Welcome on board
We’ve done the homework on economy and premium economy seat stats, so you don’t have to
Welcome to the 2020 edition of Business Traveller’s Airline Survey, which we are publishing in two parts – economy and premium economy in this issue, and business and first class in the October issue.
The survey gives you statistics for the carriers you are most likely to fly with. You can see which airlines offer the best comfort in terms of configuration, seat pitch, width and recline, as well as in-flight entertainment and wifi.
In economy, the trend of squeezing in more passengers continues – ANA will soon take more of its B777300ER aircraft to a ten abreast configuration, as British Airways, Cathay Pacific and United have already adopted on some of their B777s.
How much legroom do you actually get these days? Most commonly between 30 and 32 inches, according to our survey of 30 leading airlines, although flying on BA’s A320s, Easyjet’s A321s or Iberia’s A319s and A320s could get you 28 inches of legroom in some cases. Seat width is most often 17 or 18 inches; notably narrow seats include Aeroflot’s B777-300ERs at 16 inches and Saudia’s B777-200s at 16.5 inches. Various airlines are also turning to “slimline” seats with less padding to save on weight and space without reducing legroom.
Across the board, new ways are being found to cut costs – for example, by replacing IFE screens with streaming services, as United and American Airlines have on some of their short-haul aircraft. Etihad also has streaming on its A320s and A321s, but it’s accessed via passengers’ own devices clipped to the back of each seat.
Yet, it’s not all bad news. Upgrades are also being promised in economy. Delta, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways have all announced improvements to their dining services, promising bigger portions, more variety and better quality. Meanwhile, Qatar’s new economy seat is set to arrive in 2021 on its A320neos. As the new seat reclines, it avoids disrupting the passenger sitting behind by unfolding within a fixed shell.
Moving forward to premium economy, all seats we surveyed get you between 18 and 21 inches of seat width and 37 to 41 inches of pitch (KLM’s Economy Comfort has less with 35 inches of pitch and 17-18 inches of width).
Premium economy has come a long way since it was launched by Eva Air and Virgin Atlantic back in 1992 (which came first is hotly contested). It proved to be a winning formula, and while some took years to come around, by now few airlines do not offer the class. The Gulf carriers are the exception, but Emirates is expected to launch it sometime next year. This year’s airline survey features 19 airlines’ premium economy stats, compared to nine in our 2012 edition.
Premium economy accounts for only about 4 per cent of seats in the sky, according to a recent study, but those can be profitable ones. The Lufthansa Group recently revealed that its revenue per sqm in premium economy was 6 per cent higher than in business and 33 per cent higher than in economy.
It can be a tricky balance; airlines don’t want to cannibalise their top or lower end markets with a product that is too luxurious or too basic. Most offer priority boarding, a smaller cabin, more legroom and enhanced dining. Some seats recline within a fixed shell so as not to disturb the passenger behind, such as those from China Airlines, Japan Airlines and Air France. It looks as though Lufthansa may be adding this feature to the upcoming “enhanced” premium economy seat it recently released a sneak peek of, which it is about to roll out on its new B777-9 fleet.
Other upcoming launches include Brussels Airlines as it renews its A330 fleet with completion in 2022, Delta as it retrofits its B767-400s running between the US and London from November, and Swiss as it retrofits its B777 fleet from late 2020. Finnair will add the class across its entire long-haul fleet by 2021, and United is in the process of rolling it out across all its long-haul aircraft.
ABOVE: Ten-across economy class on Cathay Pacific’s B777-300ER BELOW: Delta premium economy class