Your travel expert: Is Air Canada's new premium economy class worth spending extra on?
When is Economy not Economy? When it's Premium, of course. A growing number of airlines are adding this third class to cabins, and for good reason - lots of passengers feel too cramped in cattle class, but can't afford to splash thousands of euro on Business.
Most Premium Economy services involve pretty standard seats with a few inches of extra legroom, a better position on the plane and extras like noise-cancelling headphones. But there's also variation within the genre - the 'Economy Plus' seat pitch on a United Airlines Boeing 777-300ER is 34 inches, for example. On a Norwegian Dreamliner, it's a whopping 43" to 46".
A new arrival for Irish passengers is Air Canada's Premium Economy, available on single-aisle, Boeing 737-MAX 8 planes flying between Dublin and Montreal and Shannon and Toronto this summer. Air Canada has 'Preferred' seats in the Economy cabin, which offer extra legroom for an additional €42-€62 per flight, but it also offers 16 'Premium' pews at the front of the plane. Where basic economy costs from €413 return to Montreal, these will set you back at least €1,030.
Why? I flew to Montreal recently, and would describe the service as almost like entry-level business class. The seats don't lie flat, but the pitch is 38", they recline about 7", and the cabin feels enhanced and exclusive. Design is slick, with tables, screens and buttons all working intuitively, and there is good storage and charging space.
Premium passengers get an 11" entertainment screen that tilts to reduce glare, and there's a neat little line at the bottom showing the plane's progress without having to exit your movie. Complimentary wine and spirits are available, and meals are served with real china, cutlery and glass - a vegetable lasagne, salad and lemon citrus tart were a step up from stodgy economy fare. My footrest didn't work, however (nor did my neighbouring passenger's), despite the best efforts of friendly cabin crew, and there is currently no on-board Wi-Fi.
Along with the on-board experience, this Premium Economy adds a lot of value with priority check-in, fast-track security and two 23kg checked bags. At this price, though, I'm surprised it doesn't give access to Dublin Airport's executive lounge.
Verdict? Throw in the mood lighting, air circulation and quieter cabins of the 787-MAX 8, and you have a 5.5- to 6.5-hour flight that zips by - definitely worth a splash for a honeymoon, anniversary or special occasion. Of course, €1,030 is still a lot of money, so my final tip is to check in on upgrade prices before travel - or to bid using the airline's 'AC Bid Upgrade' service (aircanada.com). When available, late upgrades tend to be cheaper than buying at full whack in advance.