I love travelling. Flying? Not so much. Flying coach? Even less.
At the risk of sounding like a snob, being cramped with nearly 200 other people – shoulder-to-shoulder – for 12 hours is not the favourite part of my journey to exciting destinations. But my budget dictates that I must.
Things are looking up, however, for people like me as more and more airlines are seeing the lucrative space (literally) between business seats and economy class. They have bridged the gap and christened it “premium economy”.
I was officially introduced to Lufthansa’s Premium Economy option on a round-trip to Frankfurt that the German airline organised for eight members of the press from Asia and Australia. While it is not a brand new offering, having launched it in November last year on the Boeing 747, the company completed the exercise on its Airbus fleet not long ago.
Premium Economy makes up 10% to 12% of seat capacity in each aircraft, with the whole retro-fitting programme for this new class costing about €100mil (RM474.5mil).
According to Lufthansa chief commercial officer (CCO) Jens Bischof, the new class option is available on 105 aircraft in its long-haul fleet, stating, “We have the highest proportion of premium seats among international airlines.”
He disclosed that US$4bil (RM18.9bil) were invested in products – both ground and onboard – including upgrading the first, business and economy classes apart from installing premium seats.
“It is the largest retro-fitting programme in the industry in the last three years,” he noted.
Aside from physical upgrade, Lufthansa has also strived for better crew-to-passenger ratio.
While Europe’s No.1 airline was initially concerned about whether introducing the premium economy would be a downsell from business class, fact and optimism won out in the end.
“In 1979, Lufthansa introduced business class because the gap between first and economy classes had become wide enough that there was a niche need to be filled.
“Similarly, the difference between coach and business class is now so big that this new premium class fits in between,” Bischof explained.
“We saw an opportunity to upsell and regain passengers from other airlines. Our faith paid off because there had been very little downsell and it has proven to be as profitable as business class.”
He said Lufthansa was pushing the bar on the second wave of premium economy as this new class of service was attracting not only cost-conscious business travellers but also holidaymakers who wanted their in-flight comforts.
“When the concept is nicely executed, customers will see value in Premium Economy even in an economic crisis,” he added.
To put it more plainly, said the CCO, it’s about finding the sweet spot.
And sweet it was. My flight to Frankfurt onboard the A330 was pleasant, with all the creature comforts I could want.
For those who are into numbers, here’s how Premium Economy stacks up against regular coach class: It is 50% more spacious; there are extra seven inches (18cm) in seat pitch (which translates into wider legroom); seats recline to 130° compared to the regular economy seat’s 113°; the seat width is a good inch or two (2-5cm) over coach seats; you have four to five inches (minimum 10cm) separating you and your neighbour; and the screen is at least two inches (5-7cm) bigger, except for the front row which has the standard nine-inch (23cm) screen.
These are just the physical dimensions. To a layman such as me, it means my shoulder is not constantly bumping into the passenger beside me; I don’t have to continually be conscious about leaving armrest space for my fellow passenger because we each have our own armrest; and I can recline my seat without worrying that it eats up the precious little space for the passenger seated behind me. It also affords a more comfortable position for sleeping.
Best of all, I could exit and return to my window seat without too much of a bother to the six-footer German chap next to me on the way to Frankfurt. It was fairly easy for me to step over his outstretched legs without him having to get up and out of his seat. I would imagine a sleeping (or very sleepy) passenger would be appreciative of this fact.
On the flight back to Kuala Lumpur, I merely had to scooch back a little in my aisle seat to let my neighbour get past me whenever she needed to visit the washroom.
Then there are the perks, along with the bells and whistles.
Each Premium Economy passenger is allowed two 23kg luggage, which a shopaholic will rejoice over!
They also get at least double the in-flight entertainment selection, which an insomniac or a film and TV addict like me certainly appreciated.
Dining is a tad fancier too, as food and drinks are served in glass and porcelain tableware instead of plastic.
Every seat is also provided with a basic amenity kit, a bottle of mineral water and a pair of bedroom slippers. And you can rest your slipper-shod feet on the height-adjustable footrest while gadget fans can plug their devices into the power and USB sockets.
All these for an additional RM900 (at the time of writing) over the Economy fare to Frankfurt, compared to Business Class where you would need to fork out several thousands more. Upgrade is allowed even after getting onboard.
It does make flying a lot more appealing to me now. Sweet, indeed. – Vicky Ooi
Lufthansa flies this route five times a week – to Frankfurt on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and back on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and the weekend.