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Who has the best premium economy – Virgin Atlantic, British Airways or Norse Atlantic?

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Who has the best premium economy product – Virgin Atlantic, British Airways or Norse Atlantic?

Following my review of Norse Atlantic’s new Premium cabin on flights from London I have now flown (and reviewed) premium economy on all the major UK airlines.

Norse offers a substantially different premium economy experience to both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways. I thought it was worth creating a comparison chart between the three airlines to help you know what to expect and make an informed decision.

Who has the best Premium Economy seat?

Let’s face it.  Premium Economy is not a half-way house between Economy and a Business Class bed.  It is simply a higher quality Economy product.

This comparison between BA, Virgin and Norse is only for guidance, especially as the exact specification will vary by aircraft type. It is based on our own experience flying premium economy on all three airlines as well as information from the airline websites. Where cabins differ across the fleet we have tried to use the figures from the latest generation aircraft  – the A350.

We have reviewed all three cabins in the past few years. You can see our review of Virgin Atlantic Premium here and our review of British Airways World Traveller Plus premium economy here. Our review of Norse Atlantic’s new Premium cabin is here.

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy seat

Free seat selection at time of booking:

  • Virgin Atlantic: Yes, although you can pay for ‘Preferred’ seats
  • British Airways: No (for non-Silver and Gold customers)
  • Norse Atlantic: No

Virgin Atlantic bucks the trend here, letting you select your own seat for free, although they have recently introduced ‘Preferred Premium’ seating which reserves c. 30% of the cabin (typically the second and third rows) for paid-for seat reservations.

Dedicated check-in desk:

  • Virgin Atlantic: Yes
  • British Airways: Yes
  • Norse Atlantic: Yes

As of February this year, British Airways now matches Virgin Atlantic and Norse Atlantic in offering dedicated check-in desks for premium economy passengers.

Lounge access:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  No
  • British Airways:  No
  • Norse Atlantic: No

Priority boarding:

  • Virgin Atlantic: Yes
  • British Airways: Yes at Heathrow and Gatwick via the group system (Group 3), No at airports where this is not used
  • Norse Atlantic: Yes

Priority baggage handling:

  • Virgin Atlantic: Yes
  • British Airways: No
  • Norse Atlantic: No

Seat width:

  • Virgin Atlantic: 18.5 – 21 inches
  • British Airways: 18.5 inches
  • Norse Atlantic: 19 inches

Seat pitch (gap between consecutive seats backs):

  • Virgin Atlantic: 38 inches
  • British Airways: 38 inches
  • Norse Atlantic: 46 inches

Norse Atlantic is the clear standout here, with eight inches of legroom more than its competitors.

In-flight entertainment?

  • Virgin Atlantic: 13.3 inch seat-back on the A350, gate-to-gate
  • British Airways: 12 inch seat-back on the A350, gate-to-gate
  • Norse Atlantic: 11 inch, in armrest on the 787

I found that all the airlines had a decent catalogue of entertainment. Virgin Atlantic obviously wins with the largest screen-size on its A350 fleet which are also mounted in the seat-back, unlike at Norse where the IFE screen is stored in the armrest. This has its downsides, including not being able to watch content gate-to-gate and a slightly more claustrophobic experience.


  • Virgin Atlantic: on ear
  • British Airways: over ear
  • Norse Atlantic: earbuds

Surprisingly, British Airways wins the headphones game with its big over-ear headphones. Norse Atlantic performs worse, with its cheap in-ear buds available to purchase for $3.50 – not exactly a ringing endorsement for their quality.

Amenity kit?

  • Virgin Atlantic: night flights only, contains eye mask, pen, dental kit and earplugs
  • British Airways: yes, contains eye mask, socks, pen, dental kit, lip balm
  • Norse Atlantic: no

Norse is the odd one out here, with both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways providing amenity kits in premium economy, although you’ll only get one on night flights with Virgin. I prefer the British Airways amenity kit which is made form recycled plastic bottles and has a nice herringbone design. It also comes with socks and lipbalm, which Virgin’s kit doesn’t, although Virgin does a better job at reducing unnecessary plastic such as with their bamboo toothbrush.

Other amenities?

  • Virgin Atlantic: fleece blanket, pillow
  • British Airways: quilted blanket, pillow
  • Norse Atlantic: fleece blanket

Again, British Airways supplies a rather nice blanket for its World Traveller Plus customers. Norse’s fleece blanket is very thin and it doesn’t provide a pillow either, unlike both BA and Virgin Atlantic.

