Is this the best premium economy cabin in the world?

emirates premium economy cabin business class airline flights first class seat upgrade london dubai vacation travel – Emirates

Few feelings rival the buzz of turning left on an airplane, knowing that instead of having to bend over in the seat and fight over an armrest with a neighbor too close for comfort, you’ll be able to lie back, sip champagne, and generally be pampered.

Unfortunately, with skyrocketing flight prices and the economic crisis starting to take its toll, business class indulgence has become even more unattainable for all but the privileged few.

Step into Emirates and its highly anticipated premium economy cabin, which has launched on select routes aboard the double-decker A380, including London to Dubai. Given the Middle Eastern airline’s prestigious reputation, expectations are high that this will be a major upgrade to the standard cabin, providing a serious dose of luxury at a relatively affordable price.

A large number of airlines have launched the premium economy in recent years, targeting affluent, but not super-rich travelers, and bridging the gap between economy and business class. Emirates’ entry into the arena is interesting, particularly as Middle Eastern rivals Qatar Airways and Etihad have steadfastly refused to introduce the option. It joins 37 airlines that now offer premium economy, with some, such as Lufthansa, reporting it is their most profitable cabin.

In terms of cost, a premium economy ticket for a return flight to Dubai next month starts at around £ 1,400, compared to £ 500 in economy. Business class, meanwhile, could set you back £ 3,000. Some airlines have smaller price differentials between cabins – a premium economy British Airways flight to New York in November, for example, costs slightly less than double that of the standard ticket, while Virgin Atlantic’s increase is around 75%.

However, these figures are only brought into focus when evaluating the differences between the cabins. And without a standardized offer, booking a premium economy ticket is still something of a punt – not all are the same, with significant variations in space, dining options and other perks.

Emirates is certainly proud of its new product, which it claims rivals the business class offerings of many airlines. To see if the cabin lived up to the hype, I tested it on a recent flight to Dubai.

The bass

The benefits begin as soon as you arrive at the airport, with a dedicated premium economy check-in counter, meaning within 10 minutes I was in Heathrow’s monstrous security queue (unfortunately, the speeding of this line doesn’t is a feature of the ticket, as is the case with Emirates business class).

On board is a sleek look with wood-effect panels, electronic blinds (the seats have two windows to look out of), large folding tables and a colossal TV screen (by aircraft standards) – 13.3 inches, compared to meager 10.5 BA – in the seat back. At first glance, the 56-seat cabin could easily pass for business class on a smaller airline.

Obviously the carrier must follow a careful line not to cannibalize its business class offering. The experience must have enough luxury elements to attract people to switch from the economy, but not too much so that business travelers decide to be thrifty. To that end you will be offered glasses of a spicy sparkling wine instead of champagne, and although the impressive food rivals business class in quality – with plenty of fresh fruit and crunchy salad – it is served with less ceremony (no starched white tablecloth) and all at the same time, except for the bread basket service. Decent wines are poured into glasses – not long-stemmed glasses, while after-dinner chocolates are plain squares instead of truffles set upstairs – though the accompanying liqueur elevates things.

What will ultimately be worth the expense for many is the increase in space and comfort. Choose a window seat (you can choose in advance) in the 2-4-2 cabin configuration and you’ll have ample room to spread out. There’s no lying down option, but with 40 inches of legroom (versus 32 in economy), an eight-inch recliner, and padded calf rests, sleep – or at least a very restful ride – is within easy reach.

The only drawback of the more generous recline is if the person in front chooses to immediately throw themselves back (as my reckless neighbor did 10 minutes after the flight started, at 2pm) – you are forced to do the same if you want to see your TV screen properly, and it’s far from ideal when lunch arrives. This is something business class passengers shouldn’t worry about. However, aside from this concession, I arrived in Dubai rested rather than bleary-eyed and prepared for my trip.

premium economy emirates food travel vacations airlines - Emma Beaumont

premium economy emirates food travel vacations airlines – Emma Beaumont

On the same round trip, I also traveled in economy and business class, offering the opportunity to pinpoint exactly where the premium cabin lands. And while the glamor of the business-class walk-up bar and surprisingly comfortable mattress can’t be matched, the offering feels much closer to the upper-tier cabin than the budget, which seemed frankly barbaric by comparison. Such is the danger of being exposed to life behind the scenes.

One problem with long-haul flight is that the options are too extreme. For a traveler of a certain age or height, recovering from an 11-hour period on a budget can consume the first two days of vacation. Likewise, martinis at the request of business, as tempting as they are, aren’t strictly necessary beyond those like honeymoons. Emirates’ premium economy fills this gap well and is likely to become the choice of seasoned long-haul travelers.

How do other airlines’ premium economy cabins compare?

As mentioned above, the quality of premium economy cabins varies widely, so researching before booking is essential. This year’s Skytrax world rankings (essentially airline Olympics) said Virgin Atlantic offers the best premium economy cabin and its perks include a welcome glass of prosecco plus afternoon tea served with hot scones and clotted cream. Singapore and Qantas took second and third place, with Emirates in fourth place, albeit first in the seat-specific category. Since the product was only recently launched, it could be awarded a higher position next year.

In terms of notable touches among the top-rated airlines, Singapore Airlines offers a “Book the Cook” service originally reserved for first and business class passengers where chef-designed meals (usually local specialties) can be pre-ordered. Qantas has the most generous legroom at 42 inches and passengers are provided with a 100% wool blanket.

Airlines whose premium economy cabins may not be worth the upgrade include British Airways, which scored poorly in a recent Which? survey, with customers complaining about “no-frills experience at a premium price” and meals comparable to those distributed in economy. However, the airline is embarking on a cabin upgrade that promises a sleek interior and improved seating. American Airlines, meanwhile, has one of the least generous seat sizes.

What are your experiences with Premium Economy offers? Please share your thoughts below

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