Cathay Pacific new business class

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This topic contains 28 replies, has 14 voices, and was last updated by  BusinessTraveller 7 Dec 2010
at 12:37

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  • Anonymous

    Tom Otley

    The letters page of our Asia-Pacific version has been dominated by a discussion of the merits – or otherwise – of the new Cathay Pacific business class. What follows is a selection of those letters.

    Tom Otley


    It would seem that Cathay Pacific has made a very expensive mistake with its new Business Class cabin, which if not corrected, I am sure will have many frequent business travellers voting with their feet for other carriers that offer a comfortable sleeper seat in a spacious cabin environment.

    The problems are not only with the seat but with the new cabin environment and layout. As others have remarked, the seat is much too narrow, claustrophobic and isolated with no proper armrests or space that one is forced to lean on the high side dividing wall to get marginally comfortable.

    The seatback is flat with no neck support. The seat cushion is too soft and dips uncomfortably downwards if the seat is reclined even marginally. There is no space for storage even of a newspaper or book, and the space is too narrow to properly open a broadsheet newspaper in any case. The tiny area intended for placing drinks and snacks is so small and narrow that they are in constant danger of being knocked off.

    This seat position also forces one to look directly at three or four large and very bright TV screens of seats across the aisle, unless they are moved away from their storage position. And most disconcerting is that while in its storage position, your own screen constantly flickers away in your peripheral vision.

    Perhaps, the worst aspect if travelling with others is that it is impossible when seated to communicate with colleagues or family, and one has a very unpleasant feeling of being entombed in this narrow high-walled prison.

    It is interesting that the cabin staff are told to advise passengers that the seat design was selected by the passengers. Certainly not by this one or any among my many Hongkong business friends and acquaintances, who like myself have been flying regularly with Cathay for many years. It appears that the new seat and Business Class cabin are universally disliked to the extent that if introduced across the fleet, many including myself will choose to fly long haul with other carriers.

    Recently, I spent 18 hours in Cathay’s existing “ski slope” seat on a non-stop flight from Canada. This seat is not perfect and showing its age, but it is comfortable and wide and the cabin environment is pleasant. Importantly, it allows one to communicate and have some sense of space.

    I am a very loyal Cathay Pacific flyer for 35 years and have, whenever possible, travelled with and recommended the airline.

    For the same fare, I would have rather reluctantly changed carriers and taken British Airways via London whose new Business Class offers a far better product, with a very roomy feel and a pleasant cabin environment with a good lie-flat bed and a feeling of space that also gives privacy via a screen for those who prefer to travel in isolation. Overall, it is very comfortable in every way (as also is the new Singapore Airlines Business Class) that the Cathay seat and environment are not.

    It astonishes me that Cathay Pacific, a first-class and well-run airline with ample resources, could have made such a very fundamental and costly mistake. This new seat and cabin environment are frankly unpleasant and should be ditched ASAP before too much further damage is caused to the airline’s business, reputation and passenger comfort and loyalty by further rolling it out across the fleet.

    Christopher Woodward, Hongkong

    Tom Otley

    Cathay Pacific replies: We refer to your letter from Mr Christopher Woodward regarding our new Business Class seats.

    Let us say that we do appreciate customer feedback, and while we recognise that Mr Woodward has serious criticisms of the product, our research shows that this is not the case with the great majority of our customers. We do, of course, accept that the new Business Class seats have not been universally welcomed. Introducing a new product so markedly different in design from the old was bound to be somewhat controversial.

    The new configuration had to involve compromises – all such designs do – but the core of our thinking was to produce an arrangement that met the requirements of our customers who we surveyed intensely before making final decisions on our new product. The two overwhelming requirements for Business Class were for a flat bed and privacy. Like other premium airlines, we decided that the herringbone layout was the best way to meet those demands.

    We track the satisfaction of our passengers with a random selection on every flight. The sample size is now over 8,800 people. Results so far show clearly that there is a substantial rise in all satisfaction measures except in the overall spaciousness of the cabin. In particular, satisfaction with the sleeping position has increased from 62 percent for the old layout to 89 percent with the new product. There have also been significant improvements in satisfaction with the sitting position and the privacy provided by the new seats – now at 92 percent and 91 percent respectively.

