A Little Extra

A rash of new offerings in the premium economy class cabin is good news for the cost-conscious corporate

The trend towards corporates taking into account the wellbeing of their travellers has played perfectly into the hands of those airlines who offer a fourth class – Premium Economy.

The cabin offers more legroom and a slightly wider seat, upgraded food service and sometimes even branded amenities too. There are also far less seats in Premium Economy than the sprawling Economy class cabin so it feels more clubby.

One of the newest airlines to enter the fray is Brussels Airlines, which launched Premium Economy last year, offering a cabin of just 21 seats configured 2-3-2 in three rows and fully enclosed. The seats have 23% more legroom than the airline’s Economy class seats, a 40-degree recline (56% more than in Economy) and one of the largest HD TV screens in Europe at 13.3 inches.

On board services include a three-course meal, hot towel service, at-seat AC and USB power outlets and a handheld IFE remote. On the ground, passengers can reserve a seat in advance for free, check two pieces of luggage, and at Brussels airport, use a dedicated check-in counter and lounge.

Premium economy is booming and has matured since its debut by EVA Air in the Nineties. Virgin Atlantic and British Airways were also early converts. Virgin’s Premium cabin – originally launched in 1992 as Mid Class – is configured 2-4-2 and sits alongside three other Economy class products: Economy Delight, Economy Classic and Economy Light.

Premium seats have 38-inch seat pitch, in-seat power, enhanced dinner service and passengers enjoy a social space called Wander Wall at the front of the cabin of all 787-9 aircraft where they can stretch their legs, socialise and help themselves to free snacks and refreshments. On the ground, passengers enjoy priority baggage claim and dedicated check-in.

The cabin offers more legroom and a slightly wider seat, upgraded food service and sometimes even branded amenities too.

World Traveller Plus is the BA equivalent, with fewer rows, a quitter cabin, more space, seasonal menus, free bar service including cocktails, personal TV flatscreen with noise-cancelling headphones and double baggage allowance.

Today, the major airlines have installed Premium Economy including Air Canada, Air France, Cathay Pacific, KLM, Lufthansa, Qantas and SIA. The choice is bewildering.

El Al’s Premium provides a separate cabin, extra baggage allowance, improved seat recline, a 13-inch HD TV screen and what it calls, “pampering service”.

Qantas claims it has a class-leading seat in its Premium Economy cabin due to the unique recline motion of a seat which is 10% wider and fitted with TV screens 25% larger than previously.

US airlines have joined in too. American Airlines, for example, launched Premium Economy in 2017, United launched Premium Plus last spring and Delta followed with Delta Premium Select last winter.

Delta provides a separate cabin, 19-inch-wide seats with up to 38-inch pitch and seven-inch recline, fine dining, TUMI amenity kit, 13.3-inch seat-back screen with noise-cancelling headset, in-seat power supply, dedicated boarding, and Sky Priority check-in.

Only a few Middle Eastern airlines, best known for their gold standards in First and Business Class, have launched Premium Economy. Etihad has a hybrid seat – the Economy Space seat – with an extra five inches of legroom but that’s it as far as extra frills go. Emirates is rumoured to be launching Premium Economy as part of a wider rejig of Economy class.

Corporates can use Premium Economy to downtrade from business class on daylight flights ex-UK for example, or as an upgrade from economy class if there is a business need. Take-up has also come from the premium leisure traveller.

Statistics on this cabins’ success are difficult to find as airlines generically classify Premium Economy as Economy in their systems. Nonetheless, the fact that the concept has spread across the industry would suggest that the investment – in an industry with such small profit margins – has a decent-enough ROI.

• A separate cabin
• 21 seats or more
• Improved food and drink offering
• More recline and legroom
• In-seat power
• Bigger TV screens
• Dedicated check-in

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