Thinking of upgrading your ticket to those extra-legroom seats at the front of the main cabin? That’s exactly what your airline wants you to do. In the past few years, domestic and international carriers alike have been rolling out more of these stepped-up economy seats, even as they cram more people farther back in the cabin. Whether you take the bait will depend on how much you’re willing to spend—and how much you just can’t stand the back of the plane.
The domestic scene.
First consider the quality of the seat. All the major domestic carriers offer four to six more inches of legroom, and all but United throw in the perk of early boarding as well. Wider seats are, alas, a rarity, though a few transcontinental Delta flights come with more recline. The premium economy standout, domestically, is Virgin America. The carrier’s Main Cabin Select seats give you 38 inches of pitch (the distance from one row to the next), as well as a free checked bag, priority check-in and boarding, and complimentary food and drinks. They can come with a hefty price tag, however: up to $399 more for a round-trip flight from New York to Los Angeles or Las Vegas. JetBlue’s Even More Space seats also rise above the pack, with 38 inches of seat pitch and expedited security privileges.For any flight where you’re thinking of upgrading, it pays to check the cabin layout and the user reviews on the website Seatguru. Even premium economy fliers can wind up next to an unwieldy bulkhead.
Weighing the price tag.
On domestic flights, the fee for premium economy seats varies widely depending on the length of your trip. For shorter hops, say, from Newark to Chicago, it can add as little as $18 to a round-trip American Airlines ticket. For transcontinental flights on major domestic carriers, the seats could put you out anywhere from $130 to $200 round-trip. (On certain Virgin America flights, they may cost more than the base fare itself.) On some carriers, the price also fluctuates depending on how far out you book. Waiting until the last minute sometimes pays off—but not always.
To add to the confusion, you often can’t see how much an upgrade will cost until you actually go through the booking process and get to the seat-selection page. What’s more, since these are not distinct fare classes on domestic carriers, they don’t show up in searches on websites such as Kayak and Expedia. (One exception: Virgin America.) If you want to compare prices, you have to do a lot of legwork.
If you have elite status with a carrier, you can usually get premium economy seats for free or a 50 percent discount. Another way to bring down the cost is through a membership. United Airlines now offers annual Economy Plus packages, which get you unlimited upgrades for a year. The domestic subscription, which starts at $499, can easily pay for itself in just three transcontinental trips. (Global packages start at $699.)
Stretching out abroad.
Offering more than just a few extra inches of seat pitch, premium economy on foreign carriers is an entirely different experience—more akin to a fourth cabin class. For example, British Airways’ World Traveller Plus seats from New York City to London are in a curtained-off section that has a dedicated crew; wider, plusher seats with more legroom; and business-class meals. I found them recently for as little as $468 extra, round-trip. On a similar Virgin Atlantic flight, the roomy, leather Premium Economy seats (which include dedicated check-in and bag-drop services) were $540 more. That’s a significant outlay, but you’d pay more than six times as much to upgrade to business class. It’s also worth noting that for $4,201, the comparable premium-economy ticket on American Airlines would have cost roughly double those of its U.K. competitors.
Other European carriers with excellent premium-economy cabins include Air France (wool blankets; feather pillows) and Turkish Airways (a whopping 48-inch seat pitch). Lufthansa’s new seats—with seven more inches of legroom than in economy—launch in November (available to book now).
The most tempting time to splurge, of course, is on long-haul flights to Asia and beyond, which is why airlines such as Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Air New Zealand, and Qantas have lavished so much attention (and money) on these seats. It shows. Air New Zealand’s extra-wide, podlike Spaceseats put many business-class cabins to shame. They can cost up to $2,000 more than an economy ticket from Los Angeles to Auckland. But those 13 hours in flight will feel pretty darn good.
7.5% Increase in the number of Virgin Atlantic passengers flying Premium Economy from 2012 to 2013.
$721: Average price difference between economy and premium economy tickets for a round-trip Cathay Pacific flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, booked at least three months in advance.
