The top 5 economy-class cabins in the sky today

Oct 20, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. However, we are still publishing new flight, hotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken just before the lockdown, and articles — like this one — based on flights taken before the pandemic. Please note that if you fly during the coronavirus pandemic, you will encounter a very different experience, both on the ground and on board, from what was experienced during the review flights that formed the basis for this story.

Believe it or not, flying economy can really be quite an enjoyable experience. This round-up is proof.

But, with so many airlines to choose from that often operate on the same or similar routes, it can be tough to decide where to spend your cash or use your points. If you’re planning a trip in the not-too-distant future, the airlines in this round-up are worth booking if you get the option to for your trip — at least in pre-COVID-19 times, given service and soft product offerings could be different now.

Sign up to receive the daily TPG U.K. newsletter for more flight reviews

Check out the links below for more best and worst round-ups but in business class and premium economy:

Oman Air 787-9

Score: 85

Flying Oman Air in economy is a very pleasant way to fly between the U.K. and the Middle East, as per Ben Smithson‘s experience. The 787-9 Dreamliner he flew on felt new and fresh, and the legroom was a respectable 32 inches. This meant even the knees of a 5-foot, 11-inch tall Ben weren’t squeezed up against the seat in front of him.

Related: 5 reasons Oman should be on your bucket list

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

The large crisp touch screen could be used from gate to gate and was stocked with more than enough content for the nearly seven-hour flight to Oman. The best bit was being handed a proper amenity kit — a very rare perk in economy and a sign that an airline that is a cut above the rest. It included sleep socks, a high-quality eye mask, comb/brush and headphones.

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

With the exception of a dry apple crumble dessert, Ben’s main course was delicious and the chicken had a nice spice to it. The food was fresh and colourful — a far cry from your average economy meal.

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

The crew who served Ben were the icing on the cake of this top-class economy flight with Oman Air. He woke up to find bottles of water at his feet after a nap, one of which was replaced after waking up a second time. That’s the kind of service you’d expect in first class, not economy.

This economy experience with Oman Air definitely deserves the top spot.

Delta A330

Score: 84

The first impressions of this Delta flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Amsterdam (AMS) were that the cabin was in great condition and the leather seats in 2-4-2 configuration felt roomy and comfortable.

Aside from the cheap, hot and uncomfortable pillowcases and a seemingly smaller-than-your-average tray table, Kat Fan said “everything else was just a bit bitter than any economy product I’ve experienced on either American Airlines or United” — certainly something to bear in mind when you’re planning your next long-haul flight to the U.S.

(Photo by Katherine Fan/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Katherine Fan/The Points Guy)

The selection of content on the IFE was very impressive. With more than 300 films to choose from, it was one of the most expansive Kat had ever experienced on board a flight. The Wi-Fi was also strong enough that Kat was able to download the pictures she had taken for the review to her laptop — I don’t think I’ve ever been able to do that before.

Delta handed out paper menus for this flight — a huge tick when flying in economy. It was around 90 minutes after departure before Kat was served her main meal. She said it was delicious, with the exception of a dry chicken breast and dish-sponge-textured bread roll — the lemon and caper sauce was amazing, as were the cheese and brownie to finish the meal. It was so good, in fact, that Kat even thought about asking for a second meal. Food was aplenty, with a mid-flight turkey and cheese roll (again with sub-par bread) and tasty, yet sugary, breakfast.

(Photo by Katherine Fan/The Points Guy)

It was a big thumbs up for the service, too. With smiley, attentive crew throughout the flight who were proactive about handing out water and drinks as well as being on the ball with the call button.

Hawaiian Airlines A330

Score: 80

Sliding into this best scores list is the longest domestic red-eye flight in the U.S. In pre-COVID times, Hawaiian Airlines flew its 2-4-2-configured A330 from Honolulu (HNL) to Boston (BOS).

A pitfall was the seating, which was thin, worn and quite uncomfortable. The pitch felt tight, too, and looks it by the photo.

(Photo by Wallace Cotton)
(Photo by Wallace Cotton/The Points Guy)

What was surprising was that there were 50 films available to watch in economy, which is more content than was available on Wallace’s outbound flight in the airline’s first-class cabin. A slight pain point is that when exiting the content you were watching to look at the in-flight map, it would restart from the beginning when you went back to it. The IFE also only worked once the aircraft was airborne and was switched off 15 minutes before landing.

