Booking with a budget airline is always a risk, but with a number of out-of-country weddings to attend this summer, when Nordic airline Primera Air announced its £99 transatlantic flight sale in March, the deal was too good for me to resist.
The airline introduced transatlantic flights from London to New York, Boston, Washington DC, and Toronto earlier this year- and there were 99 tickets on offer in the sale for each of the routes.
Primera appears to have even cheaper deals from the US, with a number of $US99 fares available to Paris and London. There were even some $US69 one-way fares available at the time of writing this.
On the day of the £99 sale, the site was so busy I couldn’t get on it for hours – but I still managed to bag a one-way fare from London Stansted to Toronto Pearson for August.
The “light” fare – which normally starts at £149 one way from London – only includes the seat and 10kg hand luggage, so I paid £24.99 extra for a 23kg checked bag and £19.99 for an XL reserved seat, paying a total of £143.98 for the one-way ticket.
However, I was one of a number of lucky customers who were bumped up to the premium economy cabin, which would normally start at £499 each way, or $US749 from the US.
Since not all reviews of the airline have been positive, I expected this would just mean I’d receive some food and perhaps board before other passengers – but it was far more luxurious than I thought.
Scroll down to see what it’s like to fly premium economy on Primera Air.
I managed to bag a one-way fare from London Stansted to Toronto Pearson for £99 as part of Primera Air’s transatlantic sale.
The “light” fare — which normally starts at £149 one way from London to Toronto — only includes the seat and 10kg hand luggage, so I paid £24.99 extra for a 23kg checked bag and £19.99 for an XL reserved seat, paying a total of £143.98 for the one-way ticket.
“Comfort” economy fares, which include a checked bag and priority seating, start at £199 each way, while the “flex” fare which also includes a meal – and is refundable – starts from £419.
However, I was one of a number of lucky customers who were bumped up to the premium economy cabin, which would normally start at £499, or $US749 for flights from the US. This meant I got to pick my seat in the premium cabin. Here’s what the layout looked like:
The premium fare also meant I qualified for priority boarding — something well worth spending extra on, since you can’t check in online with Primera. The economy queues were massive. Here’s the economy line compared to the priority one, which was empty.
Premium passengers have their own check-in desks, and the whole process took me less than five minutes — though it looked long and draining for economy passengers.
I checked in, dropped my bag off, and was through security in a total of 20 minutes — a record for Stansted. I even had plenty of time for a pre-holiday celebratory drink.
I was somewhat relieved when the plane — a new Airbus A321NEO — wasn’t delayed, and we were ready for boarding on time.
The gate was packed with families with children. Once again, premium passengers got to board first.
Still, all travellers were on board nearly 30 minutes before we were due to take off.
Here’s the premium cabin, with the economy cabin in sight just behind. The interior of the cabin was surprisingly modern for a budget airline, with grey and hints of yellow — as well as some mellow and relaxing elevator music.
My seat — right in the front row — was super spacious, and looked more like a business class seat than premium economy.
There was a water bottle waiting for me, and I was immediately impressed by the seat size and legroom — 39 inches, with a 21-inch-wide seat.
The legroom in economy is 30 inches, or 32 in an XL seat, with 18 inches in width.
As well as the pockets in front, there was loads of storage space inside the arm rest.
There was also a full power socket instead of just the USB port, which is all the economy seats have.
The seats weren’t overly comfortable as there wasn’t much padding — but the foot rest popped up and the seat reclined, making it seem more like a lounger.
I was given a “comfort kit” and a blanket.
Inside, there was an eye mask (which came in handy)…
…socks (which I wore throughout)…
…a mini toothbrush and paste…
…a shoehorn, for some reason…
…a fold-down hair brush…
…and some earplugs.
The main drawback was that there was no in-flight entertainment — but this was made clear beforehand, so I came prepared with some downloaded Netflix shows and a book.
The flight attendants, who were incredibly friendly, joked to one passenger: “We’re your entertainment.”
One slight annoyance was the fact that there appeared to only be two toilets on the entire plane — at the front and the back — so there was constantly a line at the one right in front of me.
A meal, which economy passengers can pay extra for online, was included in the premium fare, and I was able to select my preference online beforehand (although I accidentally ordered an economy meal instead of the premium one).
The flight attendants came around with a drinks and snacks (chips, chocolate, and sandwiches) service, which came at a cost to passengers not in premium. I declined at first before I was told by an attendant that the service was complimentary for me. Unsure what that meant, I just ordered a tea.
The prices for the snacks and drinks seemed reasonable.
You could easily pay £4 or £5 for a beer in any bar.
When it came to mealtime, mine was served on real plates with a proper mug, which wasn’t the case for the economy passengers, who had different food. I asked for some red wine — and had a choice of a few options at no cost — then tucked into the starter, a fresh-tasting prawn and black rice salad with olive oil.
The main was hot beef with mashed potato and vegetables, which was pretty delicious, as was the cake with custard that followed.
Close to the end of the eight-hour flight, I started to feel a little peckish, so I bought some cashews from the drinks and snacks service (snacks come at an extra cost even for premium passengers). However, I regretted it when minutes later, a cheese plate with warm scones and jam arrived. I was far too full to eat it all.
I was completely stuffed and pretty impressed — especially when we were told we’d be landing 45 mins ahead of schedule.
While the “light” fare certainly seems to be no-frills, you can pay a bit extra for the likes of bags and food and still get a pretty good deal — especially if you’re paying $US69 from the US. Premium, meanwhile, was great value, particularly for business travellers. I’d definitely fly with Primera again in either cabin — especially if there’s another flash sale involved.
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