I flew premium economy for the first time: My coach mindset says it’s not worth the extra money
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TPG last reviewed British Airways’ premium economy cabin, World Traveller Plus, in 2018. As we noted then, BA had a premium economy class on international flights years before its American counterparts.
This was my first time flying in premium economy, and my first time flying the airline since 2013.
Since my parents are Southwest Airlines loyalists, I grew up flying coach. I’ve kept flying coach as an adult, despite taking my inaugural first-class flight last month for my birthday. So TPG thought it would be fun for me, someone who usually flies economy, to share my experience with premium economy.
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I booked a very last-minute ticket issued through American for a round-trip flight from Dulles International Airport (IAD) to London’s Heathrow (LHR) on BA for nearly $2,500 (about £1,800). That’s a lot of cash, but keep in mind that this was booked late in order for us to cover the reopening of the U.K. to EU and U.S. citizens.
If you book in advance, you could find a nonstop BA flight on the same route for September for around $1,400 (£1,000). We’ve occasionally seen even better deals than that.
Credited to AAdvantage, my BA-marketed flight earned me 5,165 miles.
IAD to LHR
Both flights were on a Boeing 787-9, part of the Dreamliner series, which also includes the 787-8 and 787-10.
BA’s premium economy class is one step above World Traveller (their version of economy) and you pass through Club World (business class) to walk to your seat. Of course, I’ve never sat in business class, so I had to snoop around like the journalist I am.
The World Traveller Plus cabin featured seven seats in each row (in a 2-3-2 configuration) versus nine seats in each row (3-3-3) in World Traveller. My seat, 21J, was on the aisle on the right side of the aircraft. On my aircraft to London, the class extended from Row 14 to Row 21.
The seats came with slightly movable headrest wings and one seatback pouch which was filled with BA materials, as it normally is.
By the time I added my amenity kit, headphones and water bottle, the small space was more than full.
I initially overshot my seat, which was in the last row of the premium economy cabin, and walked into economy, as I found the seat numbers rather small and difficult to read.
One of the first things I noticed was that there appeared to be a lot of legroom (96 centimetres and 47 centimetres between the armrests) compared to my usual coach seat. I also felt there was a decent amount of recline for sleeping, but when the person seated in front of you reclined their seat there was hardly any room to access underneath.
The underseat storage, as TPG previously noted, is rather limited due to the placement of equipment boxes. Both seats in front of us had equipment boxes, forcing us to squeeze our bags together in between. This was also the case for the seats in the middle section.
Overhead bin storage was limited for this row as well, since only my suitcase would fit, compared to the standard-sized bins, pictured below.
As the last row in the cabin, our seats did not feature a full window.
One final note about my seat: As it was in the last row before economy, I was seated directly next to the lavatory. I did not mind this personally but do take note if you feel that would disturb you and do not choose a seat in Row 21.
With the exception of the blanket, the amenity kit was the same on both of my flights. Upon boarding my flight to London, all passengers received sanitising wipes, plastic-wrapped noise-cancelling headphones, a blue blanket and a pillow, in addition to a basic amenity kit.
I also received a grey blanket, which the flight attendant said was from the business-class cabin.
The amenity kit featured an eye mask for sleeping, lip balm, socks, a pen, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
On the flight back, the amenity kit was nearly identical, except for a softer blanket.
I particularly appreciated the noise-cancelling headphones, which connected to my iPad as well. The headphones did a sufficient job blocking out the majority of background noise.
Both flights were equipped with an inflight entertainment system. Unfortunately, on the way there, the screens were of no value to those of us seated in Rows 20 and 21, seats J and K, as the entertainment system was broken. The flight attendants attempted twice to reset it to no avail.
However, the system functioned normally on the flight back. The screens (measuring between 27 and 18 centimetres diagonally) offer BA’s High Life Entertainment system, which includes 36 new movies, television shows, audio selections and games.
Alternatively, you could enjoy an air show if you so chose.
There were also two USB plugs under the screen, which were helpful for simultaneously charging my phone and Apple Watch.
