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The Only Plus to British Airways' Premium Economy? Being Up Front

December 14, 2011 at 4:06 PM | by | ()

Flying coach: not good. Flying business: very good but rarely affordable. Flying premium economy: fast becoming our preferred method of transport, when we have a little extra cash. Over a crazy six-week period a couple of months back we made eight transatlantic flights (mainly West Coast-London). Most were in economy, buying seats with extra legroom. So when we saw a deal to fly British Airways’ premium economy product, or World Traveller Plus as they call it, for the same amount of miles as an economy ticket, we cashed right in, and bought a Heathrow to San Diego ticket.

After all, BA's WTP seats usually sell for around double the amount of their economy seats; plus we’d flown premium ec on both Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand, and found them both the shiz. Tough acts to beat, but we were sure BA would measure up in some respects. Wouldn’t it?

Sadly, no it didn’t. At all. In fact—flying premium economy was one of the biggest wastes of money we’ve ever experienced. And yes, we say that having technically paid no extra. Here’s why.

· No separate check-in
Unlike Virgin and ANZ, there was no separate check in for World Traveller Plus; we checked in with the economy passengers. No biggie, seeing as Heathrow’s T5 is brilliant for short check in times, but still, when you’re paying double the ticket price, you want a nominal fanfare on check in, right? BA: 0. VA/ANZ: 1.

· No priority boarding
World Traveller Plus passengers boarded with economy passengers. BA: 0. VA/ANZ: 1.

· No separate bathrooms
One of the joys of flying premium economy for hygiene snobs? Either separate bathrooms, or bathrooms shared with business class. Not so on this flight: we shared bathrooms with economy, which meant a walk back down the plane to spend a penny. BA: 0. VA/ANZ: 1.

· No upgraded food
Ah, British Airways, perpetuating all those outdated stereotypes about crap UK food. We were hoping for something more palatable than “chicken and beef”; we got the same food as economy. A gin and tonic and some snack things, followed by a tasteless roast beef dinner and inedible pasta salad and the ironically-named “cherry creamy delight”, then an equally unpalatable sandwich and muffin before landing. BA: 0. VA/ANZ: 1.

· Uncomfortable seats
We were lucky enough to have a spare seat beside us, as our traveling companion was a no show. Sadly, the armrest was fixed, so we couldn’t lift up and stretch out – shame. The seat seemed no wider and no more comfortable than a standard economy seat – it just had more legroom (about 38” as opposed to about 32” in economy). They did seem to recline more than standard seats so it; but this meant that when the guy in front of us reclined, we felt quite squashed (we are 6'). An emergency exit seat in economy would have been better for our legroom-loving pins; and let's not even get to comparing this to ANZ’s incredible Spaceseats that we’d flown on just 10 days earlier. BA: 0. VA/ANZ: 1.

· Economy service
Which on BA means not especially charming. Not rude, not abrasive, but not engaging and certainly not putting themselves out there. BA: 0. VA/ANZ: 1.

So what did we get for our money? Well, obviously we were quicker to exit the aircraft, being further forward, and we also got to use a nice pair of headphones that was counted back in by the ever-so-slightly officious flight attendant about 45 minutes before landing (seriously, 45 minutes. Earlier than any other airline in recent memory).

Was that worth the extra £400-500 and counting, that we’d normally pay for a ticket? Depends on how highly you rate being at the front of the immigration line, because, from our experience, that’s the only benefit you’re getting.

Bottom line: if you want a decent transatlantic premium economy option, choose Air New Zealand or Virgin Atlantic, which, like BA, charge roughly twice the price as an economy ticket, but offer an upgraded experience every step of the way. If you just want extra legroom, try Delta's Economy Comfort, which will cost you about $80 for the transatlantic flight, (United's Economy Plus also does the job, if not as well).

If you're flying BA, your best bet (and, coincidentally the line we’re going for our next BA longhaul): buy an economy ticket, and pay the extra £50 to select an emergency exit seat. £50 may be a lot, but it’s a tenth of the price of World Traveller Plus. You won’t feel taken advantage of, either. Now that’s definitely a plus.

[Photos: Julia Buckley for Jaunted]

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