First meal service:

  • Virgin Atlantic: three course meal. All meals served on china with metal cutlery, all meals upgraded vs Economy.
  • British Airways:  three course meal with bread roll. All meals served on china with metal cutlery, all meals upgraded vs Economy.
  • Norse Atlantic: two course meal with bread roll. All meals served in boxes, wooden cutlery.

The British Airways premium economy meal service is actually quite good after it was upgraded some time ago. Both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways have a minimum three courses served on real crockery, whilst Norse Atlantic will serve you a boxed meal with just a main course and a dessert.

Second meal service:

  • Virgin Atlantic: afternoon tea
  • British Airways: pocket pizza
  • Norse Atlantic: pocket pizza and macarons

Both British Airways and Norse offer a pizza box as their second meal on shorter transatlantic flights, making Virgin Atlantic the clear winner (in my view) with its afternoon tea comprising of a scone and sandwich.

Drinks service:

  • Virgin Atlantic: sparkling wine on boarding, wine, beers and spirits throughout
  • British Airways: sparkling wine on boarding, wine, beers and spirits throughout
  • Norse Atlantic: juice on boarding, wine and beer throughout, spirits available at extra charge

Both BA and Virgin Atlantic include a full bar service including prosecco, champagne or an alternative sparkling wine in premium economy. If you’re flying Norse, you’d have to pay extra for this, as well as for other spirits, which start at around $9.

Power socket at seat and wi-fi:

  • Virgin Atlantic: Yes (wi-fi on most aircraft)
  • British Airways: Yes (wi-fi on most aircraft)
  • Nose Atlantic: Yes (no wi-fi)

Dedicated lavatories?

  • Virgin Atlantic: Yes
  • British Airways: No
  • Norse Atlantic: Yes

Luggage allowance:

  • Virgin Atlantic: 2 x 23kg
  • British Airways: 2 x 23kg
  • Norse Atlantic: varies from hand baggage only to 2 x 23kg

Dedicated cabin crew:

  • Virgin Atlantic:  Yes
  • British Airways:  No
  • Norse Atlantic: We don’t think so but TBC

Frequent flyer miles earned on non-refundable PE ticket:

  • Virgin Atlantic: 100% of miles flown
  • British Airways: 100% of miles flown
  • Norse Atlantic: N/A

Frequent flyer miles earned on flexible PE ticket:

  • Virgin Atlantic: 200% of miles flown
  • British Airways: 150% of miles flown
  • Norse Atlantic: N/A

Can you upgrade your ticket to Business Class with points?

  • Virgin Atlantic: Yes. Virgin Atlantic also allows Economy tickets to be upgraded to Business Class (requires a reward seat to be available in Upper Class).
  • British Airways: Yes. World Traveller Plus tickets can be upgraded to Business Class, but standard Economy / World Traveller tickets cannot (requires a reward seat to be available in Club World / Club Suite).
  • Norse Atlantic: N/A – there is no Business Class cabin


Whilst it used to be true that Virgin Atlantic Premium used to be significantly better than World Traveller Plus, in recent years British Airways has been closing the gap. In early 2019 it revealed a new, dedicated meal offering for premium economy served on china, and has also introduced new amenity kits, blankets and pillows which are genuinely good.

Unlike British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, Norse offers a no-frills Premium service. Although it has by far the best leg room of all three airlines, its food and bar service is significantly worse and you don’t get an amenity kit or pillow, either. You can’t beat Norse’s leg room though – and if you are tall this may be all that matters.

For a closer look, I reviewed British Airways premium economy (World Traveller Plus) on an A380 in late 2019. I have since reviewed Premium on Virgin Atlantic in 2021 and Norse Atlantic’s new Premium offering from Gatwick, in 2022.

And if you’re not sure about the upgrade, I take a look at whether premium economy is worth it in this article.

Comments (119)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • riku says:

    When there is a problem with the aircraft how many other planes does the airline have to swap in and still get you to your destination or how many partner airlines to reroute you on? I think we already know from transatlantic Norwegian times what happens with irregular ops with these tiny airlines.

  • Michael C says:

    I see BA is still “wifi…on MOST aircraft” after all these years.
    I must have terribly bad luck!

    • AJA says:

      My OH accuses me of being glued to my phone so the lack of WiFi is a plus from their point of view 🙃

    • Tim says:

      As far as I’m aware it’s only missing on the 3/4 new 777-300s, otherwise it should be on all? Happy to be proven wrong

    • Alex says:

      Tried it for the first time recently on a 789 and it was so unusably slow

  • aseftel says:

    I haven’t flown them, so I can’t really comment on their quality, but surely the premium economy cabins offered by AA, DL and UA would be very relevant to a ‘who do I fly’ decision? Seems odd to seemingly exclude them from the definition of ‘major transatlantic airlines’. I think they all have proper premium economy cabins now.

