Mission Accomplished, For the Most Part: A Review of British Airways Premium Economy on the 777, London to Abu Dhabi
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Solid hard product, roomy cabin and some business-class touches.
Not the most efficient check-in experience and a disappointing second meal.
As you might have read over the last few days, we decided to put all four British Airways classes — First, Club World, World Traveller Plus and World Traveller — to the test at the same time on the same flight, from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi.
When the luck of the draw landed me in World Traveller Plus, BA’s premium-economy product, I was actually quite happy: BA was in the process of enhancing their soft product, and whilst I have done the more premium cabins on a regular basis, I hadn’t flown premium economy for some time. I also had flights with American Airlines, Iberia and Norwegian in premium economy lined up, so it was a great way to compare the products.
We booked my flight using 26,000 Avios and £321 in taxes. We paid for the taxes using the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card to take advantage of the 3x Avios for booking with BA. Cash prices for return tickets in premium economy have the potential to fluctuate quite a bit — through the end of the schedule tickets cost anywhere from £550 to about £1,550.
Availability to Abu Dhabi (AUH) can be good, and it’s worth checking this route if you plan a trip to Dubai (DXB), as the drive between the two cities only takes an hour or so.
Though I have status with British Airways, I headed to the self-service machines that BA uses for all nonpremium passengers (including premium economy). This was my first time using one of these self-serve bag-drop machines. Though straightforward, it didn’t print a baggage tag (nor did it tell me that it hadn’t), so I was a bit confused when the machine asked me to scan the tag with a nearby handheld scanner. I tried another machine without success, as the second machine thought the tag had already been printed. Thankfully, a friendly agent helped me and manually checked my bag.
Terminal 5 South security was equally deserted. In fact, they sent most passengers to the fast-track lane, which was completely empty.
Though check-in and security had been quiet, the terminal itself was buzzing.
Almost all of British Airways’ long-haul flights depart from the B or C gates in Terminal 5 (there’s only one long-haul stand at T5A), and as boarding time approached, I headed over to the C gates using the train. Boarding was almost complete, despite me being at the gate early, so I went straight on board.
Overall, the ground experience was smooth, quick and efficient enough, though needing to speak to an agent to check my bag after trying two machines (the only way nonpremium passengers can now check their bags) was inefficient and annoying.
Cabin and Seat
The British Airways World Traveller Plus cabin seated 40 passengers over five rows in a 2-4-2 layout. British Airways was amongst the first major international airlines to introduce a premium-economy product in 2000, and although the cabin had been refreshed and the seat and cabin looked and felt fresh, it was not quite the oasis of a premium experience that BA’s marketers would want you to believe.
The seat had a few oddities that made it clear that it was an older product compared to similar products being rolled out on other carriers. Premium economy is actually Norwegian’s top cabin, and it tries to be more business class than economy.
I sat in a window seat on the port side, and the cabin (and the whole flight) was less than a third full. Though initially I had a neighbour, once the crew announced that boarding had been completed, he took one of the four empty middle seats, giving us both more space.
Between each seat was a small tray table, handy for drinks or smaller items. The main tray table was stored in the armrest and folded out to be big enough for working and meals — though I usually find that tray tables that come out of the armrest can be wobbly, as was the case with this one.
The footrest of the seat was basic and clunky. Once I moved it up, it had to go up all the way before it could be put down again. That setup might have been fine in the early 2000s, when the seat was first introduced, but today it feels strange and backward. Under each seat was an IFE box, which slightly restricted foot space.
The pitch between seats was good, at 38 inches (compared to 31 inches in economy), though the seat itself was only a little bit wider, at 18 inches, than the economy seat.
There were two toilets at the back of the cabin, which were shared with the World Traveller cabin. There was ample storage space on this empty flight, but even on a full flight the large overhead bins would have accommodated all passengers’ belongings.
Overall, I found the seat comfortable enough and spacious. The cabin refresh a few years ago introduced sleek colours and ambience, though it was obvious that the seat and cabin was older and behind many more modern premium-economy offerings.
Amenities and IFE
The seat has two USB charging points right under the screen, which featured British Airways’ standard IFE on the 777, offering a good range of films. Unlike on some of its 747s, the IFE on BA’s 777 fleet had been upgraded and was relatively responsive.
The screen folded out slightly and could be adjusted if the seat in front reclined.
There was a small remote control in the armrest and an additional charging point between the seats.
Each seat had a medium-sized pillow, blanket, the same headphones that BA uses in its Club World cabins (though not of the noise-canceling standard that many airlines use for their premium classes), and a small amenity kit with a toothbrush, socks and an eye mask.
British Airways is in the process of rolling out Wi-Fi across its fleet, and this aircraft had it. Speeds weren’t particularly quick, but adequate to get some work done.
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
Shortly after takeoff and before the main meal service, the crew served a round of drinks. Having read and heard about soft-product enhancements, including Club World meals and an improved second meal service, I was surprised that my soft drinks were served in plastic glasses (there was a proper wine glass on the tray). I am not sure if this is the norm or just happened on this flight.
On the menu I got was a choice of lamb, guinea fowl and pasta.
The meal tray looked to be on the messy side, and I’m not sure why the crew didn’t remove the foil from the meal. I know it’s not done in economy, but if BA is trying to give the impression of a business-class meal, removing the foil would have gone some way to give it a more premium feel.
The meal itself was tasty, and I enjoyed the combination of the fresh starter, the Arabic-style lamb and the chocolate truffle.
The second meal on this flight consisted of a reheated pizza in a box (whilst economy passengers got a cold wrap). Despite BA publicising a better second meal, it’s one that can be a bit funny. On the one hand, I’ve often not felt overly hungry around the time a second meal is served. On the other, this can be the last chance for hours to eat on a flight. BA experimented a few years ago with removing the second meal from economy on shorter flights to the East Coast of the US, but they have since gone back on that decision.
While service didn't go above and beyond, it was totally acceptable for a premium-economy flight.
Crew on this flight were British Airways World Wide Crew (though Mixed Fleet, the newer crew amongst BA’s crew, usually operate this flight). The flight was lightly loaded, which can often mean either great service (because the crew aren’t rushed) or the opposite (because the crew take it easy).
On this flight, the service was solid. Nothing overly charming, personalised or memorable, but nothing wrong with it either. I did have a good chat with the crew in the back galley halfway through the flight.
Premium economy has gone through an evolution over the years. Initially introduced as an enhanced economy product, many features now resemble business class. British Airways’ World Traveller Plus was launched as a better seat with economy-class service. Nowadays, it serves main courses from its business-class menu, uses the same headsets and tries to give passengers a premium experience.
Despite this, I can’t say I loved a reheated pizza in a box as a second meal (which, given the arrival time of just after midnight, was also going to be the last meal of the day for most passengers) even though it was a short flight. I also think using proper glasses would have nudged it a bit more into the premium space where airlines are clearly trying to position this product.
The seat itself is solid — it hasn’t changed much since launch (apart from new upholstery) and whilst it’s fine, many competitors have introduced a more modern cabin with better features.
But it was a good, solid flight. What makes BA’s premium economy offering relatively attractive is not just various service enhancements but also the fact that it doesn’t try to cram in passengers, like in many carriers’ economy cabins nowadays with 10-abreast seating. Particularly for a day flight, I’d happily take BA WTP again.
All images by the author for The Points Guy.