Reviews

Review: British Airways Premium Economy: "economy plus" not "business minus"

Overall Rating

By John Walton, October 6 2011
British Airways Premium Economy:
Route

London (Heathrow) - Singapore

Aircraft Type

Boeing 747-400

Airline

British Airways

Flight

BA15

Cabin Class

World Traveller Plus (premium economy)

Seat

12B

Notes
The Good
  • very quiet cabin
  • decent entertainment
The Bad
  • useless legrest
  • no premium economy flair
X-Factor
  • frequent flyers get first pick of the seats
Service
Meals
Seating
Overall

Introduction

World Traveller Plus is British Airways' premium economy cabin, positioned between economy (World Traveller) and business (Club World).

Of all the premium economy experiences I've had, it's the least distinguishable from regular economy: a slightly better seat, a nicer pillow, a glass for your wine rather than plastic, and a tiny amenity kit.

It's fairly obvious that BA doesn't want to cannibalise passengers from its bread-and-butter business class cabin, which we've previously reviewed.

With the increasing tie-up between Qantas and British Airways from 2012, as both airlines cut their non-Singapore connecting services to London, Qantas' premium economy passengers will be booked into World Traveller Plus on the BA leg of their journeys via Hong Kong and Bangkok.

British Airways has two daily flights to Singapore, BA11 and BA15. The latter carries on to Sydney, and is currently run using a Boeing 777, but will be upgraded to the larger Boeing 747 in March when BA cuts its Sydney flights down to one daily.

Since I was stopping in Singapore for a week, I chose BA11, leaving at 2030. BA15 leaves Heathrow 45 minutes later but arrives into Singapore an hour later -- I'd imagine to pad the connecting schedule through to Sydney a bit.

Check-in

At Terminal 3, turn right and walk across the plaza before going inside. BA and Qantas are all the way to the right of the terminal.

Unless you're a oneworld Sapphire or Emerald (BA Silver or Gold, Qantas Gold or Platinum, and so on) you're only able to select seats 24 hours before departure. That's good news for frequent flyers, who get their pick of the good seats.

I snagged the one remaining bulkhead seat at the front of World Traveller Plus (12B) and was relatively pleased: I'd got one of the top four seats in the cabin.

Arriving at Heathrow's Terminal 3 the following day, I headed all the way right to the BA and Qantas joint check-in area at the far end of the terminal. (BA and Qantas couldn't be further away from Virgin Atlantic, which occupies most of the other end of T3, if they tried.)

Since I have a oneworld Sapphire frequent flyer card, I checked in at the Club (business class) desks.

I looked, and I'm about 90% certain that there's no separate World Traveller Plus check-in at Terminal 3 -- and it's not listed as a World Traveller Plus perk on BA's website.

If so, that's pretty telling: immediately opposite BA check-in is Qantas, which has a separate queue for Premium Economy and the Qantas Club:

My bag was tagged with priority tags -- not strictly a benefit for oneworld Sapphire card holders, but I find BA Club check-in desks tag them more often than not.

(It's a shame that it doesn't do any good, however: on arrival in Singapore, my bag took forever to arrive, and priority luggage was intermingled with everything else. That's the fifth BA flight this year where priority tagging didn't make a blind bit of difference.)

Lounge

Sorry, none of these lounges for you unless you pony up the cash for the buy-your-way in lounge.

World Traveller Plus passengers don't get lounge access, so your options at Heathrow are mingling in the main terminal area (under construction, fairly hectic) or buying your way into the disappointing No1 Traveller lounge, which was itself only slightly less noisy and hectic than the main terminal.

My recommendation: spend the A$38 on dinner in one of the terminal restaurants instead.

(If you do have oneworld status, however, check out our recommendation for the best business class lounge in Heathrow Terminal 3.)

Flight

Since it was a night flight, the cabin was dimmed for boarding.

At just under 13 hours, this is the longer leg of the flight to Australia, so I wasn't in a hurry to board. That was a good thing, because there's no premium boarding line. The queue for the plane was all the way back up the jetway, despite arriving just before the gate closed.

