A Handy Guide to Premium Economy

George Hobica, May 29, 2015
Fares from Washington DC:

    In the beginning, air travel was egalitarian, classless—and, well, classy. Everyone sat in identical seats. In the 1950s, they resembled your dad’s La-Z-Boy: luxuriously padded, with footrests.

    In the 60s, those “regular” seats morphed into “first class” and, to make travel affordable for all, economy-class seats were introduced, configured six across in each row. There was still plenty of legroom in coach, and you got a hot meal, playing cards, and plastic wings for the kiddies.

    But as economy class became more cramped, airlines began offering premium economy. On domestic flights, it’s called “main cabin extra” or “economy plus” and it’s not much of a thing—just some extra legroom and priority boarding, maybe a drink and snacks. But on international flights, there can be perks galore: better meals, fewer seats per row, priority check-in, dedicated lavatories and cabins, and little niceties such as welcome Champagne upon boarding.

    Still, it’s premium econ’s wider seats, extra leg and knee room (“seat pitch” in airline parlance), and greater seat recline—all making sleep easier on long haul flights—that attracts fliers. Here’s what to expect on a variety of international airlines if you’re willing to pay a premium.

    Air France

    What it’s called: Premium Economy 

    When launched: Launched in 2009. More than 1,100 Premium Economy seats are being modified and installed on 44 long-haul aircraft between June 2014 and July 2016 as part of Air France-KLM’s investment in new products and services.

    Seat pitch: 20% more compared to an Economy seat

    Seat width: 19” (48 cm)

    Configuration: 2-3-2 or 2-4-2

    On what aircraft: All long haul flights except on B747 aircrafts, which will be removed from Air France long haul fleet by the end of 2015

    Separate cabin: Yes

    Priority check in: Yes

    Extra baggage allowance: Yes

    Fee for reserving specific seats in advance: No

    Power ports: Electronic PC outlet to charge your laptop computer and personal USB port.

    Average price over economy: About 50 percent more

    Other perks: Noise-reduction headphones, travel amenity kit with personal care items, Gourmet Air France Gift Cone, larger latest-generation 12-inch HD touch-screen, ability to purchase access to airport lounges, meal starter and dessert inspired by the Business Class, more elegant and refined table service, feather pillow, personal adjustable reading lamp.

    Air New Zealand
    What it’s called: Premium Economy Spaceseat
    When launched: 2011
    Seat pitch: 40-42 in.
    Seat width: 20 in.
    Seat configuration: 2 x 2 x 2 (every seat has aisle access)
    Separate cabin: Yes
    Priority check-in: Yes
    Extra baggage allowance: Yes
    Fee for reserving specific seats in advance: $10-$75
    Power ports: In-seat power, USB and iPod connections
    Average price over economy: 75-85 percent more
    Other perks: Noise-cancelling headphones, more menu choices, amenity kits; airline is unique in that all premium econ seats have aisle access.

    British Airways
    What it’s called: World Traveller Plus
    When launched: 2000
    Seat pitch: 38 in.
    Sea width: 18.5 in.
    Seat configuration: 2 x 4 x 2 (2 x 3 x 2 on A380 aircraft)
    Aircraft: All long-haul aircraft
    Separate cabin: Yes
    Priority check-in: Yes
    Extra baggage allowance: On most routes
    Charge for reserving specific seats in advance: Varies depending on seat
    Power ports: Yes
    Average price over regular economy: 30-50 percent
    Other perks: Amenity kits, larger video screens, premium meals, bigger pillows and blankets

    Cathay Pacific
    What it's called: Premium Economy
    When launched: 2012
    Seat pitch: 38 in.
    Seat width: 19.3 in.
    Seat configuration: 2 x 3 x 2 or 2 x 4 x 2
    Separate cabin: Yes
    Priority check-in: Yes
    Extra baggage allowance: Yes
    Fee for reserving specific seats in advance: No
    Power ports: Yes, plus USB ports
    Average price over economy: Varies
    Other perks: Enhanced meal selections, Champagne, larger personal TV with noise-cancelling headphones

