Commentary

The Ruling Class And Delta: The Wings Of Econo-Man

I know they’re supposed to be stodgy; nothing quite out-stiffs the British Royals on state occasions. But for some naïve reason (maybe only having to do with her terrific fashion sense), I thought that Kate and Prince William were the young and modernized versions. So I was surprised to see that during their recent trip to New York City, much was made of Kate’s visit to a child development center in Harlem, where she -- get ready -- sat down and wrapped a Christmas gift.

Obviously this was a PR set-up plotted down to the last precut square of holiday paper, and Kate did her part: She had glossy princess hair, a lovely bearing, and from all accounts knew what to do with a pair of scissors. But I was surprised that she didn’t do something with a bit more depth, like reading a book to the kids, or telling them stories about her homeland. The children certainly could have used a little history and geography lesson. The (cute, jokey) headline from that day was that the preschoolers thought they had met the Princess from "Frozen."

And you know why they were confused? Because we are a democratic peoples!
 
Of course, we do have our own money, power, and pop royalty, and Beyonce and Jay-Z certainly qualify. The fearsome foursome did meet up when the Duke and Duchess attended an NBA game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. During a brief conversation in the second half, the power performers stood gazing at each other in high awkwardness, which for a short time seemed to include some seriously strained studying-of-the floor.

The only moment of true animation or humanity came later, when Cleveland Cavaliers power forward LeBron James presented the royals with an adorable miniature Cavs Jersey for their toddler son, George. Afterwards, King James posed for a photo with his hand touching the shoulder of the Princess's coat. It was a huge no-no. (He also wore an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt during warm-ups, to honor the death of Eric Garner, but that’s another story.)
Anyhow, I’m on Team ‘Bron with this one. What a calcified, rigid class system all the British royal protocol represents, as opposed to our hard-won love of freedom and democracy!

Yup, I was exulting in the sheer idea of equality and classlessness when I read about Delta Airlines’ announcement of its new Five-Tier Service going into effect on March 1. Five classes?  Even Karl Marx never foresaw that one.

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This new “redefinition” of airline classes seems too stratified and caste-like even for India during the Raj period, never mind for the United States in 2015. Basically, it boils down to offering three “premium” categories (Delta One, First Class, and Delta Comfort ++) and two “value option” classes (Main Cabin and Basic Economy.)

With this move, Delta might as well be saying, “We make all of our money on First Class, upgrades and add-ons, and if you insist on buying that basic fare product, that’s your problem!”

Actually, it’s not clear that those selecting Basic Economy will even be allowed to board. Seriously, with this bare-bones selection, there are some “restrictions" -- like no advance seating, no changes, no refunds.

Still, say you’re one of these aggressive bottom-feeders but you get to the gate full of acceptance, and ready to deal with a non-reclining middle seat between two snoring sumos. But the flight is overbooked. Perhaps Delta will relegate you to travel as ballast, tied to the wings (with the contents of your suitcases stuffed into your pockets). Or maybe you can explore a future  “Bunk class” option, in the works, in which otherwise out-of-luck budget flyers are stacked on top of each other in the back of the plane. No choice of top, middle, or bottom tier there either. Bring your own shelf.

With all of this heavy demarcation of the cabins, the jury is still out on whether Basic Economy slugs will be given free snacks. I heard word from a long-time Delta flyer, who maintains that in order to get pretzels during a recent test run, the passengers in Basic Economy had to ask “Please, sir?” in a pathetic Oliver Twist voice.

Thus, perhaps to forestall complaints, the company is mulling a “service” upgrade for Main Cabin travelers. This will allow them to iron the clothing, shine the shoes, and warm the macadamia nuts of passengers seated in Delta One, in exchange for “premium bunk-plus status” behind the kitchen. (Don’t try stealing any of the “chef-curated” food, however. That means immediate downgrade to ballast.)

According to the press release, Delta is “redefining the products it offers customers to further distinguish the choices available to them.” Translation: Learn your class!

Even Prince William flew commercial to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Obama and address the World Bank while Kate was gift-wrapping at the child center -- and the prince never demanded to flaunt his status via a Tumi sleep-case and Westin bedding.

I know it all started more than 30 years ago with the invasion of the concierge into fields outside hotels. Plus, the idea of “luxury” embodied in high thread counts and inches of extra legroom is now the new normal, along with chef “curation.” But even if it’s where all airlines are headed, Delta’s permutations are just too obvious and clunky. They seem overly complicated, not to mention overly transparent about keeping all the perks for the one per cent.

