Premium economy’s surprising pandemic rebound

There’s no one definition 
of premium economy 
at the world’s airlines, 
but it’s globally resurgent

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Release Date
July 7, 2021
Premium economy’s surprising pandemic rebound
  • As the traffic recovery continues, passengers are migrating toward different levels of service as the cabin continues on a path toward even-greater segmentation.
  • There’s no one standard definition of what premium economy is or how it’s deployed, but there is a growing passenger preference emerging.
  • Around the globe, premium economy is outpacing the return of other higher-fare classes.

The pandemic’s giant reset has forever changed the business of commercial aviation. As the recovery continues, some changes once thought to be long-term fixtures – social distancing, deep cabin cleaning before each flight, and elimination of onboard food and drink – have begun to be reversed.

Still others – including mask requirements, travel restrictions, and domination of leisure travel – have, so far, persisted. Passing the 16-month mark since the beginning of the pandemic, the world now has a better idea of how to fly, even if it is inconvenient and still greatly varied by region.

The primary answer to why passengers are flying has proven to be, simply: because they want to. Leisure travel has dominated the return, evidenced by crowded tourist destinations and strong passenger numbers at discounted fares.

Read: Clear signs of business travel return with accelerating U.S. recovery

Beyond this first wave of leisure travelers, even business travel is showing signs of reluctant return, as discussed in our recent analysis. The pace of recovery still remains greatly dependent upon region, however. As countries recover the return of various passengers is following a now-familiar formula: leisure and family first, then business.

Slowly, the world is inching back to the skies after the COVID-19 pandemic for the same reasons it flew prior. With better visibility to the how and why of air travel, we turn our attention to where people are traveling – not their destination, but rather which cabin in the aircraft.

Fare classes have long been a tool to segment those passengers willing to pay for extra service, and those focused on minimizing costs. Yet, just as the answers of how and why we travel have suggested a change going forward, so too has the selection of fare class. In this TAC Analysis, we look deeper inside the recovery of bookings by fare classes in various regions, and what some early signals of change could mean for commercial aviation in the coming years.

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