    We regret that Mr Woodward is not among those who have greeted our new seats with enthusiasm, and we certainly respect his views, but we hope that over time he may be able to find greater comfort with the new configuration and continue to enjoy the premium service we offer to our valued customers.

    Tom Otley

    I refer to the letter titled “Seat or Cell?” from Mr Woodward in the October issue of Business Traveller. I have also heard the new Cathay Pacific seat being referred to as a “cattle stall”.

    I, a long-time Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Diamond member, am in total agreement with every aspect of Mr Woodward’s comments regarding the new Business Class product.

    I had the unfortunate experience of flying from London recently whereby a young boy of three or four years of age was screaming his heart out during taxiing and take-off because he could not see his mother due to the level of “privacy” these new seats give. No thought whatsoever has been given to passengers who are not travelling alone or with young children.

    As for the airline’s response, I find it very difficult to believe their customer satisfaction data on the new Business Class seats. Every friend, acquaintance and business traveller that I have spoken to universally dislikes the new seats and I mean everybody, and this includes Cathay staff.

    There is no such thing as a window seat any more. I would like to meet someone from Cathay who can honestly say, with this seating arrangement, that they can see out of the aircraft window without dislocating their necks.

    If Cathay’s main objective (as they state in their defence) was to implement a seat which was a flat bed and had a high level of privacy, then they have gone over-the-top in achieving their objectives and in addition, done it with the poor design, which can be seen in the width of the seat, inter-seat communication, seat material quality and finish, and loss of the window experience.

    I have flown for many years with Cathay, but I now use other long-haul carriers rather than sit in their new Business Class, and I am sure many others are, if not planning to do the same. How sad that a good airline followed poor design advice and now expects their loyal customers to accept it with nary a complaint. Well, this customer is doing something about it.

    JA Fraser, Hongkong

    Tom Otley

    Being a long-term subscriber to Business Traveller and never previously voicing an opinion in Letters, I read with interest in October 2008 – Letters page, “Seat or Cell?” by Christopher Woodward.

    Unfortunately, I totally agree with his comments following my business flight from Melbourne to Hongkong on August 20.

    Prior to flying, I perused the Cathay website on its new Business Class and was looking forward to the experience.

    However, upon boarding, I was disappointed to find a bland cabin environment, claustrophobic seats, limited storage, and the magazine pocket so small that I could only grip and pull out magazines with two fingers. Like Mr Woodward having also to place my elbows on the high side walls, as the armrests are too narrow. Communicating with my husband in the next seat was near impossible unless voices were raised.

    The drinks and snack area is way too small and narrow.
    When the seat is reclined, I found it to be stuffy, closed and airless. So stuffy in fact that I slept with my seat partially reclined. (Unbeknownst to me, two business acquaintances were seated across the aisle and their first comments were on the too narrow, restricting seats.)

    My husband commented to cabin staff his disappointment with the narrow seats and was informed it was (designed) from customer feedback. I find this hard to believe as the only positive would seem to be an increase in seat numbers!

    (For) future flights to Hongkong and/or onto London, I would look to booking with another carrier in preference to Cathay.

    From a positive perspective, the cabin crew were as always charming, and the selection and presentation of food excellent.

    My return flight on September 14 was in an older aircraft but with comfortable reclining leather seats, plenty of storage, and being able to communicate with my husband without raised voices over a partitioned wall as in the new Business Class.

    Pam Balcam, Australia

    Tom Otley

    I am sure I am only one of a large number who agree entirely with the letter from Christopher Woodward in your October issue.

    How disappointing it was to read Cathay’s response. The methodology of customer response is flawed at best and misleading at worst. When customers continue to vote with their feet as a number of us (Diamond members!) are doing, then perhaps finally something might be done.

    Geoff Spender


    I guess that I am in a significant minority. I actually like the new Cathay Business Class, despite being fairly broadly shaped…
    I sympathise with passengers travelling with children – and I guess that it isn’t much fun if you are travelling as a couple. I’m normally travelling alone between London and HK and simply want to sleep. While the seat is narrow, I always find that I sleep well due to the greater privacy, and this is my priority. If the other posters on this site are representative of Cathay’s passengers, they have a pretty significant problem though..


