REVIEW: Why Qantas premium economy is worth twice the price of seats behind you

Photo: Qantas.

Qantas restored flights to San Francisco from Sydney in December last year, in line with the current tech boom between the two cities.

Business Insider jumped on a Boeing 747 to see what the flight was like, but not in the pointy end nor in cattle class. We tried premium economy.

It’s an interesting value proposition at nearly double the price of normal economy while promising a bunch of business class features for about a third of the price of that section.

The premium economy experience starts at the airport with a separate check in lane – which is something gold Frequent Flyers already get. You score a priority bag tag too, but not the priority security pass handed to business flyers. And that’s one of the biggest things you’ll notice compared to business class – rather than zipping straight through the shorter security line, you’ll be spending an agonising 30 minutes in the standard line.

Once through, you don’t get lounge access, but if you’re QFF gold or above, you can still get in, as you can even if flying regular economy.

And there’s a premium economy boarding lane too so all the others in economy can stare at you with envy as you board.

Here’s your basic seat. Photo: Harry Tucker

But on the plane is where the real difference begins. The actual premium economy cabin itself is quite small, with 36 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration. On both flights, to and from the US, the cabin was quite empty and no-one was sitting next to me.

The cabin attendant offered champagne, juice or water as we were getting seated, plus a hot towel before take off. I asked for a Glenlivet single malt whisky. No problems, but an unrequested can of dry ginger ale was also supplied and seemed a little too Jetstar heading to Bali.

In premium there are little things like the being greeted by name.

“Would you like me to grab that jacket off you, Mr Tucker?”

Very business class.

But one thing you miss out on is those damn comfy Qantas business pyjamas.

Mmmmm, whisky. Photo: Harry Tucker

The seat is much roomier than standard economy, with an extra two inches taking it to 19.5-inches wide. There’s also a very generous 38-inch seat pitch – the distance between your seat and the back of the one in front – compared to 32-inches in economy.

Then there’s the 9-inch recline (50% more than economy) and a foot rest. While both these things certainly don’t turn it into a proper bed like in business or first, you get significantly more room and comfort than in standard economy.

A decent amount of legroom. Photo: Harry Tucker

Once in the air, there’s a 10.6-inch touchscreen full of a movies that are unreleased on Blu-Ray or digitally, as well as a library of classics and TV shows. On the leg over we watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Spy and a few episodes of Modern Family, as well as listening to music.

The library was decent enough, but the screen is still very small, low resolution and definitely something most airlines, including Qantas need to upgrade.

A nice blanket, a pillow and Star Wars – what more could you want? Photo: Harry Tucker

Food is a highlight of premium economy, with decent wines, beers and spirits on offer. You even get proper cutlery.

Here’s your menu (tap to expand). Photo: Harry Tucker

Dinner was chicken with tomato, caper and olive sauce, with green beans and polenta, plus a lovely glass of Penfolds Bin 128 shiraz. It wasn’t like eating at a hatted restaurant, but certainly enjoyable.

For breakfast, we chose yoghurt and fruit, but you can get the scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon cooked breakfast (see menu above).

Not bad for airline food. Picture: Harry Tucker

While the seats definitely are roomier and recline further than in economy, but we struggled to get any significant sleep, a problem that’s never happened in business. And getting back in a 747 reminds you of just how high the noise levels are in the cabin compared to an A380. Bring some noise cancelling headphones. Good ones.

So would you pay the extra cash over economy? Business Insider would – and stand a reasonable chance of convincing the office manager it’s worth the extra money on a long haul flight.

Despite the lack of sleep, we still felt more energised getting off the plane thanks to the added comforts throughout the flight. And extra comforts and better food make everything a much better experience, especially if you are spending half a day or more in a noisy tin can.

This article was first published in April 2016.