1949: Coach (Economy) Service
Like other airlines, the first variations of Delta’s in-flight products began with differences in fares and services on specific flights. Differences in configuring the aircraft cabin and types of seats, as is typical today, came later.
In 1949, Delta introduced discounted-fare Owl Aircoach Service night flights between Chicago and Miami. All other Delta flights continue to be full service flights with meals. The Douglas DC-4 aircraft used for the night flights were the same planes used for standard daytime service at full fares, but “without the frills of daytime service, such as complimentary meals and double stewardess service.”
1954: Golden Crown Service
Beginning in 1954, with the arrival of the Douglas DC-7, Delta (then known as Delta-C&S, after a merger with Chicago and Southern Air Lines in 1953) designated flights using the airline’s newest aircraft type as first class Golden Crown Service flights. Extra onboard amenities included a typewriter and electric shaver for busy business travelers. For details, see this Golden Crown brochure (PDF).
1958: Royal Service
“On Delta’s Royal Service Flights every passenger is a king.”
Delta launched a comprehensive airport and in-flight experience for customers on select first class Royal Service Douglas DC-7 flights serving Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington, New Orleans, New York, Houston, Baltimore, Chicago, Miami, Caracas, Havana, Montego Bay, St. Louis and Memphis. Amenities included:
- Three flight attendants (instead of the usual two) for the "finest and the swiftest service available."
- Complimentary champagne
- Choice of entrées at mealtime, and canapés and cocktails in the afternoon.
- Muzak tape recordings played during boarding.
- Children received Delta's first "kiddie wings" souvenir pins. Junior Pilot pins for boys and Junior Stewardess pins for girls.
- At the airport, Royal Service customers had a special check-in desk and priority handling of bags.
Delta’s first airport lounges, called Crown Rooms (today’s Delta Sky Clubs), were also introduced for VIP guests in 1958, originally in Atlanta.
1959: Royal Jet Service
Delta’s early jets – the Douglas DC-8 in 1959 and the Convair 880 in 1960 – offered speed, comfort and convenience compared to the piston-driven planes they replaced. The DC-8 had a two-class configuration, with a First Class cabin and Supercoach Cabin. Delta’s Convair 880s were initially all-First Class cabin configuration and service.
Royal Jet Service on Delta's early jets offered unique first class seats and lounges, complimentary champagne, meal choices and onboard gifts. See these vintage brochures for details:
Delta’s Royal Jet Service program brand, a red, white and blue triangle resembling the swept wings of a jet overhead, was adopted as Delta’s corporate logo by 1962. Learn more about the development of Delta’s Widget logo.
1962: Two-Class Cabins Now Standard
Delta modified its cabin configurations to offer both First Class and Tourist (Economy) Class on all four-engine aircraft in the fleet in 1962. Delta’s Vice President of Traffic & Sales T.M. Miller said, “The move to dual class configuration will be of particular benefit to us in our West Coast operations. We have heretofore operated four of five daily flights from California with all-first-class service in a market where demand historically has been predominately for coach service.” Delta began flying between the East Coast and California a year earlier, in 1961.
1969: Royal Service
Delta enhanced its First Class service on 35 long-haul flights (selected flights over 2.5 hours, such as Atlanta-Los Angeles, Atlanta-San Francisco and U.S.-Caribbean flights), and designated those Royal Service flights. Delta was seeking to compete with airlines offering motion picture film in-flight entertainment on longer flights.
Royal Service flights offered a “truly royal dining experience” with hot scented towels; hot hors d’oeuvres; an expanded beverage menu; meals featuring steak, lobster thermidor and duckling plated at the passenger's seat and served on china dishes; a choice of desserts and after-dinner drinks. Children could select a peanut butter sandwich, Baby Ruth candy bar and Funny Face drink.
1970: Delta's 747 Penthouse
Delta offered a unique First Class experience in the "world's first flying penthouse apartment" on its first “widebody" jet, the Boeing 747 in 1970. The 747 Penthouse was located on the Boeing 747's upper deck, above the First Class cabin and adjacent to the First Class lounge. Seats for 6 passengers were sold only as a unit. The Penthouse was staffed by its own flight attendant. For more details, see Delta’s 747 Penthouse brochure (PDF).
1978: Three-Class Service
Delta introduced three service experiences – First Class, Business Class, Economy Class – on its new flights between Atlanta and London in December 1978. Delta had been flying trans-Atlantic from Atlanta since April 1978.