The World Traveller Plus Cabin is oddly enough found between First and Club World on some of BA's 747s. There are two configurations, one with more business class than the other. This was the "less business class" version -- the second layout on BA's seat map page.

In fact, BA's swish new first class is tantalisingly visible during takeoff:

It's an unbeatable location for a premium economy cabin, because it's quieter: further forward and further away from babies in economy, with business class in between as a buffer.

The cabin is small, with four rows on the left hand side and middle, but six on the right hand side. My fellow passengers seemed to be made up much more of upmarket leisure travellers than downgraded businesspeople -- very few suits, lots of casualwear and woolly jumpers.

With no "welcome on board" drinks (economy plus, not business minus), it was very much a pleasant but no-frills "sit down and buckle up" experience, with your choice of British tabloid newspaper.

You do get a tiny amenity kit: plastic, not reusable and with economy-style eyeshades, socks, earplugs and toothbrush/toothpaste.

My favourite part of the flight was the almost ceremonial closing of the curtains between World Traveller Plus and First Class. Not only is there a curtain, but there's a special red rope that clicks together to make extra sure that nobody sneaks forward to use the loos.

Once at cruising altitude, drinks and dinner were served promptly, leaving a good 10 hours for sleep.

And I really did sleep: with the ability to stretch my feet out past the bulkhead (which doesn't stretch all the way in front of the aisle seats) I had a good night and awoke with a start when breakfast was presented an hour before landing.

Yes, breakfast, for a 1610 arrival.

The flight arrived on time, and after a frustratingly long wait for my bags I was ready for an evening in Singapore.

Seat

Laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration, the seats are similar to a slightly watered down version of domestic Australian business. They're an inch narrower than Qantas' premium economy seats.

A laminated guide to your seat makes it look better than it is, frankly. The best thing to say for the seat is that it's better than economy -- it's certainly not something you'd want to swap for business.

(Bulkhead seats don't get the footrest, but I'd rather be able to stretch out my legs anyway. If you're in a bulkhead, do as I do and put your carryon bag under your feet instead, on top of a blanket or pillow.)

The seat is wider than economy by an inch or two, and there's a bit more recline. Nobody over about 5'4" will find the legrest in any way useful, in all honesty.

You do get a power socket, but you'll need an Empower adapter, which BA will be thrilled to sell you for £65 (A$105) from the duty free trolley.

With a bulkhead seat, it was reasonably comfortable for me at just over 6 feet tall. An extra bulkhead bonus is the bassinet crib table, which folds down and gives you extra surface options.

Meal

The food and drinks were very much economy standard.

Dinner was your choice of main dish from the trolley, served on a tray with a starter and dessert.

The only difference from economy is that your little plastic bottle of French plonk is poured into a glass rather than a plastic cup. (The Labouré-Roi Merlot was actually surprisingly drinkable, in fairness.)

I chose the coconut and lime chicken, which came on noodles that seemed like angel hair pasta and was an indefinably sort-of-Asian thing. Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed a small tube of soy sauce to go with it -- you see what I mean about "sort-of-Asian".

It was actually pretty good, although to have a pasta salad as the starter and a noodle dish as the main was a bit too much pasta.

The dessert -- a pear compote -- was plasticky, tasted long-life and I gave up after the first spoonful.

Breakfast was, again, economy: hot dish plus prepackaged juice, muffin and yogurt. 

On the plus side, the tea and coffee comes in large paper cups rather than silly tiny airline teacups, and the tea was proper British Airways strong stuff too.

Entertainment & Service

The screen might be tiny (that's an iPhone 4 for comparison), but you can hang your iPad over it.

The in-flight entertainment, while on a small screen, is on-demand, wideranging and identical to the offerings in Club World.

So no complaints from me -- especially in a bulkhead, where you can hang an iPad cover over the screen and have a better-than-business-class in-flight entertainment system, or prop it up on the bassinet crib table that folds down from the wall.

