In recent years many airlines around the world, especially those specializing in long and ultra long haul routes, have added a new class of service to some of their aircraft – Premium Economy. Not quite Business Class and not quite Economy, it’s the red headed stepchild of air travel, mostly because many people are unsure if it’s really a good alternative. I recently had the opportunity to fly in with Cathay Pacific and discovered that it’s hard to classify the experience because it really is its own new way to travel.
Process and Perks
I like to be on time; in fact I may be (definitely) slightly OCD about it. And yes, I am one of those horrible people who get anxious about lining up to board a flight. That was the first perk I noticed with Premium Economy; we weren’t put in the longer Economy Class line, a simple perk but one that set the stage for the rest of the flying experience.
Like many other folks, I like the simple perks of travel, extra little actions and products that make travel more civilized and enjoyable. That’s one reason why I relish being upgraded to Business Class, but I was thrilled to see many of those same luxury perks offered in the Premium Economy section as well. Welcomed with my choice of water, juice or champagne, I felt special. I felt like the next 16 hours onboard flight CX890 wouldn’t be a chore, that it would be a nice experience. And I was right, the simple extras kept on coming including a dedicated amenity kit with everything I could possibly need, hot hand towels, Premium Economy dining menus and more. In fact, many of these perks are very similar to what is enjoyed in Business Class, but at a more manageable price point.
Food and Entertainment
Airline food doesn’t have a great reputation, and it’s really not the fault of the airlines. Well, not entirely. I recently saw a snarky quote that said, “Do you know why airline food is so bad? Because you’re an on AIRPLANE!” And it’s true; the challenges facing the airlines in providing quality food are many. But, quality is still important of course; especially on an ultra long haul flight. As mentioned, not unlike Business Class, we in Premium Economy received our own printed menus, with plenty of choices and a description of the food service for the entire flight. I like that. I like knowing what’s coming up, what we’re being fed and when. In Economy there can be so much conjecture, so the menu was appreciated.
The quality of the food was pretty good too. In fact, the presentation was startlingly similar to what I experienced a few days earlier in the Cathay Pacific Business Class section. The food was tasty, the accompaniments adequate and filling and I really couldn’t have asked for me. I don’t expect, nor do I want, Michelin star eating on planes. I want meals and snacks that taste good, are simple and won’t cause me further discomfort during the flight.
Modern long and ultra long haul planes nearly all have state of the art inflight entertainment units and Cathay was no different. They offered a wide range of movies and TV shows, but if I had to complain I don’t think there were enough of them. From my own personal tastes I found very little to watch and on a 16-hour flight I expected more variety. Also, having been in Business Class a few days before I noticed a difference in the offerings. Business Class does indeed offer a little more variety, including a specific TV series I had wanted to watch, but it wasn’t offered in Premium Economy. I’m not a fan of offering different movie and TV show selections based on class of service, but I also understand the need for airlines to continuously offer more added benefit to their more expensive classes of travel. I’m just grumpy I couldn’t watch season five of Breaking Bad.
Comfort and Sleep
Perks are great and movies important, but on an ultra long haul flight comfort and the ability to get a reasonably nice night’s sleep are vital. Unless I’m in a comfy lie-flat Business Class seat, it’s this aspect that worries me the most about long flights. I’m tall, my right knee gives me a lot of pain and so the physical seat I’m in matters a lot. My first impression of Cathay Pacific’s Premium Economy seats was a positive one. They are wider than standard with a much improved pitch, which means you can recline more and get a lot more comfortable than in standard economy. We also enjoyed improved blankets and pillows, a nice touch to be honest.
On my flight the Premium Economy cabin was far from full, so the passengers were all able to stretch out and relax. When it finally did come time to sleep, I fully reclined the seat and set up my own personal cocoon of comfort as I call it. Using the eyeshades and earplugs included in my amenity kit, I curled up with a blanket and settled it. I am a notoriously bad plane sleeper. When in economy it almost never happens, no matter the length of the flight. Last year I flew 15 hours from Taipei and slept one hour. I just can’t get comfortable usually. On my Cathay Pacific flight though I slept for 8 hours. EIGHT HOURS. Sure, I was tired, but the fact that I got what was basically a full night of uninterrupted sleep is amazing to me. That alone in my opinion makes Premium Economy worth it. The wider seats that recline deeper along with the nicer amenities enabled me to get really and truly comfortable and that is the ultimate perk.
Cathay Pacific Premium Economy By The Numbers
Cathay Pacific rolled out their new Premium Economy section in 2012 as a way to add a new option to passengers who wanted some extra value to their trip. Reading through their literature, it seems that my initial impressions were correct – Cathay wanted to improve the entire experience, from check in to landing. More than a wider chair, they set out with the goal of making everything just a little bit nicer for the Premium Economy passengers.
At the airport Premium Economy passengers get their own dedicated lines at check in and boarding and even have an enhanced baggage allowance. In flight the operative word is cozy. The Premium Economy cabin is its own separate space with just 26-34 seats. Those seats are also wider than the standard Economy class versions, with an incredible 38-inch seat pitch, six more inches than in Economy. Remember, this is the distance between the same points between chairs, and determines whether or not my knees will be crushed. (My knees were fine on this trip.) The seats also have eight inches of recline which is ultimately what made my sleep experience possible.
The personal TVs are larger, as are the meal trays, there is extra personal stowage space, inflight power outlets and they even provide noise-cancelling headphones. Living up to its name, it really is all about simple enhancements that make this its own unique and distinct class of travel.
So, is it worth it?
As a guy who loves comfort and perks when traveling yes, Premium Economy is absolutely worth the investment. And that’s what it is. Our time, for all of us, is important and for me it’s important to arrive in a new destination (or back at home) as well rested as possible. Also the flight itself is an incredibly important part of the travel experience so why not do something to make it a little more fun and enjoyable? Too many people dread long flights, a phenomenon that I just don’t understand. If done right flights aren’t just manageable, they’re fun and an event unto themselves not unlike the rest of your trip. I would without a doubt recommend Cathay Pacific’s Premium Economy to anyone who asks and I sincerely hope to fly this way again.
Do you have any questions about the Premium Economy flying experience?
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