How to Avoid the Cattle Car When Flying to Europe

Ed Perkins, January 28, 2015
Fares from Washington DC:

    If you're thinking about flying to Europe, you have a surprisingly wide range of alternatives to ordinary economy class, especially if you're heading from the New York area to London or Paris.

    Let's face it: Ordinary economy class is a really bad product, with its seats designed to the dimensions of anorexic jockeys and its minimal cabin service. And an overnight red-eye in a crowded economy cabin qualifies, in my book, as cruel and unusual punishment. But it's cheap, and the many of you who value cheap over all else will wind up toughing it out in the cattle car. But if you want to avoid the worst of that experience, you have a fair number of options.

    Cheap Business Class: The latest news is that La Compagnie, the new French all-business-class airline, is currently selling business class from Newark to Paris/De Gaulle starting at $1,400 round-trip (buy by January 30, travel through February 28). For next summer, La Compagnie is quoting round-trips starting at €1,381 ($1,657 at the currently depressed euro exchange rate). La Compagnie also announced it will start flying from Newark to London/Luton in late March, and I'm pretty sure it will offer some attractive introductory fares.

    La Compagnie flies 757s with all angle-flat business-class seats, which means the nighttime seat is flat but at a slight angle so that your feet extend under the top of the seat in front of you. British-owned OpenSkies offers a similar product, from New York/JFK or Newark to Paris/Orly, and seats lie fully flat. But OpenSkies' currently posted fares are much higher. Currently, no big airline is matching La Compagnie, with mid-February round-trip fares quoted in the $8,000 range.

    Beyond New York, the giant lines often offer big discounts on business class from all U.S. gateways to Europe during the summer, typically with a 45-day or 60-day advance purchase. If you're interested, keep checking with the airline websites. And Aer Lingus often offers lower business class from its U.S. gateways to much of Europe via Dublin connections.

    Premium Economy: Currently, the roomiest premium-economy options to Europe are on OpenSkies, from the New York area to Paris; on Norwegian, from Newark and Los Angeles to London/Gatwick; and on Turkish. Air Canada, Air France, Air New Zealand (from Los Angeles to London/Heathrow), British Airways, LOT, Lufthansa, SAS, and Virgin Atlantic offer more standard premium economy from most of their U.S. gateway airports to their European home bases. Seats are about two inches wider than regular economy, with around eight inches more legroom and upgraded cabin service. The fare differences between regular economy and premium economy varies tremendously; next summer, the spread will range from around 30 percent to more than 100 percent.

    Extra-Legroom Economy: Instead of offering real premium economy, American, Delta, KLM, and United offer economy sections with about three to four extra inches of legroom, but with the same narrow economy seats. Prices typically add around $100 or more each way.

    Best Regular Economy: The roomiest regular economy seats are in most A330-340s and 777s configured nine-across. You find these on Air Canada (some flights), Delta, El Al, Turkish, and United. American's 777-300ERs have nine-across seating in the extra cabin, 10-across in regular economy; its other 777s currently have nine across in both sections. The big European lines have narrow 10-across seats.

    Avoid the Red-Eye: If you hate overnight flights, you can fly nonstop to London during the day from Boston on British Airways; Chicago on American; the New York area on British, United, and Virgin Atlantic; Toronto on Air Canada; and Washington/Dulles on United.

    Bid for an Upgrade: These days, when airlines expect empty seats in premium cabins, some now offer travelers the option to buy or bid on upgrades. On my recent trip from Los Angeles to London, for example, Norwegian was asking $400 for upgrades to premium economy. Other lines accept pre-departure bids. If you're willing to risk not getting an upgrade, this is a good way to get into a premium cabin at minimum cost.

    Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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    This article was published by SmarterTravel under the title Avoid the Cattle Car When Flying to Europe.  Follow Ed Perkins on Google+ or email him at editor@smartertravel.com.

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