More often than not over the past few months I’ve ended up in premium economy when I’ve been flying long haul. Premium economy is the bit of the plane that you get to after you’ve passed through after business class (when your heart starts to sink), but before you get to economy (when you just want to burst into tears). Why oh why can’t they board us the other way around?
I’ve only flown premium economy for business, but I thought I’d give you a little run down of what the experience is like, as I know it can be a tough call as to whether to pay the extra to bump yourself up a class.
I’ve only flown British Airways premium economy — called World Traveller Plus — on flights to the US that are currently operating with the older version of BA’s premium economy offering. It’s worth mentioning that the airline is in the process of upgrading all of its premium economy cabins to the newer version at the moment.
Premium economy tends to offer fewer seats across every row — typically in a two-four-two setup. Seats are wider than in economy, as well as having more leg room. All of this was true of World Traveller Plus; although the cabin feels a little dated and are definitely past their best. The seats are fairly well worn in and the bobbly fleece blanket I was supplied with on one flight had seen better days.
Still, I must say that the seat was comfortable, and as someone who has issues with claustrophobia and personal space, having that extra room and my very own armrest made so much difference to me.
I was greeted with a glass of orange juice and although the service was friendly, it was hard to get hold of or keep the attention of the cabin crew for very long. Generally the cabin crew who are serving World Traveller Plus passengers are also in charge of the economy cabin, meaning they have a large portion of the plane to deal with and are therefore rather rushed off their feet.
Once in the night, I woke up totally parched and after pressing the call button it took 25 minutes for a staff member to respond. I should note that on that same flight I had an epic nosebleed (that’s dehydration for you) just as we were landing in Las Vegas and the air stewardess was extremely kind to me.
World Traveller Plus is supposed to offer a premium dining service. I have no complaints about the food (I quite like plane food), but I wouldn’t describe the experience as premium either. On one flight I was sitting in the back right-hand corner of the cabin (note to seat geeks, they start serving from front left) and by the time they reached me, of the two choices on the menu only one was left; it was not the choice I would have made.
I think being able to guarantee choice from a list of two would be a simple way of ensuring a premium experience when it comes to dining. In terms of quality, I couldn’t particularly tell any of the meals apart from any of the admittedly very decent meals I’ve eaten in the BA World Traveller cabin.
The amenity kit in World Traveller Plus is totally no frills, with a functional grey and blue colour scheme, but it does contain socks, which I consider an in-flight essential.
Cathay Pacific offers a more well-rounded premium economy class than British Airways in my experience.
The perks begin before you even get through security. Cathay’s premium economy customers get a dedicated check-in/bag drop queue for a start. Then you’re welcomed onto the plane with a glass of champagne. The amenity kit comes in a sweet little felt pouch and has been designed by Hong Kong lifestyle brand Goods of Desire.
The cabin has the same seat configuration of two-four-two and being a window seat kinda gal, I got myself in one of the twos — definitely the best place to sit in premium economy — both times I flew with them. For both my flight to and from Hong Kong I had no-one sitting next to me, which, disclaimer, might have given me the impression that I had more space than I actually did.
Unfortunately, in premium economy the armrests are fixed in place so there was no spreading out — but there was an extra pillow to be had from the empty seat next to me. The seat itself is newer and more comfortable than on BA, and the blanket and pillow were both supremely soft. Another little bonus — the TV remote is buried down the side of the seat near your upper calf, whereas on BA it is by your thigh. I found that on BA I kept pushing buttons accidentally every time I moved position.
Service on Cathay was friendly and extremely attentive and an air stewardess went out of her way to make sure I had my choice of meals when I was allergic to one of the options. Meals were delicious and had the bonus of being finished off with ice cream.
I get a bit anxious when I can’t sleep on business flights, but when I struggled to drop off on Cathay, I just had seconds and thirds of ice cream. Perhaps not surprisingly, that helped to calm me down.
Does premium economy offer good value for money?
I’ve been led to believe that today’s premium economy experience is similar to the way things were back in the day in old economy-class cabins. It’s frustrating that the space to price tag ratio seems to be shrinking as they bundle in ever more seats, but as consumers we’re frankly quite helpless to change anything about this; our only choice is to buy our way out.
And for me, this is the crux of what premium economy is about. The important thing to keep in mind when you choose to fly premium is that you are flying economy plus, not business minus (although the odd glass of fizz does help lift the experience rather).
Given the choice, anyone in their right mind would fly premium economy over economy, but what puts people off is the difference in price, which can sometimes seem crazily huge, given that you are in no way paying for a business class experience. With this is mind, there is one reason and one reason alone that you would pay extra specifically to fly in premium economy and that is to escape the pure hell of flying long-haul economy.
My first instinct is that the perks don’t feel significant enough to me to pay extra for. Then I start to think about those occasions when I’ve been wedged in economy and feel like I have no personal space. In those situations, I sometimes start to feel like I’m losing my mind. And for me, avoiding that feeling seems like something that is occasionally worth paying for.
If travelling economy doesn’t stress you out so much, I’d suggest you splash out on a couple of lounge passes and a bottle of champagne at the airport instead. Maybe pay for a friendly driver to meet you at arrivals with a placard and a brief to get you to your hotel as quickly as possible. All that and more is available for the difference in price between an economy and premium economy ticket.
There are so many ways you can make a travel experience special. I think it’s best to take some time to ponder what you value and define your own version of premium travel accordingly.