Pre­mium econ­omy …isit worth it?

Balonne Beacon - - LIFE - PAUL WICKS

IF YOU’VE had it up to here trav­el­ling long dis­tances in cat­tle-class econ­omy but don’t re­ally want to spend a for­tune up the pointy end of the plane, then there now is a third op­tion ... pre­mium econ­omy, but is it worth the ex­tra money?

Pre­mium econ­omy prices are gen­er­ally dou­ble the econ­omy ones, but half those of busi­ness.

I’ve trav­elled pre­mium in re­cent years, hav­ing fi­nally de­cided to spend our sons’ in­her­i­tance, af­ter many years of be­ing up the back. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced pre­mium on five dif­fer­ent air­craft, and on three ma­jor air­lines – Qan­tas, Cathay and Vir­gin At­lantic.

First, what do you get for the ex­tra money:

Ex­tra space, big­ger seats (that still don’t re­cline to form flat beds like busi­ness), your own small cabin, some­times your own toi­lets, far su­pe­rior head­phones (ex­cept on Vir­gin At­lantic), bet­ter meals and ser­vice, pil­lows, blan­kets, in­tro­duc­tory drinks of cham­pers and juice, hot tow­els and pri­or­ity board­ing.

Not all pre­mium econ­omy is equal but from my ex­pe­ri­ence, it de­pends more on the type of air­craft, rather than the air­line.

I’ve flown pre­mium on the 330, 380, 747, 777 and 787, two Air­buses and three Boe­ings.

The best for space was the Qan­tas 380 but only by a small mar­gin.

Most re­cently, I flew on a Vir­gin At­lantic 787, which was good ex­cept that even on an aisle seat, the arm­rest shar­ing is a bit close and per­sonal if you’re next to a big bop­per.

Oth­er­wise, it was ex­cel­lent, par­tic­u­larly if you were as lucky as me to get the front row, with its ex­tra leg room a real bonus. Front-row­ers also scored portable, soft leather footrests, a big step up from the less com­fort­able fixed ones on other air­lines.

So, for me, type of air­craft is a ma­jor fac­tor. I’d go for a 380 or a 787, the lat­ter also boast­ing a hu­mid­ity level that claims to leave you less jet-lagged, and big­ger win­dows. I felt bet­ter than usual af­ter a 12-hour Lon­don to Hong Kong leg, but that per­haps was be­cause I got some sleep, drank a lot of wa­ter and ate very lit­tle.

The Vir­gin 787 also had its own pre­mium toi­lets, un­like the Cathay 330 in which you had to trek back to econ­omy, un­less you were brave enough to bolt for­ward past the cur­tain and use a busi­ness class one while the at­ten­dant wasn’t look­ing.

That said, there was noth­ing else to com­plain about Cathay, but, frankly, if you’re pay­ing dou­ble the econ­omy price, you should, at the very least, have your own loos.

Another im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion, ob­vi­ously, is price. These days you can get a pre­mium deal on a ma­jor air­line from about $3000 to Europe, a bit less to the US and less again to South Amer­ica.

So, for mine, at about $3000, pre­mium is worth the money, but not at any price.

Which air­line is the best?

Again, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, there isn’t much be­tween them. Qan­tas came out tops for friend­li­ness with Vir­gin At­lantic next. The Vir­gin 787 also has a brightly lit Won­der­wall full of nib­bles and drinks so you can self serve.

There was noth­ing wrong with Cathay, who don’t seem to en­gage the cus­tomer as well as the oth­ers.

Qan­tas cabin man­agers even come to your seat to wel­come you per­son­ally and pro­vide table­cloths at meal times… again, not a deal breaker but pleas­ant all the same.

Given that Aus­tralians have per­haps the long­est flight hauls

of any coun­try, even to get up to Asia let alone Europe, pre­mium gives you a sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence than at the back of the bus, un­less you’re lucky enough to snare a cou­ple of seats (not easy in these code­share days) or pay ex­tra for a bulk­head or exit row.

Not all the ma­jor car­ri­ers of­fer pre­mium, the Middle East’s Eti­had and Emi­rates be­ing ob­vi­ous ex­am­ples, but many do. Air New Zealand is well es­tab­lished and Singapore Air­lines is a more re­cent pre­mium ar­rival, so there is plenty of choice.

So, where’s best to sit?

The seat­ing is two on each side and ei­ther three or four the middle, with ei­ther three or four rows all up. The front rows have ex­tra leg room, but up front in the Cathay 330 was strangely, a bit claus­tro­pho­bic, look­ing at the wall not far in front. The 787 had more space in the front.

Back rows are worth con­sid­er­ing be­cause they still re­cline fully and you never have any drama with the per­son be­hind you com­plain­ing about you putting the seat back too far.

Gen­er­ally in pre­mium, this isn’t a drama be­cause, even when the seat is fully re­clined, the per­son be­hind has some room.

Photo: VIR­GIN

TAKE YOUR SEAT: The perks of fly­ing pre­mium econ­omy de­pends on the air­craft type, rather than the air­line.

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