In the second installment of our monthly flight review series, Richard Holmes assesses the Premium Economy cabin on Virgin Atlantic’s Cape Town-to-London route. Premium Economy is becoming the ‘Goldilocks cabin’ for global travellers who want a little extra comfort without blowing their travel budget.
Check-in: Virgin Atlantic, like most major carriers, has a sophisticated online check-in service. But seeing as I was connecting to a San Francisco-bound flight leaving London, I decided to check in my bags at the counter, to ensure I had the correct boarding passes and the bags were cleared through to SFO. Good call, it turned out, as Premium Economy passengers have a dedicated check-in lane that meant the whole process took just a few minutes.
I like to travel light, but Premium Economy passengers do receive an additional baggage allowance for the hold, with two 23 kg bags allowed. However, carry-on baggage limits are strictly enforced, with Economy and Premium Economy passengers allowed just one bag not weighing more than 6 kg.
Lounge and boarding: There is no automatic lounge access for Premium Economy passengers, but if you need a quiet space to wait before boarding, the revamped Bidvest Lounge at Cape Town International Airport is good value at R289/3hrs.
Boarding for the London flight started right on time, and Premium Economy passengers are given priority boarding alongside Upper Class travellers. There’s more value to be had as you settle into your seat too: a bottle of water awaits, champagne is offered, and newspapers handed out. On this score alone it’s a big step up from Economy.
Flight: Virgin’s Premium Economy is one of the most comfortable in the skies, with wide leather seats, decent legroom (I’m over six feet tall) and a good degree of recline. Unlike more modern Premium Economy cabins, the seat doesn’t recline in its own shell, but rather into the space of the passenger behind you… when this is the case I only recline after the meal service is finished. The 2-3-2 seat layout also made the Premium Economy cabin feel more spacious and less crowded than Economy class.
Dinner was brought out promptly once we were at cruising altitude, and is served in the same style as their Upper Class product: expect proper crockery, a linen tablecloth and a choice of three main courses. There’s a good wine selection on offer, and the cabin crew were unfailingly friendly, efficient and helpful.
So far so good… but it’s a pity Virgin lets the side down with atrocious on-board entertainment. There’s no video-on-demand on its A340-300 aircraft, with cumbersome pre-loaded tablets offered instead. (Luckily, the A340-600 used on the Johannesburg route does come fitted with the VERA video-on-demand system.)
Arrival: Despite London’s notorious air traffic congestion we touched down slightly ahead of schedule, giving me an extra few minutes to clear security and head for my San Francisco-bound flight.
All in all, Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy does what it says on the box: adds a healthy dose of ‘Premium’ into long-haul travel, without forking out for a pricey Upper Class fare. It’s well worth the extra spend.
Note: The Cape Town-to-London route is being discontinued by Virgin on 27 April 2015. Premium Economy will however continue to be available on Virgin’s daily flights from Johannesburg to London.
Related stories on AFKTravel:
Airline Assessment: Cathay Pacific From Hong Kong To Joburg
Airline Assessment: British Airways From Cape Town To London Heathrow
Airline Assessment: Air France From Europe To Johannesburg