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The worst 5 long-haul economy-class cabins in the sky today

Oct. 31, 2020
12 min read
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During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. However, we are still publishing new flight, hotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken just before the lockdown, and articles — like this one — based on flights taken before the pandemic. Please note that if you fly during the coronavirus pandemic, you will encounter a very different experience, both on the ground and on board, from what was experienced during the review flights that formed the basis for this story.

Flying economy on long-haul flights — especially overnight — can leave you feeling exhausted, stiff, grumpy and even hungry when you land.

To help you avoid waking up feeling like any of those things, we sifted through all of our economy flight reviews over the past 18 months to ween out those that scored the lowest.

From basic and tasteless food to rude and gossipy crew, there's no surprise these flights featured in our lowest scoring long-haul economy flights in recent times.

Check out the links below for more best and worst round-ups but in business class and premium economy:

Aeroflot 777-300ER

Score: 66

A score of 66 saw this Aeroflot flight from New York to Moscow sneak its way into the bottom five of the economy flights we reviewed in since the start of 2019, however, it could have been a lot worse.

The tighter 3-4-3-configured cabin of Aeroflot's 777-300ER meant that the economy seats felt on the narrow side at 17 inches. Former intern Javi Rodriguez found himself "bumping shoulders unless (he) was leaning against the window." However, Javi felt that the seat recline made up for it slightly.

(Photo by Javier Rodriguez / The Points Guy)
Economy seats onboard an Aeroflot 777-300ER (Photo by Javier Rodriguez / The Points Guy)

Javi was impressed with the quality of the pillows and blankets, which were actually comfortable -- a rarity in economy. The fact that economy passengers were given an amenity kit complete with eyemask, lotion, ear plugs and slippers had Javi amazed.

The in-flight Wi-Fi was pretty shocking. It was expensive and often unable to load a webpage at times. Keeping charged was a problem, too. The USB port, which was the only source of at-seat power, only charged his AirPods case and not his phone.

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In terms of food and drink, it was a mixed bag. An hour after first drinks were served, flight attendants handed out the main meal. The chicken and rice dish, accompanied by side salad, bread roll and cheesecake, was "well above average for what you typically find in economy class." You might be wondering what was so bad about this? Well, the breakfast left a lot to be desired.

(Photo by Javier Rodriguez / The Points Guy)
"A scoop of rather unappetising eggs." (Photo by Javier Rodriguez / The Points Guy)

Service was slow and drawn out, which meant that only three out of the nine hours of the flight were uninterrupted by crew going about their duties.

Norwegian AIr 787-8

Score: 63

It might not come as a shock to most that an almost seven-hour night flight across the Atlantic from New York (JFK) to Stockholm (ARN) on a low-cost airline featured in our bottom five.

Despite the standard Dreamliner 3-3-3 configuration, the seats on board this Norwegian 787-8 had a width of 17.2 inches, pitch of 31-32 inches and very limited recline. This meant that seats were on the tighter side but comfort- and padding-wise, these seats are great for a low-cost carrier.

Related: The best Virgin Atlantic economy seats

The slightly cramped seats with very limited recline onboard Norwegian's 787-8 (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

As is the case with most low-cost carriers, there were no amenities, but Benji was pleasantly surprised with the free and adequate IFE.

After a previous bad experience with Norwegian catering, Benji preordered the vegetarian meal. It was a disappointingly flavorless, cheesy pasta with tomato sauce and steamed vegetables. Breakfast was decidedly worse and came in the form of "a really sad sandwich of lettuce, tomato and cucumber" that Javi was abruptly woken up for around 90 minutes before landing.

A very sad breakfast sandwich. (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Service is often minimal and can be hard to judge on economy flights, as contact with the crew is so limited. While on the whole, the service was good, the call bell response time was long. Separately, one crew member told Benji he could not take photos on the flight, while another member of the same crew actively encouraged his photographic AvGeekery.

Brussels Airlines A330

Score: 60

When Ben Smithson went to Liberia in West Africa to help support PeaceJam, he opted to fly Brussels Airlines via Brussels to Monrovia, as there is no direct route from the U.K. At a score of 60, it becomes really clear to see why this flight earned itself a spot among the worst long-haul economy experiences we've had.

The A330's 2-4-2 configuration is ideal for families of four in the middle row, as well as those traveling in pairs thanks to the cozy rows of two seats on either side. Ben had no real complaints about the seats other than the headrest that didn't work properly.

