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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.

  • Matty says:

    Isn’t the breakfast offering in Premium Economy on BA the same as that offered in Economy? I don’t remember getting anything premium on an overnight flight from Dubai.

    • yonasl says:

      It is exactly the same atm. I was told on a flight a few weeks ago that they may reintroduce a warm breakfast but right now it is shameful.

      • Rhys says:

        Changes came into effect on the 1st August, including second warm meal I believe, so you may just have missed it

        • NorthernLass says:

          I flew home in PE last month, the “breakfast” consisted of a still-frozen croissant and a yoghurt! I wasn’t overly impressed on the CW offerings on the way out, either.

  • Smid says:

    Unless something has massively changed, VS didn’t used to offer Champagne in PE at all, not on boarding (sparkling wine, or Prosecco) or in cabin. It’s been about 5 years since last flown VS PE, but I’d be quite surprised if they did.

    • Jonathan says:

      I have found it to be always Prosecco. Did not get offered it at all last month. After an email to Virgin they apologised, admitted it was down to crew numbers and gave me 8000 points.

  • BJ says:

    If the route is operared by an a380 then BA, nothing else matters. In any case, I’ve always felt that differences between both the hard and soft products of the same generation between carriers business class is way overplayed by many people. I don’t fly PY but I imagine the difference to be even less significant than in business for the most part. It seens that almost all carriers go with the WTP style except for the hard shell sears currently being phased out by AF and phased in by LH.

    • Richie says:

      BTW The A380 re-fit rumour is that PE could be re-located on the lower deck, with First going up, that could mean PE is at the front of the lower deck. Just a rumour.

      • Catalan says:

        That would be good.
        First and Club Suites on the upper deck and WTP/WT on the lower.

        • Speedbird676 says:

          I always found it weird that F was on the main deck and J split between main and upper.

  • SonicStar817 says:

    WTP gets priority boarding (Group 3). It even says so on the BA website!

  • Gordon says:

    British Airways will cut roughly 10,000 short-haul flights to and from Heathrow Airport between late October and March.

    • Rob says:

      It will. Trade email went out earlier. October half term holiday routes are protected apparently.

      • numpty says:

        Apart from the press release do they not publish a list of the cancellations? Or do those with bookings just have to wait and see.

        Wondered why the IAG share price had tanked today for no obvious reason – I don’t get the trade press releases!

        • Gordon says:

          “Customers booked for winter will be able to travel as planned and are being given several months’ notice of any changes,”

          • BJ says:

            When I read that bit I thought it would have won best gag at Edinburgh festival fringe.

    • BJ says:

      Why October to March when LHR restriction is due to end (for the
      moment) on 29 October. According to the article last time there was even a suggestion from LHR the cap could be lifted earlier. This sounds like BA are jyst managing the situation to reduce supply and inflate fares.

      • dougzz99 says:

        Possibly to not bother recruiting for the quieter winter months? Not pay new/extra staff through the winter. Then of course when they try to recruit in the spring they won’t do it in time and this (fiasco) year will just repeat. Gov needs to remove slots if BA don’t want to fly.

  • Richard Gordon says:

    I think it’s a bit of a stretch to claim: “ British Airways: sparkling wine on boarding, wine, beers and spirits throughout”. No sparkling wine offered for our pre-departure drink. There was one drinks run on our flights to and from JFK (ex-LHR), there was no lemon for the spirits. Mid-flight our call bell went unanswered, and I had to walk to the back of the plane AND carry gins, mixers, plastic cups for two all the way back to my seat. Service? Not really. There were small bottles of sparkling wine on the top of the meal cart as that came round.

    Toilets: There IS a dedicated loo on the larger WT+ cabins from Gatwick on the 777.

    • yonasl says:

      Exactly my point. BA PE (which I know better than VS) keeps saying you will get some sort of premium experience/service but the reality is that it very much depends on the crew and most times the level is more Y than PY.

      The thing is that given the revenue yields in PE it is actually very cheap to just have a nice crew for the small cabin making people want to repeat instead of just preferring to downgrade to Y on their next flight.

  • LEWIS says:

    I can’t be the only one who would rather have a hot pizza as opposed to a cold sandwich and scone. Not sure virgin are the winner here

    • Rob says:

      That crossed my mind too but I hate egg sandwiches ….

    • Lady London says:

      plus the cabin is potentially stunk out with pizza anyway so you might as well eat it.

  • Chas says:

    Re seat pitch: “Norse Atlantic is the clear standout here, with almost ten inches of legroom more than its competitors.”

    You’ve just inflated the difference by 25% – why not say eight inches?

    • Rob says:

      It did say 8 this morning – we have copied over an earlier version to get the tiles imagery and that error was not (re)corrected. It said 8 inches at 5am!

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

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