airline in the long-term, which Delta is seriously hoping to capture.

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While meals will not be the sole reason a customer chooses to fly a certain airline, they may set the tone for how passengers think about a given airline. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Meals only returned on Delta Air Lines to these routes in June. Later in the summer, the airline also upgraded select routes over 1,500 miles within North America, the Caribbean, and Latin America with more fresh meal options like premium sandwiches, salads, and bowls.

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The fight for premium travelers is going to intensify

Delta’s Chicago-based competitor, United Airlines, is also going after premium travelers in a major way. Delta has long targeted more premium travelers not just at the front of the plane, but even the economy class passengers who are willing to pay a little more for a better onboard product. United is now jumping into the fray.

Separately, on all of these routes, competition is intense. In addition to Delta, American Airlines, JetBlue, and United Airlines all fly the route and put their best premium products on the route. This includes lie-flat seating in business class and upgraded catering.

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Delta is facing new competitive threats across the US. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

JetBlue, for example, debuted its brand new Mint seats on the JFK-LAX route, where it continues to fly. American Airlines flies the Airbus A321T, featuring a proper Flagship First, Flagship Business, and economy class cabin on the route – and will be expanding those offerings out of Boston, emboldened by its alliance with JetBlue.

Lastly, United’s massive hub at Newark receives the bulk of the airline’s transcontinental reach, though it also reentered JFK on transcontinental routes. Newark to Los Angeles and San Francisco routinely see widebodies like the Boeing 767, 777, and 787-10 operate.

None of these airlines are slowing down in the fight for premium customers. All of these airlines call a New York City-area airport a hub and maintain hubs on the other end of the country. Boston is also a major city for all of these airlines, though United is the smallest player in that market of these airlines.

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It will not be an easy fight in the long run on many of these lucrative routes. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Delta has sought to position itself as the leading premium airline in the United States. However, other airlines are starting to go after premium travelers with greater earnest. In a post-crisis world, business travelers will now have more options to choose from, more partnerships at their disposal, and new schedule options that may shake up the status quo for corporate contracts and premium travelers. In this fight, every little bit matters.

Delta has already made moves to standardize its aircraft options across the route – which means standardizing more of the onboard products. It has even upgraded flights between San Francisco and JFK, which now operate on Boeing 767s after mainly flying using Boeing 757s. Also, Delta has brought its retrofitted Boeing 767-400ER into service between New York and Los Angeles, a vast improvement over the 767-300ERs previously flying on this route. Meanwhile, Boston is getting more lie-flat seating.

What do you make of Delta’s moves in this space? Let us know in the comments!