Our TheDesignAir Top 10 lists have undergone a revamp in 2014, and to aid transparency, our top 10 airlines will now have their rating out of 100 shown, as voted for and calculated by our judging panel. This month we cover our top 10 premium economy classes. With airlines investing more into their new mid-cabin classes, competition is stronger than ever, and with Lufthansa, Hawaiian and Cathay all pushing their new cabin classes this year, and introducing new elements, scores are no doubt going to change. This said, recently, Singapore Airlines announced they too would be entering this field next year too. So hold on to your extra legroom folks, as we review this years top 10 premium economy experiences.
10. Hawaiian Airlines
Our only entrant this year that actually is just a regular economy seat with just added legroom. Hawaiian have developed an already-premium product for Northern American carriers and with adding a little more legroom, they have cleverly created 5 rows of heaven on every A330 from August 2014. The new cabin offers 36 inches of legroom, comfy pillows and blankets. And being Hawaiian, the complimentary food and drink is now supported by complimentary IFE, priority boarding, and on International flights a premium food selection. Sadly, without the seat upgrade and not being available on their slightly older 767 fleet, the score was reduced slightly. Still, a great new product, great service, and worth being on our Top 10 list. Other Northern American carriers take note. This is how you do it!
Another brand new entrant into the field, Lufthansa are offering extra space and a bigger seat on their 747-8 fleet (to start with) with 50% extra space per seat compared to Lufthansa’s economy seats, this new cabin concept seemed the perfect addition to Lufthansa’s long-haul fleet. We love the executive look, the clean lines, and the spacious (and now standard) 38inch seat pitch. What we also like is the fact that the airline has thought about this product heavily, and when it is launched, in Autumn this year, passengers in the cabin can even buy lounge access for as little as €25. The front row of this mini cabin is great, offering a leg-rest, but be ready to sacrifice a couple of inches on your IFE screen. This is one cabin we would be happy to spend hours in.
Qantas may have had their premium economy since 2008, but the Marc Newson inspired cabin offers its passengers up to 40 inch of seat pitch, moveable TV screens found in the armrests, and a comfortable 19.5″ seat width. Premium Economy is perfectly suited for the long haul nature of Qantas, and the airline does it well. Footrests at every seat, premium economy dining options and noise cancelling headsets, the cabin features everything a passenger could want. But the modern and comfortable seats, excellent design elements and extra comfort touches makes Qantas a sure hit in our Top 10 this year.
Whilst everyone might not have heard about OpenSkies, it is certainly worth a look. Operating between New York and Paris (Orly) the carrier, a sister airline of British Airways is all about a more ‘intimate and luxurious travel experience’. Their self titled ‘Prem Plus’ class, offered on their 757 fleet, is more a North American First Class offering, with 130 degree recline and up to 47 inch seat pitch, big comfy armchair recliners and an excellent in-flight offering. With just a 2 x 2 seating arrangement, these seats are not only spacious, but give a sense of privacy that other airlines struggle to provide. We love the earthy leather finishes, the fast track through security and naturally being Apple lovers, the iPads used for IFE entertainment. Also the use of Orly means for a quicker airport experience, we just wish they offered more routes.
06. Turkish Airlines
Turkish Airlines have gone leaps and bounds in terms of inflight product over the past few years. ‘Comfort Class’ Turkish Airline’s premium economy product is another example of how airline’s can create a successful product that fits perfectly between traditional business classes and economy classes. Available only on their brand new 777-300ER fleet, the new class offers 46inch seat pitch, 19.5inch seat width and configured in a 2 x 3 x 2 format, meaning less middle seats, something that has always been a drawback of long haul premium economy seat configurations (usually two centre seats) The almost 11inch monitors offer a wide array of entertainment and the tables located in the armrests can be used at a slight angle to prop up your own portable media player. Excellent dining options and priority boarding and disembarking options mean that the comfort class doesn’t fail to deliver across the board – even though sadly, it’s being phased out by the airline!
