Delta plans $1 billion in plane upgrades

Instead of buying new planes, Delta Air Lines said it plans to invest in major upgrades to its existing fleet over the next three years.

The Atlanta-based carrier said it plans to spend $1 billion through mid-2013 on in-flight entertainment; improvements in first- and business-class cabins; modifications of planes from merger partner Northwest to standardize service; and installation of more winglets to boost fuel-efficiency.

The airline also said it will upgrade Delta Sky Club airport lounges in Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia and Indianapolis.

While Delta called the move the most significant investment it has made in customers in more than a decade, president Ed Bastian also said in a written statement that it is "well within the level of our historical expenditures."

"Rather than investing 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," according to Bastian. It's still unclear whether Delta will change its order inherited from Northwest for the Boeing 787 jet under development. Delta said it continues discussions with Boeing on the matter.

The planned improvements for Delta's existing planes include new audio and video on-demand systems at each economy seat on Boeing 747-400s and 767-300ERs.

The airline will install flat-bed seats in business class on 90 more aircraft used for trans-oceanic flights and will add first-class cabins to 66 Delta Connection CRJ-700 regional jets.

Delta's investment also includes modifications of 269 aircraft from Northwest, including updated lighting and leather seats.