Get ready to hear a lot about Premium Economy over the next several months. Premium Economy (PE) is an international product (usually) that bridges the gap between coach and business. Several airlines around the world have a version of it on their planes, but the United States has been lacking.
But wait, you ask, didn’t you write about Comfort+ several months ago? And aren’t the airlines always trying to sell me seats with extra leg room (ELR)? Well, yes, but those aren’t true Premium Economy. They are really coach with a little more leg room and a snack basket, nothing to get excited about and very little to pay extra for.
A true PE is an entirely a separate cabin. Delta is trying to do this with its Comfort+ cabin, but it’s hard to tell those seats apart from standard economy. Comfort+ on international flights only has 35” of pitch (the distance from seatback to seatback) and standard seat width. It does offer a sandwich and “sleep kit” on transcon flights. Try not to get too excited.
Premium Economy is different. The cabin is blocked off, the seats are often 2X2 instead of 3X3 and service levels are higher. “World Traveller Plus,” the British Airways PE product, includes not only 2X2 seating (although there are several rows that are 2-4-2) but plated meal service with multiple courses, a decent entertainment system (which you may also find in the standard World Traveller cabin) and more baggage options.
Think that’s nice? Check out the Premium Economy Spaceseat on Air New Zealand. It looks positively humane, with 41” seats above. Of course, we should expect that kind of quality from Air New Zealand, the creator of possibly the greatest airline seat ever, the Skycouch. I’m thinking of flying to New Zealand just to check it out.
So Why Now?
Both American and Delta have announced true Premium Economy products. American’s will be first to hit the tarmac, with the new 787s featuring the cabin. It will eventually be phased into the other long-haul products. American will have 2X2 seating with extended leg room (and a foot rest!), real meals, decent headphones and other goodies.
We don’t know much about Delta’s product other than that it will start on the A350 in 2017 and follow through with the 777s. I would expect the amenities to be very similar to American’s.
In general, PE seats tend to sell at a 50-100% premium to standard economy, but that range will vary based on destination and length of flight. It’s a better deal than a business class ticket, though, which could be 3X-5X a coach seat. Business travelers will be keeping their eyes open, though. While many who fly traditional economy could see a corporate travel policy that allows PE, there will be others who find that their business class privileges get downgraded.
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