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Airlines Are Betting Big on Premium Seats, and Their Planes Are Changing as a Result

American, Delta, and United are all investing in more first-class and business-class space.

Business-class seating on an airplane Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

On a flight, up front is the place to be—and airlines are reconfiguring their planes to acknowledge that.

Major airlines in the United States are increasing the amount of premium seating on flights, with changes that allow for 25 to 75 percent more premium-economy, business-class, and first-class options, The New York Times reported on Thursday. That’s mainly thanks to demand for these upgraded areas, as travelers seek out amenities like more space, extra legroom, and better culinary options.

On United Airlines flights, for example, there’s 25 percent more domestic premium seating (Economy Plus and first class) than there was at the beginning of 2019. By 2026, that’ll skyrocket to 75 percent more, with 53 premium seats per flight, the Times noted. (To get to these numbers, United is actually removing some economy seats on various planes.)

Meanwhile, American Airlines is planning to add 45 percent more premium-economy and business-class seating on long-haul flights by 2026. And compared with before the pandemic, Delta will have 15,000 more premium-economy and business-class seats a day, the company told The New York Times. In some cases, economy seats and business-class seats are removed to make space for more premium-economy options, and vice versa, with premium economy taken away to add business-class offerings.

Chris Lopinto, a co-founder of Expert Flyer, told the Times that airlines see these changes as good for their pocketbooks. While retrofits mean that planes need to be taken out of duty while changes are made, more premium seating ideally leads to more revenue per flight.

And travelers have proved willing to pay the price for a comfier and more luxe flying experience. (For a roundtrip journey from New York to Los Angeles in June, The New York Times noted that a premium ticket starts near $1,000.) After months or years of not traveling during the pandemic, many people have vacation money stashed away that allows them to afford the extra cost. And business travel is picking back up again, with white-collar workers beginning to fill up the front of a flight.

So more people should get ready to sit back, relax, and enjoy the glass of Champagne included in the cost of a plane ticket.

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