Class Warfare in Economy

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Class warfare does exists when we fly. The seats, the food, inflight entertainment, the lighting, and everything else on first or business class are way more luxurious than what you’ll find in economy class, or worse in ultra low-cost airlines.

Still, excellent news thanks to with much lower fuels costs, Economy class passengers are getting sweeter amenities, some perks do trickle down from the front cabin, and better still more airlines in the USA, over the Atlantic and the Pacific are introducing great Premium Economy cabins.

Discount airlines are spreading their wings across the Atlantic, driving down ticket prices and expanding service to major and second-tier cities in the biggest shake-up to travel across the pond in decades, and most of them offer Premium Economy seating at low prices.

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In Economy the new slim-line seats, first introduced in 2013, allow airlines to squeeze in an extra row without sacrificing legroom, but are often stiffer and uncomfortable for flights over two hours. Some of the new designs are The seat almost looks like a cross between futuristic roller coaster and a racing car. Maybe the upside is cheaper flights?

Economy riders have less control but hopefully less jet lag than before too. Mood lighting now available newer Airbus A350, Boeing 787 and upcoming 777X models keeps your circadian rhythm on track, and are pressurized at 6,000 feet. Currently, most airliners have cabin air pressure equivalent to that of an altitude of 8,000 feet.

The recent Oklahoma State University study found that passengers who go from sea level up to 8,000 feet of altitude saw the oxygen content in their blood fall 4%. Although this didn’t trigger full on acute mountain sickness, it did bring on what the study called “increased prevalence of discomfort after three to nine hours” of exposure.

Since there isn’t a perfect one-to-one correlation between altitude and jet lag, Boeing has taken additional measures to mitigate the symptoms. These measures include an increase in cabin humidity as well as a new air-filtration system.

At 30,000 feet, the first to go are your taste-buds. Add to that the white noise — a steady, unvarying sound — inside the cabin distorting a passenger’s perception of food, and you can explain the notoriety of in-flight meals. Airlines are hiring superstar chefs to beef up their food options in all classes. Even economy passengers in the back may see more variety, but almost but usually for a fee.

Air New Zealand has a unique economy feature called Skycouch. A row of three seats can be easily converted into a flat bed, large enough to fit two adults lying down. If it’s just two of you flying, you can purchase the third seat to make up the full row for half price. Really smart!

Premium Economy

With the introduction of new aircraft like the Boeing 787 or Airbus A350 more carriers are offering Premium Economy, a separate class of seating and service, that differs from standard Economy. Premium Economy is found mostly on international flights or on coast to coast flights in the US and, compared to standard Economy, offers about 5-7 inches of extra legroom, typically 36 or 38 inches, as well as additional amenities.

Premium Economy amenities, which can include: 1-2 extra inches of seat width. 2-3 extra inches of seat recline. Adjustable headrests, leg rests, or lumbar support. Some airlines outfit their planes with softer leather chairs, and up to 47 inch pitch, and they can adjust electronic shutters and dim windows.

Premium economy fares typically cost 30-50 per cent more than an economy ticket. However, the difference can soar much higher during peak seasons or when heavily discounted economy fares are factored in. So, is it worth it? Well, it all depends on the route, airline, and whether you really think those few extra inches and extra drink or meal will make the difference to your flight, especially on flights longer that two or three hours.

A Premium Economy fare is generally 65% less expensive than a Business Class fare. For space and amenities, these two classes are very different with Business Class offering up to 50% more legroom, significantly greater recline, more substantial legrests and headrests, and superior food and wine offerings.

