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Seatplans.com guides: Premium economy
Published: 18/01/2012 RSS
Interested in premium economy? The Seatplans Guide to Premium Economy will help….
What is premium economy?
It is an upgraded economy class seat, with more leg room. Sometimes it has its own cabin, a different food offering and may have other privileges such as priority check-in, depending on the airline.
Why would I book it?
All of the above, but mainly because premium economy gives you a more roomy seat than economy (though less roomy than business).
Why was it invented?
Because of changes to business class, ironically. Many airlines have in recent years added space to their business class products, some even turning their seats into beds when in full recline. Simultaneously, they have made economy seating more dense. (ie: put more seats in), which left a clear gap for a product between economy and business.
Who invented it?
Priced at a surcharge on the regular economy class, premium economy offered sufficient comfort for long flights at a value-for-money price compared with business class. It transformed an ordeal that was to be avoided (ie standard economy) into a more palatable travel experience.
Premium economy seating on a wide-body B747 or B777 was typically disposed eight-across (2-4-2) with 38 inches (96.5cm) of legroom. Standard economy, by comparison, would be ten-across (3-4-3) on a B747 or nine-across (3-3-3) on a B777, with 31-34 inches (79cm-86cm) of legroom.
Who has it?
An increasing list of airlines. As well as Eva Air, Virgin Atlantic and BA premium economy seating can be found onboard Air New Zealand, Qantas, ANA, China Southern, JAL, Icelandair, Bmi, Air France, Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways and Turkish Airlines.
To see the latest developments, visit our sister site Business Traveller which has regular stories on premium economy, here.
Why doesn’t everyone offer it?
Whether an airline adopts the product or not is all down to the level of competition they face. Big players such as American Airlines, Emirates, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines (SIA) balk at the bother and cost of reconfiguring their fleets simply for the sake of competing with premium economy carriers on a select number of routes. Only when more big airlines join in will they be forced to re-examine their seating policies.
Are there differences between different premium economy seats?
Yes, very big differences. Some carriers have preferred to dip their toes in the water rather than go to the expense of creating a separate cabin with special seating. United Airlines and KLM have extended the seat pitch in the first few economy class rows and are allowing full-fare passengers or higher ranking frequent flyer programme members to occupy them. It is a cost-effective solution that enables them to satisfy the needs of their more profitable customers. The drawback is that seating cannot be guaranteed as it tends to be allocated on a first come, first served basis.
Who has the best premium economy?
One problem with premium economy is that there are no consistent standards. Virgin Atlantic has several versions of its premium economy seating, and BA, though it has a new premium economy product, has it installed only on its B777-300ER aircraft, and is currently in the process of retrofitting 18 of its B777-200 aircraft.
Premium economy was designed to appeal to cost-conscious business people or quality-minded leisure travellers, but as it improves, so the price charged to fly it will increase. ANZ’s improved premium economy cabin has 42 inches (107cm) of legroom, 12-inch TV screens, iPod connection and privacy screens. On the B777-300ER aircraft it is configured in six-across (2-2-2) seating, compared with the present nine-across (3-3-3) version. Not only are these ANZ seats more akin to business than economy class, but the amount of sideways space is impressive.
Granted, it doesn’t match the exceptional four-across (1-2-1) business class offering seen on Singapore Airlines, but it beats BA’s 2-4-2 in Club World and the 2-3-2 layouts of the main European carriers such as Air France, KLM and Lufthansa. Only the amount of legroom (36 inches/91.5cm, but possibly greater when the seat is adjusted) and reduced angle of recline give the game away.
Will premium economy continue to improve?
Yes, but the danger is that as premium economy moves upmarket it will desert its value-for-money ethos as airlines charge more for it. Also bear in mind that as airlines improve their premium economy product, some will downgrade their regular economy classes further, abolishing free food and drink, for instance or adding more seating to the economy cabin.
How much does premium economy cost?
It can be very expensive – far more than twice the price of an economy seat, or it can be just 20 percent more, so try and take advantage of seat sales or year-round keen tariffs.
The case for premium economy
- More comfort and amenities at value-for-money prices.
- With carriers offering more space, lounge access and better food, it is increasingly becoming a viable alternative to business class.
- High-tier frequent flyer programme members can book premium economy class with a better chance of getting upgraded.
- In an overbooking situation, it helps airport staff when they have to downgrade a business class passenger as it won’t be as bad as economy.
- There is a lot of confusion as most carriers don’t offer the product, while some provide it only on selected routes.
- It is relatively expensive unless there’s a seat sale – often a discounted business ticket costs the same.
- There is a risk of “comfort creep” as airlines add more space and facilities but pass on these benefits in the form of higher fares.
- Economy class passengers stand to lose out as airlines downgrade the back of the plane to encourage people to trade up.
And to see a table directly comparing the seat pitch, width, recline and IFE across the different carriers premium economy products, click here.
To read premium economy reviews…
And the light-premium economy carriers:
United Airlines Economy Plus
KLM Economy Comfort
To see pictures of Premium Economy, click on the airline (above) and then the “Classes” tab when you get there.