    El Al
    What it’s called: Economy Class Plus
    When launched: 2012
    Seat pitch: 36 in.
    Seat width: 18 in.
    Configuration: 2 x 3 x 2
    On what aircraft: 747, 767, 777
    Separate cabin: No
    Priority check-in: Yes
    Extra baggage allowance: No
    Fee for reserving specific seats in advance: No
    Power ports: AC power on most aircraft
    Average price over economy: $150 one-way for long-haul flights
    Other perks: Personal iPad with extra entertainment options, business-class blanket and pillow; free upgrades to upper-tier frequent-flyer members

    EVA

    What it’s called: Elite Class
    When launched: 1992
    Seat pitch: 38 in.
    Seat width: 18.5 in.
    Configuration: 2 by 4 by 2
    On what aircraft: all long haul

    Separate cabin: Yes
    Priority check in: Yes
    Extra baggage allowance: Yes
    Fee for reserving specific seats in advance: No
    Power ports: AC power
    Average price over economy: Varies depending on route and dates, but about 30% more

    Other perks: As one of the first premium economy products, this got a refresh in 2005 with an upgraded entertainment system and other perks.

    Lufthansa
    What it’s called: Premium Economy
    When launched: 2014
    Seat pitch: 38 in.
    Seat width: 18-20 in.
    Configuration: 2 x 4 x 2
    On what aircraft: All long-haul aircraft by summer 2015
    Priority check-in: No
    Extra baggage allowance: Yes
    Fee for reserving specific seats in advance: No
    Power ports: Yes
    Average price over regular economy: About $700 more per round-trip long-haul flights
    Other perks: Option to pay (about $28.50) to access business-class lounges

    Qantas
    What it’s called: Premium Economy
    When launched: 2008
    Seat pitch: 38 in.
    Seat width: 19.5 in.
    Seat configuration: 2 x 4 x 2 on 747; 2 x 3 x 2 on A380
    Aircraft: 747 and A380
    Separate cabin: Yes
    Priority check-in: Yes
    Fee for reserving specific seats in advance: No
    Power ports: Yes
    Average price over regular economy: Varies, but premium economy is a third of the cost of a business-class seat
    Other perks: Amenity kits, noise-cancelling headphones, premium meals and wines, ability to pre-select meal choice, USB ports on A380 aircraft

    SAS

    What it’s called: SAS Plus

    When launched: 2013
    Seat pitch: 38 in.
    Seat width: 18 in.
    Seat configuration: 2 by 3 by
    Separate cabin: Yes
    Priority check in: Yes
    Fee for reserving specific seats in advance: No
    Power ports: Yes
    Average price over regular economy: Varies; "Fully Flexible" fares are higher than "Fixed," which have more restrictions.
    Other perks: Premium meals and wines, USB ports, lounge access, fast track security, extra EuroBonus points.

    Singapore Airlines
    What it’s called: SIA Premium Economy
    When launched: 2015 on a few routes, more in 2016
    Seat pitch: 38 in.
    Seat width: 18.5 to 19.5 in.
    Configuration: 2 x 4 x 2
    On what aircraft: 777-300ER, A380, A350
    Separate cabin: Yes
    Priority check-in: Yes
    Extra baggage allowance: Yes
    Fee for reserving specific seats in advance: TBD
    Power ports: One for every two seats, USB for every seat
    Average price over economy: About 40-50 percent more
    Other perks: Noise-cancelling headphones, wide selection of pre-ordered meals, more menu choices, amenity kits, in-seat reading light

    Virgin Atlantic
    What it’s called: Premium Economy
    When launched: 1992
    Seat pitch: 38 in.
    Seat width: 21 in.
    Seat configuration: 2 x 3 x 2 on A330, A340, B787 aircraft; 2 x 4 x 2 on B747 aircraft
    Aircraft: All aircraft
    Separate cabin: Yes
    Priority check-in: Yes
    Extra baggage allowance: Yes; two bags free of charge, up to 50 lbs. per bag
    Charge for reserving specific seats in advance: No
    Power ports: Yes
    Average price over regular economy: Varies
    Other perks: Welcome glass of Champagne and pre-flight choice of newspaper; complimentary three-course meal served on china, linens, and stainless steel cutlery; hot breakfast or afternoon tea service depending on time of travel; wine service with dinner and after-dinner liqueur; dedicated amenity kit; personal seatback TVs with over 300 hours of on-demand entertainment; Wander Wall self-service snack and beverage area on 787 Dreamliner aircraft only

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