Not Coach, But Not Quite Business Class

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The Wall Street Journal reports that international airlines are increasingly outfitting their airplanes with “Premium Economy” seats for people who don’t want to fly coach but can’t afford first or business class:

Premium economy seats come with better meals and more seat width, legroom, recline and perks at a far cheaper fare than business class. The idea has taken hold everywhere but the U.S., where American, Delta and United have been focused on updating coach with slim seats and boosting business class to international standards.

Internationally, two of the last big holdouts, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa, are now adding it for long-haul flights, citing customer demand.

Singapore will launch premium economy on Dec. 1 with flights to Los Angeles; New York and San Francisco will follow. In addition to more space, Singapore has created new food service for premium economy—gourmet dishes such as braised short ribs, lamb biryani or dim sum from a Los Angeles restaurant—and engineered them to fit into economy trays rather than served on plates like first-class and business-class meals.

The seats cost “40% to 70% more” than coach. Virgin Atlantic Airways has done premium economy seating since 1992 and it now includes a snack wall which they’ve named the “Wander Wall.”

PHOTO: VIRGIN ATLANTIC

Photo: Virgin Atlantic

The airlines say premium seating is drawing not just business travelers whose companies are trying to save money, but also leisure travelers who are willing to pay for the seats out of their own pocket. I like to cut travel costs as much as possible, so I’m not sure I’d spend a few hundred dollars more for the seats—though I’ve occasionally spent an extra $99 for “premium” seats on cross-country flights (no Wander Wall, but more legroom, free booze, movies, and sandwiches). But I also wouldn’t rule this out (those 14-hour-plus flights can take their toll!). I’m curious to hear your thoughts and if you’ve traveled on premium economy, or if you’d be willing to pay to do so.

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