There’s a misconception that the relatively recent trend of airlines introducing ‘Premium Economy’ is merely a re-branded throwback to Economy of the 80s.
While we were just too young and our legs were just too short to appreciate the wonders of flight in that bold and heady decade, from what we can gather, at no point were you treated to the little touches that make it such a leap from sitting in the rear end of the plane. Here’s what we mean…
Sydney to Hong Kong (Approximately 9 hours 30 minutes)
Airbus 330 – 300
31G & 31H
It’s a 2-3-2 seat arrangement (Economy on the Airbus 330-300 is 2-4-2) this means that while there is a still a dreaded middle seat, it’s not unbearable by any means.
The Premium Economy Experience begins even before you get on the flight with expedited check-in via the Business Class line and continues right through to the boarding gate. No shuffling like something out of a Pink Floyd video, you are treated almost like an equal amongst Business Class-ers. If the airport was Kensington Palace and you were in the royal family, you might be Princess Beatrice or Eugenie. Not near the crown but still important enough to warrant a curtsey.
This is where Cathay Pacific truly excels. The menu is a hybrid of Business and Economy, which means no white table cloths but on-ground quality eating, with a proper 4-page dining menu and a larger selection of wines from award-winning vineyards in France and South Africa. There’s even Chivas Regal and Courvoisier V.S.O.P if you’re inclined to roll that way.
Breakfast consisted of seasonal fresh fruit, yoghurt in a plastic cup (probably the least high-end element but, come on, it’s Premium Economy), vegetable frittata with back bacon, Roma tomato and herb potatoes. As well as a perfectly crispy croissant as if straight out of the oven.
Lunch options were a chermola marinated shrimp and pumpkin couscous. Hong Kong style curry prawns, stir-fried vegetables and steamed jasmine rice for the HK locals. Vegetarians could tuck into the spinach tortellina, Parmesan cheese, olive and tomato basil sauce. Finally, lamb cutlets served with rosemary roasted vegetables and celeriac puree.
Being Australian we opted for the lamb. Not overstating it when we say that they were delicious to the point of near restaurant quality. The flavours were balanced and when you pause to consider that you are flying 30,000 feet in the air and enjoying a succulent pink and tender piece of meat, you can’t help but take a moment to be impressed.
Cabin crew followed lunch with offerings of Maggie Beer tubs of premium ice cream. Nice.
You have a choice of some 143 movies (new releases and classics in both English and Cantonese) and a wide range of comedy series and dramas. We skipped over these and got completely lost in HBO’s controversial documentary The Jinx about the is he/isn’t he murderer Robert Durst. Have you seen this? It was all we could do to grab everybody’s screens and force them to watch it.
We lost count of the number of times we leant over to each other to whisper about the wow factor. When you’re stuck on a long-haul transit it’s just human nature to magnify everything. Neighbour too close? Not enough leg room? Line too long? Those are the usual Economy gripes. But it goes both ways as well. Extra 6 inches leg room? Divine. Extra 8 inches recline? Heaven. Wide centre console to space you from whoever’s next door? Perfect. Noise cancelling headphones? Utter genius. If you’re susceptible to the occasional hit of schadenfreude then you’ll love the tiny glimpses past the curtain into your former comrades in Economy class.
All these touches make such a huge difference we even wondered if we could go back?