Upgrading from the ‘sardine’ class

By Philip Wagenaar
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by Philip Wagenaar.

With difficulty, I entered the jetway, my bags trailing behind me. Gingerly, I stepped over the plane’s threshold. Rows and rows of seats, crammed together like sardines in a can, stared at me.

“This can’t be true,” I thought. “Will I really have to be compressed into a chair that is too small, even for my 128-pound frame?”

The seats solemnly nodded back: “Unfortunately, you have no choice. You have to sit here. Despite the fare that you paid, the airline will force you into a tight seat with insufficient pitch (legroom), as if you were a canned sardine.”

Trying to conform to the dimensions of my assigned hellhole, I held my breath, pushed in my stomach (wearing a corset would have been so much better), squeezed my legs together and rotated my bum 45 degrees. Hurrah! I fit.

While “installing” myself, I noticed a shadow falling over me. A man claimed to have the middle seat, next to me. My face fell when I stole a look at his girth and saw that he was quite corpulent.

Not wanting to be crushed by him, I decided to improve my predicament by taking a leap forward, hoping that with Evel Knievel chutzpah I would land in the business-class section, where I could lay claim to a better seat.

Alas, my luck gave out when I came to rest in a new-fangled class, the so-called premium economy class.

What is premium economy?

Premium economy is a class in between business class and “sardine” economy.

The emergence of the latter, a number of years ago, resulted from an effort by the airlines to improve their balance sheets by increasing the number of travelers being carried on a flight. This was easily accomplished by decreasing the width, thickness and pitch of every seat, even though this resulted in reduced passenger comfort.

When many customers, appalled by the carriers’ disregard of their well-being, demanded a more adequate seating environment, a number of airlines, heralded by Virgin Atlantic with their Premium Economy in 1992, decided to offer the same.

This new class, which you find mostly on international flights, purports to restore the same comfortable seat that used to be the norm in economy class in years past.

Each carrier has a different name for this hybrid, calling it, among other things, World Traveller Plus, Economy Extra, Premium Economy, Pacific Premium Economy, Evergreen Deluxe and Executive Economy.

To make it easier, I will refer to it as “premium economy” in the following discussion.

Most airlines put premium economy passengers in a separate compartment. Additional amenities vary by carrier and may include adjustable headrests, leg rests, larger personal TV screens, laptop power ports, premium food service and dedicated check-in (for details, see the table). No company allows additional cabin baggage in this class.

The cost of premium economy

Of course, this all comes at a price.

Seatguru.com found that, for flights over the Atlantic Ocean, premium economy is generally 85% more expensive than standard economy fare, if you reserve in advance. The closer you book to your departure date, the smaller the surcharge.

For transpacific flights, the fares don’t vary much and are generally almost twice the standard economy fares.

Whether the amenities in this class justify the extra cost is, of course, your decision.

Which companies offer premium economy?

To ascertain whether a premium economy option is available, call the airline.

If you want to do your own research, click on www.smarter travel.com/airfare/schedules, go to “Schedule Search” and type in the departure and arrival airports and the departure date. This will bring up a list of carriers that fly between the selected cities.

Next, click on the desired airline’s website. (Its URL is at the bottom of the list.) Going through the motions of booking the trip (without paying) will show you whether the company offers premium economy on your particular itinerary and which aircraft it uses.

Subsequently, go to www.seatguru. com, an excellent, informative and up-to-date site, where you will come across a chart that not only shows the location of each seat on the particular aircraft but also its parameters and quality.

The table in this month’s column compares the amenities of companies that offer premium economy at the time of this writing.

I omitted United Airlines from the table, since its Economy Plus option only offers more legroom but no other conveniences.

The facts in the table were gathered from www.seatguru.com and the carriers’ websites. I verified the information by calling each company.

As services may change, double-check the ones that are important to you before shelling out more money.

All measurements in the table are in inches.

To get travelers’ feedback about the quality of their flights, go to www. airlinequality.com/forum/forum-s_z. htm.

While premium economy is a wonderful option, it is wise to examine each carrier’s amenities to make sure the additional outlay makes it worth your while.

