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"Premium Economy" Class?

Business travelers find a middle ground

May 31, 2009

Many companies are requiring employees to fly in economy class to help slash expenses. But not all are having to sit back in coach, and that's helping some airlines offset a huge falloff in business travel.

Bucking an industry trend, Virgin Atlantic Airways said this week that its profit more than doubled to $109 million in the year ended Feb. 28, mainly because of lower fuel costs, but also because more travelers filled up its "premium economy" section -- a hybrid cabin located between business and coach.

The London-based airline founded by British billionaire Richard Branson said business travelers were downgrading from its "upper class" cabins to premium economy, often for only a part of the trip.

They'll fly in the business-class seats -- which can fold out into a bed -- from Los Angeles to London, but then fly home in premium economy, which have seats that are about an inch or two wider than in coach and have about six more inches of legroom.

This way, they can sleep and recharge for their early-morning meetings at the start of the trip and save money on the way back, said Chris Rossi, Virgin Atlantic's senior vice president of North America. A business-class round-trip ticket between Los Angeles and London in mid-June could set you back about $7,000. But flying there in business class and then coming back in premium economy would be about $2,000 cheaper.

Most international carriers offer some type of premium economy seats, but U.S. airlines have been slow to adopt them, particularly on shorter flights.

One exception has been United, which offers "economy plus" seats on most planes.

Business travelers find a middle ground
Virgin Atlantic new "Premium Economy' seats / Image via


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