Delta Is Testing Out Better Meals for Longhaul Economy Flyers

Delta Basic Economy Awards

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Delta is testing out an enhanced meal service for long-haul flights in economy, with the potential to eventually bring a touch of business class cuisine to the back of the plane on all long international flights.

We missed this news back when it surfaced in July. But Delta started giving this upgraded service a test run on flights between Tokyo-Haneda (HND) and Portland (PDX), according to the Chicago Business JournalDubbed “Bistro Dining,” it begins with some pre-departure bubbles: sparkling water or a Bellini. Flyers get a choice of a starter which is unheard of in economy.

Entrees like tagliatelle pasta with walnuts in a cream sauce are certainly a step up. And though you won’t confuse it for business class, even the flatware gets an upgrade from the usual metal-wrapped plastic containers.

The news outlet said this enhanced service could expand worldwide by year’s end if it goes well. A Delta spokeswoman would not confirm the airline’s timeline.

The Points Guy reviewed the new service on the sole flight that offers it, and we have to say: It looks like a major improvement. To my eye, these meals could be easily confused with the offerings on Delta’s new Premium Select product, which we loved.

Only time will tell if Delta moves ahead with a wide-scale improvement. At a time when business class cabins keep improving while economy seats only shrink, it would be welcome news.


Refreshed Delta One cabin


Our Analysis

This is a rare instance where the average flyer gets treated better. But it’s just the latest example of where Delta leads the pack among the big three domestic airlines. Delta consistently outpaces American Airlines and United in on-time performance.

While we’re not big fans of the spread of basic economy fares, Delta has long offered the most generous. It was the only major airline to offer travelers a free carry-on bag – though American Airlines will follow starting next month. Instead, United is expanding its bagless basic economy to Europe and Latin America.

Like both United and AA, Delta is focusing on improving and expanding its business class cabins with fantastic new Delta One suites. However, Delta is poised to offer a far more comfortable long-haul ride in economy than its peers. As American and United squish 10 seats across on their Boeing 777, Delta is sticking with a nine-across configuration on its long-haul planes.

That’s no small thing, as it means economy flyers get another inch or more of seat width. And on a 12-plus hour flight, you’ll value that extra inch. There’s a reason why Delta is consistently ranked ahead of its competition. Trial or not, this enhanced meal service is just another piece of evidence.


Bottom Line

Everyone wants to fly at the front of the plane. And airlines rely on the splash they get from flashy business class cabin upgrades. At the same time, they downgrade the in-flight experience for 90 percent of flyers in economy. 

So it’s good to see Delta continue to emphasize improving the experience for the everyday flyer. We hope these enhancements stick around.


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Lead Photo (CC BY 2.0):  Dustin Hackert

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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