The Battle for Premium Economy in the UK: BA vs Virgin Atlantic
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic offer a premium economy cabin for long-haul flights. With international travel on the rise again, Simple Flying has had the chance to try out both products as commercial aviation recovers from the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic. Two of the UK’s biggest airlines are competing for premium economy seats.
A comfortable environmentWhen it comes to premium economy, passengers are primarily paying for the extra space. A long flight can be much more comfortable when this takes the weight off your feet and even allows for a good night’s sleep. Additionally, these seats are usually wider than economy seats and offer more legroom as well. Compared to British Airways, Virgin Atlantic offers a better product on this count. A 2-3-2 configuration is featured on all Virgin Atlantic planes, including its 787, A350, and A330. In contrast, the UK flag carrier’s 777s feature a 2-4-2 layout and its 787s and A380s have a 2-3-2 layout. However, it’s not just the configuration that matters. A leather recliner seat, similar to domestic first class in some countries, is offered to Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy passengers on its planes, aiming for a more luxurious angle. Depending on the aircraft, the seats can recline 7 to 8″ for extra comfort while sleeping or lounging. Even in the refreshed premium economy seats on the 777-200, British Airways has stuck to soft fabric seats. Although these are still comfortable, they do not compare to leather recliners. Furthermore, the calf rest does not extend too far out, which means the taller you get, the less support you get. Generally, BA’s seats recline 7 inches in this regard.
The serviceAs a result of the small, curtained-off cabins of premium economy, both airlines offer an exclusive experience. You can expect glass dishware, metal cutlery, and business-class-level main dishes. The service varies from flight to flight, but both carriers offer it. There is, however, one thing to note about both cabins: they feel premium. The premium economy cabins at Virgin Atlantic are situated closer to the business class cabins, which means passengers have access to the business class snack area (although not the bar) and can use the washrooms in the front (between the cabins). The photograph below shows how this can be a welcome addition. For example, British Airways’ premium economy cabin (World Traveller Plus) feels more like an extension of economy class. There is no separate snack area and the bathrooms are shared. In addition to priority check-in and boarding, both airlines also offer amenity kits.
Picking the right oneA number of factors will play a role when choosing an airline, including prices, availability, and timings. The seating and service offered by Virgin Atlantic on its aircraft are more compelling than those offered by British Airways. However, if it comes down to making a choice, Virgin Atlantic offers a more compelling service and seat. The choice is tough either way, but is the upgrade worthwhile?