British Airways premium economy: A flight that’s far from a poor man’s business

British Airways offers a good service in its premium economy cabin, even if it can never meet the needs of the full-on business traveller who needs to work or sleep while in the air.

A premium economy return flight from the UAE to Tokyo would set you back Dh27,714. Nick Morrish / British Airways
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Flying British Airways from London Heathrow to Tokyo’s Haneda airport on a premium economy ticket was far from a poor man’s business.

I like premium economy. It’s my go-to option and offers what marketing people like to call a good price-to-quality ratio.

The 11-hour flight was full and the 10.45am take-off meant that lunch was served soon after. The menu offered a Japanese and European meal, but the latter ran out before the trolley arrived (such are the risks of sitting in the last row) and the sushi-based dish may not appeal to all.

Still, in premium economy, referred to as World Traveller Plus on BA, dining means proper cutlery, a “glass”, a cloth napkin and a more considered service from the cabin crew.

The entertainment system had a comprehensive range of television shows, movies and audio (I watched Fury, The Imitation Game and In the Loop – all for the second time), while the headphones, the same as those in business, were robust and comfortable. There were chargers for personal devices, but I was not comfortable enough to work.

Sleepwise, I’ve got to be honest that I can sleep anywhere, so premium economy was hardly a challenge. Normally an aisle person, I booked a window seat anticipating the needs of a long-haul trip. I found the gap between the seat and the fuselage wall annoying, so window-seat afficionados beware.

Fortunately I swapped with my very large neighbour, who told me his girth forced him to always fly premium economy. The seats were big enough and the legroom ample enough for me to sleep for at least four hours. On landing, I was suitably refreshed to go straight to lunch.

On the way back to Britain I was upgraded. The business pods – which are functional, roomy and private – easily transform into a bed, but if I’d wanted to I could have worked all the way across the time zones. The service? Well, it’s British Airways, isn’t it? The bottom line is that I didn’t want to get off and the flight went by in a flash.

A premium economy return flight from the UAE to Tokyo would set you back Dh27,714. For business class (Club World), it would be Dh37,515. Is the price difference worth it? Personally, I’d save the money and buy premium economy – but don’t expect to get any work done.

q&a British Airways keeping up

Paolo De Renzis, British Airways’s area commercial manager for the Middle East and Central Asia, tells Michael Karam about the carrier’s premium economy offering:

What food is on offer on the London-to-Tokyo route?

Club World main courses include dishes such as a cold green tea, soba noodle salad with mountain vegetables, spring onions, wasabi and soy sauce, or a Japanese chicken curry. In a pressurised cabin, the ability to smell and taste can be reduced by up to 30 per cent, and flavours change, making food seem bland. To maximise taste at altitude, we developed Height Cuisine, using ingredients which are high in umami, a savoury flavour that was first identified in Japan and is today known as the “fifth taste”. This occurs naturally in foods such as seaweed, tomatoes and mackerel, which are all integral parts of Japanese cuisine.

How is BA embracing the digital age?

We have seen an increased demand for digital tools over the past years and are making sure to accommodate our customers’ needs. According to a survey we conducted in 2013, 60 per cent of UAE residents check in online. We launched our most modern mobile app last year in response to a 290 per cent increase in mobile bookings in just two years.

Any other innovations?

We are one of the first to have a specially developed app for the Apple Watch. And we have been trialling a hi-tech ‘happiness blanket’ that monitors customers’ sleep and relaxation patterns to improve aspects of the in-flight service; from changing the timing of meals to what food is served and even what films are shown – to make flying even more relaxing.

* The writer was a guest of British Airways

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