    I have read all of the recent posts and, having flown the new configuration earlier this year, understand the comments. I was one of the UK based “guinea pigs” 4 years ago and remember the comments made. Almost without exception, my group agreed that the sleeping position is much better, but that it was difficult to travel with a partner / family, or to look out of a window. However, all of the “guinea pigs” agreed that the most important aspect of a sleeper seat is the sleeping position, and for that it is excellent. Also, those who had experienced the “new” Virgin Atlantic herringbone configuration, including myself, noted the remarkable similarities.
    Conclusion: for sleeping it is excellent, and better than the flimsy BA beds, but for daytime flights, or travel with a partner, it is not the best.


    Well, I am clearly in a satisfied minority. I’ve enjoyed my experience flying with both Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific for the very reasons that seem to have attracted the negative criticisms of others.

    For a Business traveller, the “cell” like environment is perfect! I was able to put in a full days work between Melbourne and Hong Kong, happily cocooned in my private space AND with the added pleasure of a couple of glasses of champagne and the superb attention of the Cathay flight attendants. The fact that my colleagues couldn’t converse with me across the aisle was – in my opinion – a perfect scenario for the business traveller.

    On the return flight I slept like a baby (again after the ministrations of the aforementioned Cathay staff) without a stranger 20 cm away from me farting away happily and malodourously (which was my experience on a recent LAX-MEL flight with QF).

    Travellers, it’s called Business Class for a reason. My opinion, should you choose to consider it, is that Cathay Pacific has made the right call for business travellers like me for whom the view out of a window and chatting during the flight is secondary and, to be frank, irrelevant to the “business” in Business Class. And don’t get me going on the appropriateness of unsocialised kids travelling Business Class.


    Bradcarle….Delighted you like the CX business class….each to their own. I like others do not and for many of the reason mentioned. Particularly around not being able to talk to my wife or more importantly see my kids at critical moments of the flight (i.e) take off and landing. Even in First on BA I am able to do this.

    But the view that it is called “business class for reason” is nonsense. It is a premium cabin and as any airline exec will tell you, it is well healed leisure travellers that are occupying a great many of the seats today, not being able to talk to your wife for 1 2hours may be attractive to some but the reality is that when travelling with some one it is generally nice to be able to talk to them, even see them occasionally..
    There have also been a number of forums on kids in First and Business but yet again we have the usual twaddle about anti social kids in premium cabins. By far, adults are the worst behaved in any cabin, as you yourself highlighted the hygienically challenged are usually adults and that before we discuss the bores, the drunk and the downright unpleasant and overly demanding “businessmen” who think they own the cabin when in reality they have not even paid for the seat.

    Your fellow passengers, whatever their age, sexual orientation, gender or religions are that, your fellow passengers, no matter the cabin they are occupying.
    It is, after all……..public transport……. and if you really need to be separated from your travellers then please….. travel by private jet and let the rest of us get on with our lives.


    …but Binman (and I do love the nom de plume you’ve selected) you had surely researched the configuration of the Cathay ‘premium cabin’ before you booked your family sojourn? It’s quite clearly (and delightfully) anti-social.

    I did say “unsocialised” kids – I’m sure yours are as perfect as most parents believe their own children to be.

    Oh, and yes, a private jet would be delightful. To misquote an old soap advertisement “The Bahamas sound lovely Binman”


    I guess the nom de plume Binman is because he has “bin” here; “bin” there, “bin” everywhere. Not sure if Binman has the T-shirt


    Since no-one else has said it yet, ‘welcome on board’ BradCarle: it’s always nice to see new posters and read fresh opinion.


    Echoing CC, welcome BradCarle.

    I also tend to agree with you that the CX Business Class product is overly criticised and its is one of my favourites now

    My big plus point is that on the upper deck 747 or window 777, 330 when the seat is turned into a bed it is one of the longest in the market. As someone who is 2 metres tall there are very few business class seats that allow me to lie fully stretched out (excluding the good old BA 64 A and K – which always go early) and therefore I’m always able to get a good sleep on an overnight flight

    I agree that with, business traveller etc there are enough resources now that passengers can investigate the seat options prior to travel and if its companionship / child friendly etc thats required then book on the appropriate airline.

    On that point as per the Business Traveller Asia airlines update, CX have fitted this product now on all long haul routes so its consistent.

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