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Will lie-flat seats become standard on US transcon flights?

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Lie-flat business-class seats have become the standard for long-haul international flying. Delta Air Lines, in fact, has concluded that lie-flat alone is no longer good enough; just launched Delta Airbus A350-900 Detroit-Tokyo Narita service debuts Delta One business-class seats with sliding doors to create privacy compartments. This mirrors long-haul business-class service offered by a number of Asian and Middle East airlines.

What about the domestic market? Delta has just added lie-flat seats on at least one daily flight on six more domestic routes. By May 2018, 10 Delta domestic routes will offer lie-flat seating.

Could lie-flat become the standard on US transcontinental service and on domestic flights to Hawaii from the US midwest and east coast?

Increasingly, Delta, United Airlines and American Airlines are offering lie-flat seats in domestic business class (or, in the parlance US airlines use, domestic “first class”) on transcontinental flights. JetBlue Airways’ lie-flat Mint product continues to grow and perform well; Mint-configured Airbus A321s now make up the majority of JetBlue’s transcon capacity.

There are still a lot of transcon flights without lie-flat seats. For example, if next summer you are looking to fly from New York to Las Vegas in comfort, Delta will offer lie-flat seats on just one of its five daily flights on the route. But on routes like New York-Los Angeles and New York-San Francisco, lie-flat offerings are becoming pretty ubiquitous.

The move to transcon lie-flat seating in business class comes as Delta and American also re-introduce economy-class meals at no extra fee on select cross-country flights.

US airlines are correcting one of their big customer service miscues of the past (driven, in part, by terrible financial performances): treating all domestic flights the same. US carriers are now conceding that a 1-2-hour flight up and down a coast or over a portion of the country is simply not the same as a 5-hour transcontinental flight.

The service offered on the long-distance transcon flight has to be closer to what the carriers are offering on international flights than to service on a domestic short-hop. Consistent profitability gives US airlines the opportunity to offer a much better product across the board, and an overdue transcontinental customer service arms race between US carriers appears to be on.

Aaron Karp aaron.karp@penton.com

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