Snapshot: 1992, Premium economy pioneers

1 Jun 2017 by Valerian Ho
Eva Air premium economy

Although some airlines have only recently introduced premium economy products on their planes, and others are planning to debut them in the near future, this “in-between” class is not a new concept for the aviation industry – in fact it was rolled out 25 years ago by two airlines.

The first premium economy product was launched in May 1992 by Virgin Atlantic, which called it “Mid Class”. The idea came to Richard Branson (founder of the Virgin Group) after he noticed the volume of business travellers willing to pay full economy fares for better flexibility. Mid Class was rebranded two years later as “Premium Economy”, aimed squarely at the cost-conscious business traveller whose budget required travelling economy, but who still needed extra space to work.

Retrofitted on a B747, the service and facilities were remarkably similar to today’s premium economy class: there was a separate check-in counter, priority baggage handling, a seat with more legroom, complimentary drink before take-off, an amenity kit, newspaper, individual seat-back TV and priority meal service. Virgin Atlantic redesigned the product in 2006 in a £12 million (US$15.4 million) revamp, further increasing the seat width and pitch, and adding a footrest, lumbar support and power socket.

Eva Air's first premium economy

Before 1992 ended, Taiwan’s Eva Air had also launched what it called “Economy Deluxe”. Evergreen Group founder and chairman YF Chang initiated the idea of a cabin in between economy and business class that would give passengers extra comfort but cost less than the executive service – but it took two years’ planning before their new product was rolled out in December 1992.

Economy Deluxe was installed on a four-class B747 flying on the Taipei–Los-Angeles route. The seat was designed deeper and wider, and offered more pitch than economy, as well as an individual seat-back TV. The airline updated the product on its first B777-300ER in 2005, renaming it “Elite Class”.

Over the following two decades relatively few airlines chose to go the premium economy way, but in recent years interest has increased, and today over a dozen carriers offer the intermediate class, with more and more looking to bring the product to the market. Iberia will launch this month, while major operators including Emirates, Qantas, Delta Air Lines and China Eastern all plan to roll out either their own premium economy offerings or new seat products later this year.

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