Between business and a harder place
PREMIUM economy began in 1992 when Virgin Atlantic introduced Mid Class, aimed at cost-conscious business travellers seeking extra space. Virgin Atlantic renamed its initiative Premium Economy in 1994; its seats and amenities were revamped last year at a cost of $30 million.
Various types of premium economy are offered by Air France, Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways, bmi, British Airways, China Southern, EVA Air, Japan Airlines (from this month), Qantas (from February 2008), SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways International, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Vietnam Airlines and a sprinkling of other carriers. Most airlines offer it only on selected routes.
On the domestic front, Virgin Blue recently introduced red leather premium economy seats; the airline plans to offer these fleet-wide in 2008.
Standards and prices differ, so check what’s included: use websites such as seatguru.com to compare, or examine the airlines’ websites. Seats are often described in terms of pitch (distance between two rows of seats and the best indicator of leg room) and width (distance between the armrests of a single seat).
Other relevant factors include configuration, or how the seats are arranged side by side.
On Qantas B747 aircraft, for instance, configuration in its new premium economy class will be 2-4-2 (with the dash representing the aisle). With regular economy, it’s 3-4-3, so Qantas has taken out two seats a row to accommodate the extra width of its premium economy seats.
Price difference varies by demand and season. Qantas premium economy return fares from Sydney will start at $1999 to Hong Kong; $4217 to Johannesburg; $2189 to Singapore; $4567 to London; and $2552 to Bangkok. Qantas recently listed on its website economy-class return fares to London in April from $2474 and business class return fares from $10,140.
British Airways’ ba.com website recently listed the following fare levels for the same return flight, Sydney to London, in April 2008: economy $2344, premium economy $4038; business $11,302; first $16,604.
SAS Scandinavian offers the following fare comparison, valid for travel from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth to more than 50 cities in Europe.
It’s not fixed to any date but it gives an idea of cost: economy, $2039; ‘‘ economy extra combination’’, $2699; business, $5885. ‘‘ Economy extra combination’’ involves travel in standard economy class aboard Thai Airways or Singapore Airlines to Scandinavian Airlines’ Asian gateway, Bangkok. Passengers then switch to SAS premium economy on the longer section to Europe. Peter Needham