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Beware Fake ‘Premium Economy’ on U.S. Flights

Delta and Virgin America are now posting their “stretched” economy service—a few extra inches of legroom but in regular narrow six-across seats—as “premium economy” on search engines that use ITA’s fare-search software, including Google Flights, along with Expedia and others.

Fact check: Neither Delta nor Virgin America offers real premium economy on any of their planes except for the one A350 Delta just received from Airbus, which it will use for transpacific flights. Instead, on domestic flights, both lines list their extra-legroom seats as if they were premium economy, which—again—they are not.

Alaska, American, JetBlue, United, and Virgin America also offer stretched economy comparable to Delta’s Comfort+ product. But so far, only Delta and Virgin America have resorted to the deceptive labeling of stretched economy as premium: Alaska calls its stretched economy “premium,” but does not post fares as “premium economy,” nor do American, JetBlue, and United.

But, as I’ve noted before, in the airline business, nothing catches on as quickly as a bad idea.

Certainly, Delta’s Comfort+ and Virgin America’s Main Cabin Select are better hard products and soft products than the corresponding regular economy: You get more legroom and some other extras. But with those same ultra-narrow six-across seats as regular economy, neither is close to the real premium economy you get on many international airlines.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

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