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UK Premium Economy Battle: BA vs Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic offer premium economy cabins on long-haul flights. Simple Flying has been able to try both products as commercial aviation bounces back from the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic as international travel is on the rise again. Two of the UK’s biggest airlines are battling it out for premium economy.

A comfortable environment

In premium economy, passengers are primarily paying for their extra space. This can make long flights a much more comfortable experience, allowing for better sleep and taking the weight off your feet. In addition to having extra legroom, these seats are often wider than economy seats as well.

On this count, Virgin Atlantic offers a more compelling product than British Airways. With its 787, A350, and A330, the cabin is arranged 2-3-2. While the UK flag carrier has a 2-4-2 layout on its 777s, it has a 2-3-2 layout on its 787s and A380, the configuration doesn’t matter.

As a result, Virgin Atlantic offers leather recliner seats in premium economy on its planes, akin to domestic first class in some countries. Depending on the aircraft, the seats offer 7 to 8″ of recline. They include a calf and leg rest for additional comfort while sleeping or lounging.

Even with the refreshed premium economy seats on the 777-200, British Airways has stuck with soft fabric seats. While these are still comfortable, they don’t compare to leather recliners. Additionally, the calf rest does not extend as far out as a leather recliner, so as you get taller, you get less support. In terms of recline, BA’s seats generally offer a 7″ extension.

The service

In addition to better service, premium economy offers a more exclusive feel than economy due to its small, curtained cabins. With glass dishware, metal cutlery, and main dishes of business-class level, both carriers offer this, but service varies based on flight and crew.

It is important to note, however, that both cabins have a premium feel. Since Virgin Atlantic positions its premium economy cabins close to business class, passengers can use the washrooms at the front and the snack area (although not the bar) in business class. In the photograph below, we see how this can be a welcome extra touch.

Despite this, British Airways’ premium economy cabin (known as ‘World Traveller Plus’) feels more like an extension of economy class than anything else. There is no separate snack area or bathroom, and the bathrooms are shared. As expected, both carriers offer priority boarding and check-in, as well as amenity kits.

Picking the right one

If you are choosing an airline, there will be several factors to consider, such as price, availability, and timing. However, if it comes down to making a choice, Virgin Atlantic does offer a more compelling seat and service offering on its aircraft. On the other hand, British Airways offers more destinations and connections. There is no doubt that it is a tough choice, but is the upgrade worth it?

What is the upgrade date for premium economy?

We recently examined whether or not Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy product is worth the cost of an upgrade, since it can set you back hundreds of dollars more than a standard economy cabin. When flying overnight, we found it more worthwhile to upgrade, as it gives you more legroom in the standard seats. During the day, Economy Delight’s extra legroom in standard seats might be a better (and cheaper) option. Priority boarding is included in this fare.

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