Premium economy, the superior long-haul class pitched midway between business and economy class, continues to get better.
Readers with long memories will remember that the airlines’ original premium economy products featured slightly wider seating and more legroom and that was that. Passengers still had to use the economy class counters for check-in, there was no lounge access and there was no change in the food and drink.
But this year several airlines have begun upgrading their products. Virgin Atlantic set the ball rolling when it began re-launching premium economy on its Heathrow services (Gatwick follows in 2008) with new slightly wider seats with extra recline (legroom stays at 38 inches). Virgin now provides better food and dedicated staff on board.
More recently Bmi has instigated a massive seat upgrade. On its Airbus A330s (which operate a number of flights out of Manchester) it ditched the former seating (which wasn’t much different to economy class) in favour of fitting its former business class seats which, with the extra size (21-inch seat cushion width) and 49 inches of legroom, are more spacious than any other carrier’s product.
Now it’s the turn of Japan’s ANA. It will keep the same seating but introduce a series of ground-handling improvements.
Passengers qualify for separate check-in but they will also gain lounge access. It’s believed to be the first time that passengers have been automatically allowed to use the business class lounge. These are available for use at London Heathrow, New York JFK and Washington Dulles. Where lounge facilities aren’t available (at Frankfurt, Paris CDG, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago), passengers will be handed refreshment vouchers.
ANA passengers can also use a free luggage delivery service when arriving in or departing from Japan.
It would seem that the airlines are upgrading premium economy because of a narrowing slim price gap between it and discounted business class, which of course offers more comfort and service.
In the case of London-Tokyo, ANA charges almost £2,200 for a return premium economy ticket, whereas passengers who are prepared to take an indirect flight will pay only £100 or £200 more for business class with carriers such as Korean, Swiss, Lufthansa, SAS or Finnair (business class rates sourced from Travelocity).
Report by Alex McWhirter