The flight to London did not offer Wi-Fi, but it was an option on the way back. First is the only class that offers it for free. Otherwise, it will cost you between $4.49 and $6.99 (approximately £3.20 to £5) to send text messages and between $6.99 and $24.99 (£5 to £18) to browse the internet and use streaming services.
This is expensive, if you ask me, especially when you can download stuff from Netflix, HBO Max and the like before your flight and watch for free, as I did.
Although the folding tray tables were extendable, they still felt cramped when our meals were served, taking up their entirety.
As someone who does not consume dairy or gluten, I generally have to call airlines ahead of time to see if they offer a meal that is both gluten- and dairy-free, which is generally not the case. Via phone, a BA agent told me they would do their best to provide such, but couldn’t guarantee it. “Special meals” must be requested at least 24 hours before your flight departs.
As we are still travelling in pandemic times, I did not expect any of my “special meals” to go according to plan, nor did I anticipate expansive options.
For both flights, water and pretzels were offered shortly after takeoff. No gluten-free and dairy-free snack option was available on either flight, although they did offer some chips as an alternative, which would have been suitable for vegetarians.
The normal beverage options were offered on each flight, including soft drinks and alcohol. I chose ginger ale, and the lemon with ice was a nice touch.
Red and white wine was also offered with dinner.
On the flight there, the normal dinner options were vegetarian pasta or chicken curry.
My first meal was marked as gluten-free, so there was hope that I could eat it, until I opened it to see chicken, mashed potatoes and broccoli. I asked whether or not the meal contained dairy (mashed potatoes normally do). The flight attendants could not determine whether there was dairy in any of the meal, nor did they have any extra vegan meals.
I was going to eat the salad until reading that the salad dressing had milk in it, so I ate the fruit and rice cake. The flight attendants were incredibly apologetic and offered me extra fruit and other snacks throughout the rest of the flight.
Although I had nothing to put it on, I was impressed with the vegan butter provided.
Following dinner, tea and coffee (caffeinated and decaf) were offered.
The next morning, 2 August, passengers were offered a croissant for breakfast, with either cheese or turkey and cheese. For me, the gluten-free meal was yoghurt, fruit and another rice cake. I obviously didn’t eat the yoghurt and the rice cake was incredibly soft, but I was a bit hangry at that point.
While I certainly don’t expect airlines to cater to the dietary preferences of all passengers, it does seem like a huge miss for airlines to fail to accommodate all dietary restrictions flyers may have, regardless of whether it’s an allergy or preference. After all, BA currently offers 13 different meal types, so what’s one more for those of us who are both dairy- and gluten-free?
For my flight back to the U.S. on 8 August, I requested a vegan meal so I could compare it to the gluten-free option. I am happy to say I had much better luck. While those without food intolerances had a choice between a chicken and leek pie or a veggie pie, those who selected the vegan option received tofu and curry that was actually pretty good. The salad was wilted and the lettuce quite brown.
Nonetheless, I could eat nearly everything in the meal, minus the cake, which was full of gluten.
One thing that was shockingly allergy-friendly was the dinner roll, which I topped with the vegan butter provided.
For wine, you could choose between two reds (merlot or cabernet sauvignon) or two white options (chardonnay or sauvignon blanc).
I have to give major props to BA for the availability of vegan condiments, though they didn’t have enough on my flight. Although soy milk, vegan salad dressing and vegan butter were provided on the flight back, they ran out of soy milk, so I gave mine to the woman sitting behind me, as the three of us all coincidentally had ordered vegan meals. This wasn’t a big deal to me since I hadn’t planned on using the milk, but would have been annoying otherwise.
Some five hours later, the vegan breakfast meal was once again unsuitable for my dietary restrictions. Although I could not enjoy either the vegan cucumber and mint sandwich or the croissants, I did eat the orange, cacao and cashew granola bar provided
LHR to IAD
For my flight back to Washington, D.C., the aircraft looked almost identical to my departing flight, with just a slight difference in the rows.
On this leg, the class was two rows shorter, extending from Row 16 to Row 21. I was initially seated in the first row and while I appreciated the unobstructed legroom, I decided the inconvenience of having to access the overhead bin each time I wanted something from my backpack outweighed the extra floor space.
