Friday, August 18, 2017
   
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First Class Male... extra leg room every time!

PATRIC BAIRD checks out EVA Air’s Premium Economy on a recent flight to Thailand...

EVA Air - London Heathrow/Bangkok, Premium Economy

NOBODY relishes the prospect of a long haul flight, especially if that means being stuck in a narrow seat with hardly any legroom as the passenger in front invariably puts their seat into fully-reclined mode the very second that the 'fasten seatbelts' sign goes off.

Those lucky enough to be travelling in Business or First Class usually fare rather better than those in the back of the plane, but they have probably paid several thousand pounds for their little bit of comfort.

Thankfully, more and more airlines are now offering a 'comfort compromise' on long-haul flights as the increasingly popular 'Premium Economy' cabin provides a little bit of extra leg room, as well as a few welcome added extras, depending on who you fly with.

I recently flew to Thailand with Taiwanese airline EVA Air and, not having the financial wherewithal required to upgrade myself into the 'beds and Bollinger' section of the plane, I decided to try out their Premium Economy cabin as the extra cost of a ticket over an Economy seat was actually very little, coming in at less than two hundred pounds.

Poised at my computer keyboard exactly 24 hours before the flight, I was keen to select a decent seat as online check-in opened and, having answered the usual security questions with the click of my mouse, I was then able to select two seats at the very front of the cabin for myself and my partner. Situated just behind the divider between Premium Economy and Business Class, these seats had a little bit more legroom than all the others, with the added advantage of there being no seats in front of me, thereby avoiding having my TV screen and tray table thrust into my face as is usually the case when the person in front reclines their seat.

Checking in for the flight at Heathrow's Terminal 3, I was pleased to see a dedicated, queue-free, check-in desk for Premium Economy passengers, or 'Elite Class' as EVA air have christened their mid-category cabin.

At the gate, priority boarding was offered, just behind Business Class, disabled passengers and parents with small children, but before the Economy hordes, which was another handy benefit of Elite.

Settled into my seat, I was disappointed not to be offered a pre-flight glass of orange juice or sparkling wine, which is the norm on Virgin Atlantic's Premium Economy offering, but the excellent cabin crew more than made up for that minor niggle as throughout the flight they made numerous sweeps of the cabin, offering drinks and snacks to passengers.

The Elite cabin on board the Boeing 777 aircraft comprised eight rows of seats in a 2-4-2 configuration, separated by a curtain from the Premium Laurel (Business) Class in front, and the Economy cabin behind. Each seat had a pitch of 38", as opposed to 32" in Economy, and I noticed that passengers seated behind me still had enough room to stretch their legs, even with the seat in front of them fully-reclined.

Meals were not quite up to Business Class standard, being more or less the same as those served in Economy, but were nevertheless quite tasty, filling and better presented, with ceramic dishes and cups, as well as proper glasses being used instead of plastic which is the norm back in the cheap seats.

Thanks to the seat's retractable footrest, I even managed a few hours sleep and the video-on-demand entertainment system kept me amused for the remaining duration of the 12-hour long flight.

When arriving into a hectic airport like Bangkok, it also helped being amongst the first off the plane, just behind the few Business Class passengers, as the queues for passport control were enormous and those last off the plane probably had an extra hour or so of standing in line waiting to be processed by the immigration officials.

So was Premium Economy worth the extra expense? I would say definitely, if only for the added comfort of a slightly larger seat and an extra few inches of legroom which can make all the difference on such a long flight.

EVA Air were one of the first airlines to introduce the concept of a mid-class cabin back in 1991, so they have had enough time to more or less perfect their offering, whereas the experience can be somewhat hit-and-miss with other airlines who have only recently embraced the idea.

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