Best seats on flights over the Atlantic:

  • OpenSkies – Boeing 757-200 with 47 in. pitch &  20 in. wide
  • Norwegian Air – Boeing 787-8/-9 with 46 in. pitch &  19 in. wide
  • Eurowings – Airbus A330-200 with 45 in. pitch &  18 in. wide

Best seats on flights over the Pacific are:

  • Air New Zealand – Boeing 777-300ER with 42 in. pitch &  20 in. wide
  • Japan Airlines – Boeing 787-8/-9 or 777-300ER with 42 in. pitch &  19 in. wide
  • Virgin Australia – Boeing 777-300ER with 41 in. pitch &  19.5 in. wide
Best seats on flights to/from Latin America:
  • Aeromexico – Boeing 787-8 with 38 in. pitch &  17.2 in. wide
  • Air France – Airbus A340 or Boeing 777 with 38 in. pitch &  19 in. wide
  • Lufthansa – Airbus A340 or Boeing 747 with 38 in. pitch &  19 in. wide

Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to incorporate the idea of premium economy back in 1992. Today airlines are confusing passengers, premium economy is called different things. While Air Canada calls it Premium Economy, Virgin America calls it Main Cabin Select, British Airways uses the term World Traveller Plus and SAS call it SAS Plus. It’s all the same thing: economy with some added legroom, slightly better food or the same food and inflight entertainment, with added cost, of course. That said, it’s not anywhere near as much as business class airfares.

Iberia-A340-600-Premium-Economy-seat-reclined-and-IFE-screen-tilted

Iberia will launch its premium economy cabin on flights to Chicago, New York and Bogota, with service to Mexico starting in June and additional flight to Miami and Boston in July and August. Iberia’s premium economy will be the first mid-cabin product offered on direct flights between Spain and Latin America.

Iberia revealed its  premium economy cabin on an A340-600 aircraft during a special event in Madrid in April 2017. Airbus A340 aircraft is the first to offer this new cabin option, the airline will be carrying out an aggressive retrofit program over the next year, introducing premium economy on its long-haul A340-600s and A330-300s. The cabin will also appear on the new A350 aircraft expected to join the Iberia fleet starting in 2018.

The new premium eco cabin features 19-inch-wide seats, giving passengers 37 inches of pitch and an adjustable 7-inch recline. The seats are also equipped with articulating headrests and feature in-flight entertainment 13-inch high-definition seatback displays.
Iberia conducted in-depth consumer surveys and applied conjoint analysis to determine what product features its customers valued most, and which elements they were most willing and likely to pay for. The airline was also able to rely on insights from its IAG partner, British Airways, which introduced a four-class cabin in 2000, and oneworld partner, American Airlines, which revealed its premium economy cabin last year.
Not all premium economy products are limited to international routes. American, Delta, JetBlue, United and Canadian carriers have offerings that are more modest than some products sold overseas, and several industry observers compare them to the standard economy classes of a few years ago.

Best seats on flights in the USA & Canada:

  • JetBlue – Airbus A320 or A321 with 37-41 in. pitch &  18 in. wide
  • Virgin America – Airbus A320 with 38 in. pitch &  18 in. wide
  • WestJet – Boeing 737-700/-800 with 36 in. pitch &  17 in. wide
Clearly the three remaining U.S. network carriers are making regular economy so uncomfortable that they’re weaning fliers out of economy into premium economy. It seems like they’re taking what used to be called plain old economy class and relabeling it premium economy.
Be careful what you’re buying. Premium economy can vary widely from carrier to carrier, so make sure you click on an airline’s specific description of this service before you click on the “purchase” button.

Not all booking channels make it easy to search for premium economy products. For example, Expedia, Kayak and Priceline offer search tools that include this class, but Hotwire, Orbitz and Travelocity do not provide it on the initial search page. You may need to click on features such as “advanced search” or “additional options” to locate such seats.

Make sure you’re clear about the exact price of the product for your specific flight, since some airlines’ fees can vary widely for premium economy.

For business travelers who are prohibited from flying in business or first classes, premium economy may offer a more comfortable flight without breaking company policy.

Remember, Premium economy fares can be reduced significantly the closer you get to your departure date, so keep this in mind when shopping. Spoiled inventory means you may be able to upgrade for much less on your day of travel, so ask about this option.
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