AIRLINE Seating plan Seat pitch Seat width Adjustable headrest and/or leg rest Seat reclines more than economy Video type Laptop power Upgraded cuisine Extra luggage allowance Dedicated check-in
Air New Zealand 800/262-1234 Boeing

747-400 (74R)

2-Mar 38-40 17.8 Yes Yes Personal Limited Yes No Yes
Air New Zealand Boeing 777-200-ER

(772)

3/3/03 38-40 17.8 Yes Yes Personal Limited Yes No Yes
ANA – All Nippon 800/235-9262 Boeing

747-400 (744)

2/4/02 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats No No Yes
ANA – All NipponBoeing 777-200 (772) 2/4/02 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats No No Yes
ANA – All NipponBoeing 777-300 (777)

2/4/02 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats No No Yes
bmi Airbus 866/716-3790 A330-200

(332)*

2/4/02 38 18 Yes Yes Personal All seats No No No
British Airways - 800/247-9297

Boeing 747-400 (744)

All rows 2-4-2 except first row 1-4-1 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes Only 1 carry-on in all classes No
British Airways Boeing 747-400 (747) All rows 2-4-2 except first row 1-4-1 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes Only 1 carry-on in all classes No
British Airways Boeing 767 2/2/02 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes Only 1 carry-on in all classes No
British Airways Boeing 777-200 (777) 2/4/02 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes Only 1 carry-on in all classes No
EVA Airways 800/695-1188 Boeing

747-400 Vers. 1 & 2 (744)

2/4/02 38 18 Yes Yes Personal No Yes No Yes
EVA Airways Boeing 747-400 Vers. 3

(744) (744)

2/4/02 38 18 Yes Yes Personal No Yes No Yes
EVA Airways Boeing 747-400 Combi

(74E)

2/4/02 38 18 Yes Yes Personal No Yes No Yes
EVA Airways Boeing 777-300ER (773) 2/4/02 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes No Yes
SAS – Scandinavian800/221-2350

Airbus A330-300 (330)

2/3/02 37 18.3 Yes Yes Personal All seats No No Yes
SAS – ScandinavianAirbus A340-300

(340)

2/3/02 37 18.3 Yes Yes Personal All seats No No Yes
Singapore Airlines 800/742-3333

Airbus A340-500 (345) **

2-3-3 Exec. economy 37 20 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes No NA
Thai Airways 800/426-5204 A340-500

(345)***

2/3/02 42 19 No No Personal All seats No No Yes
Virgin Atlantic 800/862-8621

A340-300 (340)

2/3/02 38 21 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes Yes Yes
Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Vers. 2

(346)

2/3/02 38 21 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes Yes Yes
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 (744)

3 versions

2-3-2 on lower deck 2-2 on upper deck 38 21 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes Yes Yes

* Not available on Washington, D.C., flights.

** On the flights Singapore-Los Angeles and Los Angeles-Singapore and Singapore-Newark and Newark-Singapore, there is no regular economy, only executive economy and business class.

*** Only available on Bangkok-Los Angeles, Los Angeles-Bangkok, Bangkok-New York (JFK) and JFK-Bangkok flights.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

by Philip Wagenaar.

With difficulty, I entered the jetway, my bags trailing behind me. Gingerly, I stepped over the plane’s threshold. Rows and rows of seats, crammed together like sardines in a can, stared at me.

“This can’t be true,” I thought. “Will I really have to be compressed into a chair that is too small, even for my 128-pound frame?”

The seats solemnly nodded back: “Unfortunately, you have no choice. You have to sit here. Despite the fare that you paid, the airline will force you into a tight seat with insufficient pitch (legroom), as if you were a canned sardine.”

Trying to conform to the dimensions of my assigned hellhole, I held my breath, pushed in my stomach (wearing a corset would have been so much better), squeezed my legs together and rotated my bum 45 degrees. Hurrah! I fit.

While “installing” myself, I noticed a shadow falling over me. A man claimed to have the middle seat, next to me. My face fell when I stole a look at his girth and saw that he was quite corpulent.

Not wanting to be crushed by him, I decided to improve my predicament by taking a leap forward, hoping that with Evel Knievel chutzpah I would land in the business-class section, where I could lay claim to a better seat.

Alas, my luck gave out when I came to rest in a new-fangled class, the so-called premium economy class.

What is premium economy?

Premium economy is a class in between business class and “sardine” economy.

The emergence of the latter, a number of years ago, resulted from an effort by the airlines to improve their balance sheets by increasing the number of travelers being carried on a flight. This was easily accomplished by decreasing the width, thickness and pitch of every seat, even though this resulted in reduced passenger comfort.

When many customers, appalled by the carriers’ disregard of their well-being, demanded a more adequate seating environment, a number of airlines, heralded by Virgin Atlantic with their Premium Economy in 1992, decided to offer the same.

This new class, which you find mostly on international flights, purports to restore the same comfortable seat that used to be the norm in economy class in years past.

Each carrier has a different name for this hybrid, calling it, among other things, World Traveller Plus, Economy Extra, Premium Economy, Pacific Premium Economy, Evergreen Deluxe and Executive Economy.

To make it easier, I will refer to it as “premium economy” in the following discussion.

Most airlines put premium economy passengers in a separate compartment. Additional amenities vary by carrier and may include adjustable headrests, leg rests, larger personal TV screens, laptop power ports, premium food service and dedicated check-in (for details, see the table). No company allows additional cabin baggage in this class.

The cost of premium economy

Of course, this all comes at a price.