The food and drink service on this flight is really where Hawaiian came into its own. Chicken and rice was the only option available, but thankfully, it was delicious. Of age travellers got a free glass of red or white wine with dinner.

(Photo by Wallace Cotton)
(Photo by Wallace Cotton/The Points Guy)

A snack box was also served as a light meal before landing, accompanied by a hot towel — very rare for economy. The snack box consisted of very tasty crackers, cheese, chocolates, yoghurt and a fruit cup. Further snacks were also available to purchase at various points throughout the flight.

Hawaiian’s crew went the extra mile on several occasions throughout the flight — standing out from the competition on this route. Wallace was impressed with how often cups and bottles of water were handed out, as well as how the crew dealt with passenger queries and the way extra effort was made to engage with solo parents.

Emirates A380

Score: 79

In pre-COVID times, Emirates’ flight from New York to Milan was a popular fifth-freedom route operated by the Middle Eastern airline’s giant A380s. Our TPG reviews intern at the time Javi was amazed by the spaciousness of the A380 and said its 3-4-3 layout felt comfortable and spacious.

Related: Emirates boss says first A380 with premium economy is ready and ‘waiting to go’

(Photo by Javier Rodriguez / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Javier Rodriguez / The Points Guy)

Javi called the 13.3-inch IFE screen the “star of the show”, which is huge for a screen in economy. He was also impressed with the premium NOIR amenities in the bathrooms.

The headphones were good quality and comfortable — a welcome treat compared to those awful in-ear buds you often find in economy. The IFE was bursting at the seams with more than 1,000 films to choose from — it takes the prize as having the most of any other airline in economy. The screen was crisp and responsive. Something to note, however, is that rows C, E, G and K did not have their own at-seat power outlets. The Wi-Fi was sluggish and the free option only included 20MB of data.

Once again, menus were handed out in economy. The food was served in dishes that looked like proper plates as well as with actual silverware, a small but welcome touch that really makes a difference during an economy-class experience. Javi opted for the BBQ chicken for his main meal, which was an “excellent choice.” Breakfast of a simple sweet pastry was served only a few hours later, but was sufficient for a small appetite.

(Photo by Javier Rodriguez / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Javier Rodriguez / The Points Guy)

On the whole, the crew were very professional. However, it seemed there were delays with the food service, which didn’t start until 90 minutes after takeoff. That said, Javi could see the effort that the crew was putting in to serve the 429 economy-class passengers.

Qatar Airways A380

Score: 79

I remember this flight like it was yesterday. I was flying back to London (LHR) from Oman and flew via Doha (DOH) to experience Qatar’s economy class on the A380 so we could compare the economy-class experience of the big three Middle Eastern carriers.

Related: Emirates vs Etihad vs Qatar: Which A380 economy class is the best in the Middle East?

I was seated downstairs in the huge and expansive economy cabin that stretched right from the front to the back of the aircraft. The attention to detail with the colours and decor definitely gave it the edge over other carriers’ economy cabins.

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

The headphones weren’t amazing, but much better than any in-ear buds would have been. A big downside was the shockingly bad Wi-Fi. Even after paying top whack, I couldn’t connect at all during the flight and the speed test fired blanks. The IFE screen, however, was crystal clear, had hundreds of films to choose from and had the all-important tail cam — what AvGeek dreams are made of.

Everything was going so well until the food. The breakfast was really quite terrible — the potato cubes were soggy, the sausage was disappointingly tiny and the eggs were completely tasteless with a rubbery texture. Before landing, I was served a sickeningly salty coconut-chicken pastry, which I forced myself to eat because I was so hungry. The best thing about the meal experience was that there was a menu.

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

What shone for me despite the sub-par food was the crew member who served me throughout the flight. There was such a feeling of professionalism from the entire crew, and on several occasions, I noticed service that was above and beyond what I’m used to in economy. From being shown to my seat to the lightening response times on the call bell and being given crew snacks because I was so hungry after the inedible meal, it will certainly go down as one of the best crew I’ve had on a flight.

Bottom line

See, we told you so. Economy flying can actually be so good that you don’t want to get off the plane. Little things to watch out for are proper amenity kits, metal cutlery, menus and service that makes you feel like you’re flying first class — if you experience any of those things, you know that your economy-class experience is likely to be one of the best.

Featured image by Katherine Fan/The Points Guy.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.