American and Delta announce upgrades to seats, lounges

American Airlines plans to invest $2 billion on upgrades starting next year

Two of the nation’s largest airlines — Delta and American — are going head-to-head in a battle to offer the most stylish, comfortable and tech-friendly seats in the sky.

Almost simultaneously last week, the two carriers announced upgrades that will include all-new seat categories at Delta Air Lines and power outlets and satellite-based Internet on American Airlines planes.

The upgrades, which will be added starting next year, signal that some airlines are ready to reinvest a portion of the hefty profits they are now collecting thanks to lower fuel costs, steady demand and money-making passenger fees.

The airline industry in the U.S. is expected to report a profit margin of about 6% in 2014, a dramatic improvement from the 0.3% margin of 2011, according to industry data.

Passengers who fly coach will benefit from some of the upgrades at Delta and American, but most of the investments are going toward pampering high-spending elite fliers.

Delta, for example, is creating a new seating category for international and transatlantic flights called Delta One, which replaces Business Elite. Delta One fliers sit in private airborne suites and feast on “chef-curated meals, paired with wines selected by our master sommelier,” the airline said.

American announced that it is investing $2 billion on new seats, satellite-based Internet access, a walk-up bar on 47 of its long-haul Boeing 777 jets and an overhaul of the airline’s VIP lounges.

“We will transform every aspect of our clubs with a remodeled design and furnishings, new food choices and a first-class assortment of wines and cocktails,” said Fernand Fernandez, American’s vice president for global marketing.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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