Economy…Plus…Plus

Editor’s note: After I mistakenly pushed Publish on my last post before I had added photos, I am going to no longer have the entire post go out in an e-mail. You will get the headline and the first paragraph followed by a link to click to see the entire post online. Thanks for looking at it that way. 

Typical Domestic Economy Class

Winding up our discussion of flying classes/categories, let’s finish with the Premium Economy, international Economy and Economy. But first, let’s talk about domestic economy class because we all know that hell hole that we have all flown a lot of the time. We still fly it when we travel along the West Coast but we do our best to make the situation better with plane and airport choices. Here are some of the things we recommend for those flying domestic economy.

If you fly domestic economy and want to have as good an experience as possible here are some things we do to make it better.

  • Choose a better airplane if you can. When we book a flight I will often look (if multiple flights are going to that city) for a particular airplane to fly on. We have grown to love flying on Embraer jets. If you have never flown one, they are smaller planes (not too small—you can still stand up in them) and if you pick the correct economy row (the first one behind First Class) you have more legroom than those in FC. Also, the seat configuration is 2-2 so there is no chance you will ever get a middle seat. One drawback to these planes is that you can’t take a standard carry-on onboard the plane. There is just no room in the overhead compartments so I usually gate-check my carry-on bag.
  • Choose a better airport if you can. We have been blessed for the last few years that Alaska Air has started flying to most destinations on the West Coast from Paine Field in Everett (PAE). For us, it is about the same distance from our house to Everett as it is to Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA). PAE is much smaller (like about 5% the size of SEA) and the smaller the airport, the smaller the planes (Alaska only flies Embraer jets out of Everett). Small airports also mean that you don’t wait in security, boarding, or food lines at concessions for as long. The airport is one of the most stressful parts of flying and small airports make it better. When we fly from SEA, from the time we walk into the airport until we check our luggage, get through security, and take about 30-45 minutes to our gate. At PAE we can do all that in less than five minutes.
  • Choose the right seat. NEVER fly in a middle seat. Even when flying together in a jet with 3-3 seats we sit across the aisle from each other. I have never been a fan of window seats. I hate being closed in and having to get across two people to use the restroom. And the older I get the more that happens 😜. On a wide-body jet, you have another choice to make but that depends on the seating configuration. If you have never been there, allow me to introduce you to Seat Guru. You don’t need to check it for every flight but you do need to go there before you fly on a wide-body jet. That will show you the configuration of the seats. For instance, in this seating chart from a British Air 777, you can see that the top section (that starts with the green seats) is Premium Economy with 2-3-2 seating. The bottom section (they call it World Traveler) is their economy and it is 3-3-3. The best seats on this plane (outside of Business class) are the green bulkhead seats on either side of the plane. The 2 seats in the 2-3-2 configuration.
  • Another Seat Guru note is that as you can see, some seats are red, some green and some yellow. When you’re on the Seat Guru website and mouse over those, you get a pop-up that tells you that the reds are seats to stay away from and why the yellows are cautionary. The greens are considered very good for some reason. When you mouse over them, it tells you why or why not you should pick them. I do this with every flight we take unless I know the airplane well. All you will need to look up your plane is your airline, date of flight and flight number.
  • Choose your seats as early as you can. People who wind up in middle seats usually buy their tickets at the last minute. I can tell you that the last time I flew in a middle seat was when my Dad was sick and I bought a ticket using miles to get down to help my brother deal with a bad situation.

The differences between international and domestic economy

Typical International Economy cabin on an international flight. Note the 2-4-2 configuration.

When you fly international for the first time you will find that it is decidedly not like flying economy domestically. To start there is about a 90% chance you will get a meal. Especially on foreign carriers. And on the foreign carriers, it will be a warm meal. You also have some kind of entertainment system. There may be some other little perks you can get but this will vary by airline. Some include seat assignments for free, some include one checked bag. Pay attention when booking. Watch for anything that says, “info” and click it. The more you know about your flight the better. I am going to do another post (I just decided this one is too long) on how I book our airfare.

What do you get with Premium Economy and is it worth it?

Delta’s Premium Economy Seat

When you decide to pay the additional $$$ and move up to Premium Economy (PE) you get a few nice extras. One is the seat. Your PE seat will look much like the ones you walk by in First Class of a domestic flight. A little wider and a little more legroom. Unlike most domestic First Class, the seat may recline a little further and you may have a leg rest that pops out when you do. Kind of like your La-Z-Boy recliner at home. So it should be easier to fall asleep.

If you are flying with a partner or a spouse, do your best to get one of those two seats on the side of the plane in a 2-3-2 configuration that I mentioned above. That way if you have the window seat, the only person you need to bother when you need a restroom break is your partner.