Luckily, I had my pick among a few of the two-seat rows that were entirely empty.
So in the end, I still benefited from additional underseat storage.
As I had learned my lesson on my first flight, I made sure my seat for this leg wasn’t in the last row, so the overhead bin was full-sized. That was not the case for a fellow passenger seated in the first row of the class, whose bin was marked as “cabin crew only,” so again I would advise against sitting in either the first or last row of the premium economy cabin to avoid any potential issue with overhead bin space.
One thing I also noticed was the ability to change the tint of the window to block out light depending on the time of day, as shown below. This a cool feature on some new planes including Dreamliners, though it’s not always “enabled” by flight attendants.
Delays are to be expected, especially during pandemic flights, and I experienced delays on both flights: 43 minutes en route to LHR and nearly 50 minutes on the way home.
Regarding COVID-19 safety protocol, I was not overly impressed with BA’s enforcement of the Transportation Security Administration mask mandate, which requires all passengers over the age of 2 to wear a face mask at all times to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including while boarding, on board, in between eating and drinking, deplaning and throughout the airport.
Flight attendants recited this regulation on each flight and while I did not observe any violations on my flight to LHR, there was a couple on my return flight to IAD that were not wearing masks. I asked a flight attendant if the mask policy was being enforced and they did in fact ask the passengers to put on their masks shortly thereafter.
However, the second passenger of the couple took their mask off within a few minutes, and it remained off for the rest of the flight. BA failed to say anything until we were approaching Dulles.
I experienced the friendliest of service from the BA flight attendants. They were incredibly apologetic when unable to fix the entertainment system on my flight to London, as well as when I had issues with my meal. Both crews constantly checked on me to see if I needed anything throughout the flight, particularly a flight attendant on my return trip named Ka-ell, who went above and beyond to ensure I had a good flight.
I cannot say enough good things about the friendliness and overall demeanour of the BA flight crew, including the flight attendants, gate staff and pilots with whom I had the pleasure of interacting. They all did their best to accommodate my needs with what was available at that time. I would give the BA flight attendants A+ for service.
When it comes to BA’s premium economy class, you get what you pay for — slightly more legroom, recline and a wider seat, all of which were minimal. If you’re checking bags, you would also get two complimentary bags in this class. If you were looking to check two bags for an economy fare that didn’t include checked bags, you could expect to pay an additional $65 (£47) in advance online or $75 (£54) at the airport for one bag, and $90 (£65) for bag two ahead of time or $100 (£72) at the airport.
Although premium economy lists priority security as a benefit, it is only applicable at participating airports. Neither Dulles nor Heathrow were included for my flights. The only other noted advantage is priority boarding in Group 3 which, from my perspective, is not a massive benefit considering your seats are assigned. However, when arriving at a destination, particularly after a long-haul flight, I do appreciate being able to get off the plane ASAP. We deplaned based on cabin, so premium economy travellers followed first and business class.
Related: British Airways 747 review
All of that being said, I do not believe those features alone are worth BA’s premium economy price of $1,436.67 (about £1,036), which is more than twice the basic economy option for a round-trip flight from IAD to LHR.
You could pay $651.29 (£470) for basic economy, which includes hand baggage only and no seat choice, or $801.29 (£578) for standard economy, which has 30 to 31 inches (76 to 79 centimetres) of legroom and includes one checked bag. These two economy options are featured in one cabin behind the premium economy cabin.
On my flight to London, there were additional peculiarities due to my seat being in the last row. And let’s not forget the food on both flights, which leaves a lot to be desired for those of us with more than one dietary restriction. If you’re like me and adhere to both dairy- and gluten-free eating, I certainly would not count on being able to eat the food provided.
I can 100% say that I would rather pay extra for food via BA’s Speedbird Cafe in economy, seeing as I would be able to know ahead of time if there’s food I can count on eating on board.
Still, I would fly BA’s premium economy again. But if you are deciding between spending the extra money for World Traveller Plus versus World Traveller, I’d save money and go economy. You’ll have plenty of money left over to buy your own food.
Featured photo of the British Airways aircraft in August 2021 by Caroline Tanner/The Points Guy.
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