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Comfort Zone

With typical long-haul business class costing $5,000 round-trip, having the option of more affordable premium economy seats is certainly appealing. Bridging the gap between economy class and top-tier cabins, premium economy gives passengers added benefits such as queue jumping in the airport and, in some cases, free champagne and lounge access, as well as more space.

These days, most major airlines offer a standalone premium economy product – not just economy seats with extra legroom. All three US legacy carriers – American Airlines, Delta and most recently United – are finally installing premium economy cabins, and it’s rumored that some of the Middle Eastern airlines will follow suit. But how much better is the experience than regular coach class? Here’s a quick comparison guide so you can decide for yourself.


Premium economy passengers are fast-tracked through the airport and given a hot towel and welcome soft drink, followed by wine, beer, spirits and “premium” hot meals served on china with proper cutlery and glassware. As with most airlines here, you can check in two bags (50lbs each).

The 787-8 cabin has three rows in a 2-3-2 layout (economy is 3-3-3). Seat-back screens measure 11 inches and there are universal power sockets at every seat. Amenity kits contained socks, an eye mask, toothbrush, toothpaste and ear plugs.

• WIDTH 18-20in/46-51cm

• LEGROOM 38in/96.5cm

• RECLINE 7in/18cm


Air France passengers can use Sky Priority channels in the airport, gain access to a lounge for a fee (economy passengers can’t), board at will by skipping the economy queue, and get their luggage back quicker on arrival.

The newest seat is found on the carrier’s 787. Air France says that it provides 40 percent more space than in economy, and the fixed-shell design means that you won’t encroach on the space of the person behind when you recline. Premium economy passengers are provided with travel kits and there are cleverly designed grooves in the tray table to rest your iPad on (you also get 12-inch built-in screens).

• WIDTH 19in/48cm

• LEGROOM 38in/96.5cm

• RECLINE 130 degrees


AA launched its first premium economy product on its 787-9s and 777-200s in 2016. Currently the airline says the service is available on 46 routes, including flights from Dallas to Madrid, Paris, Sao Paulo and Seoul. Other city-pairs include LA to Tokyo Narita, Shanghai, Beijing, Auckland and Sydney. Included in the price is priority check-in, security, boarding and luggage, as well as “chef-inspired” meals and alcohol. Passengers can take advantage of spacious black leather seats, noise-reducing headphones, USB ports and amenity kits. Main Cabin Extra will remain.

• WIDTH 19in/48cm

• LEGROOM 38in/96.5cm

• RECLINE 5-6in/12-15cm


The checked bags of ANA premium economy customers are fixed with a Star Alliance priority tag. Travelers also have access to the Japanese carrier’s lounge. Premium economy on the 777-300ER is in its own 2-4-2 cabin. Legroom is generous, at 38 inches – four inches more than regular economy – while the seat is 10 percent wider, at 19.3 inches. The product is also installed on ANA’s 787s. Each seat has a legrest, footrest, 10.6-inch touchscreen, power outlet, USB port and connection for Apple devices, plus a reading light at shoulder height. Free sparkling wine is served, while desserts are from the business class menu. Also on offer are ANA special edition wines.

• WIDTH 18.4-19.3in/47-49cm

• LEGROOM 38in/96.5cm

• RECLINE 21-24.5 degrees


Premium economy made its debut with Austrian Airlines on March 6 on board its Boeing 767-300ER and 777-200ER aircraft. These serve the airline’s long-haul routes, including the airline’s previously axed Vienna-Tokyo service that is set to make its return on May 15 this year. In total, Austrian will retrofit 11 of its long-haul aircraft with the new cabin along with a 12th – a new delivery 777-200ER – that it is getting this spring.

The new cabin’s seat products will mirror those used by parent airline Lufthansa, and there will be 18 on the 767s and 24 on the 777s.  Seatback in-flight entertainment screens measure 12-inches across and seats also feature power sockets and USB ports.  Beyond the seats a number of perks are being added, such as a check-in baggage allowance of two 50lb bags per person. Premium economy passengers will also get their own amenity kit.

• WIDTH 19in/48cm

• LEGROOM 38in/96.5cm

• RECLINE 40 degrees


BA’s World Traveller Plus cabin comes in two forms, with a more modern product found on the 787, A380 and some 777s and an older one on the rest of the long-haul fleet. The pitch is seven inches greater than in economy, while an extra inch has been added to the seat width.

Upholstered in navy padded fabric, the newer seat has a footrest, a headrest with wings and a 10.5-inch touchscreen that can be controlled by a personal handset. Noise-canceling headphones and an amenity kit with socks, an eye mask, ear plugs and toothbrush/paste are provided.

• WIDTH 18.5in/47cm

• LEGROOM 38in/ 96.5cm

• RECLINE 7-8in/18-20cm


On Cathay, premium economy fliers are greeted with a glass of champagne. The newest seat is on the airline’s recently introduced A350s, which serve Hong Kong-San Francisco among other routes. Meals are “light and healthy with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables.”  Larger tray tables make working on a laptop easier, while 10.6-inch screens (12.1-inch on the A350) come with noise-canceling headphones. Amenity kits are also handed out.