Flying in PE may also get you expedited check-in, earlier boarding, a better meal, a free checked bag or an amenity kit. The area of the cabin you are sitting in will be smaller than the economy section. Usually a LOT smaller. And there will be one or two dedicated flight attendants for this section so you should get better service. It should also make the flight a little quieter. Since PE costs more than Economy, many families with kids won’t be flying in that section which will further help you get some sleep on the flight.

Is it worth the extra dollars?

The price difference between economy and premium economy will depend on the flight you are taking. For instance, here’s the price on our next flight to Europe, a non-stop going from Seattle to Amsterdam on Delta.

  • Business Class (Delta One) $2,680 per person
  • Premium Economy (Premium Select) $1842 per person
  • Economy (International Main Cabin) $1,135 per person

We are flying Business Class using a voucher we had from a canceled flight in December. If we were going to fly this flight and we weren’t going to be in Business, it would be worth it to us to pay the additional $707 to move up. Especially if I could snag one of those two seats in a 2-3-2 configuration. It would be worth it to me to get rid of the middle seat. Especially during COVID. I should add that some airlines (including Delta) now charge more for “Comfort Seats” with a little extra legroom. That might just be an exit row or a fully dedicated section. All of that will depend on the route and plane you will be flying. Again, check Seat Guru…and hope they don’t change your plane the day of the flight.

Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo. – Al Gore

 

Airplane classes: Today let’s look at Business

This is the Delta One Business Class seat I just booked for Kathleen and I to Amsterdam in August.

Now let’s get back to our original question (in the previous post); is it worth it to spend the extra money to fly Business Class when going overseas?

The biggest difference between flying coach and Business Class (BC) is this: if you are the kind of person who can sleep on an airplane and you are in BC on a plane with lie-down seats then it is truly worth it. You can arrive awake and already on the way to beating jet lag because you have kept to your current sleep schedule.

We live in a perfect place for that. Most of the flights to Europe from Seattle leave in the late afternoon or early evening. That means we have the entire day to get ready to go, we head to the airport before rush hour, spend a couple of hours in the Business Class lounge and then as soon as we are in the air, they serve dinner, it gets dark and we watch a movie and go to sleep. The flight attendants wake us up six hours later, serve us breakfast and we land in London or Amsterdam around lunch. It’s almost perfect.

For us that works most of the time. The older we get the less it works. Unlike the seats on our First Class flight mentioned yesterday, even though most BC seats lay flat, they are thin. Not a lot of padding. The older we get, the more padding we need but we still appreciate all the amenities you get when flying BC. Some people base their vacations by how much they spend per day. Flying in coach (at least for us on an international flight) means we lose either a half or whole day recovering from our flight. Sometimes the jet lag can slow us down for a few more days. So for us, the extra $$$ we pay for business are worth it. 

There are some caveats to flying Business Class. First, DO NOT BE FOOLED—all business class flights and seats are not alike. For instance, on most European and Asian carriers and many US carriers, international business class always has lie down seats. But some (like Icelandic Air) only have seats that are equivalent to US domestic first class seats. Those would be Premium Economy on an international flight with most airlines. 

Also, when booking with points or miles, beware of “Mixed Class” itineraries. For instance if I fly from Seattle to Athens and it says mixed class on the flight. That probably means that I will be flying at least one leg of the flight in coach. Usually the longest and most expensive leg. This happens a lot when you are paying with points or miles. Be careful of this when you book the flight.

If you have been in Business before but have not flown it within Europe, business class on flights between European cities is not what you expect. We flew “Business Class” from SEA to Edinburgh on British Air. The SEA/LHR part of the flight was in real (lie down seats, better meals, upstairs on a 747) business class and the LHR/Edinburgh flight was was listed as business as well. But business class once inside Europe usually means that you have a coach seat with the middle seat blocked off. No extra leg room, no better seat, no amenities and maybe a little better food (if you get food at all). On our last trips to Europe we have avoided this situation by flying nonstop to a city in Europe, staying a couple of days and then flying coach to where we are actually going on a much shorter flight. This saves money as you are only paying Business class rates on a shorter flight.

When people are considering flying in Business for the first time I get a lot of questions. They want to know what you get for the extra $$$. Here’s what you get extra when you fly International Business Class on a “good” airline :

