It sounds like a very trivial question to ask the Chief Executive Officer of Cathay Pacific, but how much money has the airline saved by getting rid of the porcelain pebble salt and pepper pots in Business Class? Yes, they have gone, replacing by tiny plastic sachets of seasoning, which, apparently, you have to ask for.
John Slosar, who next March will trade his CEO business card for one saying “Taipan”, as the chairman of Swire Pacific is known, chuckles. “I do not know and I will be very honest. I flew business class this weekend and it was the first time I saw that and I didn’t know the detail.” The porcelain things were very cool, to the extent that people who travel on Cathay Pacific appreciate style, he added. “And, they were the most frequently pilfered items in the history of Cathay Pacific, by a huge margin.” He laughed, adding he thought the airline should have just distributed them with a huge gift box – or put “stolen from Cathay Pacific” on the bottom.
They were extremely popular – I hope we haven’t just done it to stop the pilferage, he said. “Even in my role I don’t know the detail of every last bit of the service.” There’s a kind of a compliment there, he decided, “it means they were pretty good, and I think we should try to keep the good stuff.”
Selling on Ebay
“Do you have several sets, by the way?” he asked. No I don’t, I replied, truthfully, remembering the holes were too small and would soon clog up with salt in the humidity. I thought of checking on Ebay - Cathay salt and pepper shakers and see what they are going for, said Slosar. I took a look. A set listed as “brand new” went for pounds 7.70 – about HK$100 - on October 27, with 18 bidders. The seller came from Marlow, which is suspiciously close to London’s Heathrow Airport.
So how often does the Cathay CEO fly business class, or is it always first? No, not always. Before they installed the new long-haul business seat, he slept in it in Cathy City product mock-up, where they try out new stuff. “One of the trials is that I have to be able to sleep in it, because if I can’t, I don’t expect my customers to be able to sleep in it either.” He’d recently flown back from London business class. “I slept for eight and half hours, slept like a baby, it was great,” he reported. Only eight and a half hours on a 12 hour flight? He laughed. “For me that’s pretty good. I needed it.
These new business class seats were Slosar’s baby. He had to go to the Cathay board in mid-2009, when the world economy was seized up and ask to replace all the old “coffin” seats, as passengers call them, and replace them with something new that would bring them up to speed with the competition. He knew it was not the time to ask for a bunch of money, but “the Swire Groups view is long term, do the right thing and good things will happen,” he says.
“The board supported me on that and said get on with it.” He pushed the engineers “faster than they wanted to go and now all the 777s and A330s have the new business class seats. Customer feedback is very positive, he says. Just shows what you can do if you really try.