Courtesy of Iberia

Airlines are working together to make premium economy services consistent and worth the money.

Marisa Garcia
April 21, 2017

There’s plenty of good news for airline passengers with big budgets, including the reveal of Delta Air Lines’ Crystal Cabin Award-winning Delta One Business class suite and Qatar Airways’ new QSuite business class experience, fit for a king and his family.

But as airlines push the upper limits of innovation, offering new business class cabins that outshine many first class cabins, the gap between the front of the plane and the back is widening.

Enter the happy medium of premium economy. Offering more comfort and services, this cabin is ideal for business fliers with strict corporate budgets, entrepreneurs who pay their own way, and leisure travelers who want to fly in greater comfort.

Unfortunately, not every economy upgrade is a true premium economy cabin. A number of airlines still offer some flavor of "economy plus," which will have you sitting in the same seat as everyone else, with extra legroom and a few perks.

This lack of product parity causes some problems for airlines and passengers alike, especially when alliance partners can’t match the standards of their service.

Fortunately, alliances and joint ventures between airlines are growing in influence and scope. Partners are sharing strategies to ensure that a passenger buying premium economy class with one will be happy with the product of another.

A great example of this collaboration is the recent launch of Iberia’s new premium economy.

Iberia’s IAG partner British Airways already offers a true premium economy class, which it markets as World Traveller Plus. And IAG partner American Airlines also revealed a very plush premium economy cabin. The pressure was on for Iberia to step up its middle-market game.

Courtesy of American Airlines

Passengers in this private cabin get 19-inch-wide seats with articulating headrests and leg rests, 37 inches of legroom, and a 7-inch recline. The seats are laid out in a 2-3-2 configuration, which is not uncommon in this class, but if you’re flying alone, we recommend booking early to get a window or aisle.

Even in the middle seat you’ll be more comfortable than anything the exit row in economy could offer, and you get to pass the time watching a wide range of films and programming on new 13-inch HD displays. (Folks in economy get a 9-inch screen.) Wi-Fi connectivity is available throughout the aircraft.

Upon boarding, premium economy class will get a welcome drink and the option to dine from a custom menu offered exclusively in the cabin. Amenities include noise-canceling earphones, a zipped necessities kit with basic comfort items, which will double as a nice pouch for your smartphone after you land, a generous pillow, and a fluffy blanket. Premium passengers also get priority boarding and deplaning, and allowance for an extra piece of luggage.

Iberia will install premium economy cabins on its long-haul Airbus A340-600 and A330-300 planes, and the cabin will also be featured on the new Airbus A350s, which will be added to Iberia’s fleet starting next year.

The new Iberia premium economy cabin will be available on flights to Chicago, New York, and Bogota, with service to Mexico starting in June and additional services in July and August to Miami and Boston. Iberia's premium economy cabin will be the first time a mid-cabin premium product is offered on direct flights between Spain and Latin America.

“People need to first understand what premium economy is,"  Marco Sansavini, chief commercial director for Iberia Airlines, told Travel + Leisure during the reveal of Iberia’s new premium economy cabin in Madrid. "Some airlines simply offer the same experience, just with a bit more seat space. Premium economy is not economy with more space. It is a separate cabin. It has its own seat and its own structure of services. That is something we need to explain to consumers.”

Courtesy of Iberia

These American Airlines partners aren’t the only ones thinking along true premium economy lines.

Delta Air Lines followed the lead of its partner Virgin Atlantic (which has offered a market-leading premium economy flying experience for decades) by introducing a delightful premium economy experience all its own. With 38 inches of legroom, a 19-inch-wide seat, adjustable headrests and leg rests, and a 13.3-inch HD IFE screen, Delta’s premium economy gives budget-savvy travelers the VIP treatment.

Although it has introduced a stellar new Polaris cabin for business class passengers, United Airlines is still on the fence about premium economy class. That’s a shame because the other Star Alliance founders — Air Canada, Lufthansa, SAS, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways — all offer premium economy cabins.

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