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Airline Mismanagement

Value for Money in a premium cabin?

Is it a new temptation to encourage travelers to spend more on airfares, or an opportunity for business travelers to spend less than Business Class while still enjoying most of the benefits.

I try BA's new 'World Traveler Plus' service and like what I see.

 
 
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British Airways World Traveler Plus

Poor Man’s Business Class - or Rich Man’s Coach Class?

BA's Recaro designed World Traveler Plus seat - stylish, comfortable and comparatively spacious

 

 

Something more than coach class, but something less than business class.  Is this a product that falls between the cracks, or one that fills a genuine need?

The answer is 'it depends' with the key variable being the price asked for the tangible but few extra benefits offered in BA's World Traveler Plus cabin.

Read on to decide if it is something you'd like to take advantage of on your next international flight.

If your travel budget has been tightening, you’re probably finding it harder to get business and first class travel costs approved. While this doesn’t matter too much for a one or two hour flight, when you’re stuck on a plane for an extended time, the closer you get to the front of the plane, the happier you are.

Airlines such as United and British Airways have recognized the growing gap between coach, business and first class fares and experiences, and so are implementing yet another class – one that is halfway between coach and business class. It seems only a few years ago that many airlines were pronouncing that First Class was dead and moving to two class services, and now we’re seeing a trend in the opposite direction towards four classes!

And, to give fair credit to where it is due, the concept that BA is now adopting was originally developed by their arch-rival, Virgin Atlantic Airways, some ten years ago. Virgin also offer a 'Premium Economy' cabin on their trans-Atlantic flights.

I've now flown BA's 'World Traveler Plus' - their premium economy cabin - five times. Some element of this product are excellent, but others are strangely inappropriate.

Check In Experience

BA don't offer a special check-in line for WTP so you're waiting in the long coach class line along with everyone else. Most recently, I was in line for 38 minutes waiting to check in!

This was disappointing, because Virgin offer a special checkin line for their Premium Economy class.

Unsurprisingly, WTP doesn't qualify you for entrance to their business lounge.

And, when boarding the plane, the situation quickly became worse. WTP travelers get to board last!

BA start their boarding by allowing First and Business class passengers, and then elite level frequent fliers and families with small children, etc, to board. Then they board the coach class cabin by row number, starting at the very back. They make no special arrangement for their WTP travelers, and because the WTP cabin is in front of the main coach class section, this means that it is the very last part of the plane to be boarded!

Someone at BA really didn't think this out at all. I asked the gate agent about this, but he had no satisfactory explanation to offer.

On Board

The WTP cabin is in front of the main coach cabin and behind the business class cabin, with curtains screening it from the other two cabins. It is a small cabin with perhaps four rows of seats.

The WTP seat configuration is 2-4-2 on both 747s and 777s (compared to the standard 3-4-3 in coach on BA’s 747s and 2-5-2 on 777s) and seat pitch is 38”, giving a full 7” more leg room than in coach class, and comparable to what used to be the standard 39” pitch in most business class cabins a few years back.

On both plane types the WTP cabin does not have access to any toilets - it is necessary to go back into the coach section to find a toilet. This is inconvenient, because one can't just simply wait until one sees the toilet vacant before getting up, one has to walk back down the plane and then potentially endure a long line to access a toilet. Virgin have special toilets for their Premium Economy cabin.

The seats, designed by Recaro (as in racing car seats) are stylish, comfortable, wide, highly adjustable and ergonomic. They recline further than coach seats, but not as far as business class seats used to - BA now offer seats that convert to fully horizontal beds for business class passengers as well as first class. With the increased space between rows of seats, even if the person in front of you reclines their seat all the way back, they’re still acceptably far away from your own ‘personal space’.

The seats have legrests, but I didn’t find this to be much use as it didn’t come up as far as I wanted, and foot rests that fold down from the back of the seat in front.

To keep you occupied when you’re not eating, drinking or sleeping, the seats have individual 18 channel videos, telephones, video games and computer power plugs. But the plugs are only useful if you already own one of the shamefully expensive adapter cables - it would be a major added service if BA rented (or, better still, loaned for free) the adapter cables.

Passengers are given a coach class type amenity kit - socks, eyeshade, and a toothbrush.

Due to the extra space between your seat and the one in front, using a computer is very much more practical, and I managed to put in four hours of solid productive work during the flight.

With fewer seats sharing each foot of overhead locker, in theory you have much more chance to stow your carry-ons above you, and with all the space around you, even if you have to put something ‘under the seat in front of you’ there’s still plenty of room for your legs as well. Passengers are allowed twice the carry-on weight of regular coach class passengers (26lbs instead of 13lbs), and this extra ration of carry-on does rather counterbalance the extra storage space, and I've sometimes ended up having to stow my moderate sized flight bag under the seat rather than in the overhead.

Food and Drink

Service is a coach class service, as are the meals. My first flight, in October 2001 from London to Seattle had a main meal with three entre choices, plus a snack and a light meal, but my second flight in Jan 03 from SEA to LHR saw the main meal with only two entre choices (a generic 'chicken or beef' selection with no information offered about exactly what type of chicken or beef one was selecting) plus a breakfast later in the flight. I also vaguely remember that in the past BA printed a very small little 'menu' card for its coach and WTP cabins, but this was not offered on the Jan 03 flight (or April 03 either). It would seem that BA is cutting back on their food and food service.

Free drinks are also offered, and the cabin crew seemed a bit more attentive and courteous than in the ‘back of the bus’. BA's international food quality, while no longer as good as it used to be, remains notably better than most US domestic carriers offer.

Luggage

WTP passengers don't get priority luggage handling. However, I laughed to watch the bags coming off the flight when we arrived into Heathrow. My bags were among the very first to come off the flight, and none of the early bags had priority or first class tags on them at all! So maybe so-called 'priority' luggage handling isn't a very valuable service, after all.

The Cost

A business class fare from the US to Britain lists in the range of $7300-7800 (depending on your choice of gateway city); World Traveler Plus costs ‘only’ $2100-3200. Of course, you can find coach fares, sometimes for as little as $270-450, and if money is no object, you probably don’t even care that you’re spending $11,400-13,000 on first class.

As such, a WTP fare offers a massive saving compared to a business class fare, and from that reference point is excellent value. Compared to a coach class fare, WTP can cost up to $2000 or more extra. Any premium cabin fare is always difficult to justify compared to a discounted coach fare, and obviously the much lower surcharge attached to WTP makes it the easiest premium cabin to upgrade to. Companies that no longer feel comfortable paying business class fares will find WTP an excellent compromise.

Special WTP Sale Offers

BA often have discounted special coach class fares to London, and many times when they offer these special fares, they have an option to upgrade to WTP for an incredible bargain price of only $250 in each direction.

Note that Virgin Atlantic also occasionally have special deals on their Premium Economy cabin.

Any time you are buying coach class travel on BA or Virgin, enquire to see if there is a special offer to upgrade to their premium economy cabin available. It is well worth $250.

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Originally published 26 Oct 2001, last update 15 Oct 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
 

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