Last week I got to fly in British Airways’ (BA) Premium Economy from Seattle to Berlin for TechEd. It was always going to be an interesting flight as I was keen to see if BA’s premium economy was how I remembered it several years ago. At the time I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread and was motivated enough by it to write a letter to Qantas to suggest the business opportunity for this class – a hybrid of business and economy. It was probably a bit arrogant and ridiculous to think I could effect change with Qantas…ahem…and unfortunately it took them several years to realize this idea was a good one :)
In my previous review of Qantas Premium Economy I waxed lyrical about how good it was. It was modern, spacious and had the trimmings of Business Class. The value is definitely there – for that price in between the cost of business and the budget of economy.
Trip to Berlin - the seat, service and the food
The seat experience was the same roomy seat I remembered with the right amount of legroom which is perfect for tall people like me. The food quality however was appalling. Dinner was ok, though much like economy and not what I expected. Breakfast however was horribly inadequate and was akin to a boxed lunch. Certainly not up to the “premium” experience.
Service was ok, staff were friendly and pleasant. I never used the call button on this trip so I cant comment on that as I ended up sleeping most of the time.
BA likes to talk about how great Heathrow Airport Terminal 5. It looks pretty and modern. Once you get into it, its nice. Though honestly…what a mess this place still is. I would advise you to avoid that place like the plague if you hate waiting around in lengthy and pointless queues between connects. Before I get going on my assessment of Heathrow let me make it clear that this is a bit of a whinge…ok…it’s a lot of a whinge….
So here’s how it works when you’re on your way to Heathrow (not):
1. You check in for your flight at your origin and get all your boarding passes, including your connecting flights
2. They security screen you and all your carry-on baggage before you get on the flight from Seattle
3. You fly a long way and land in Heathrow
4. You have to walk down old style stairs and into the cold because the terminal is inadequate and doesn’t have enough skybridges
5. You catch a little bus and they deliver you in groups because the terminal is inadequate and doesn’t have enough skybridges
6. You then enter Terminal 5 on the security restricted side of the fence (non-public side)
7. You go through ticketing (again)
8. The lines for the mysterious next step are massive and so they have a Fast Lane for premium (airline status holding) passengers.
9. BA doesn’t seem honor OneWorld tier status anymore like they used to for these lines and so Qantas Gold and Platinum cards (OneWorld Emerald and Sapphire) DON’T COUNT for Fast Lane access!!
10. Are you kidding me BA??!!
11. Then they want to security screen you all over again despite the fact you haven’t ever left the screened security zone AAARGGHH!!!!! Wasted time for no good reason...
12. You now stay in the same terminal 5 you arrived in to board your next flight, having wasted an hour in this mess
Isn’t that the most insane system you have ever heard of?
For those of you that hold OneWorld Emerald and Sapphire status with other airlines there are several other lounge areas that other airlines like Qantas allow BA Silver and Gold card holders to access that BA doesn’t seem to extend the same treatment in return. The first class areas being one of them – with a separate place for “their” First class. It really appears like BA doesn’t want to play equitably with OneWorld status holders anymore. Maybe Qantas should do the same to BA card status holders?
Back to scheduled programming….
In Flight Entertainment
The in-flight entertainment, while awesome several years ago, is antiquated by today’s standards. On the way over to London there was no video on demand and little choice. Tiny little screens and hardly any new releases in the “new releases” menu made it appear old. On the way back it wasn’t much better. Sure there was video on demand, but it was the same old and tired content. A couple of 2009 release movies with a lot of “on DVD” 2008 content. Singapore Air, Emirates and Qantas do this tons better.
Return trip to Seattle – Seat and Food
Though here as I sit typing on the plane, the return flight is much better. Got the bulkhead in Premium Economy which has much more room than the other seats. That was tons better! The food was much better too with an acceptable but very dry, Tikka Marsala. Which begs the question, what’s with the food on the flights out of America? Why does it suck so bad?
Got another boxed lunch meal about an hour before we landed though it was way more edible than the breakfast on the way there.
Service was mixed. Standard meal service was friendly and ok. I used the call button this time as I was starving. The response wasn’t great but to be fair, they were getting ready for a meal service and I didn’t know. A grumpy guy finally came and grunted to me that they were coming around with some food. Thankfully he’s not the usual standard.
So aside from the food, for me it’s the room, it’s always been the room and Premium Economy provides that. I would definitely fly BA again for this room (and hopefully just avoid Heathrow). The service is usually ok and the staff are by and large quite pleasant and helpful.
Overall though you may be wondering, is Qantas’ Premium Economy really better than BA’s?
Here’s my assessment:
Qantas Premium Economy positives. The seats are roomy, better recline with great leg room and nice and modern. The service is streets ahead of BA. The in-flight entertainment wins awards for a reason…its fabulous and has “in cinema” content. The food quality is excellent and on par with business class.
BA Premium Economy positives. The seats are roomy, better recline with great leg room. Can’t think of anything else.
So it appears that Qantas has taken BA’s offering and soundly whipped them at it. BA’s offering appears tired, old and lacking value in comparison.
If you have a comparable price choice between Qantas and BA, choose Qantas.