Transatlantic airlines – 5 of the best economy class cabins compared

James Beagrie
James Beagrie
Last Updated: 21 April 2021
Whether you’re looking to travel for business or on a holiday, sometimes economy is the best, most cost-effective option to get you where you want to go. With airlines investing in new aircraft such as the A380 and Boeing 787 the experience has never been more comfortable or offered so many choices. Depending on whether you are looking to travel east or west of the UK, the airlines you’ll be considering will be slightly different. In this blog we are looking at the airlines that take you across the Atlantic to the US  by comparing what they offer economy customers. Jump to the comparison table at the bottom for all the key statistics.  

British Airways – World Traveller

With a lot of airlines offering differing levels of economy ‘packages’ depending on what services/products you value, BA have resisted that, until recently. In some ways less options is a big plus – less choice means less confusion and added extras you might be tempted not to pay for if you didn’t have them included. On the downside, you might pay for services you don’t need, and it makes it hard to easily compare with other airlines. However, BA has announced they are going to be offering a ‘hand baggage only’ option for selected longhaul routes (they already offer it for short haul) from April 2018. More details will be announced soon but at the time of writing, there was no further information on whether it is just the baggage allowance that is changing or if there are other services that will also be removed with this option. 5 years ago BA had an ageing fleet of aircraft and it’s fair to say the onboard product started to suffer. However, as they’ve started taking delivery of A380’s, 787’s and 777-300ER’s the experience onboard has significantly improved. The seats have a greater recline, they have 35% larger flat entertainment screens, in-seat power supply and more recently, improved food. 777-200’s and 767s are being refurbished to the same standard at the moment. BA are currently rolling out WiFi across their fleet and expect 90% of aircraft to be WiFi enabled by 2019. If you fly on an aircraft with WiFi available costs start at £4.99.  

Virgin Atlantic  – Economy Classic / Delta – Main Cabin

Virgin and Delta forged a partnership in 2013 which means their offerings have become very similar as they start to align their products. The comparison table at the bottom shows their ‘middle’ option for comparison with the other airlines but both offer a more restricted and a more luxurious option. The more restricted option (Virgin – Light / Delta – Basic Economy) offers no checked luggage, last to board the aircraft, more restricted terms and conditions (reduced ability to make changes, no access to upgrades) and most importantly for some, no option to pre-assign your seat so you may end up sitting apart from others in your group. The more luxurious option (Virgin – Delight /Delta – Comfort +) gives you priority boarding on the aircraft, additional legroom, dedicated overhead locker space, higher quality food and an amenity kit/blanket/pillow/headphones. The 3 options allow you to have more choice over what you do and don’t pay for which is great if you want to travel really light, you want a little extra luxury when travelling for a special occasion or you want to guarantee extra legroom.  

Norwegian Airlines

The low-cost longhaul carrier is the (relatively) new kid on the block and they are incredibly competitive on price so if you are considering the more restricted options on Virgin or Delta, you should definitely check them out. There are 3 different economy tickets you can buy – Low Fare, Low Fare + (compared in the table below) and Flex. As the tickets get more expensive, the more you have included and the more flexible your ticket terms and conditions become. All ticket types include 10kg hand luggage but none of them includes a blanket or earphones. The Low Fare + has food and a 20kg bag included so if you’d prefer a hot meal and more than just hand luggage, this would be our suggested option. Norwegian have a fleet of predominantly new aircraft which are modern and comfortable. However, that said, there isn’t much in the way of softer touches and if legroom is important to you, this might not be the best choice for you.  

Air New Zealand

Perhaps not the first option you’d look at when travelling to the US but they’ve been voted the world’s best airline 5 years in a row, they are definitely worth a look (note: from the UK they do only fly to a handful of airports in California so not relevant if you are going elsewhere). Their innovative SkyCouch gives customers the opportunity to buy 3 seats and turn them into a wide flat space to sleep or relax. The explanation on the website says ‘The seats are the same as an Economy seat, except you have an additional footrest that folds to form a couch. Each person can choose if they want their footrest up or down. These adjust to 60 and 90 degrees. The arm rest on the window side goes all the way up to create a comfortable lounge space. All the armrests in the middle seats also disappear in the back of the seat.’ As well as innovative seating options Air New Zealand is well known for its outstanding service. They use personalisation incredibly well to make you feel welcome and like they care. Definitely an airline to try if you are travelling on a route they fly and want to experience something a little different. The table below compares the key elements of each of the airlines economy cabins (if they offer more than one option, the middle option has been used).  
British Airways: World Traveller Plus Virgin Atlantic: Economy Classic Delta: Main Cabin Norwegian: Low Fare + Air New Zealand: Economy
Baggage Allowance:
1 bag up to 23kg 1 laptop/handbag and 1 cabin bag (restricted on size not weight)
1 bag up to 23kg 10kg hand luggage
1 bag up to 23kg
1 bag up to 20kg 10kg hand luggage
1 bag up to 23kg 7kg hand luggage
Seat Pitch:
31” on most longhaul aircraft
29-33” depending on the aircraft
Predominantly 3-3-3 or 3-4-3. The only aircraft to have a 2-3-2 layout is the upper deck of the A380.
Airbus aircraft are 2-4-2. Boeing 747 are 3-4-3 Boeing 787 are 3-3-3
2-4-2 or 3-3-3 depending on the aircraft
3-4-3 predominantly
Food and drink:
Complimentary bar and food throughout flight, including alcohol, main meals and snacks. Special meals available on request.
Complimentary bar and food throughout flight, including alcohol, main meals and snacks. Special meals available on request.
Complimentary main meal, snacks and accompanying drinks. Special meals available on request.
3 course meal and snack.
Complimentary bar and food throughout flight, including alcohol, main meals and snacks. Special meals available on request.
In Flight Entertainment:
On Demand seat back TV. Can check what is playing before flying online.
Over 300 hours of inflight entertainment plus in seat power to charge your devices.
On Demand seat back TV including shows from HBO .
Award winning entertainment system (On Demand seat back). Can check what is playing before flying online.
On Demand seat back TV. Can check what is playing before flying online.
Paid extras:
Pre-booked seats. Can be done for free 24hours before check in but is an additional cost unless you have additional benefits from the Executive Club. WiFi on certain routes.
Onboard WiFi (from £4.99)
Seat selection
Any additional snacks. Fast Track Travel blanket Headphones
WiFi on certain routes.
Complimentary extras:
Pillow, blanket, flight socks, an eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste on request
Free seat selection at any time. Blanket, pillow and headphones.
Blanket, pillow and headphones.
Free seat selection at time of booking.

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