Especially in upscale, leisure-focused Hawaii travel, true premium economy class is a pivotal industry driver. Starting in just over a year, United Airlines will further help point the way. They are due to replace their Boeing 757 fleet, some of which still fly to Hawaii, with Airbus 321 planes that will feature a new dedicated premium economy cabin. And that’s merely the beginning.
The genesis of true “premium economy” began three decades ago. That’s when Virgin Atlantic became the first airline to offer such a product. The uptake was slow initially, but now it is gaining much momentum domestically, including to Hawaii.
Airlines that fly to Hawaii that currently offer or plan to provide an actual premium economy product on select flights include:
- American Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- United Airlines
Those who we believe will add true premium economy class include:
- Hawaiian Airlines
Just what is “premium economy?” Why it’s not about more legroom.
We keep saying “true” because premium economy isn’t United Comfort Plus, Hawaiian Extra Comfort, or Delta Comfort+ with extra legroom seats positioned in the same cabin as economy. Instead, it’s an entirely new and different product with a distinct and separate cabin.
Premium economy, as both a product and its pricing, is positioned directly between economy and business/first classes, both in what’s known as the hard and soft product (both physically and conceptually). This is fast becoming the recognized ideal solution for medium-range flights to and from Hawaii. It provides excellent benefits to both airlines and passengers.
Premium economy amenities include different, wider seats with leg rests, often in a two-across configuration instead of three-across, more attentive service, chef-inspired dining, sleep sets (blankets/pillows), amenity kits, and more.
Why is premium considered economy ideal for Hawaii?
On five-hour or longer flights to Hawaii, more room, larger seats, and better service in a seated (not lie-flat), more intimate, and higher-quality environment is a perfect fit. Your editors were looking at the UAL premium product pictured above, and we both said we would be pleased to have that accommodation on a flight to Hawaii instead of a lie-flat bed. However, on a 10+ hour flight, there becomes more reason for true lie-flat seating.
A recent report from travel analysis firm Cirium, which among things, analyses airline fleets, featured “insights and analysis focused on commercial aircraft configured with cabins marketed as Premium Economy, with a separate cabin to economy class and distinctly different from any ‘economy plus’ or extra-legroom seats.” That report, based on data from July 2022, is embedded below.
How does it price when compared with economy and business class?
We checked on United Airlines, flying from Chicago to Honolulu on their Dreamliner. The cost for Premium Plus was typically positioned about halfway between economy and business. As you see from the lead photo, this looks temptingly comfortable.
There’s demand for premium economy, which will grow exponentially to Hawaii.
US carriers American Airlines and Delta Air Lines each began to operate some aircraft with new dedicated premium economy cabins starting about five years ago. They were followed by United Airlines in 2019.
Widebodies have taken the premium economy lead.
American, Delta, and United now have 346 planes outfitted with an actual premium economy cabin. These are all widebodies.
These new cabins have been achieved by retrofitting older planes and in the delivery of new planes. United itself has 155 planes offering their “Premium Plus.” Most of those were retrofits during aircraft maintenance. Cirium said that in the past couple of years, 102 United widebodies underwent service at their Hong Kong facility when many installations took place.
Now fully 1/4 of all widebodies from these three US airlines feature a true premium economy class product.
Missed Opportunity For Hawaiian Airlines?
Today, Hawaiian says they will not add a premium economy product to their about-to-be-delivered Boeing Dreamliners. We doubt that decision will stick, however.
Why haven’t airlines jumped on premium economy?
Airlines have feared that passengers now choosing business class would instead choose premium economy. That could be true. It depends on the price point, which will evolve as passengers and airlines adopt this new travel method.
Is premium economy for you?
Priced halfway between economy and business class, it is a fascinating proposal. What’s your take?