Indelible Pieces

Ramblings about entertainment, lifestyle and travel

Review: Air New Zealand vs British Airways vs Virgin Atlantic

In the past four weeks I’ve travelled a lot. In fact I’ve been around the world, from Shanghai, China to just about everywhere in NZ to San Francisco, USA. As part of this I’ve spent countless hours on planes and it’s fair to say that some hours were more enjoyable than others.

For the majority of my trip I flew Premium Economy – something that’s become more popular in recent years. It’s something that’s a bit more affordable than business (when you’re not travelling for business), but with a little extra comfort over standard economy. However, it’s surprising how the class varies from airline to airline.

Air New Zealand

I started off on Air New Zealand’s NZ8 from Auckland to San Francisco on the airline’s Boeing 777-300. From the beginning, the experience was fantastic. Perhaps it’s due to being a fairly new plane compared to others, but Air New Zealand’s Premium Economy class was spacious, a 2-2-2- configuration, the seats were comfortable and you were provided with a proper pillow and blanket rather than the super thin blankets and pillows you get with other airlines.

Air NZ Premium Economy
I’m 5’4″ so a pretty average height for a girl, but I could easily stretch my legs (they even provided you with foot cushions) and still had space. I had a window seat and luckily no one was sat next to me, but the seats were definitely wide enough that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference to me. The only downside is that if you are lucky enough to have a couple of seats to yourself, you can’t properly make use of both seats due to its positioning of being slightly set apart. I still managed to do it, but admittedly it took me a little while. The other good thing about the seat design, however, is the fact that you can’t tell whether the person in front has reclined his/her seat or not – oh what a difference that makes.


Onto the entertainment system. Once again, Air New Zealand is doing quite well. Having flown both economy and premium economy, the entertainment system is excellent. You can order drinks or snacks straight from your screen (even Milo!), which I think is a real bonus and you can even send your favourites selection of movies, TV shows and songs to your e-mail address. In premium economy, you can also move the screen around slightly – something you can’t do in economy for obvious reasons.

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand

Lastly, the service. Air New Zealand’s team was likeable, approachable and they even made an effort to learn my name and check in on me. The food wasn’t outstanding, but it was good enough and being able to order food and drinks as and when you want was a definitely bonus. Another things that’s so simple, but can make such a difference on a long-haul flight is getting a hot wet towel, so that was great. Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience, especially not having flown on Air New Zealand for a while. After the 12 hour trip I definitely felt more refreshed than I do normally and I can say that I’d always be happy to fork out more for premium economy with Air NZ, because it actually makes a difference.



Next up was Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy. I was down to flight on its Boeing 747-400 from San Francisco to London. Now I only made it on to the plane sat on the tarmac (where we spent a few hours), so I can’t review the service throughout the flight or the food, but I’ve got a pretty good view overall. In comparison with Air NZ, I wasn’t quite that impressed and I’ll tell you why. The seats were smaller than on my Air NZ flight with 1 2-4-2 configuration, but they were still leather seats and fairly comfortable. The pillows and blankets were also not as plush, but it was okay. What was definitely useful, was having an armrest that also worked as a cup holder. I find that when travelling you always want to have a drink handy, but you don’t always want to have the tray down. For this, having a space to put your drink is definitely handy.

The entertainment system wasn’t quite as new or simple, but they still had an okay movie selection. The seats reclined okay and having my preferred window seat, I spent a good few hours in my seat and was comfortable enough.

Virgin Atlantic

Now the service. This is where I think VA let itself down the most. Granted, they were difficult conditions for passengers (something I’ll wrote about another time), but it all could’ve been handled a lot better. We were stuck on the tarmac for 6 hours in the evening  and all we got to eat were crisps and Oreos. In fact I remember being told we could only have either/or and not both. Starving and getting restless, that’s not what you want to hear. Additionally, the staff didn’t really seem to know what was going on and why we were being held, so they weren’t very helpful in talking us through our options. If I had the option of flying premium economy with VA again, I’d probably go for it, as, despite the issues, it was still more comfortable than premium economy and enough of a benefit to pay the additional fee. However, if I had the choice of flying Air NZ or VA, I’d take Air NZ without a second’s thought.

Lastly, British Airway’s Premium Economy on its Boeing 747-400. I flew British Airway’s Premium Economy on its BA287 flight from San Francisco to London and I’d say it was closest to standard economy than any of its competitors. The seats barely felt any bigger than those in economy with a 2-4-2 configuration, the screen was minuscule and the blanket and pillow so thin that I was relieved I took my pillow with me.

British Airways Premium Economony

Image Source:

The entertainment system overall left a lot to ask for. There were very few movies that I hadn’t seen (and yes I watch a lot, but I certainly haven’t seen all movies ever to come out) and those that I hadn’t were not appealing at all. So that left me to get plenty of sleep. However, the seats didn’t recline all that much, unfortunately I was stuck with an aisle seat (still better than middle I suppose) and my foot rest also wasn’t working all that well.

BA Premium Economy

But there was still the service and the food that could’ve made it all better. Unfortunately that was another downfall. I rarely ever saw one of the air hostesses, so getting drinks outside of dedicated meal services was down to switching on the service light and the food also wasn’t great. Now it’s possible that I might have just been very unlucky. However, you do pay a fair bit more for premium economy, so you’d expect there to be at least a noticeable difference. Overall I’d say that this flight was the least deserving of the more expensive price tag. Apart from minor differences, it was pretty much just standard economy. And yes, I’ve seen photos and heard of a better looking premium economy on BA, but unfortunately that wasn’t mine, though perhaps it’s worth checking if you’re flying with BA’s new A380 in that case.

Just as I finished writing this review, Singapore Airlines announced its own Premium Economy. From 9 August 2015, customers travelling on select flights from Singapore to Sydney will be the first to experience the new cabin class, which will subsequently be made available to other destinations served by the Airline’s Airbus A380s and Boeing 777-300ERs, in addition to the future fleet of Airbus A350s. More on this can be found here. And who knows, maybe next time when I fly home to New Zealand I’ll try the Singapore route so I can test this one out.

Image of SQ Premium Economy (2)


Thoughts or other experiences more than welcome – oh and please excuse the glum photo, it was quite late in the day by that point


3 comments on “Review: Air New Zealand vs British Airways vs Virgin Atlantic

  1. alexraphael
    June 17, 2015

    It would be a good passport photo but I like it 🙂 I’ve travelled more than a few places, including San Fran, but not New Zealand. Watching Flight of the Conchords is as close as I’ve gotten. What’s the longest flight you’ve ever been on? Ever had a nightmare sitting next to you?

    • Kerry Anderson
      June 17, 2015

      Longest flight definitely to New Zealand if you talk about the flight itself. However my longest ever to get me there was 40 hours on Air Brunei. I had a 10 hour stopover in Brunei and got to go on a little sightseeing tour, so not too bad. I’ve never sat next to a nightmare, but getting the middle seat on a red eye from New York to London on Delta was pretty awful and wouldn’t do it again. Ever.

      • alexraphael
        June 17, 2015

        That does sound uncomfortable. I hope you’ve had a few empty flights to make up for it.

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