Premium economy gains ground among Asian carriers

Comfort is especially valued on ultra-longhaul flights; pictured, premium economy seats on SIA's A350-900ULR deployed on the Singapore-New York route

A recent development in the airline industry, premium economy is expected to find greater uptake as a product category as more Asian carriers introduce this in-between option to fill the wide gap in comfort and service between business and coach class.

Notably, the launch of Singapore Airlines’ (SIA) 19-hour nonstop route between the Lion City and New York on the Airbus A350-900ULR aircraft without an economy class cabin has brought attention to the value of premium economy.

Comfort is especially valued on ultra-longhaul flights; pictured, premium economy seats on SIA’s A350-900ULR deployed on the Singapore-New York route

For its Singapore-Seattle service set for launch in September next year, SIA will offer an economy-premium economy-business class configuration.

Meanwhile, Philippine Airlines’ new 18-hour nonstop Manila-New York service has 240 economy, 24 premium economy and 30 business class seats.

PAL president and CEO Jaime Bautista explained that for the airline, premium economy is 20 to 30 per cent more expensive than economy and has a longer pitch of 38 inches pitch between seats and a 12-inch recliner. It is a separate cabin with different meal and service.

As premium economy features vary from one airline to another and in some cases it is just economy seats with bigger legroom, the question persists whether it is a downgrade from business class or, more likely, an upgrade from economy class.

Andrew Herdman, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA), said there’s “still no definite description of what it is”, adding that there is a “big gap between business class and economy” that premium economy fits into.

However Herdman foresaw “a convergence in terms of expectations and what gets delivered” as more carriers introduce premium economy.

So far, nine Asian carriers offer premium economy in some of their routes, and sources said Thai Airways is likely to be included in this list, without giving details.

Korean Air president Walter Cho said that the airline is looking into having premium economy but that their economy class are nearly at par with the premium economy seating of other carriers.

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