Cathay Pacific shells out to replace its shell seats
Cathay Pacific Airways will change its economy class seats back to the traditional reclining variety on most long-haul destinations after the newer fixed-back shell type was criticised by passengers.
The seats have been hit by problems since being launched in a refit programme in 2007, with claims that they were uncomfortable.
It is not the first time that Cathay has retreated on new seating configuration after negative passenger feedback. The old herringbone business class seats were replaced by the new wider and longer business class seats in March after passengers said the older versions were 'coffin-like'.
John Slosar, who succeeded Tony Tyler as the chief executive of Cathay in April this year, has been driving the retrofit programme. Slosar, who has an extensive background in fast-moving consumer goods during his time at Swire Pacific's beverages division, appears more willing to listen to ideas from end users, in this case the passengers.
The fixed-back shell economy seats, which are designed to prevent infringing the space of the person behind when reclined, allegedly compromise the leg room and comfort of passengers actually sitting in them. They will be changed back to traditional recliner seats on all Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus 330-300 aircraft. The first aircraft featuring the 'traditional' seats will enter service in March, initially on routes to Sydney and Toronto. A total of 36 Boeing 777-300ER and 26 Airbus 330-300s will be fitted and refitted by December 2013.
The extensive changes in Cathay Pacific's long-haul aircraft, including introducing a premium economy class, come at a time when airlines are facing a possible downturn in demand on long-haul routes to Europe.
Slosar told the Aerospace Forum in Hong Kong yesterday: 'We've seen airlines do pretty well with low revenue and low fuel prices, we've seen airlines do pretty well with high revenue and high fuel prices, but it will be really interesting to see how airlines go with low revenue and high fuel prices. That will be a real challenge to get over.'
In the first 10 months of 2011, Cathay carried 2.3 per cent more passengers year-on-year. Slosar said the turmoil in Europe had yet to dent passenger demand. Cargo, however, has been hit, with volume dropping by 7.7 per cent year-on-year in the same period. The drop widened to 17.5 per cent in October alone.
The new economy class seat will feature a cradle mechanism: the footstep of the seat will rise simultaneously when the back is reclined, which will give more support to the back and leg to the passenger than the average reclined seats.
The premium economy class will be available for flights from April 2012. The seat pitch in this class will be 38 inches, or six inches more than Cathay's economy class. Premium class passengers will also get a special menu and a designated check-in counter.