This month we cover 2015’s Top 10 Premium Economy Classes. Investing more into their new mid-cabin classes, airlines are fighting to offer passengers extra elements to lift the experience—on the ground and in the air. With Singapore Airlines entering the fray this year, the list is open to change as we continue to review the world’s very best Premium Economy Classes. As always, our ratings are based on product offering, design, and service.
10. Japan Airlines [new]
In line with the Japanese carriers’ reputation for exceptional service, JAL has increased space to offer a truly premium experience in all cabin classes. JAL’s Premium Economy seat is a fixed shell, meaning that your recline doesn’t interfere with the passenger behind you. With a 38” seat pitch, there are swaths of space. The leg rest offers increased comfort, along with a foot rest that moves into three positions. With a USB port, a 12.1” in-flight entertainment (IFE) touchscreen and a myriad of movies, there’s plenty to amuse you. The cuisine includes Champagne and a ‘creative gourmet’ menu based on Japan’s regional dishes.
9. ANA [new]
ANA is an exceptional carrier in all aspects. It’s the only one, in fact, to provide lounge access to Premium Economy passengers as standard on certain long-haul routes. On board, ANA’s Premium Economy offers a 38” seat pitch, leg rest and foot rest, power for computer and USB ports, and a personal reading light. The dining is pretty exceptional, with traditional dishes pieced together by the ‘Connoisseurs’ team. Premium Economy passengers can enjoy Business Class sake, sparkling wines and even ANA’s signature Aromatic Kabosu drink. The noise canceling headsets are the same as those in Business Class, and the IFE is chock full of varied content. The amenities include not just the usual goodies, but your own pair of slippers. Now, that’s attention to detail.
8. British Airways [new]
British Airways joins our list for the first time by unveiling a new Premium Economy service. While the older Premium Economy, with its small TV screens and older seat design, was really nothing to write home about, the new seats, with better ergonomics and larger IFE screens, are comparable to those of other leading airlines. Its new ‘World Traveller Plus’ product is currently available on all A380s, 787s, and 777-300ERs, and is being rolled out on 777-200s and 767s. Expect a touchscreen IFE, three-course dining, and extra baggage as standard.
7. Virgin Australia [-5]
The Virgin brand does things well, and Virgin Australia and sister carrier Virgin Atlantic both feature in this year’s list. Virgin Australia recently renovated its Premium Economy cabins with a new leaf motif (matching the designs found in its new lounges), a 38’’ seat pitch, inset power, and an awesome award-winning RED™ entertainment system—making it the perfect place to perch yourself for the carrier’s long 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. With a brand-new Business Class around the corner, the carrier is continually improving its onboard experience.
6. Cathay Pacific [-2]
We fell in love with Cathay’s Premium Economy when we reviewed it in 2013. As huge fans of Virgin Atlantic, we had doubted anything could compare; yet, we were blown away. The super-comfortable seats, coupled with Cathay Pacific’s usual exceptional service, make for a product that’s virtually faultless. The cabin features seats with leg rests (front row only), big TV screens, audio-video on demand (AVOD) and noise-canceling headsets. We were transported from London to Hong Kong in what felt like moments, rather than hours. The food was exceptional, too—we have yet to find a better onboard-cooked breakfast. Little elements such as premium toiletries in the bathrooms and designer amenity kits make it all the better
3. [joint] OpenSkies [+2]
You may not have heard about OpenSkies, but it’s certainly worth a look. Operating between New York and Paris (Orly), this sister airline of British Airways is all about a more ‘intimate and luxurious travel experience’. Its Prem Plus class, offered on 757s, is more like a North American First Class offering, with a 130° recline and a seat pitch of up to a whopping 47’’. These are big, comfy armchair recliners. With just a 2×2 seating arrangement, the 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. Using Paris Orly makes for a quicker airport experience. We love the airline’s brand new 212 lounge. We just wish it offered more routes.
3. [joint] Virgin Atlantic [–1]
Now that the whole fleet has had its refresh and the aging A340-300s are gone, Virgin Atlantic (the originator of this cabin class) has managed to keep its head held high, still offering one of the best Premium Economy experiences in the world. With its own dedicated check-in, large leather seats, welcome drinks, excellent IFE, and premium dining, this cabin was the benchmark toward which all other airlines had to work. Virgin Atlantic’s seats are fantastically comfortable, especially compared to its fairly tight Economy Cabin section, making the difference in price well worth it. We still love all the little extras, from welcome cocktails to ice cream, a cabin intimate enough for excellent service, and an AVOD service that is still among the best in the skies.
3. [joint] Singapore Airlines [new]
Singapore Airlines’ cabin has climbed straight to the top three, and it has only just officially debuted. However, we were thrilled to experience the seat at the launch event. Singapore Airlines has waited to work out what passengers really want and has released a product that addresses their needs. From its ‘Book the Cook’ pre-order gourmet food service to thick fluffy blankets and amenity kits, Singapore Airlines’ Premium Economy Class is more like a regional Business Class. The cabin itself, in cool grays and pops of bright orange, is contemporary and chic. Each seat features a leg rest and the largest IFE screen in its class in the skies, as well as innovative touches such as the ability to lower the arm on aisle seats for a little more seat width. Singapore Airlines treats this cabin seriously. It’s one of the few carriers to separate it from Economy with a full bulkhead for increased privacy and exclusivity.
2. Air New Zealand [-1]
Depending on whether you are travelling on Air New Zealand’s 777s or 787s, you will find different Premium Economy seats, but both offer unparalleled comfort and innovation. For couples, the Spaceseat™ found on the 777s is perfect, offering a little more snuggle room (perhaps not so good if you are flying with a business partner) and a lot more privacy than regular Premium Economy cabins. Uhmm… white leather? Yes please! With the fixed-shell design, you have no fear of crashing your seat into the food tray behind you when you recline. On the 787s, expect Cathay-style deep-recliner seats with leg rests in every row, and also a whopping 41” of seat pitch and a generous 11” touchscreen TV (all the better for watching those awesome safety videos). While less futuristic than the Spaceseat, this is one Premium Economy seat we wouldn’t mind trading for. Well done, Air New Zealand, for making beautiful design and a beautiful product work in harmony!
1. Qantas [+7]
Qantas has had its Premium Economy since 2008, but this is no tired cabin. The Marc Newson-inspired seats provide 40” of pitch, movable 10.5” touch-screens (found in the armrests), and a comfortable 19.5” seat width. Premium Economy is perfectly suited for Qantas’ long-haul nature. With footrests at every seat, noise cancelling headsets, and enhanced amenity kits, the cabin features everything a passenger could want—and Qantas never stops improving; for instance, passengers can now pre-order menus inspired by Perth’s famed Rockpool Bar and Grill. We’ve fallen in love all over again with the spacious and comfortable seats, excellent design touches, and new comfort elements that quite rightly position Qantas on the summit of our Top 10.