Dear Delta: You May Regret Those Comfort+ Curtains

Filed Under: Delta

Last week I wrote about how Delta is adding curtains to their Comfort+ cabins, to further differentiate it from economy class. Delta has been doing what they can to monetize their extra legroom seating, and has actually been differentiating the service as well. Unlike American’s Main Cabin Extra and United’s Economy Plus, Delta offers Comfort+ passengers unlimited complimentary drinks and snacks.

The curtains are an interesting move, since they create a further sense of separation between cabins. However, it looks like Delta may very well regret installing those, at least on flights to the UK.

The UK has a pesky Air Passenger Duty (APD), whereby you have to pay some hefty taxes for flights originating in the UK. And that tax is considerably higher for premium class travel than for economy class travel.

For example, for a longhaul economy flight out of the UK, the APD is ~$110:


Meanwhile for a longhaul premium cabin flight (including premium economy, business class, and first class) out of the UK, the APD is ~$220:


So how does the UK government define the class of travel you’re in? Delta might want to look at the rules very closely, before they start installing curtains on the planes they use to London Heathrow.

Delta-One-London - 10

Per the UK government’s policy on the UK APD (bolding mine):

2.6.3 On-board purchases, seating preferences and other benefits

The following in themselves do not affect the class of travel:

  • the purchase of goods and services on board (whether by way of a supplement), unless those goods or services amount to an upgrade
  • paying extra for the right to choose a seat (so long as it is not a better class of seat)
  • paying extra for a seat with extra legroom, provided that seat is not separated from the ordinary seats in any way and provided there are no other benefits associated with the seat
  • paying extra for benefits such as pre-booking, reduced check in times, fast track through security, priority boarding, access to VIP lounges, transport to or from the airport, superior baggage allowances
  • paying extra to be seated next to an empty seat
  • paying for an empty seat

The bolded part above is pretty significant. Because adding a curtain would signify them separating the seats from the “ordinary seats in any way.”

Apparently this is the same thing that happened with British Midland back in the day (which has since been taken over by British Airways). When they got rid of short-haul business class they added “flexible economy,” and intentionally removed the curtains, so that it wouldn’t be considered a “premium cabin.”

Bottom line

Delta might want to take note here, because based on the UK government’s definition of the classes of travel, installing a curtain would technically make Comfort+ a premium cabin. And I don’t think anyone wants to pay an extra ~$110 for one-way travel out of the UK, just for sitting in Main Cabin Extra.

Do you have a different take on the UK government’s policy regarding whether to levy the premium APD or not?

Delta, in case you hadn’t realized this, you’re welcome. I’ll gladly settle for Diamond Medallion status for life in exchange for having pointed this out. 😉

  1. This is one interesting article! It might well be the case that Delta really didn’t understand the UK rules well enough? Hahaha

  2. “…and provided there are no other benefits associated with the seat.”

    Don’t these seats already come with “associated” perks that you don’t get when purchasing a typical economy seat? (Snacks, drinks, etc)

  3. @ Jake Redman — That’s on domestic flights. I believe on flights to the UK Delta already offers complimentary drinks.

  4. @ Brandon — Well except it greatly reduces the value proposition of paying for Comfort+. If the fee suddenly goes from $150 for a flight to $250 (because the extra $100 APD), not many people would buy it. That would impact their bottom line.

  5. I think it’s all 76Ws from JFK, no? They don’t really need the curtain, given the divider. Maybe it’d make more sense on some of the 757s from other markets?

  6. @Brandon – the APD is quoted as part of the overall fare, so yes, it probably is important to them if they suddenly start being an extra $100+ more expensive than United and American.

  7. This is a valid question, thought I think the more damning portion of the rules is here:

    “If all the passengers enjoy the same standard of comfort, service, privacy and amenities, we regard them as being in the same class of travel for APD purposes.

    If the passengers enjoy different standards of comfort, service, privacy or amenities, we regard them as being in different classes of travel for APD purposes.”

    Despite the fact that the class can be differentiated by any of these things, Delta are getting closer to differentiation on *all* of them… On its face I’d say that the higher rate of APD would be due even as it stands now, the curtain will just add more differentiation than already exists. That said, AA already have the MCE cabin physically partitioned on the 77W and that hasn’t triggered higher APD on its own, so maybe HMRC don’t see cabin separation as making a difference? Or perhaps they’ll see a curtain as different than a bulkhead…

  8. Seems that many opt-up for these(Econ Comfort) seats after purchasing their original(coach) seats. Even if pax choose these seats at original time of purchase Delta’s site seems to price them all as economy with a kicker only to Delta. In other words, how could the UK taxing authority ever know?