• WIDTH 18.5-19.3in/47-49cm

• LEGROOM 38-40in/96.5-101.5cm

• RECLINE 8-9in/20-23cm


The Taiwanese carrier offers eight rows of premium economy in a 2-4-2 layout on its 777-300ER aircraft. The fixed-back shell seat features a legrest, a 12.1-inch touchscreen, a water bottle holder, a drinks holder and a USB port. Designer Ray Chen has incorporated Chinese aesthetic touches throughout the aircraft, with the premium economy cabin featuring walls lined with a wood texturing effect.

• WIDTH 19in/48cm

• LEGROOM 39in/99cm

• RECLINE 118 degrees


Delta rolled out Premium Select on long-haul aircraft in late 2017 – before, it only had Delta Comfort+, which was an economy class seat with extra legroom. The new product has adjustable rests for legs, feet, arms and head, 13.3-inch screens (nine inches in economy) and individual power ports.

The airline has collaborated with hotel brand Westin to supply Heavenly blankets, along with Tumi and Malin and Goetz for the amenity kits. Free Starbucks coffee is available, along with complimentary craft beer, spirits and wine. Free seasonal meals are served on Alessi tableware.

Premium Select travelers qualify for Sky Priority security, boarding and bag delivery. The product is available on the carrier’s new A350 aircraft, and will be added to its 777s, A330s and 767s.

• WIDTH 19in/48cm

• LEGROOM 38in/96.5cm

• RECLINE 7in/18cm


The Taiwanese airline was one of the first carriers to offer premium economy (branded Elite Class). Its product offers USB ports, plug sockets, mood lighting and 11-inch LCD touchscreens. Toiletries by Canadian brand Escents are also provided, along with pillow and blanket sets. Wine, beer and non-alcoholic drinks are on offer, with meals served on chinaware.

• WIDTH 19.5in/49.5cm

• LEGROOM 38in/96.5cm

• RECLINE 8in/20cm


JAL’s Sky Premium fixed-shell seat has a generous 42 inches of pitch, a legrest, a headrest with wings, and a privacy divider at head height. The 12.1-inch touchscreen can be controlled via a handheld remote. In-seat power is provided. A significant perk is having lounge access at Tokyo Haneda and Narita, as well as JAL and oneworld lounges internationally.

• WIDTH 19in/48cm

• LEGROOM 42in/106.5cm

• RECLINE Undisclosed


Lufthansa’s seat is not in a separate cabin but, depending on aircraft, is up to an inch wider than in economy, with about four inches more room at the side thanks to a wide armrest and a center console. Seats have adjustable footrests, power sockets, a USB port, an 11- to 12-inch screen, and a small stowage area for glasses or a phone. There is no priority boarding or check-in but select lounges can be used for a fee. A “fruity” welcome drink is offered on board.

• WIDTH 18-19in/45.5-48cm

• LEGROOM 38in/96.5cm

• RECLINE 40 degrees


Those flying long-haul with Norwegian will find 787s fitted with five rows of Premium seats arranged 2-3-2. Seat pitch is 46 inches, compared with 31 inches in economy, although seat recline, while greater in Premium, remains minimal. Travelers get lounge access plus fast-track security and boarding. They don’t have to pay to reserve seats, and drinks and a three-course dinner and breakfast are served free (you need to pay and order in advance in economy).

• WIDTH 19.5in/49.5cm

• LEGROOM 46in/117cm

• RECLINE 9-10 degrees


Configured 2-4-2, SIA’s new premium economy seat has lots of thoughtful details, such as slots at the base of the central armrest for water bottles, cup holders above, calf and footrests that fold out, two USB sockets per person and 13.3-inch HD monitors. Take your pick from three meal choices on board, or pre-order a special option from the “Book the Cook” menu. Champagne is complimentary, and fast-track check-in, boarding and baggage handling are rolled in as well. Travelers can check one piece of luggage up to 77lbs.

• WIDTH 18.5-19.5in/47-49.5cm

• LEGROOM 38in/96.5cm

• RECLINE 8in/20cm


Following the lead of its US rivals American Airlines and Delta, United only recently announced the roll-out of a premium economy cabin, called Premium Plus.  Details about the when and where of the product introduction are currently slim. United has said it will debut on select international routes starting later this year, though the airline has so far been silent about which aircraft they will appear on.  

Exactly what the travel class will offer has also not been explained in great detail, though United did say in a recent blog post that seats will give passengers “more space, comfort and amenities.” These notably include upgraded china dinnerware, free alcoholic beverages, an amenity kit and a Saks Fifth Avenue blanket and pillow.

Beyond that, we’ll have to wait until United unveils more information.


One of the originators of premium economy, Virgin’s product is still very popular. The seat has 10.5-inch touchscreens and broad central armrests with a flat section for drinks. Passengers either have footrests or a supportive ottoman cushion behind the bulkhead. When boarding, a glass of prosecco and a newspaper are offered and, later, a choice of post-prandial liqueurs. Amenity kits are provided on night flights.

• WIDTH 21in/53cm

• LEGROOM 38in/96.5cm

• RECLINE 8in/20cm  BT