Will this new class system pressure future flyers into protesting with their own manifesto?  Something like “Travelers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your Platinum Medallion Comfort Plus Elite miles!”

Better yet: “Hey Delta: No More Tiers!”
17 comments about "The Ruling Class And Delta: The Wings Of Econo-Man".
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  1. Anne Peterson from Idaho Public Televsion, December 11, 2014 at 2:56 p.m.

    Welcome back Steerage -- do we bring our own sausages and black bread too?

  2. Valerie Graves from Valerie Graves Creative, December 11, 2014 at 3:02 p.m.

    I predict this will be a failure. More classes of service than classes of travelers.

  3. Susan Klein from Oculus Marketing, December 11, 2014 at 3:05 p.m.

    Painfully hilarious piece -- I'd actually love to see planes with sections for Traveling With Babies in Diapers, Sick but Traveling Anyway, Service Dog in My Carry-On Bag, and Don't Believe in Deodorant.

  4. David Kleeman from Dubit, December 11, 2014 at 3:15 p.m.

    I hereby announce the launch of Mysterian Airlines - we'll have 96 Tiers.

  5. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, December 11, 2014 at 3:43 p.m.

    I;m sure they will announce "refinements" of the previous announcements!

  6. Peggy Moore from freelance, December 11, 2014 at 3:55 p.m.

    I'm still laughing at the image of the contents of one's suitcase stuffed in one's pockets. Hilarious and pathetic .

    On top of this , I still can't get a cheap flight from NYC to Atlanta.

  7. Marla Goldstein from Around The Bend Media, December 11, 2014 at 8 p.m.

    Delta, as in, Doesn't Ever Leave The Airport.
    The worst travel experiences I've had have been on Delta. I've stopped flying them years ago.
    Life's too short to be abused (by corporate bullies, anyway).

  8. Elaine Underwood from Here & Now PR, December 11, 2014 at 9:50 p.m.

    Basic class sounds like Southwest, but at least on Southwest, everyone is in the same class, having to find their own seats. And pretzels and drinks come without begging. How are they going to board these plans with five classes? It's going to be ridiculous.

  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 11, 2014 at 10:18 p.m.

    The nightmare will come with the airline's service people end to end. Aside from the customer squabbles, they will pulling each other to get the seating arranged with people wanting to sit near each other, groups going at a single price, refusing refreshments and hosts of other problems. Algorithms and people don't always mix.

  10. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, December 11, 2014 at 11:48 p.m.

    the point is that the most basic seat will be so tiny and execrable and uncomfortable that people will be forced to upgrade.

  11. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, December 12, 2014 at 11:23 a.m.

    As just an average Delta customer, the complexity of these tiers is just too much damn work. I can handle the whole business about enhancing revenue, but making it complicated makes me look elsewhere. That's not "engagement." I have enough complications already.

  12. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, December 12, 2014 at 11:25 a.m.

    Jonathan-- I totally agree. They should have introduced one new option here or there rather than this grandiose PR announcement and rollout. What a nightmare for the flight attendants, too.

  13. David Kleeman from Dubit, December 12, 2014 at 11:26 a.m.

    Seeking to keep pace with Delta, United Airlines today announced its new tiering plan: 9 Circles of Hell.

  14. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, December 12, 2014 at 11:30 a.m.

    Good point, David. (Ha!) These legacy carrier offered such execrable service for the last ten years or so that they bring legacy memories to their fight with Virgin and Jet Blue.

  15. Nathan Easom from MobileROI, December 12, 2014 at 5:28 p.m.

    I'd shown shoes for a free ticket

  16. George Parker from Parker Consultants, December 12, 2014 at 7:17 p.m.

    Barbara... Surely this is not as bad as First Class on Korean Air, where you are expected to open the bag of macadamia nuts yourself! I miss my "Mad Man" days of the sixties, when flying out to LA, you had to suffer in the upstairs cocktail lounge of the 707. Join the "Mile High Club." Drink yourself stupid, pass out in the toilet, then be taken off the plane in a wheelchair to your waiting Limo to be whisked off to the Bel Air... Ah, the good old days.
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  17. Jim English from The Met Museum, December 16, 2014 at 11:09 p.m.

    An English prince flies commercial? I imagine Karl Marx would be pleased at that.

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