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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.

Headphones?

  • 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

Conclusion

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.

  • yonasl says:

    Would love to see HfP do a review of AA (my understand is that it is quite similar to BA), IB, AF and KLM. There is a little too much BA/VS content and Avios can even be used on JAL’s premium (none of us going to Asia anytime soon however).

    • Rob says:

      If AA give us a seat, we’ll do it. Oddly I am not keen to blow close to £2,000 inc hotel costs etc for a one-off article about an airline that has never spent a single penny with us.

      • yonasl says:

        haha fair enough. You can always book BA and as 50/50 they may cancel your flight jump to AA 🙂 (that’s how I got my JAL premium seats to Japan)

      • Mikeact says:

        Why pay two grand…use your Avios.

        • Rob says:

          Yes, because that’s free money isn’t it, and no taxes. Oh ….

          • Panda Mick says:

            But still a business expense, so YOU are not paying this, the business is 🙂

  • Richie says:

    AA’s seat is based on the same seat as Virgin. I did AA B773 in PE LHR-JFK in April. The food is better than their economy offering, but the service was economy. I was redeeming an AA voucher and needed TPs. AA is at the bottom of my preferred PE cabin list. There you go Rob £2,000 saved.

    • yonasl says:

      👍

    • CamFlyer says:

      I flew AA PE in 2019 return LHR-JFK, on a 7777, and I found the hard product noticeably better than BA WT+ on the 777 / 747. I don’t recall much about the soft product, which means it was adequate. From memory the food was closer to Economy – maybe a better quality than usual on AA, and a larger portion, but nothing memorable.

  • dougzz99 says:

    Almost all the comments are from people that know the product and have formed their opinions. I doubt I’ll ever fly Norse, they’ll have gone broke by the time I get round to it. In my limited PE experience VS is a little nicer than BA, although if BA was even £30 cheaper that’d be enough to put me on BA. I always feel PE is just economy of 20 years ago.
    In general ex-EU business is priced keenly enough for me to avoid PE.

    • Richie says:

      I did LHR-MIA on BA B744 in 1999 in Economy, it definitely wasn’t premium.

      • Terri says:

        I did LHR-MIA on BA B744 in 2019 (maybe even the same plane as you in 1999 as the steward said the plane was older than him) in Economy, it definitely wasn’t premium – but the back twin seats were not too bad

        • dougzz99 says:

          The age of the plane doesn’t matter much. Until a new model comes along there’s not much in the way of real improvement. The trouble with older BA planes is their lack of servicing and cleaning, so that the seat comfort and appearance is poor in very short space of time. Too often things are not fixed properly if deemed cosmetic, so panels are taped back and come loose, surfaces are chipped and stained. But until BA choose to address these things they’re as likely as not to look old after a year or two.

      • dougzz99 says:

        There were fewer seats across previously in economy. The window seat was not placed into the curve of the fuselage. The aisles were wider. All of this contributed to a better sense of personal space, more like current PE.
        When I flew economy I much preferred the AA 2-5-2 to the BA 3-3-3.

        • Richie says:

          I did AA 2-5-2 B777 in Y to LAX and that was the short lived MRTC. The closest they offerred to PE then.

    • Dave says:

      And turn your £30 ticket saving into a £50 each way seat reservation…

  • slidey says:

    The last twice I flew BA premium econ there was no sparkling wine on boarding, they were only giving water or orange, had assumed it had been enhanced away.

  • yonasl says:

    Just thought that the article could be enriched with information about how easy it is to gain status with PE vs Business and the price difference.

    For instance with BA a flight in Y to LAX can be £900 in PE and £3,000 in J but the TPs earned are 90 vs 140. So basically you can get to silver with 3 return trips (plus maybe a EC). I don’t know how that works out for VS.

    • Richie says:

      Rob has written extensively about short haul CE flights that can get you 160 TPs. Fly PE and get an extra 20 TPs on a return trip. I think we know where the TP bargains can be found.

    • Gordon says:

      If your a business traveler you may hit silver, But the TP threshold resets back to 650 for silver on 31st Dec, Also can’t see a leisure traveler making 3 return CW trips in 4 months….

    • Magic Mike says:

      Nice article folks.

      Agree that TP earning comparison might be a nice addition.

      On VS Premium earns you either 50 or 100 TPs one way, with 400 needed for Silver (300 until March 2023) or 1000 for Gold (800 until March 2023). Virgin Silver gets you basically nothing though.

      • lumma says:

        Virgin gold doesn’t really get you that much either, unless you eegu fly them in economy

  • Panda Mick says:

    You missed one bit of criteria out, which I absolutely love:

    I don’t know if it’s on all aircraft, but I love the self service galley on Virgin PE. Just being able to get up and get your own drink / nibbles is lovely

    • The Savage Squirrel says:

      +1. If there’s a spectrum from “demanding” to “nice” then those of us on the nice end (which is basically most people) will deliberately avoid making even very modest and reasonable requests in situations when we can tell that staff are short handed or overworked. Having the option to just sort ourselves out is great.
      To the reply that there should be staff there for our requests as needed… this is Premium ECONOMY, not First. I’m quite happy going to get a Twix and a coke myself. I don’t need or expect a butler.

  • Richie says:

    There’s also the ‘turn left’ factor as you board the aircraft.

  • Mutley says:

    I flew back from Atlanta yesterday in PE, on Virgin, the meal wasn’t good, the was seat OK ( I am 6ft 2 as well but just better looking than Rob!) my flight in PE to JFK was better, as it included the afternoon tea option.interestingly, speaking to one of the crew, he said that the 330 is universally disliked by VS crew as there is no crew rest area unlike the 787 and the A350’s

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

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