Seatguru.com found that, for flights over the Atlantic Ocean, premium economy is generally 85% more expensive than standard economy fare, if you reserve in advance. The closer you book to your departure date, the smaller the surcharge.

For transpacific flights, the fares don’t vary much and are generally almost twice the standard economy fares.

Whether the amenities in this class justify the extra cost is, of course, your decision.

Which companies offer premium economy?

To ascertain whether a premium economy option is available, call the airline.

If you want to do your own research, click on www.smarter travel.com/airfare/schedules, go to “Schedule Search” and type in the departure and arrival airports and the departure date. This will bring up a list of carriers that fly between the selected cities.

Next, click on the desired airline’s website. (Its URL is at the bottom of the list.) Going through the motions of booking the trip (without paying) will show you whether the company offers premium economy on your particular itinerary and which aircraft it uses.

Subsequently, go to www.seatguru. com, an excellent, informative and up-to-date site, where you will come across a chart that not only shows the location of each seat on the particular aircraft but also its parameters and quality.

The table in this month’s column compares the amenities of companies that offer premium economy at the time of this writing.

I omitted United Airlines from the table, since its Economy Plus option only offers more legroom but no other conveniences.

The facts in the table were gathered from www.seatguru.com and the carriers’ websites. I verified the information by calling each company.

As services may change, double-check the ones that are important to you before shelling out more money.

All measurements in the table are in inches.

To get travelers’ feedback about the quality of their flights, go to www. airlinequality.com/forum/forum-s_z. htm.

While premium economy is a wonderful option, it is wise to examine each carrier’s amenities to make sure the additional outlay makes it worth your while.

AIRLINE Seating plan Seat pitch Seat width Adjustable headrest and/or leg rest Seat reclines more than economy Video type Laptop power Upgraded cuisine Extra luggage allowance Dedicated check-in
Air New Zealand 800/262-1234 Boeing

747-400 (74R)

2-Mar 38-40 17.8 Yes Yes Personal Limited Yes No Yes
Air New Zealand Boeing 777-200-ER

(772)

3/3/03 38-40 17.8 Yes Yes Personal Limited Yes No Yes
ANA – All Nippon 800/235-9262 Boeing

747-400 (744)

2/4/02 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats No No Yes
ANA – All NipponBoeing 777-200 (772) 2/4/02 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats No No Yes
ANA – All NipponBoeing 777-300 (777)

2/4/02 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats No No Yes
bmi Airbus 866/716-3790 A330-200

(332)*

2/4/02 38 18 Yes Yes Personal All seats No No No
British Airways - 800/247-9297

Boeing 747-400 (744)

All rows 2-4-2 except first row 1-4-1 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes Only 1 carry-on in all classes No
British Airways Boeing 747-400 (747) All rows 2-4-2 except first row 1-4-1 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes Only 1 carry-on in all classes No
British Airways Boeing 767 2/2/02 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes Only 1 carry-on in all classes No
British Airways Boeing 777-200 (777) 2/4/02 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes Only 1 carry-on in all classes No
EVA Airways 800/695-1188 Boeing

747-400 Vers. 1 & 2 (744)

2/4/02 38 18 Yes Yes Personal No Yes No Yes
EVA Airways Boeing 747-400 Vers. 3

(744) (744)

2/4/02 38 18 Yes Yes Personal No Yes No Yes
EVA Airways Boeing 747-400 Combi

(74E)

2/4/02 38 18 Yes Yes Personal No Yes No Yes
EVA Airways Boeing 777-300ER (773) 2/4/02 38 18.5 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes No Yes
SAS – Scandinavian800/221-2350

Airbus A330-300 (330)

2/3/02 37 18.3 Yes Yes Personal All seats No No Yes
SAS – ScandinavianAirbus A340-300

(340)

2/3/02 37 18.3 Yes Yes Personal All seats No No Yes
Singapore Airlines 800/742-3333

Airbus A340-500 (345) **

2-3-3 Exec. economy 37 20 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes No NA
Thai Airways 800/426-5204 A340-500

(345)***

2/3/02 42 19 No No Personal All seats No No Yes
Virgin Atlantic 800/862-8621

A340-300 (340)

2/3/02 38 21 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes Yes Yes
Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Vers. 2

(346)

2/3/02 38 21 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes Yes Yes
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 (744)

3 versions

2-3-2 on lower deck 2-2 on upper deck 38 21 Yes Yes Personal All seats Yes Yes Yes

* Not available on Washington, D.C., flights.

** On the flights Singapore-Los Angeles and Los Angeles-Singapore and Singapore-Newark and Newark-Singapore, there is no regular economy, only executive economy and business class.

*** Only available on Bangkok-Los Angeles, Los Angeles-Bangkok, Bangkok-New York (JFK) and JFK-Bangkok flights.