Cathay Pacific’s first Airbus A350-1000 aircraft landed in Hong Kong on Wednesday, making the Hong Kong carrier only the second airline to take delivery of Airbus’s newest aircraft.
The aircraft joins Cathay Pacific’s current fleet of 22 A350-900s – it has a total of 20 A350-1000s on order, which are expected to be delivered by 2021, and a further six A350-900s still to come.
The A350-1000 will debut on Cathay Pacific’s upcoming Washington DC route on September 15, followed by Madrid (from October 28), Tel Aviv, Amsterdam, Manchester and Zurich. Before then, however, it will fly Cathay Pacific’s Taipei route for crew familiarisation purposes starting July 1, giving travellers the ability to experience the new aircraft before its formal debut in September.
Business Traveller Asia-Pacific was on-board the delivery flight of Cathay Pacific’s first A350-1000 from the Airbus airfield in Toulouse to Hong Kong earlier this week.
What’s it like?
The A350-1000 is a larger aircraft than its predecessor, both in length and in capacity. The newer variant has a total of 334 seats, comprising 46 in business class, 32 in premium economy and 256 in economy.
As with its predecessor, this is an aircraft designed to be quiet. While the aircraft’s engines do make a noticeable high-pitched whirr during takeoff, they are largely muted once the aircraft gets sufficient altitude.
This is further helped in business class by the longer length of the A350-1000 compared to its predecessor, which pushes the wings (and therefore the engines) further down the aircraft and away from the premium cabin.
Cathay Pacific has also been outfitting its entire wide-body fleet with wifi – it currently offers it on all A350-900s and progressively on retrofitted B777s – and the A350-1000 is no exception.
Passengers who have flown business class on the airline’s A350-900s will find few noticeable changes to the offering on the A350-1000. The new aircraft features the same Zodiac seats as those found on its predecessor and at the same dimensions – fully flat with a 75-inch-long bed and a 20.2-inch wide seat – though there are some minor tweaks that have been made.
Most of these are mechanical rather than cosmetic – new wiring for the in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems and a more robust mechanism for the screen arm, for instance.
It’s been some time since Cathay Pacific introduced these Zodiac seats to its long-haul fleet (these are also available on its B777), but it is still a good product. At 1.95m tall, I’m able to lie down properly when the seat is in a fully flat position, which can be done in one click by pressing the lie-flat button on the side.
Width is plentiful – I was able to turn over without much hassle – and there’s a pretty sizeable compartment under the side of the seat for things such as laptops, cables or, if you choose to don some pyjamas, your change of clothes.
Seats also have a “do not disturb” button as well as a “wake-up call” function so you can let the cabin crew know whether or not you wish to be alerted when breakfast begins being served.
That’s not to say there have been no changes made to the business class cabin, though. Aside from the increase in seat numbers from the A350-900 to the -1000, the overall layout of cabin is also different. Whereas the older aircraft has eight of its 38 business class seats positioned in a secondary cabin beyond the rear galley, all 46 of the seats on the -1000 are located in a single cabin area.
Why is this significant for travellers? It means fewer seats located by the galley and toilets, where disruptions can take place.
Speaking of which, Cathay Pacific has made efforts to improve the separation between bulkhead passengers and the galley/lavatory with new curtains, aimed at making seats located nearby – in particular 11D and 11G, which face onto the bathroom doors – slightly less disruptive to be in.
However, there are some enhancements to the cabin offered by Airbus on the A350-1000 that Cathay Pacific has not chosen to adopt. The most noticeable of these is the ability to fully remove the central overhead bins in the business class cabin and still have sufficient storage space for two items of luggage per passenger, due to the increased size of the bins it does have.
This really opens up the cabin and gives it a more spacious feel, not to mention removing a potential head obstacle for taller travellers seated in the centre seats.
Unfortunately, Cathay Pacific has opted not to forego the central bins, thereby ensuring it is able to offer as much potential storage space to travellers as possible. This could turn out to be a good move by the airline in the long run, but for now it is a shame to not see the business class cabin at its most spacious.
Premium economy class
Cathay Pacific has similarly made few changes in the premium economy cabin from what passengers will find on board the A350-900. Capacity is, again, the most noticeable change here, with the -1000 having an extra row of four seats in the centre.
However, with all business class seats on the -1000 being in a single cabin rather than split across two sections as they are on the -900, the premium economy cabin now has access to a lavatory immediately in front of it, meaning passengers don’t have to walk through the economy class cabin to reach the restrooms.
As for the seat products themselves (developed by Rockwell Collins), these are akin to those found on the -900. Pitch is 40 inches, width is 18.5 inches and recline goes up to nine inches. All seats have a 12.1-inch TV, and power and USB outlets, and with the exception of front-row seats, all have a small seatback mobile/tablet shelf positioned at eye level for holding devices.
This is where Cathay Pacific has put most of its effort with regards to upgrading the seat, with the A350-1000 featuring yet another new economy class product from the airline. Back in April, Cathay Pacific began rolling out a new Boeing 777 economy class seat product designed for a 10-abreast layout, which it has begun adopting for its B777 fleet.
While the -1000’s seats (designed by Haeco Cabin Solutions) do look rather similar to the B777 seat, they are actually a different product. The overall size is the same as those found on the A350-900 – 32-inch pitch, 18-inch width, six-inch recline, making them wider than those found on the B777 (17.2 inches) – but not all the features are.
For instance, the -1000’s seats have an enhanced leather-bound adjustable headrest that appears to have taken inspiration from the six-way-adjustable headrests on the B777 seats. There is also a new foldout tablet and cup holder located just below the IFE screen, as well as a revamped tray table below that.
As for the IFE screen itself, this is an 11.1-inch HD monitor – the same as those on the -900 but smaller than the new seats on the B777, which were upped to 11.6 inches. Passengers also have access to USB and AC power outlets.
In the upright position, this is a comfortable seat. There’s plenty of support provided despite its more slimline design, and my knees were at least an inch from touching the seat in front of me – at 6”5 (195cm) tall, this is something of a rarity for me in economy.
As with most economy class seats, though, this spaciousness largely disappears when the person in front reclines their seat, and the A350-1000 is no exception. What’s worse is that the design of the recline mechanism actually has the base of the seat shift forward slightly when you recline, further eating into your legroom.
As such, when both my seat and the seat in front were fully reclined – a likely occurrence on the nearly 17-hour journey between Hong Kong and Washington – my knees were driving into the back of the seat in front. That being said, the majority of travellers on this route are likely to be considerably smaller than yours truly, so perhaps this won’t be much of an issue for the average flyer.
Overall my complaints are few when it comes to the newest member of Cathay Pacific’s fleet. The airline’s business class and premium economy seats continue to be strong offerings, and the new seats in economy are largely comfortable. Arguably the best things the A350-1000 has going for it are its quietness and its larger size, which aside from giving Cathay Pacific more seats to sell, has also allowed for improved cabin layouts.