Airlines Dictionary

What Is Premium Economy, What Does It Offer and Why Has It Become Popular?

The latest addition to what we consider to be the offering of airlines in terms of premium cabins is Premium Economy. Just in the span of several years this new product has become wildly popular among airlines and passengers. But what is Premium Economy really all about? What does it offer and why has it become so popular in recent years?

Why Was Premium Economy Ever Created?

I think the need for an intermediate class, between Business Class and Economy Class, dates back quite a bit. Premium Economy as a concept started becoming a thing when airlines began to remove from their aircraft First Class seats and cabins.

While it was very common to see planes fitted with a First Class cabin until the turn of the millenium, this is not the case nowadays. Airlines still fitting First Class cabins on their planes are the outliers no longer the majority. Only a handful of carriers still do so consistently across their entire fleets.

As First Class disappeared, Business Class became the most premium product offered on most flights. The de-facto new First Class if you will. However the distance, in both fare prices and offering onboard, between the two cabins is quite considerable. Therefore it became soon apparent to airline managements that they had to get creative to maximise revenue from passengers willing to pay a smaller premium than that needed to book a business class trip. A new travel class was therefore needed.

Premium Economy takes features of Business class and combines them with others of Economy class to create a hybrid experience. Something that can appeal to a larger audience. Furthermore the speed at which airlines are integrating Premium Economy into their cabin layouts has only gotten faster in the post covid world.

A KLM Boeing 777 aircraft parked at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, being restocked with catering supplies. Service vehicles are visible around the plane, with airport personnel actively loading food and beverages onboard to prepare for an upcoming flight featuring Premium Economy Cabins.

Airlines Adopting Premium Economy Faster and Faster

Many theorised that premium cabin air travel would take a huge hit from 2020. The mainstream thought was that without the volumes of corporate travel and premium cabin demand would inevitably contract. However the opposite has been true, but for a surprising reason. While it has been true that corporate and business travel have contracted, demand for travel in premium cabins didn’t. The reason for that being that more and more leisure passengers are opting to travel in a more comfortable manner to the past.

The fact that more leisure travellers are willing to part ways with some extra cash in order to travel more comfortably has pushed airlines to adopt Premium Economy evermore rapidly. The presence of the new travel class can greatly enhance flight yields in this day and age.

Therefore it’s not at all surprising to see many airlines moving quite rapidly to integrate this new product in their offering. Many are even going out of their way to retrofit owned planes with the new cabin. That includes the likes of Emirates, Air France and many others.

The interior of a lounge at Zurich Airport, featuring comfortable seating areas with a view of the airport tarmac. The lounge is well-lit and offers a relaxing space for passengers, with large windows providing a clear view of planes at the gates and the bustling activity of the airport.

What Does it Offer?

Airlines across the globe created very different concepts of Premium Economy class. Some airlines’ Premium Economy is much closer to a business class both in product and cost, while others maintained it much closer to basic economy. Let’s go into the detail of what Premium Economy generally offers as a travel class to passengers.

At the Airport

Starting from the airport, generally you get some kind of privileged checkin or security check process. In many cases airlines allow passengers to use checkin desks usually reserved to frequent flyer status holders. This allows to avoid long queues and waits.

Staying at the checkin area, generally Premium Economy tickets come with extra baggage allowance compared to Economy. The norm is for 2 items of hold luggage and 2 of carry on. A feature which is akin to what is offered to Business class passengers.

What is not included in most cases with this particular travel class is access to an airport lounge. To access one you’ll need to either pay a fee or have access thanks to a credit card or your frequent flyer status.

A busy airport check-in area with passengers queuing at counters. The image captures the typical pre-flight scene with travelers lining up with their luggage to check in for their flights, and airport staff assisting them at the counters.

What Does Premium Economy Offer Onboard?

Then we need to shift our attention to the onboard experience. Where the difference with standard economy is finally apparent. Starting with the Hard Product, Premium Economy cabins are much more private and accomodate a smaller number of people making them quieter and relaxed. Each row has 1 or 2 less seats than an economy row (generally 1) allowing for wider seats. The most common layout in Premium Economy is 2-4-2.

Along with wider seats you also get a bigger seat pitch, which in essence translates to more leg room. Seats are further apart and therefore you’ll have more space for your legs. Also IFE screens are significantly bigger making viewing movies and shows much more enjoyable. Some seats feature footrest other leg rests, in essence though they are much more comfortable than the bare bones seats found further back in the plane.

Better blankets and pillows are offered, generally the same to those offered to business class travellers. Headsets are also of higher quality with many airlines offering noise cancelling ones.

To wrap up the seat and hard product as a topic, there are two philosophies airlines have followed for their Premium Economy seats: Hard Shell and Regular Seats.

Hard Shell or Regular Seats?

A substantial difference in travel experience for passengers comes from the type of seat airlines choose. Most airlines have opted for traditional seats. That means that when the passenger in front of you reclines his seat back comes closer to you.

However a smaller number of carriers, such as China Airlines, have opted for hard shell seats. That means that when the person in front you reclines, you won’t even realise as the seat back remains still. This makes for a much nicer, pleasant, experience, making it easier to get in and out of the middle or window seats. It must be said though that it is quite rare to find this type of seat on airlines.

What Does Premium Economy Offer as a Soft Product?

The soft product offered in Premium Economy is designed to give you a taste of what Business Class is all about without letting you indulge in it completely and mainly revolves around catering and a more personal service.

Cabin crew will be more attentive to the needs of every passenger, often greeting with a welcome drink and a hot towel. While during the flight the dining experience is closer to Business Class than it is to Economy.

The overall meal quality will be higher with more gourmet options available, while also having access to a wider selection of wines and spirits you would normally have in standard economy.

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