Check out Austrian Airlines' New Premium Economy Seat
This week, I'm joining the 2017 Star Alliance MegaDo, which includes stops in Vienna, Brussels and Mallorca. We spent much of Wednesday with Austrian Airlines, getting an exclusive first look at the carrier's brand-new premium economy seat, which launches on all long-haul flights in March 2018.
Premium Economy Seat
This is the first time we're seeing Austrian's version of the seat, called ZIMmagic, which is manufactured by a German company called ZIM. This particular model is nearly identical to what you'll find on Lufthansa, Austrian's parent company. Seats offer 38 inches of pitch and 9 inches of recline, and premium economy passengers receive a second checked bag.
There's a 12-inch touchscreen display in the second and third rows.
Meanwhile, the bulkhead seats have a fold-out 9-inch display — though it could be worth the downgrade, as you'll see below. Premium economy passengers will receive noise-canceling headphones as well.
There's a large center console/armrest, with a fold-out tray table and a small beverage platform. Each seat has two USB ports, headphone ports and a wired remote.
There's also a universal AC outlet at each seat in the premium economy cabin.
Now, back to that bulkhead compromise — while you'll be missing out on the larger display, bulkhead seats offer a leg rest, while those behind do not.
All passengers have access to a footrest, though.
The tray table, meanwhile, is large — and that additional space may be necessary, given the upgraded catering.
Austrian's fleet includes a total of five 777-200s, with a variety of configurations. Currently, these planes operate flights between Vienna (VIE) and Los Angeles (LAX), Bangkok (BKK), Beijing (PEK), Hong Kong (HKG) and Shanghai (PVG).
Premium economy will be arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration on this plane, with a total of 24 seats spread between three rows. 10 business-class seats will be removed to accommodate the new cabin, which unfortunately may mean less availability for awards.
The majority of long-haul Austrian flights are operated by the 767-300, though, with the airline flying this plane between VIE and Chicago (ORD), Miami (MIA), New York (JFK), Newark (EWR), Washington, D.C. (IAD), Toronto (YYZ) and Shanghai (PVG).
Business class will take a big hit on this plane, dropping from 36 seats to just 26. The 767 will gain 18 premium economy seats in the process, arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration and spread between three rows.
While premium economy won't officially launch until March 1, 2018, Austrian has already begun retrofitting planes, starting with a 767 (OE-LAT). During this process, retrofitted aircraft will fly with the new seats, but premium economy will be sold as regular coach, at economy prices with economy service. The carrier is still sorting assignment procedures, but it sounds like elite members will be able to select these seats for free.
Although there's no guarantee that your flight will be operated by a retrofitted 767 or 777 until March 1, if you see the new seat map appear at booking there's a good chance you've landed one of the new planes. These refreshed aircraft will be assigned to a flight as early as 90 days before departure.
In addition to an improved "hard product," the service elements will represent a step up from coach, too. Austrian wants you to think of this as an upgraded coach product, though, rather than a downgraded version of business class.
As with other airlines, premium economy passengers will receive an amenity kit, including an eye mask, earplugs, socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Improved catering will on offer as well, with a welcome beverage, hot towel service, menus with entree choices and two hot meals per flight (instead of a cold second meal) and a water bottle.
Meals will be catered by DO&CO, which, in my opinion, offers the world's best in-flight dining. While not on par with options in business class, I might expect meals to be comparable to what economy passengers can pre-order today as part of Austrian's a la carte program, available with an €15 ($18) upcharge.
Austrian's premium economy is clearly a step up from coach, but it's also significantly more expensive — based on current fares, you can expect to pay at least $1,700 for a round-trip flight from New York to Vienna, while the same trip in coach will set you back just over $900.
Unfortunately redemption options are limited, too, since you can't use United miles for premium economy awards. There will be opportunities to upgrade paid tickets, though, either through a bidding process, using miles or requesting an upgrade onboard. Upgrades from economy to business class will still be available, as will an opportunity to move up from premium economy to biz.
Overall, I actually find that this addition represents a negative change for Austrian — the carrier has offered excellent business-class award space in the past, but with 10 fewer biz seats on both long-haul planes, there's no question that business class availability will be affected.
Have you booked a ticket in Austrian premium economy?