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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.

  • Radha Gopalakrishnan says:

    My husband and i travelled Business Class British Airways from Chennai to Heathrow in September 2021… was a disgusting experience . We are in our 80’s and requested help to place our bag in the overhead compartment….help was refused. All the meals were served unheated, despite a request. My husband had food poisoning from eating the vegetarian cutlets he was given just before landing…i did not eat anything, unable to face a cold meal. One very kind member of staff handed me a bag of candy with a sympathetic smile. The experience at Heathrow is better forgotten .The onward flight to Toronto was a very pleasant experience….no complaints.

  • Susan Gough says:

    I flew to the US from London in Premium Economy earlier this year, the departing flight was with American Airlines my preferred choice. However the return was operated by British Airways. I was very impressed with AA, the seating, space and atmosphere of the cabin was very comfortable. The food was wonderful with snacks between meals. I was looking forward to returning on BA to compare their PE. No comparison! So disappointing. The main meal was terrible and the breakfast was a dry roll in a box. I will make sure on future trips BA is not involved.

    • Lemonbars says:

      Just did this for our summer holidays. BA was awful in comparison to AA, service terrible as well. Almost bad enough for me to formally complain. I was very disappointed!

  • Robert says:

    Since you travelled BA premium economy and the pandemic, the premium economy offering has suffered. I travelled a few times between LHR and MIA in the last 12 months and BA’s premium economy is not nearly where it was back in 2019. Where you used to get a menu and drinks on seating after just boarding the plane, now the menu is gone, meals seem to be the same as economy and service level has also dropped. Time to revisit the BA Premium Economy offering for an up to date review and comparison.

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

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