Headphones are decent too: noise-cancelling cans that gave surprisingly good sound in the quiet cabin.

The service was a decent economy standard too, with a friendly and efficient flight attendant. 

If you're sitting on the right hand side of the cabin it will be slow, however. There's only one crew member looking after the cabin, and the trolley starts at the front left, moving backwards before coming up the right hand aisle.

Summary

I expected "economy plus" rather than "business minus", and that's exactly what I got.

With the ability to choose a bulkhead seat thanks to my oneworld frequent flyer membership, it was a pretty good flight, I got some sleep, and I wasn't hungry.

But had I booked and paid for Qantas Premium Economy -- which, as our comparison of premium economy classes shows, is a step up in terms of service and has a slightly better seat -- I'd be disappointed with British Airways World Traveller Plus.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

BA-Flyer

BA-Flyer

06 Oct 2011

Total posts 1

Starting later this month, World Traveller Plus passengers will get a Club World (business) main course meal.

airtraveladdict

airtraveladdict

24 Oct 2011

Total posts 162

Thats a good change, so their main meal will be similar to Air NZ which serves business class food on PE.

And it might make BA more attractive versus Virgin Atlantic, which serves economy stodge in PE.

thereichinger

thereichinger

08 Oct 2011

Total posts 1

What you fail to mention is the price differential between Qantas and BA. Whilst Qantas has a superior PE product in all respects it costs significantly more BA's (roughly 2 x economy versus 1.5 x economy on BA). There is not such a huge difference in seats between the two airlines.

John Walton

John Walton

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

Well, of course: the Qantas price premium over BA is well-known. But it's clear that increasing two-airline connections to London will become the norm, and I think most travellers would agree that paying for Qantas' service and getting BA's is problematic.

In terms of approximate relative pricing, the third option for daily, sub-25-hour premium economy flights is Virgin Atlantic. A cursory fare comparison website check for a couple of date selections in Feb shows Virgin coming in at roughly $200 less than BA. Both were almost exactly 2x Economy. Qantas was closer to 3.5x. Of course, that's all subject to dates/times/usual fluctuations.

autvlr

autvlr

12 Apr 2011

Total posts 70

Is that really "New First" that you see on that plane? I think you are on a 747 which is not getting "New First".

John Walton

John Walton

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

Yes, it really is New First, and yes, all BA 747s will be getting it -- including all flights to Australia.

AirportParty

AirportParty

27 Jan 2012

Total posts 118

seats look a bit grubby, old. not too luxurious?!

snoopy7787

snoopy7787

10 Apr 2012

Total posts 59

Not Bad but I have done the same flight on Singapore Airlines in Economy much better product.

TheRealBabushka

TheRealBabushka

21 Apr 2012

Total posts 3034

So is this review a veiled warning that the BA Premium Economy class product is basically crap; That one ought to be vigilant so as to be sure when paying good money to travel in QF Premium Economy that one does not end up in a BA Premium Economy seat because of the BA/QF JSA?

I wonder if anyone has done an anlysis of the economics of operating PE? The PERCEPTION of value is so important to sustain the target margins for PE. I wonder how well airlines operating PE are doing for this class of product. Where is revenue for PE normally assigned to for reporting purposes? 

John Walton

John Walton

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

I wouldn't call it crap, in honesty -- I wanted a slightly bigger seat, extra legroom and a smaller cabin, and that's what I got. Miles better than economy, which is why I spent some leftover BA miles to upgrade myself.

As I said in the review, I wasn't expecting Qantas premium economy seats or Qantas premium economy service, so I wasn't disappointed. But you're right that if you are expecting Qantas seats and service, you'd be right to be disappointed to get BA seats and service instead. Caveat emptor.

akira22098

akira22098

02 May 2012

Total posts 2

Bulkhead WTP seats do have footrests, they flip out from the legrest which is of a better height than other WTP seats with the footrest attached to the seat in front.


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