Cathay eyes roll-out for new cabin class

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 May, 2011, 12:00am


The remodelling of Cathay Pacific's business-class seats is completed and the airline is hoping to finalise the roll-out of new 'premium economy' seats by the end of this year.

The new cabin class announced last year aims to offer an option for passengers wishing to trade down from business class - for reasons of cost-cutting - as well as those who don't want economy class.

Details of the new seating configuration have not yet been revealed, but people familiar with the situation said the new seats would be 20 to 30 per cent larger than existing economy seats in terms of floor area. The cheapest seats of Hong Kong's flag-carrying airline are 44cm wide and rows are spaced 81cm apart in the economy section. With an enlargement of 25 per cent, the width and so-called seat pitch will be roughly 53cm and 1 metre respectively.

That will put the seats in line with, if not better than, the same class of seats offered by other airlines such as Virgin Atlantic and British Airways.

Cathay Pacific chairman Christopher Pratt said earlier he hoped the new seats could be rolled out by next year to capture a clientele looking to trade down from business class, and those who don't want to be in economy class, because despite a return in passenger traffic and prices for business class, passenger yield had yet to return to 2007 levels.

At a ceremony to mark the reception at Boeing's delivery centre in Seattle last month of a 777-300ER - the third aircraft fitted with Cathay's latest business-class seats - the airline's chief executive, John Slosar, said four seats were cut to make the new product more spacious. But he said the sacrifice in space would be rewarded by a higher loading.

'Loading of our business class on long-haul is about 50 to 60 per cent. We hope it can go up to 70 per cent,' he said.

The airline will spend HK$1 billion in the next two years to install and retrofit business-class seats in all 30 of its 777-300ER and 20 long-haul A330-300 aircraft.

The old business-class cabin - notorious for its narrowness and a design that hampered easy conversation between travelling couples - will not be replaced for the 747 and A340 aircraft, though, as the 747 will be retired in three to four years, and the A340 is also in the process of being phased out.

A test of the new business class cabin by a South China Morning Post reporter confirmed that it is not only wider but also more comfortable than the cabin it will replace, particularly its sleeping configuration, which is more spacious.

The new seats enable passengers to look out of their windows without the need to turn their heads at a right angle, and the two middle seats are angled towards each other, allowing travelling couples to be closer. Passengers wanting more privacy can use a cabin door equipped with a mirror as a partition.

Attention is also paid to finer details.

The new seats have a recess at their base which may be used as a step to help smaller air hostesses and passengers to load and unload luggage from their overhead racks. Small lights next to the recess are intended to alert cabin crew during take-off and landing that the seats have not been fully restored to the upright position.

Big difference

A trip to New York costs this much, in HK dollars, in economy class: $13,200

The same flight costs this much in business class: $82,000

Premium economy would cost somewhere in between the two