Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific will now almost certainly adopt the unpopular (from the passengers’ viewpoint) 3-4-3 economy seating for its fleet of B777-300ERs.

However the move should come as no surprise, as Business Traveller predicted this would happen two months ago.

Interviewed today by scmp.com Cathay Pacific’s CEO Ivan Chu Kwok-leung, said “If you look at the B777s which everybody uses from the Gulf to the US to European carriers and ourselves, the standard is 3-4-3.”

“I think we are moving towards that stage, it’s very clear.”

Cathay Pacific blames the slot shortage at Hong Kong airport for the move. Its CEO claims that, with ten-across seating in the economy cabin, Cathay Pacific will be able to carry more passengers per flight which in turn would alleviate the need for extra services.

But in truth, the main reasons are the precarious state of the airline’s finances, the falling yield (revenue) per seat plus the fact that all its main (long-haul) competitors have already, or in the process of, converted/converting their B777 fleets into a 3-4-3 configuration.

The economics for a ten-across cabin have never been more clear.

On the transpacific route between Hong Kong and Vancouver one of Cathay Pacific’s B777-300ERs will carry a maximum of 275 passengers.

By contrast Air Canada which operates the same aircraft but in a high-density configuration, will carry 450 passengers.

Of course Air Canada has a less “premium-heavy” configuration (for example, it has no first class) than Cathay Pacific but nevertheless such a seat number gap cannot be ignored.

Mid you, as a top-flight carrier, Cathay Pacific would maintain a higher ratio of premium class to economy class passengers. But a 3-4-3 layout could lead to many more economy seats.

Cathay Pacific has yet to announce a timescale for reconfiguring its 70-strong fleet of B777-300ERs.  But it’s expected to happen around 2018.

The carrier’s CEO is promising that seat pitch will remain at 32 ins. But the seats themselves would be narrower. In other words, their width would reduce from 18.5 to 17 ins.

The move hasn’t gone down well with the flight attendants.

Quoted by scmp.com Silvia But, vice-chairwoman of the airline’s flight attendants union said “If there is one more seat per row, I cannot imagine how narrow it will be. For passengers it’s definitely bad news.”