This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of British Airways and its predecessor airlines, Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA. You can browse the full series of 100 stories in numerical order, by theme or by decade.
Like long-haul business class, which airline can claim credit for first introducing premium economy depends on who you ask.
Virgin Atlantic claims to have first introduced premium economy in 1992 with its “Mid Class” for full fare economy passengers (this was of course how long-haul business class first originate), later to be rebranded Premium Economy in 1994 and Premium in March 2018.
BA introduced its own premium economy cabin, World Traveller Plus, on 29 October 2000. This took the number of travel classes on long-haul aircraft to four. The cabin was explicitly targeted at premium leisure customers and cost-conscious business travellers, with the emphasis very much encouraging World Traveller passengers to trade up and not Club World passengers to trade down.
This was the first seat, which you’ll still find on all Boeing 747 and non-refurbished Boeing 777-200 aircraft, designed by Recaro:
The seat has evolved over time with new seats on Boeing 777-300, Boeing 787, Airbus A380 and refurbished Boeing 777 aircraft offering improved comfort as well as better at seat power and in-flight entertainment.
In terms of in-flight service, partly for industrial relations reasons, there was initially very little difference in service between World Traveller and World Traveller Plus. BA also offered little by way of enhanced ground facilities. However, the cabin has evolved over time in piecemeal fashion with improved food & beverage and amenities.
World Traveller Plus has become an increasingly popular cabin, partly due to proactive upgrade offers through ba.com and many corporate customers revising their travel policies. Though its value still remains very subjective. Some see little difference to economy. Others see it as a welcome relief.
New and recently refurbished aircraft have significantly larger cabins than when it was first introduced. With many new aircraft not featuring First Class and others having smaller First cabins, as it becomes the effective second class on many more aircraft, it should continue develop and evolve in the coming years.