Delta Air Lines says it will invest $1 billion, or about $300 million per year, through mid-2013 to improve customer experience in the air...

Delta Air Lines says it will invest $1 billion, or about $300 million per year, through mid-2013 to improve customer experience in the air and on the ground ― and also to improve the fuel efficiency of more than 170 aircraft in its fleet.

The airline says its capital investment will improve the consistency and level of service provided to Delta’s BusinessElite, First Class and elite-level flyers, as well as increasing the efficiency of the combined Delta/Northwest fleet. Planned enhancements include:

● Installing full-flat-bed seats in BusinessElite on 90 trans-oceanic aircraft, including 14 Boeing 767-400ERs, 52 Boeing 767-300ERs, 16 Boeing 747-400s and eight Boeing 777-200ERs. Upon completion, each of these fleets will have full-flat-bed seats on all aircraft;

● Adding in-seat audio and video on demand throughout Economy Class on 16 Boeing 747-400s and 52 Boeing 767-300ERs. With these additions, says Delta, it will offer personal, in-seat entertainment for both BusinessElite and Economy class customers on all widebody aircraft;

● Adding First Class cabins to 66 Bombardier CRJ700 regional jets operated by Delta Connection carriers ASA, Comair and SkyWest, bringing to 219 the number of Delta Connection regional aircraft with First Class seating;

● Completing the modification of 269 pre-merger Northwest aircraft to feature Delta’s signature blue leather seats, updated lighting and enhanced cabin amenities such as increased overhead bin space on pre-merger Northwest 757-200s;

● Installing winglets on more than 170 Boeing 767-300ERs, Boeing 757-200s and Boeing 737-800s to extend aircraft range and improve fuel efficiency by as much as 5 per cent; and

● Renovating and expanding Delta’s Los Angeles Sky Club lounge, and introducing new Sky Club locations in Seattle, Philadelphia and Indianapolis.

“Delta’s planned fleet and product investments mark the most significant investment we have made in our customers in more than a decade,” says Richard Anderson, Delta Air Lines’ CEO. “Our premium travelers tell us that the comfort of a flat bed seat with direct aisle access, a first class experience on regional jets and in-flight entertainment are important factors in their choice of carrier.”

Delta Air Lines plans to spend $1 billion on fleet-efficiency and customer-experience improvements from 2010 through mid-2013. The improvement programs will include installing blended winglets on more than 170 Boeing 767-300ERs, 757-200s and 737-800s to extend aircraft range and improve fuel efficiency by up to 5 per cent

“This investment will be made while staying well within the level of our historical capital expenditures,” says Ed Bastian, Delta’s president. “Rather than invest in new aircraft, Delta will be spending its capital to improve the quality and consistency of the on-board product and efficiency of the aircraft we already own.”

Delta says it already offers the most on-demand entertainment among U.S. carriers with more than 100 aircraft in its U.S. domestic fleet equipped with in-seat audio and video on demand. The airline says it is also rapidly expanding its in-flight Wi-Fi service, available on more than 340 aircraft and more than 1,200 flights each day as of January 25. Delta claims to be the largest operator of Wi-Fi enabled aircraft in the world and says it plans to have more than 530 aircraft equipped with Wi-Fi by mid-2010.

The airline’s upcoming fleet and product investments build on recently announced improvements. These include the re-launch of the Red Coat program at Delta’s international hub at JFK and subsequently at all domestic hubs; the addition of BusinessElite service on Delta’s transcontinental routes between New York JFK and Los Angeles and San Francisco; the introduction of full-flat-bed seats on all flights between the United States and London Heathrow; and the announcement of plans to create a domestic hub at New York LaGuardia, Delta’s number one business airport, subject to government approvals.

Following its merger with Northwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines has become the world’s largest airline, carrying more than 160 million passengers each year. Delta and the Delta Connection carriers offer service to 368 destinations in 66 countries on six continents. Delta employs more than 70,000 employees worldwide and operates a mainline fleet of nearly 800 aircraft.