A Handy Guide to Premium Economy

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