  • A business class lounge where you get free food, free drinks (including specialty coffees and alcoholic beverages). Some of the lounges in Europe have showers and sleeping pods. As one person on Facebook said, “The vacation starts when you hit the Business Class Lounge!” We agree.
  • A much better seat. Usually a lot more leg room, it will be wider, the seat will lie flat, it will have a really nice built-in entertainment system and room/storage to spread out.
  • Great food. Most of the time you will have a choice of menu items, wine, beer, cocktails and more. Almost always three separate courses. It’s the equivalent of a very nice restaurant. It’s served with real utensils, real plates, placemats and the works. And you have a tray table big enough to hold it off. On some flight there will be an open snack bar where you can grab crackers, nuts, yogurt, soft drinks whenever you want.
  • An amenities kit. Nothing incredible but you will have a toothbrush, tooth paste, a eye mask so you can sleep, ear plugs, comb, hand lotion and more. Sometimes you get slippers so you can walk to the bathroom in the middle of the flight.
  • Less people. Since Business classes are smaller that coach there will be dedicated restrooms for BC and that means you will not have to wait as long to use them and they will be cleaner when you do. In many cases there will be a galley between business and economy so it is almost impossible for those in Economy to come to the front of the plane. There will usually be two or three flight attendants for less than 30 Business class seats.
  • Early boarding and early disembarking. You will get on first and get off first, sometimes by a separate door than coach (depends on the plane).
  • A separate check in line when you first arrive at the airport. You wait in a much shorter line. On some foreign airlines you are greeted by name from time you check in until you get off. We have actually had check-in personnel see us approach, come around from behind the counter and take our luggage to be checked. In some airport there may also be a First and Business class security line. It is usually faster than even TSA Pre-check because there are a lot less people in it.
  • Expedited luggage. On many airlines, your luggage will be the first off the plane (it is specially tagged) and that means it will the first on the carousel.

One last thing about Business class I just want to warn you about one last thing. Once you have flown Business class you will NOT want to go back to coach/economy. For us that happened the first time we flew in Business internationally to Auckland, NZ. For us it means that the vacation starts when we get to the airport. We know people who hate to fly. Not because they are afraid to fly but because airports and airplanes are a hassle. Business class (First Class domestically) take a lot of that hassle away. Enjoy Business class at your peril 😜.

In my next post I will conclude this treatise (WOW! I’m writing a treatise!) on air class by looking at Premium Economy and Economy classes and comparing some typical pricing.

What’s important is that a customer should get off the airplane feeling, ‘I didn’t just get from A to B. I had one of the most pleasant experiences I ever had, and I’ll be back for that reason.
Herb Kelleher, founder Southwest Airlines

First, Business, Premium Economy or Economy—How will you fly?

Editor’s note: I started this post off as a quick and short note on Business Class but as I usually do, I wandered out to other stuff. So let’s do all the classes—First class to Economy over a couple of posts. Today, just a vanishing breed—actual First Class. 

Recently I saw a question on a Facebook group that was asking if booking Business Class (BC) airfare to Europe from the USA was a good idea. It was quite a discussion with lots of differing opinions. Of course I chimed in on that discussion so I thought this would make a decent post. I know that some of you fly Business or First Class (FC), although many airlines are eliminating FC entirely.

Alaska Air First Class

Speaking of First Class, let’s discuss the difference between domestic and international FC. For instance, when we fly Alaska Airlines FC to the East Coast that’s a great example of domestic FC. The seats are like a La-Z-Boy recliner that doesn’t go all the way back or have a footrest. You do get better meals (pre-pandemic it was hot on almost all airlines—some switched to cold during the pandemic) as well as pre-boarding but that is about it. You might get access to a pre-boarding or layover lounge but maybe not—depends on the airline and the airport. That’s about it.

When you fly FC on an international carrier like British, Cathay Pacific, Singapore, etc. you get more…a lot more. You usually get a “suite.” For instance, when we flew First Class on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong a few years back we were sitting in seats that Kathleen was able to stretch out her arms in both direction and not touch another seat. If you scroll through the slide show you will also see the most luxurious First Class suites in the world—Emirate Airlines.

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Seriously, that seat my wonderful bride is sitting in, is just one seat. And not only that, it lays down flat. And in FC they actually come and make up a bed after you have a very nice dinner and drinks. I mean the menu is excellent. Lots of choices. Some airlines even have a snack bar area where you can grab between meal snacks. High end wines and high end liquor. First class restrooms also are huge! On the plane Kathleen is on in that photo, they were so big they had their own window. But check out the bathroom on the Emirates plane. Seriously? They also give you toiletries and more in a little amenity kit. It is something special. And the Emirates suites just blow me away. Price to fly in that suite from Seattle to Dubai is only $21,000. Don’t think we will be flying those any time soon.

I should mention that we paid for that First Class we took completely with miles/points. And it cost a bunch of them. And I kept checking the price we would have had to pay for that flight. When we finally flew, those seats were selling for more than $12,000 each. We always save up those points by not flying FC within the USA. We will fly FC if we are going all the way to Florida. Pretty much anything more than six hours but then it’s just Alaska-style FC.

In the next post I will take a deep dive in Business Class, what we fly internationally.

When you fly, you should fly Business or First Class…or your kids will.    —unknown poster on the Viking Cruises Facebook Group