Between Business and Economy, A New Class Emerges

11 Apr

It’s commonly referred to as Premium Economy or Economy Plus/Comfort or Main Cabin Extra (locally) though it’s not entirely a new phenomenon. In some form it’s been around for years albeit limited to a number of airlines and serving as an additional revenue generating offering especially for airlines with just two-class configurations.

These days though, just about every major player’s onboard (pardon the pun). It’s growing increasingly popular and really beginning to carve its niche as a third or, indeed, fourth class, targeting a specific demographic – the leisure traveler who can afford to do a bit of splurging for just a bit more comfort and finesse. Though, perhaps, one may take the cynic route with the view that the situation in coach has just gotten so horrendous that it’s likely the only more decent way to fly as opposed to having to shell out the cash or premium miles for that business class seat.

It’s a bit of a wild west however in terms of these class of seats. There doesn’t appear to be too much consistency with the offering though I believe we’re starting to see some themes emerge as airlines become more competitive. Sadly however, domestic carriers still lag a bit here. In fact there isn’t really such a thing as Premium Economy this side of the Atlantic yet (with the exception of Air Canada on select jets). Most of the players here have decided to stick with simply bolstering the pitch of seats at the forward section of their Economy classes.

United has Economy Plus, Delta, Economy Comfort and American, Main Cabin Extra. All offering these seats at an extra cost to your average traveler. American is taking the lead however in creating a completely separate Main Cabin Extra cabin and the best pitch of the 3 carriers, 36″, on its new 777-300ER jet (retrofitted B772s arriving in the next few months will feature these seats, too). The best I’ve seen on Delta and United is 35″ in a similar class. The perks ends there though, no addnl. frills, with the exception of Delta that offers free alcoholic beverages on coast to coast flights – a nice touch and point of differentiation.
With rising competition however and the general state of the aviation industry on a healthier projection, I anticipate things will continue to progress in the right direction.

The brighter spot lies with Asian and some European carriers. On average we tend to see seat pitch at 38″ and wider widths. A couple clear standouts though are both Japan Airlines and Air New Zealand at an impressive pitch of 42″ offering exceptional cabin comfort.
The perks go on: Pre take-off champaign, better catering (British Airways touts Business Class meals), larger screens for In-flight Entertainment and Priority Boarding, etc., including, in a few cases, lounge access.

All these come with a premium though (up to $300 one way depending on the route) and at some point, one may wonder is it truly worth it? Curious to learn about experiences others may have. It’s a trend I’ll continue to follow.

Lan Airlines US

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