Towards the end of the 1990s an airline customer focus group told British Airways that they’d be prepared to pay more for a larger economy seat with a bit more legroom.

Their timing couldn’t have been better.

So airline implemented the suggestion and in 2000 launched a fourth, separate, cabin. Described as a premium economy cabin, World Traveller Plus fitted neatly between the World Traveller economy cabin and Club World.

The announcement didn’t grab the headlines the way Club World had a year earlier. World Traveller Plus came with wider, more comfortable seats, in-seat power for laptops and more legroom. Unlike the launch of the first beds in business class it wasn’t revolutionary, but it did what it said on the tin.

Despite living in the shadow of its sexy, more sophisticated sister, practical, dependable World Traveller Plus started gaining admirers. The increased comfort was an obvious benefit, but the additional space was an important consideration for business people who wanted to haul out a laptop and do some work.

“At the time some industry commentators were sceptical about the wisdom of adding a fourth cabin. Although premium economy was not a novel concept there weren’t many airlines which offered a choice of first, business, premium economy and economy,” says Edward Frost, commercial manager for South and East Africa.

Yet despite the severe headwinds the airline industry would face over the following 14 years, World Traveller Plus has endured.

On African routes it appeals particularly to businesses with limited international travel budgets and entrepreneurs testing overseas markets.

“These are customers whose travel budget or company policy doesn’t allow them to fly in Club World, but who want to make the most of their business trip. The extra space means they can tweak a presentation, jot down some notes or review a pricing schedule, while the additional legroom and comfort means they arrive ready to work.”

The premium economy offering has also proved popular with a section of the leisure travel market. These are people on so-called SKIing, or Spend the Kids Inheritance, holidays. They’re older couples, whose children have left home and are using their retirement to see some of the world. They’d rather spend their money on their holiday than a Club World seat, but want a bit more comfort when they fly.

British Airways isn’t complacent about the success of World Traveller Plus and a reincarnated version of the cabin is taking to the skies in its next generation of aircraft such as the Boeing 777-300ER, 787 and A380. It remains true to the original concept, providing a bit more space and comfort and some exclusivity.

The new seats recline a bit further, there’s a much larger video touch-screen. Two USB and an RCA port mean personal devices can be connected to the in-flight-entertainment system.

A larger video touch-screen also provides two USB ports and a RCA port to allow you to link devices to the in-flight entertainment

The on-board service has also been enhanced. A new menu, includes two choices off the Club World menu. For customers travelling on business needing to lug an extra suit or two, it also offers an additional baggage allowance.

“World Traveller Plus isn’t about glitz and gimmicks, but providing space to work, relax and rest at an affordable premium. Add to this the convenience of online check-in, mobile or home-printed boarding passes and it’s ideal for people who can’t justify a business class fare but want to make the most of their journey,” says Frost.

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