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Delta to Stop First-Class Sales

November 29, 1998

Starting Tuesday, Delta Air Lines will stop selling first-class tickets on intercontinental flights, as a prelude to introducing a two-class system next spring that consists of coach class plus a new "premium" business class. In the meantime, regular business class is available. Domestic travel is unaffected.

Delta is following a trend in international travel among a number of carriers (including Continental and Trans World Airlines) that use a two-class system with an upgraded business class featuring more legroom and other extras. Delta says its new class will have more comfortable seats, personalized service and meal upgrades, but the airline is vague about the details.

Citing its research, Delta said business-class travel grew four times faster than first class on intercontinental routes in 1997.

In a contrary trend, carriers such as Singapore, American and British Airways are upgrading first-class service, with fully reclining seats that form beds or even private "sleeping pods."

These changes have spawned a kind of musical chairs in cabin redesign--and confusion in class descriptions. For instance, China Southern Airlines this fall converted first-class seats to "PremiumBusiness" class on its Boeing 777 planes, while business seats became "PremiumEconomy" seats. What's the difference in service and comfort? Each airline is different, so it pays to inquire about specifics.

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