  9. That sucks. Economy + isn’t worth the extra you pay PLUS extra taxes. One lousy extra inch of leg room and some crappy snacks…

  10. Bulkhead doesn’t necessarily mean a difference in class. There are often multiple bulkhead-ed sections of economy on larger wide bodies, for instance. A curtain that is installed for no other purpose than to stop E- pax from coming up into E+ is clearly intended as a divider, though. The question, I suppose, is if there’s E- on one side of the bulkhead and E+ on the other, can the airline reasonably claim that it’s just part of the plane design and not meant to differentiate classes?

  11. This is a really annoying tax. Does any country besides the UK have such a tool that specifically targets premium cabin passengers?

  12. @Lucky — I’ve yet to see any evidence that Delta will install a curtain between the Comfort+ and Main cabins. Indeed, the included photographs depict a small divider hanging from the overhead bins, but no curtain obstructing the aisle.

    Separately, “premium” snacks are served in Comfort+ only on flights 900 miles and longer. Shorter flights are catered with the same complimentary snacks (i.e., peanuts, pretzels, or cookies) as the Main Cabin. Your posts suggest that the enhanced snacks are included on all Comfort+ flights.

    @Reine — Comfort+ offers more than an extra inch of legroom over the Main Cabin.

  13. Agreed, the APD tax in the UK is just crazy, I believe most people don’t even know what its for or where the money goes.

    It certainly has not gone to building a very much needed third runway at London heathrow.

  14. Actually, *WE* are going to be the ones that regret it. Because this move is essentially bringing back the 3-class of service from 20+ years ago. And shortly thereafter, an upgrade (complimentary or coupon-based) from coach could easily be re-defined to mean from coach to coach+. Upgrade to first will become a double bump.

  15. My guess is that it would need to be differentiated by fare class (ie Comfort+ would need to book into a different fare bucket) in order for them to be really be pursued by British regulators. MCE on AA’s 777-300 immediately came to mind because there is a substantial difference between regular coach and MCE (separate cabin, 9 across vs. 10 across, plus the extra legroom). If AA doesn’t need to pay the tax on this to LHR, then I see no reason that DL would be responsible for it.

  16. I won’t shed a tear for American, Delta or United if one or all of them are held liable by the UK government for evading payment of the APD tax due from the airline for MCE/EconomyPlus/Comfort+ seated passengers since these US airlines actively prevent ordinary economy class passengers from freely moving to the MCE/EconomyPlus/Comfort+ seats on AA/UA/DL flights out of the U.K.

  17. Amazing piece of knowledge!
    I was on an elal flight last week to the UK, I was sitting in their economy plus section (much better product than the regular economy) and was slightly disappointed that they weren’t using the curtain divider that was there but all rolled up.
    Totally makes sense now, thanx!

  18. Back in the days of Concorde, it was a single-class airplane and actually had the UK levy charged at the economy rate, just like a one-class RJ would. As noted, AA’s 77Ws have the MCE section curtained off and it appears those fliers are not paying the premium cabin rates, so the precedent has apparently been set. As for this weird comment “since these US airlines actively prevent ordinary economy class passengers from freely moving to the MCE/EconomyPlus/Comfort+ seats on AA/UA/DL flights out of the U.K” the only thing stopping someone from sitting in this area is not paying the supplement (or being an eligible elite). Why should anyone who hasn’t met the requirement be free to take any of those empty seats?
    Finally, I’ve had several opups from BA’s WT to WT+ on flights from the UK and not been asked to pay the difference of this fee, though not sure if BA paid on my behalf.

  19. @james where it goes is the same place as most every other tax in the UK – to the treasury and it pays for schools, hospitals, transport, defence etc. Hypothecated taxes are rare in there UK.

    The differentiation between classes is meant to reflect the increased environmental impact of premium cabin travel.

  20. Hehe well done on picking up on this point, Lucky – it was my first thought when I saw mention of curtains, although I’d been through the whole bmi process before which had forewarned me to this rule!

    @travel4b – I believe India has a luxury departure/travel tax?

  21. Wouldn’t be the first time Delta made a marketing move without checking to see if there was backlash (remember when they stopped doing courtesy upgrades and all the Golds and above through a fit?)..

    But, I also can’t see them doing a different version of the service into LHR from other routes. IN theory, the taxation policy is supposed to be harmonized now across the EU, so it will be interesting to see if CDG takes interest in the curtain call too…

  22. The irony of it all. Ridiculous duty/taxes for flying out of the UK for having the “privilege” to use one of the most inconvenient airports in the world (LHR). Whenever possible, I try to avoid flying in/out of the UK at any cost.

  23. britain is america’s lap dog. two war mongering empires that tax the crap outta their slave populace. this is not surprising whatsoever.

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