Brussels Airlines A330 economy cabin. (Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

While the pillows may initially have looked comfy, they were as flat as a pancake and there were no blankets whatsoever.

In terms of other amenities, the IFE was very limited. To make matters worse, there was no Wi-Fi to keep distracted and no power points to keep larger portable devices charged. Instead, just a USB port. "The most exciting part," writes Ben, "which [he] never thought [he'd] never say, was the inflight magazine."

The disappointment continued into the meal and drink service. The main dish consisted of a "tasteless cous-cous" starter and a fish main course which was "small, overcooked and basic" -- ouch. However, the delicious artisanal dessert, as well as the bread that was served with the main meal, were welcome consolation prizes.

The dessert on Brussels Airlines A330, that "looked like it had come from an artisanal patisserie". (Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

The most disappointing thing about the flight was the service, which, as we know, can make or break the whole experience. Ben writes that the crew did less than the bare minimum and at one point there were at least a dozen call bells illuminated that were just being ignored.

United Airlines 787-8

Score: 57

"Overnight flights in economy are my favorite," said nobody, ever. This United flight from Papeete (PPT) to San Francisco (SFO) is a prime example of why.

Let's start with a positive: The actual seats on United's standard 3-3-3-configured Dreamliner were relatively comfortable. That's about it. The moveable wings of the headrest weren't very supportive and it was "almost impossible to work on a laptop" when the passenger in front reclined.

The middle set of three seats on United's 787-8 Dreamliner. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

If you get cold easy on flights, then the blanket that was "so thin it could be seen through" isn't likely to have kept you warm.

Related: Why flying economy will always be my go-to on long hauls

Credit where credit is due, the IFE was very well stocked and relatively easy to use, albeit with a couple of firm touches from time to time.

Like most U.S. carriers, spirits weren't included for economy passengers. The meals lacked in quality what they did in quantity, though other than a slightly soggy pizza, there was nothing awful about it. The biggest frustration was that they had run out of all meal choices before reaching the back fo the cabin, which meant just having to eat what you were given.

Soggy pizza, anyone? (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

United really let itself down with the service on this flight. TPG writer Katie Genter reported "dismissive and otherwise unprofessional behavior from some flight attendants." Most shocking of all was being able to hear crew gossiping about other passengers on the flight.

Royal Air Maroc 787-8

Score: 47

And finally, the winner -- or should I say loser -- of the worst long-haul economy flight that we've flown in recent times. TPG Senior Editor Benet Wilson flew from Casablanca (CMN) to Washington DC (IAD) in economy with Royal Air Maroc and said that it was the worst flight she's ever taken.

Before she had even taken her seat, Benet noted that the aircraft "looked like it could use a scrub." Once seated, the space around her felt quite cramped.

The economy cabin on a Royal Air Maroc 787-8 Dreamliner (Photo by Benet Wilson/The Points Guy)

Benet found there to be a good selection of films, but there was no Wi-Fi whatsoever. The amenities section was the highest-scoring, which says a lot about how the rest of the experience must have been.

Now for the real deal-breaker -- the food and beverage. With a score of 2/15, this is definitely one of the lowest-scoring food sections I've ever seen. And for Benet who was unlucky enough to experience it, it was one of the worst inflight meals she's ever had.

The chicken and beef dishes looked "alarmingly similar." The dish she was served included over-salted and downright inedible, mushy vegetables and chicken, which was "drier than the Sahara Desert." Need there be more said? Actually, yes.

Though RAM is not a dry airline, Benet was told there was no white wine available when she asked for some and no other option was recommended. As for non-alcoholic in-flight refreshments, it might be worth bringing your own as other than the dinner service, there were just two coffee runs and two water runs for the whole flight.

Chicken or beef? (Photo by Benet Wilson/The Points Guy)

Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, the service received on board this flight only managed to scrape by with a score of 2. It was that bad that it almost scored a big, sad zero. Benet was actively ignored by passing cabin crew each of the four times that she tried the call button to request some water. When she eventually made her way to the galley to ask for water, she was shooed to her seat and told her water would come. It didn't ever come. This is undoubtedly unacceptable for any airline, in any class.

Bottom line

These experiences highlight some of the worst that flying long-haul in economy has to offer. However, that's not to say that you're guaranteed to have such a terrible time if you were to fly these flights. After all, flying long-haul in economy can sometimes be a very pleasurable experience indeed. It just pays to have an idea to help lower your chances of your experience being memorable for all the wrong reasons.