05. Eva Air
Although not originally classed as premium economy, Eva Air offers one of the longest running ‘premium’ economy experiences, launching the product back in 1992 on their 747 fleet. If you are unable to afford their brand new business class, then head for their premium economy option. Dubbed ‘Elite’ or ‘Evergreen Deluxe Class’ expect standard 38inch seat pitch, while cushion width is a comfortable 19.5 inches. Business travellers can keep on top of their work thanks to convenient power outlets for laptop computers and other electronic devices. And a touch of the 8.4-inch colour screen, a world of entertainment options awaits. Naturally, all entertainment is AVOD, and on their new 777 fleet, offer a 2 x 4 x 2 configuration. We love the properly thick heavy blankets on offer, perfect for snuggling into on long haul flights, whilst the food isn’t really any better than that in economy, the extra space, and power sockets at every seat make for a much more comfortable experience, and the seats being decently padded, are really super comfy.
04. Cathay Pacific
When we reviewed Cathay’s Premium Economy late last year, we fell in love with the product. Originally super huge fans of the Virgin Atlantic product we were weary that anything could compare. Yet we were blown away. The seats are super comfortable, and with standard Cathay Pacific service, the product was virtually faultless. Naturally seats with leg rests (front row only), big TV screens, AVOD and noise cancelling headsets, we were transported from London to Hong Kong in what felt like moments rather than hours. The food too was exceptional, and we are still waiting to find eggs cooked onboard that can match what we experienced with this carrier. The little elements such as premium toiletries in the bathrooms and different amenity kits just enhance an already premium carrier’s premium economy experience.
02. Virgin Australia [ joint ]
The fact that Virgin are sharing two of the three top premium economy’s just prove the group knows how to do this cabin class right. Virgin Australia sneaks in at joint 2nd, due to their premium space, premium product and recently renovated cabins. The new leaf motif that now runs through the Virgin Australia brand matches the designs found in their new lounges, and with 38inch seat pitch, inset power and the most awesome award winning RED entertainment system, its the perfect place to perch yourself for Virgin Australia’s long hay flights between Oz and the US. We love the little reading lights, the fun elements found in the cabin, and obviously the glamorous and fun-loving cabin crew and the order at your seat function on the IFE is a welcome bonus.
02. Virgin Atlantic [ joint ]
Now that the whole fleet has had its refresh, Virgin Atlantic have managed to keep their head held high, offering still one of the best premium economy experiences in the world. With their own dedicated check in, large leather seats, welcome drinks, excellent IFE and premium dining options, this cabin was the benchmark that all other airlines had to work to, as it was one of the original premium economies found in the market. Whilst Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy seat is fantastically comfortable, especially compared to their fairly tight economy cabin section, the difference in price is well worth it. We still love all the little extras, from cocktails to ice-cream, the cabin is intimate enough to have excellent service, and depending on the type of flight, you can experience either touchscreen AVOD or easy to use AVOD entertainment that is still seen as some of the best in the skies.
01. Air New Zealand
Perhaps the best innovator in the skies right now, Air New Zealand have managed to secure our coveted number one spot on our Top 10 premium economy classes 2014. There is a mix of cabins here, either their fantastic space seat, or their new 787 premium economy seat. Both offering unparalleled comfort and innovation. For those travelling as a couple, the space seat is perfect, offering a little more snuggle room (perhaps not so good flying with a business partner) and a lot more privacy compared to regular premium economy cabins. Hell… white leather? Yes please! We love the effortless design aspects here. Flying in the cabin certainly feels more ‘2001 Space Odyssey’ than Long-haul flight. With the fixed shell design (not to everyone’s taste) you have no fear of dunking your seat into the seat behind’s food when you recline.
As for the 787-9, expect Cathay style seats, with leg rests in every row but also expect a whopping 41″ of seat pitch, that’s huge, and surpasses the 38″ standard seat pitch and a whopping 11″ touchscreen TV (all the better for watching their awesome safety videos on). Whilst not as futuristic as the SpaceSeat found on the rest of their long haul fleet, this is one premium economy seat we wouldn’t mind trading for! Well done Air New Zealand, for making beautiful design and beautiful product work in harmony.