The Business and First Class travelers have long experienced some pretty swank services on-board, while Economy passengers have had the more (ahem) scaled-back experience that their budget would seem to dictate. But if you’re on a tight budget, don’t despair! There are a few commercial airlines blazing a trail by offering perks not normally seen in Economy.
And their successes are making some of the other airlines sit up and take notice. Most of these are for long-haul flights (let’s face it though, the shorter hops are easier to do bare-bones). Here are a few of the airlines offering a better-than-basic product for their customers.
Best for Tech Addicts
It will come as no surprise that Virgin America offers a superior and tech-savvy flying experience. The well-appointed cabins have sleek black leather seating and every seatback comes with its own controls (handy for ordering artisanal snacks and cocktails, or watching live TV and movies on demand). You can even send a stranger a drink without the stress of a face-to-face conversation! No wonder Virgin is presently enjoying cool kid status with the Millennial set. This is not your father’s airline. The add-ons are plentiful and relatively inexpensive – you can often upgrade to Main Cabin Select for a pittance at check-in, purchase WiFi or gain access to lounge facilities at the airport where you will enjoy complimentary cocktails, snacks and WiFi. So much fun AND a reasonable price? Sign us up.
Best for Families
Air New Zealand does pretty much everything right for the toddler set. They pioneered the cost-conscious, roomier SkyCouch feature on their 777 airplanes, which allows two adults to purchase three seats, or families to spread out a bit more for a fraction of the cost to upgrade to Business Class. SkyCouch is perhaps most useful for the dreaded one parent, two child flying situation. The food and drink options are best-in-class as far as airplane chow and libations go, and the crew are some of the friendliest in the biz. They’ve even managed to make the in-flight safety videos kid-friendly. Long story short, if you have a long-haul flight and you’re traveling with kids, Air New Zealand may just be your best value.
Best for Overall Comfort
Trying to get some shut-eye in an Economy seat is no easy feat. That’s why we’re giving Etihad the gold star for solving one of the peskiest Economy Class problems once and for all with it’s “fixed wing” headrest (available on 787 Dreamliner and A380 flights). In addition, they provide special, oversized pillows that you can halve and use for a neck rest. It doesn’t matter that you’re flying Economy with Etihad – everyone gets the noise-cancelling headsets, 4-course meals, coffee/cappuccino/hot chocolate service and mobile/internet access for the complete flight. The only way this could be more comfy would be if they offered facials and cozy slippers for every traveler. Hint, hint.
Cathay Pacific appears on a lot of top 10 lists every year, and for good reason. They just do everything – from start to finish – quite well. From the warm and friendly crews, to the crowd-pleasing design tweaks (18.5” wide seats and 32” seat pitch are standard on its 777-300ERs), to the extensive in-flight entertainment options, Cathay Pacific doesn’t leave any improvement to chance. Their attention to detail gives the Economy traveler the satisfaction of a reliable carrier that values their experience. Bravo, Cathay Pacific!
Best Use of the KISS Principle
JetBlue keeps it simple. That’s just what they do. From their almost jaw-dropping “first bag flies for free” policy (yes, that’s a FREE checked bag), to their “Even More Space” seats which are – as you might have guessed – an even roomier option for those folks who would like a bit more space, they just give you clear options and then deliver a fuss-free and comfortable experience. They even have an upgrade to help get you through security faster “Even More Speed.” It can be purchased as a standalone, but it comes with every “Even More Space” ticket. They are currently at work to outfit their whole fleet with Fly-Fi (an Internet surfing experience that should rival your home or office experience). While this is in Beta, everyone surfs for free. That’s just a classy move, JetBlue. Check out their Mint product as well – which aims to bring the First Class coast-to-coast experience at an Economy price point.
The good news for Economy travelers is that the commercial flight industry has never been more interested in what the Economy traveler wants and needs. Up-and-coming air carriers, Millennial disposable income and the trend toward making premium products more mainstream make this an exciting time for innovation and inspiration in Economy travel. We’ll continue to bring you news of innovations as we hear of them. Until then, happy travels!