After the recent announcement that United Airlines will shift to a revenue-based frequent flyer program in 2015, it’s important to assess the evolving landscape of loyalty programs and consider changes that may still be in store. As a consumer advocate, I want all frequent flyers to understand what a loyalty program should be, and to inspire airlines to either preserve the value of those programs or risk losing faithful customers.
Frequent flyer programs follow a simple give-and-get formula: airlines reward customers for their business, and in exchange they develop brand loyalty. However, starting in 2015, when both United and Delta will structure awards based on revenue, their passengers will earn miles not according to how far they fly, but to how much money they spend.
It took nearly ten years and $16 billion, but Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar is now fully operational. With the country's namesake carrier, Qatar Airways, transitioned from the old, now-defunct Doha International, the massive much-anticipated project finally feels complete.
Curious about JetBlue's new premium Mint experience? The carrier's first foray into business class-style service debuts on June 15, serving cross-country routes between New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles for as little as $599 one way. Watch this video for a behind-the-scenes look at what to expect.
Nikki Ekstein is an Assistant Editor at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.
Don’t sweat a long layover: more airports are setting up walking paths through terminals—with pavement mile-markers, water bottle-refilling stations, and public art, reports USA Today. Some, like Fort Lauderdale, Anchorage, and Baltimore/Washington, even maintain walking paths outside airport.
Firearms and hazardous materials are turned over to local law enforcement officials. For safety reasons, liquids that can’t go through security—even in sealed containers—must be thrown out. For other items, the TSA either sends them to a contractor for disposal or donates them to a local nonprofit. Some of these charities will, in turn, resell items and use the proceeds to support their own programs. The TSA makes clear that none of this resale money goes into its own coffers.
It’s up to domestic airlines to develop their own cleaning protocols. All the carriers we spoke with require either flight attendants or certified maintenance crews to do some form of cleaning between flights—even if it’s just a cursory removal of garbage and refreshing of the lavatories. The more thorough scrub, when crews wipe down seats and tray tables with disinfectants, happens when a plane overnights at an airport. Carriers schedule “deep cleans” every month or so to launder seat covers and shampoo the carpets. Still feel squeamish about your seat? That’s what disinfectant wipes are for.
Icelandair has joined the pack of airlines putting time and energy into their safety videos. (Click here for our slideshow of some of the best.) Unlike the humorous approach taken by the likes of Delta and Virgin America, this almost three-minute-long video is like a love letter to Iceland as a destination, following a traveler camping out to see the Northern lights, hiking across the country’s varied terrain, and kayaking the Fjadrargljufur gorge. Safety procedures are seamlessly drawn on top of the visually beautiful shots.
Brooke Porter Katz is an Associate Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @brookeporter1.
Airport retailers know a lot more about their potential customers than you might expect, and they're using that information to target specific shopping demographics, as an article in the Economist details.
Aware when flights arrive and depart, shops behind security alter their selection based on who will be walking by during that "golden hour" before takeoff. At Heathrow, for example, cognac displayed in the morning is geared to passengers on that 9:45 am Barbados flight—who apparently prefer Hennesy and Courvoisier—while afternoon flights to Norway and the US call for cheaper brandies. Likewise, shopkeepers schedule their multilingual staffs based on flight timetables.
As the Economist writes, "Most [passengers] are relatively prosperous; all are briefly at loose ends," and retailers have found that these slightly-crazed, moderately wealthy individuals make great customers.
Peter Schlesinger is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure and a member of the Trip Doctor news team. You can find him on Twitter at @pschles08.
Intuitive design, natural light: what New York’s JFK can learn from Heathrow’s T2.
You’ve got to give Spanish architect Luis Vidal points for standing before an audience of hardened, JFK-weary New York City travel reporters and declaring, “Terminals today are the cathedrals of the twenty-first century.” Vidal designed the newest addition to London’s Heathrow Airport, the $4 billion Terminal 2, opening this month. T2, also called the Queen’s Terminal, is one of those sunlight-bathed, technologically of-the-moment facilities popping up in airports from San Francisco to Mumbai, restoring a degree of pleasure to air travel. But cathedrals? Vidal argues they were once “gathering places and icons” of every city. And that, he reasons, is what airports are today.