Hong Kong Cathay Pacific passengers to feel the squeeze in push for profits
Flagship carrier plans to add additional seat to each economy class row in a bid to reverse its losses
Cathay Pacific Airways plans to cram 10 per cent more passengers into economy class, adding one more seat to the existing nine per row, as Hong Kong’s flagship carrier tries to reverse its loss-making operation.
The airline, which lost HK$575 million last year, will embark on a three-year overhaul of economy class, adding extra seats on Boeing 777-300 planes from the middle of next year.
Leg room will remain at 32 inches, but passengers with bigger frames will want to note that the width of each seat will shrink by 1.3 inches to 17.2 inches.
Rupert Hogg, Cathay Pacific’s chief operating officer, tried to put a positive spin on the impending overhaul, promising to deliver a “great in-flight experience”.
New seats will have a bigger 12 inch in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen – with the IFE box hidden inside chairs and not taking up legroom, plus more personal storage and Wi-Fi is also set to be added to planes.
On the comfort side, the newly designed seats would be smaller but have more comfort and better padding, plus have supporting headrests to benefit sleeping passengers.
“We will be able to make a great product because seat technology has changed so much,” Hogg said in an interview with the Post. “We spend a lot of time sweating the details in every cabin and we will design a product that is really good value for money.”
Some 48 long-haul Boeing aircraft will be fitted with either 19 or 28 extra economy class seats each to accommodate 296 or 368 travellers. Each of Cathay Pacific’s 17 short-haul jets will get 40 extra seats to fit 438 travellers.
While Hong Kong International Airport is expected to be unable to add new flights by the end of the decade, Cathay Pacific’s denser economy class cabins will fly an extra 1.4 million passengers per year.
“It gives us a big productivity boost because we have more take-offs and landings with extra seats but the same number of aircraft, and the seat cost per mile will go down,” Hogg said.
In addition to taking delivery of new aircraft after 2020, Cathay Pacific will increase seat capacity by up to 5 per cent annually until the third runway opens in 2024.
A majority of airlines in the Middle East, North American and European have adopted a high density economy seating arrangement including Emirates, Qatar Airways, Air France and American Airlines.
Will Horton, from CAPA Centre for Aviation, said Cathay Pacific would gain an edge in returning to profitability. For consumers “10 seats per row will be a hard sell”, but the loudest voices tend to dominate, he said.
Achim Czerny, an associate professor in aviation management at Polytechnic University, concluded: “There is so much more demand. The question is do you want to serve these customers because there is so little room to expand flights relative to demand. Passengers would be happy to get a seat at all. They don’t care, at least they can fly.”