Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) launches a new onboard product, the Executive Economy Class. In recent years PIA had delved into this product which at the time was called ‘Economy Plus’ and not that different from Economy. The cabins were separated by a bulkhead wall with a small section dedicated to Y+ yet the seats and legroom remained the same and the only notable difference was about 5kg extra bag allowance, a welcome drink and a choice of meals. This product was sold on select flights only but most notable on the A320 fleet and received a moderate response with not much to rave about.
Come January 2019, PIA decides to do away with its Business Plus and Economy Plus product in favour of a 2 class configuration consisting of the new Executive Economy and Economy class. Anyone who will miss the PIA Business Plus product will feel a sense of deja vu as the new Executive Economy is basically a rebranded Business Plus. The cabin at the front of the aircraft is the same, the seats remain the same as does the popular and traditional PIA buffet meal/beverage service, extra baggage allowance and lounge access and the biggest difference being the fare, advertised as lower than the old Business Plus product. A quick perusal of the PIA website showed flights to London Heathrow in Executive Economy as ‘sold out’ at a surprisingly reasonable fare and anyone who wished to fly to the UK and enjoy all the perks offered in Business Class need look no further.
With the elimination of the PIA Business Plus product, one could be forgiven for assuming that PIA has been degraded to the status of a ‘low cost carrier’ without a premium class offering. While that might hold true, one must consider what exactly you got when travelling PIA’s premium Business Plus class. You got a dedicated cabin at the front of the aircraft with well used and dated early 2000’s business class seats in a 2-3-2 (B777) configuration, limited and often temperamental IFE, which resulted in PIA offering their business class customers iPads for the duration of the flight, offering a larger selection of IFE and which was also done away with, welcome (non-alcoholic) drinks, hot/cold towels, the traditional buffet meal/beverage service and a blanket along with 10kg extra bag allowance. In short, a very basic no-frills business class product., the likes of which you would experience on board airlines during the 1990’s to early 2000’s.
Now well into the third millennium, airlines have upped the ante for their business class product. Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad and Oman Air for example lay on all the frills to such an extent that flying first class is really no longer necessary. The lounges, on board product and presentation being of such a high standard, that it would be unfair and almost ludicrous to make any comparison with an airline like PIA, a fact that one would hope has been finally realised with the result that the airline decided to drop the word ‘Business’ from its vocabulary altogether. There is simply no comparison. However, this new Executive Economy now opens the doors to a comparison with airlines offering the same product. While PIA is the only airline offering this product to and from Pakistan, if a comparison is made with airlines the likes of British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Eva Air, JAL or any airline offering a ‘Premium Economy’ product, it would not be entirely untrue to conclude that the PIA Executive Economy/Premium Economy, whatever you wish to call it, fares better. While the seats might be dated, you still get the space, legroom, meal service, lounge access and bag allowance one would never associate with a premium economy product and you would be hard pressed to find these many perks in premium economy with any other airline. When British Airways returns to Pakistan in June 2019 with direct nonstop services to and from London Heathrow (subject to the BA World Traveller Plus product being available on this sector) a PIA Executive Economy and BA World Traveller Plus product comparison would be most interesting. Having experienced both BA World Traveller Plus and PIA Business Plus (now Executive Economy) and having totted up all the perks involved, its pretty much a no-brainer who comes out better of the two.
In summing up, I would like to hedge my bets that PIA may have a winner here. If you are flying to or from Pakistan and you look at all available ‘premium’ options, unless you are prepared to fork out almost double the fare and fly business class with another airline, the new PIA Executive Economy offers a product one usually would associate with business class but never with any form of economy class at a much lower fare and coupled with the added advantage of a direct nonstop flight.
By Moin Abbasi
Graphic: PIA Social Media