Delta's new Business Class service was called Medallion Service. It was for business travelers and others paying full economy fare, who were assigned Economy Class seats immediately behind First Class and received amenities including complimentary headsets, cocktails and appetizers and special menus. Medallion Class passengers also could use to Delta’s international departure airport lounges at Atlanta and London.*
1981: Delta created a designated Medallion (Business) Class section on its transatlantic flights with two-abreast seating and a cabin divider.
*Most airlines, like Delta, began Business Class as a group of standard economy class seats set aside for full-fare passengers with extra amenities, which then evolved into a separate cabin section with business seats, seat spacing and cabin dividers. This was how Pan Am started its Clipper Class, which was probably the world’s first airline business class service, on October 29, 1978. Qantas seems to be the exception, having started out with better seating in 1979.
1998: Delta BusinessElite
From December 1998 through Spring 1999, Delta transitioned from three-class (First, Business, Economy) to two-class cabins, combining First and Business Classes together. International flights transitioned first.
Delta’s First and Business Classes on long-haul international flights became a single section of luxury seats and service called BusinessElite. This experience was available on Delta intercontinental flights between Europe and the U.S., Japan, India and Brazil.
The new BusinessElite seats offered the best business class personal space (legroom and recline) of the major airlines, and 6-way adjustable headrest, personal telephones at every seat, battery-saving EmPower system for laptop computers, an enhanced personal in-flight entertainment system and fully electric controls for reline, lumbar support, leg rest extension and footrest adjustment.
Delta’s combined First/Business Classes on short-haul international and domestic routes became known as First Class.
2000: BusinessElite service expanded to selected long-haul flights within the United States on May 1.
2008: Delta introduced Flat Bed seats on BusinessElite on its new long-range Delta Boeing 777s.
2003-2006: Song Airlines
Delta's innovative low-cost carrier Song, which operated from 2003-2006, flew a fleet of specially-configured Boeing 757-200s. The entire cabin was one class with leather seats and a free personal entertainment system at every seat, featuring audio MP-3 programmable selections, trivia games that could be played against other passengers, a flight tracker, and satellite television provided by the DISH Network.
At the height of its operations in 2005, Song flew 48 Boeing 757-200s to 16 locations, including Atlanta; Hartford, Connecticut; Los Angeles; Las Vegas; New York; Seattle; San Francisco; five cities in Florida and three Caribbean vacation spots—Nassau; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Aruba. The airline operated over 200 flights a day.
Delta announced plans to fold Song into Delta's domestic operations on October 28, 2005. Song operated its last flight on April 30, 2006, and service shifted to mainline Delta on May 1, 2006.
Delta returned Song's Boeing 757 planes from one-class to two-class cabins, but expanded Song's seat-back entertainment systems and leather seats to other aircraft in the Delta fleet. Former Song 757s started appearing on Delta's transcontinental routes in Fall 2006. The last green-and-white Song 757 was repainted in Delta livery in January 2008.
2007: Delta Connection First Class
Delta Connection added two-class regional jets to its fleets in 2007, with new Bombardier CRJ900 aircraft offering 12 First Class seats. By 2009, Delta Connection carriers operated one of the airline industry’s largest two-class regional jet fleets with 77 aircraft in service, including 51 76-seat Bombardier CRJ900s and 16 70-seat Embraer 170s. See the news release.
Delta introduced a premium economy section – Economy Comfort – on all long-haul international flights in Summer 2011. The new seats featured up to four additional inches of legroom and 50 percent more recline than Delta’s standard international Economy class seats. Customers seated in Economy Comfort also boarded early and enjoyed complimentary beer, spirits and wine throughout the flight.
2012: Economy Comfort expanded to all Delta flights – domestic and international – with a First Class and Economy Class cabin beginning June 7, 2012.
2015: Economy Comfort was rebranded as Comfort+.
2015: Differentiated Experiences
Starting March 1, 2015, Delta customers could choose between these in-flight experiences:
- Delta One, formerly BusinessElite, offered on long-haul international routes; also between New York-JFK and Los Angeles or San Francisco.
- First Class offered on short-haul international and domestic routes instead of Delta One.
- Delta Comfort+, formerly Economy Comfort
- Main Cabin, formerly Economy
Delta also introduced Basic Economy, a new value option offered on select Delta flights. Customers are seated in the Main Cabin section of the aircraft, but not able to choose seats in advance, make changes, fly stand-by, get refunds for unused tickets or receive upgrades.