Air Canada Joins the Premium Economy Bandwagon — But…

Air Canada aircraft at the airport in Calgary on a cold, miserable day. Photograph by FlyerTalk member yycworldtraveler. Click on the photograph for a trip report written by yycworldtraveler.

FlyerTalk member Air Canada Top Tier — who is an official company representative of Air Canada on FlyerTalk — announced that a new Premium Economy cabin will be introduced on five new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft that are joining the Air Canada fleet over the course of the coming year. These aircraft will also feature Executive First and Economy Class cabins.
Unlike the offerings on many other airlines, the Premium Economy cabin to be offered on Air Canada will be a separate dedicated cabin featuring 24 seats with increased recline, offering up to seven more inches of legroom than seats in the economy class cabin. Additionally, the seats will be wider, and the cabin will be set in a 2-4-2 configuration.
You will be able to take advantage of the following benefits with the purchase of a Premium Economy airfare — which will be launched on July 11, 2013 between Montréal and Paris with an airfare designation of O class — including but not limited to:
  • Priority check-in, baggage handling and boarding,
  • Complimentary checked baggage allowance of two bags, with a maximum of 23 kilograms each
  • Pre-departure beverages
  • Enhanced in-flight meal service including complimentary wine and spirits
  • An amenity kit

You will earn 100 percent Aeroplan frequent flier loyalty program miles and Altitude elite qualifying miles as a passenger in the Premium Economy cabin. Any Altitude privileges to which you are entitled will also apply when traveling in Premium Economy — however:

  • You will be able to upgrade from Premium Economy to Executive First with eUpgrade credits, as the number of credits required and the booking window are aligned with upgrades from M class. However — until the evaluation by Air Canada on how to do so has been completed — it will initially not be possible to upgrade from Economy Class to Premium Economy.
  • You will not be able to redeem your Aeroplan frequent flier loyalty program miles for this cabin until the evaluation by Air Canada on how to do so has been completed.

Premium Economy will also be available on Air Canada rouge — to be known as Premium rouge — on rouge services operated by Boeing 767-300ER aircraft to destinations such as to Edinburgh, Venice and Athens.
The separate dedicated cabin should give the Premium Economy cabin the perception of a significant upgrade — but this seems to be at the expense of the economy class cabin, about which FlyerTalk members are complaining will be too crowded with the extra seats being added into the 3-4-3 cabin and fewer lavatories.
While the introduction of an enhanced Premium Economy cabin sounds great to me, I cannot help but think about when domestic aircraft in the United States once had three classes of service: first class, business class and economy class. The airlines then eliminated first class and enhanced their business class offerings — seemingly to the chagrin of many frequent fliers. Although the business class offering was an improvement over its predecessor, it came at the expense of first class, which was eliminated from domestic airline service in the United States.
United Airlines attempted to bring back first class service on its trans-continental p.s. service back in 2004 — but the three-cabin configuration is currently being reduced back to a two-cabin configuration where the economy class cabin includes Economy Plus seats, which is the version of a premium economy class product on United Airlines but without the separate cabin.
Worse is that the problem with offering business class as the most premium cabin on an airline created a sort of dichotomy with partner airlines offering a first class cabin product — to the point where you can no longer use your frequent flier loyalty program miles to redeem for a seat in the first class cabin on a partner airline. For example, members of the Delta SkyMiles frequent flier loyalty program cannot use their SkyMiles to either upgrade to — or secure an award ticket in — a seat in the first class cabin on a partner airline such as Korean Air on an international flight. At one time, this was possible, but no longer partly because Delta Air Lines does not offer an international first class cabin on its aircraft on which members of the frequent flier loyalty programs of partner airlines would be able to redeem their miles.
I guess my question is this: is Premium Economy becoming the new Business Class, as Business Class became the new “First Class” years ago?

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