Wel­come on board

We’ve done the home­work on econ­omy and premium econ­omy seat stats, so you don’t have to

Business Traveller - - AIRLINE SURVEY 2020 -

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

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