    • Andrew J says:

      Indeed – strangely limited article. And of course we have the new EK premium economy cabin now which looks very nice indeed. The AA premium economy cabin looks decent from what I’ve seen through the curtain – amenity kits and a different meal to economy too.

      • Benjamin Murphy-Ryan says:

        Flew AA W a few times and prefer to BA TBH – but only available on limited routes

      • Tim says:

        Price up EK, VS, and BA PE on LHR DXB and see if it’s worth the comparison…

    • Jim Utd says:

      DL is awful. Seat is great, but meals and drink service were same as economy. We were served a drink after taking off followed 45 seconds later by the meal service and another drink! Doesn’t compare to Virgin who’s Premium is excellent, especially when you consider quality of food and access to wonderwall as well.

    • AJA says:

      I thought the same thing. Particularly as with all three US carriers you can earn reward points with the respective FF alliance.

      Also IB offers a premium economy cabin too on longhaul flights.

    • Rhys says:

      Haven’t flown them!

      Just looking at the UK-based carriers here. Maybe the next time we re-run this article we’ll have done a few more 🙂

  • Dezmeralda says:

    Might seem trivial, but one other consideration for me is whether they offer dedicated PE toilets. BA sadly lacking here – it really frustrates me they make you trundle down into Econ to go.

    • Gordon says:

      That is a bugbear of mine when I have used PE, Having to use the Econ toilets, As the flight goes on once passengers have consumed food and drinks there are queues formed outside. I tend to return to my seat and play Russian roulette in the hope the next time I try it’s not too busy….

    • Paul says:

      Exactly the same here, this has a big impact on quality of flight and should have been an important part of the comparison.

    • NorthernLass says:

      In the back row of PE on BA you are next to the toilet so can keep an eye on the queue!

  • Steve says:

    That pic of the BA food is very misleading. It’s clearly a pre pandemic photo. The food on Virgin now is far superior. Why have you chosen to not compare like for like ‘right now’ of BA food vs VS food? Because it would embarrass BA! Misleading article.

    • AJA says:

      I was surprised by that too unless BA has reinstated full catering with crockery and cutlery? I know they are supposed to be going to do this at some point.

    • Marcw says:

      I believe since early August BA reinstated it’s meal services in economy and premium.

    • Jenny says:

      I can’t agree with the BA description. The food service on BA to Toronto in June was abysmal both ways, and I was only served water pre-take off. No sparkling wine or juice in sight. Breakfast on the return flight was an utter disgrace.

    • Rhys says:

      Cos we don’t have ‘right now’ photos!

      I think WTP food is now back to normal – or very close to it – following the re-instatement of a second hot meal service on board earlier this month.

      • Benjamin Murphy-Ryan says:

        Second hot food service on BA is rank though – both pre- and post-pandemic – poor excuse for meal

      • T says:

        Why not ask this wonderfull community for help in preparation for an article like this?

        I am sure if you asked the HFP community for some pictures of food, or other items you did not know in advance of writing this article, they would have been all over it to help out? Creates a little bit of a feeling of togetherness!
        Surely with the contacts you have acquired in the sector over the years ” we don’t know” should not appear in a fairly straight forward review like this! Did you call anyone to find out certain mentions in the article?

        • Rob says:

          Rhys and I both flew Norse last week and we’re still none the wiser about dedicated crew 🙂

          All feedback today has been incorporated and next time we run a similar article it will be there from the start. We develop articles organically over the year ….

          • T says:

            Mmm, I would take that as a no then!

          • Lady London says:

            I love it. I sm going to remember the word “organically”. seems to cover all continengencies whilst keeping it trendy 🙂

    • SonicStar817 says:

      Its actually not misleading. The first meal in WTP returned to a near normal service with china and metal cutlery at the same time the one tray service was introduced in CW last year.

  • Tim Janaway says:

    Slightly incorrect with BA drinks. They don’t have sparkling wine on boarding, just water and juice, and also don’t have champagne out prosecco for WTP, only a couple of small bottles of sparkling wine for the whole cabin. Also, dedicated check in desks are only at LHR.

  • Alex Sm says:

    A casual mention of the fact that you are 6’2” is missing! 😉

  • Richie says:

    Please would you check the BA pic and consider a pic that shows the BA seat with an aisle armrest.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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