On my recent trip to the MVP Summit I flew Premium Economy class over to the US. Premium Economy is new for Australia-USA trips and is only available via Air New Zealand (to LA) and JetStar (Star Class to Honolulu) as far as I know. Qantas will be offering the class later in the year.
I thought I’d give a quick review of how Premium Economy stacks up.
I’ll break this in to 3 main areas: Staff, Stomach and Seat.
I’ll start with the staff – because this is generally the first experience you have with an airline. Check-in staff were OK. Not great, but not bad. They were helpful but not outgoing. I was wondering whether I’d be allowed to use the business class check-in lines, but no – stick to the economy lines (it may be premium economy, but it’s still economy right?). No problem, the line wasn’t long and the staff were efficient.
On board staff were a different story. I was upstairs, and we had two main stewards covering our section. One was bland and average, the other was bordering on annoying. He sported what I describe as a bored look of disdain on his face and seemed to be concentrating hard on doing the bare minimum his job required. I asked for him to repeat the selection of drinks and he gave me the ‘bother, bother’ look and simply handed me an orange juice. Not to worry – people like this are usually reflecting some kind of internal issue – and I suspect are not representative of the airline in general.
The Customer Services Manager (ie the bloke who hands out US entry cards) was a different story. Super helpful, cheery, and outgoing. If only he and the bored one could have shared some energy and come to an equilibrium…
I’m glad I waited until the flight home before posting this, so that I could include the return experience, on which the staff were better. Much better. The lovely Tracy looked after us efficiently and thoughtfully, all the while coordinating with her colleague. The Customer Services Manager was freakishly happy and cheerful just like on the flight over – they must have come out of the same factory :-)[As an aside, the best staff – at both check-in and on board – that I have experienced were with a little airline called Sunshine Airlines from Minneapolis to New York (and back). Virgin tends to have good, happy staff on board but their quality of check-in staff can be unreliable in my opinion.]
On the food front the meals were surprisingly scrumptious. They were well prepared and had good quality ingredients (no tough & chewy chuck steak stroganoff here). I have no complaints about food at all, in fact I’d say it was better than expected.
This is the main point I guess. For me, being over 6′ 3” leg room is pretty crucial. On the long haul flights I need two main things –
- To be able to stretch my legs out
- Neck support
I’m pleased to say that on both counts the Premium Economy seats are satisfactory. They aren’t fantastic, and if you’ve flown business class then you’ll certainly be pining for those Skybeds. But then again, the fare is less than half that of a business class ticket, so I wasn’t expecting wonders.
The important thing is that I could sleep fine and thus arrive at my destination well rested. Sure the business class seats have all the comforts, but as long as I can sleep comfortably I’m happy. I’ve flown plain economy to LA before and – excuse my complaining – it was hell. On one flight I had the exit row and thus adequate leg room, but the lack of seat height really took its toll. I spent the first couple of days nursing a sore neck. For a gangly bloke like me I need to have neck support. Even those inflatable neck supports aren’t very helpful, because they don’t have anything to rest on…
But all that changes in Premium Economy – the leg room is extensive, the seats are higher, they lean back further and they have the neck support. Note that although they lean back further, they don’t recline that far, and no where near what the business class seats do. Sleep is definitely in the seated position. Also, the seats don’t seem to be any wider than normal, so you tend to find yourself bumping against the arm rests.
Using a notebook or laptop is easy in these seats (no problems with posture and hand position) and they have power sockets in most seats (2 sockets between 3 seats). The sockets take a variety of adapters. You may have to ask the steward to ensure power is on.
Below is 3 photos of my Premium Economy seat on the flight over from Auckland to LA (on Air New Zealand).
And by comparison here’s 2 photos of the plain economy flight from LA to Seattle (flying Alaskan Airlines). To be fair, domestic aircraft tend to have tighter seating than the international ones, but generally not by much. My knees are ‘resting’ on the seat pocket in front. And if the passenger ahead decides to recline, it gets very painful. I find it very difficult to use a notebook in these seats. I have a Dell D830 with a 15.4 screen and whilst not a huge footprint, I could only use it by awkwardly angling it on my stomach. After an hour or so it becomes unworkable in my opinion. Smaller machines may be more versatile. And there’s no power in economy on most domestic craft.
I made it to LA happy and refreshed, and was out the plane pretty quickly.[I then had to wait in the customs line for over 2.5 hours and missed my connecting flight – but that’s another story.]
Overall, but predominantly based on seating comfort, I give the Air New Zealand Premium Economy experience a rating of 7/10.
Here’s my rating scale guide:
1/10 : Flying plain economy in a non-exit row, in a middle seat
2/10 : Flying plain economy in a non-exit row, in an aisle or window seat
3/10 : Flying plain economy in an exit row, in a middle seat
4/10 : Flying plain economy in an exit row, in an aisle or window seat
5/10 : Flying plain economy in an empty row and they let you lie down across the seats
6/10 : Flying Premium Economy, in a middle seat
7/10 : Flying Premium Economy, in an aisle or window seat
8/10 : Flying Business Class, in a middle seat
9/10 : Flying Business Class, in an aisle or window seat or in the new self-contained lounge beds
10/10 : Flying First Class (not that I ever have)
Or, put another way, I don’t dread the flight. Heading overseas, facing a 14 hour flight in economy is something no-one looks forward to, and I’m no exception, I definitely dread the inevitable pain to both legs and neck.
But I’ll happily fly Air New Zealand Premium Economy again, and will even look forward to the flight – which is perhaps the most telling point.
Bonus traveller tip: New Zealand airports (eg Auckland) accept USD and AUD at most stores and cafes. You probably know this of course, but it was a nice surprise for me, especially since I only wanted to buy a bottle of water.