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Delta woos economy international passengers with free cocktails and actual place mats

(iStock; Washington Post illustration)

Everyone loves to complain about air travel: the nearly inedible food, the cramped seats, the fees for everything.

Delta is trying to change all that — well, some of that. The airline on Tuesday announced a sprinkling of free perks on some international flights designed to make economy passengers feel a little classier starting in November. In a kind of flow-chart-meets-line-drawing, the carrier laid out the new experiences meant to “infuse hospitality throughout the flight.”

First, a personal hello at boarding, which seems like a gimme. But the meet-and-greet will have started even before passengers get on the plane, because the lead flight attendant will make an introduction in the boarding area. Spokeswoman Savannah Huddleston described the move in an email as “small touches that we feel go a long way with making connections between crew and customers."

Shortly after takeoff, passengers will get a free Bellini — sparkling wine mixed with peach puree, for the non-brunchers out there — as a “welcome aboard cocktail.” The type of drink could change down the line, Huddleston said.

Next: hot towel service. This is already offered on international flights, but there’s a twist: Come November, flight attendants will use stainless steel tongs instead of plastic. Ohhhh!

Dinner follows, but not just any “pasta or chicken?” meal. Delta is touting new “bistro-style” options, with entrees and appetizers available to choose separately. New menu items include, okay, pasta and chicken. But fancier! And appetizers range from caprese salad to herb-marinated salmon with potato salad to apple, celery and arugula slaw with harissa shrimp. Recipes, according to the airline, are “inspired by” dishes served in international business class, or Delta One. Dessert will be served after the meal with a choice of coffee, tea or free wine.

Say farewell to the standard meal tray. Food will be served on “custom-designed dinnerware,” with “upgraded cutlery” on a “place mat.” The presentation and mix-and-match nature of the food are among the biggest changes to the economy international experience, Huddleston said.

Before landing, get ready for Hot Towel: The Sequel. And, as a kind of party favor, everyone will get a piece of chocolate as the plane descends.

(David Goldman/AP; Washington Post illustration)

Delta says the new amenities, which even the passengers paying the lowest, most bare-bones fares can take advantage of, are meant to differentiate the airline’s international main cabin service. They will be available to passengers on international flights that are scheduled to last 6½ hours or more, as well as some shorter routes that already offer Delta One or Delta Premium Select service.

A team of 24 flight attendants designed the new experience, which has been tested on more than 700 flights between Portland, Ore., and Tokyo over the course of a year.

“This is about investing in every single customer who chooses Delta, no matter where they sit on the plane,” Allison Ausband, Delta’s senior vice president for in-flight service, said in an announcement.

Frequent international travelers pointed out on social media that some of the experience already sounded familiar. Indeed, Delta says on its website that all meals on long-haul international flights come with free beer, wine and spirits.

(iStock; Washington Post illustration)

“Every international flight I have taken already has hot towel service,” said one Twitter user. “And free liquor once wheels are up. Nothing new here, Delta just stays awesome.”

Some took the opportunity to complain about the airline’s legroom, power outlets, baggage handling and credit card fees.

But others were just pleased that an airline was adding comfort without charging for it.

Read more:

Why your emotions and senses go haywire on a plane

Introducing By The Way, a new digital travel product from The Washington Post

4 frequent fliers share their tips for dealing with jet lag

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