American airlines have been slow to offer a true premium economy product. Late last year I had my first experience with premium economy on an Air France flight from IAH to CDG. Within a few weeks of that flight, I also tried premium economy on Cathay Pacific and Delta Airlines (premium select Delta calls it).
I’ve posted about that Delta flight on the maiden voyage of an A350-900 and will post about the Cathay Pacific flight next. The post after that will grade each flight on cabin, seat, service, food and beverages, amenities, and in-flight entertainment to establish which is the best premium economy product by category and overall.
Flight to Houston
My flight from Charlotte, NC on American Airlines arrived at IAH Gate A27 at 14:40. That flight was noteworthy because of a view from 30,000 feet of the airport at Atlanta, GA (ATL) and a very tasty chile relleno lunch.
AirFrance Flight 639 Houston to Paris
The flight was scheduled to leave IAH at 15:50. Less than one hour is not much time for a connection to an international flight on another airline, but I had a boarding pass and no checked luggage, and it takes at most 15 minutes to go from the Terminal A gates to Terminal D, the international terminal. The walk to the people mover and ride to Terminal D is entirely airside.
The flight departed from Gate D11 which is located at the far right of the Terminal D gates just past the KLM Crown Room and the separate Air France lounge. Both are Priority Pass lounges. I’ve used the KLM lounge several times. It is like a mini me of the KLM lounges in Amsterdam except that food and beverages are better at IAH.
This time I visited the Air France lounge using my SkyTeam Elite Plus status to enter. This lounge is an average Priority Pass lounge with wifi, snacks and beverages roughly comparable to a domestic American Admirals Club or Delta Skyclub.
After a short stay in the lounge, it was time to board. I had an economy ticket, but a gate agent was offering an upgrade to premium economy for $400. It was expensive but the opportunity to escape a long flight in economy and try premium economy for the first time was enough to overcome my reluctance to fork over the credit card.
The equipment for this flight was an A330-200. Air France flies it with 208 seats; 40 in business class, 21 in premium economy and 147 in economy. The seating configuration is 2-2-2 in business class and 2-4-2 in economy. Business class seats have 61 inches of pitch and are 21.5 inches wide. Economy seats have 32 inches of pitch and are 18 inches wide.
Premium Economy Cabin and Seat
Premium economy seats are in a small cabin of three rows just forward of the wing. These seats are arranged 2-3-2.
Premium economy seats are 19 inches wide and have 38 inches of pitch which is comparable to the typical dimensions of a domestic first-class seat on a U. S. airline. My seat was 21B, an aisle seat on the port side
The seat is a shell design meaning that reclining the seat causes the seat cushion to slide forward and has no effect on the seat behind. The seat reclines about four to six inches. A footrest can be raised for extending the legs or lowered for resting feet.
A reading light is mounted on a flexible stem between the seats. The headrest adjusts to provide good support for the head and neck in multiple positions. The tray table and video screen are mounted on the back of the seat in front.
The video controller is mounted under the narrow console between the seats.
The premium economy cabin has no lavatories and passengers must use the ones in coach. The A330-200 has only four bathrooms for 168 economy and premium economy seats. The bathrooms are situated in the middle of the economy section.
The seat and cabin looked great, felt comfortable, and were a significant improvement over economy. Soon after inspecting the seat I was congratulating myself for having paid the $400 upgrade fee. It would be interesting to see the other ways that premium economy differed from economy.
A blanket, pillow and headsets were on the seats at boarding and a bottle of water was in the storage area on the back of the seat in front.
Air France puts the amenity kit in a snazzy case. The kit comes with eyeshade, socks, ear plugs, ear coverings for the headphones, and a toothbrush and toothpaste.
This aircraft has power at each seat in premium economy. There was no wifi.
That was all of the amenities. Again compared to economy, premium economy provided a substantial enhancement. So far so good, but I wanted to experience the in-flight service and the food and beverages before making a final judgement about the value of premium economy.
Pushback occurred at 15:51, one minute late. We taxied to the active runway without significant delay. Air France Flight 639 began its takeoff run at 16:07 on Runway 15R (One Five Right). The projected flying time was nine hours and 45 minutes for a route covering 5,012 miles.
Service began at 16:25 when FAs handed out amenity kits and menus.
The wine is decent but the selection of beverages is small.
First Meal Service
Twenty minutes later they offered beverages including champagne. I had scotch.
Dinner and more beverages followed at 17:05.
The amount and quality of the food was pretty good. With the exception of the foie gras though, the meal was very similar to what many airlines offer in economy on long-haul routes. The packaged Tillamook cheese reminded me that 15 – 20 years ago it was about the best “food” available in the old Northwest Airlines World Clubs. The FA meal service was efficient if not particularly distinguished.
In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) System
The A330-200 is a relatively old plane having entered service in 1998. The IFE is a good example of how technology has such greater capabilities now. The system has the latest movies and a good selection of tunes. On the other hand, it lacks the number and variety of movies, TV shows, games and flight following options of current systems.
The Air France A330-200 flight information display (above) is a far cry from the systems today (below).
To pass the time in route I watched a couple of movies on the IFE. Unlike some, I rely on the airlines to supply about 90 percent of my entertainment on the plane. The headphones were okay but naturally lacked the sound quality and noise reduction characteristics of powered noise-cancelling headphones. The cabin was very quiet. I could have slept but remained awake most of the flight.
The FAs served the arrival meal about 85 minutes before touchdown at CDG. It was a standard continental style breakfast.
Having a good, appetizing breakfast is hard to do on a plane. This, however, is the kind of breakfast I would expect in economy class. I didn’t eat very much of the breakfast.
After breakfast was cleared there was about 20 minutes before the descent for landing. That was plenty of time for passengers to put away gear, take bathroom breaks and prepare for disembarking and navigating the often crowded terminals at CDG. The flight landed at 07:55 and taxied to the gate at Terminal 2E.
I was very pleased with my first flight in premium economy. The seat, cabin and amenities were clearly superior to economy class and provided a good return on the $400 upgrade investment. I was then anxious to compare the experience to premium economy on other airlines and aircraft. Posts about those flights follow.