Travelling to London via Hong Kong and then back from Rome to Auckland via Hong Kong gave us the ability to compare the Premium Economy class offerings on the two airlines. And although it’s called the same name, the reality is that the offering is quite different.
Air New Zealand were one of the first airlines to offer this “better than economy but not business” class when they phased out first class and promoted business class to lie flat beds.
The general Premium Economy offering is simple – greater legroom and wider seats in a separated cabin area with a range of added comforts – a dedicated check in, better food and drink, amenities packs, welcome drinks – all which vary by airline.
With Jean and I being tall, the key benefit is the added legroom. This is even more important given the distance we travel and the time we spend onboard.
Until this trip we have been dedicated Air New Zealand customers and have seen their Premium Economy offering evolve over the years from a basic “greater legroom” product through to the specially designed seat pods that they introduced about 4 years ago.
But two years ago Air New Zealand made changes to their Airpoints programme which removed any advantage for us booking and paying for their Premium Economy seats. So this trip we threw ourselves on the open market and simply went for the best deal we could find – which turned out to be Cathay Pacific.
We discovered our trip was, in fact, a codeshare between Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand so our trips between Auckland and Hong Kong were on Air New Zealand metal and the legs between Hong Kong and London/Rome were on Cathay – the same Premium Economy class but very different experiences.
In terms of legroom and seat comfort there was not much in it. Cathay had 8 seats across the cabin, Air New Zealand had nine – but the Air New Zealand seats felt wider. Legroom was expansive on both.
The cabin ambience was better on Cathay mainly because the plane (an Airbus 350) was new versus Air New Zealand’s 777 which was in need of a refit or replacement with one of their new Dreamliners.
The service was much better on Air New Zealand. Meals were better quality and served on china, not plastic, and there were cabin staff dedicated to the premium economy section. If you wanted something, it was there, immediately.
Cathay Pacific, on the other hand served standard economy food on plastic plates – and wine from plastic glasses. The cabin staff served both premium and economy cabins, but they still managed to answer our calls quickly and efficiently but did slip a couple of times.
Because of the comparative ages of the planes, Cathay’s entertainment offering was more comprehensive and higher quality with touch screens and excellent screen clarity. Air New Zealand struggled to compete but, talking to staff, things are looking up with upgrades to the 777 fleet just around the corner and the first Dreamliners already operating across the Tasman.
So who wins? Air New Zealand by a small margin – but when they are flying with better planes it won’t be a contest. They just know how to do things well, and to make passengers who have paid extra for a little comfort feel it’s money well spent.