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Change in the air for Cathay Pacific

16 Nov 2012

Business Traveller recently talked with Toby Smith, general manager, product, at Cathay Pacific Airways, about the status and specifics of some of the airline’s projects

The future of the 747s

In March 2011, Cathay Pacific (CX) announced a long-term fleet renewal programme that would see it ordering new aircraft in order to gradually retire its older Boeing 747 aircraft. Although able to bring forward the dates for retiring some of these planes, Toby Smith said others will remain in service for about another five years.

During this time, the aircraft will be partly retrofitted with a new economy and premium economy, but with business and first class remaining on board until the aircraft are retired. It means there will continue to be an inconsistency in the business class product, with a mix of the new business class on the loong haul fleet, and the herringbone-style seating.

Regional revamp

Now CX has completed revamping its long-haul products, Smith said it has moved on to regional products. This will include improvements to both business class and economy. He added that the changes made to CX’s regional products will also be considered for its sister regional airline Dragonair. 

The new regional business class seat 

Premium economy

Smith says that Cathay’s aim is to have all aircraft on flights of more than eight hours offering a premium economy product.

“The long-haul fleet is going to evolve into a four-class and three-class,” said Smith. “When it’s a three-class aircraft, that will be without first class, so premium economy will be available on all long-haul planes.” 

Smith explained that for CX, Australia is considered long haul, and will certainly have premium economy, while Japan is considered regional and it will only be offered on select flights. The Middle East, at around seven hours, represents a grey area, so premium economy may be provided on some aircraft.

In October, Business Traveller tested Cathay’s premium economy product on a flight between London and Hong Kong (see here). Asked to clarify how CX is positioning the product, Smith stressed that it sees premium economy as a superior version of economy class, rather than an inferior business class product. 

“What we hope is that people will up-sell,” he said. “We’ve targeted a number of different segments: SMEs – businesses which are budget conscious but just want a little more comfort than they can get in economy. Also, perhaps, a slightly older generation, retirees who have a little bit more money, but not necessarily enough to fly business class, but again are looking for a bit more comfort.” 

The premium economy seat

Smith also discussed how the airline was continuing to refine some elements of the product based on feedback from customers. For example, they had received some comments about how the food was being served. “We’ve refined this, and we’re doing further premium economy research,” he said. “Previously we served the main dish in tin foil sitting in the porcelain casserole, but we thought that’s not the premium economy experience we want, so now the tin foil’s gone and it’s served in porcelain.”

Cathay is also looking at ways of responding to comments that the front row of premium economy, because it has leg rests rather than foot rests and more space, is more comfortable than the other rows.

“We’re asking ‘can we do something more with the footrests?’… We are certainly looking at that, to see how we can do it given the constraints of space.”

For more information, visit www.cathaypacific.com

Nicholas Olczak

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