Up close with Cathay’s new premium economy seat

The recliner combines privacy and comfort with high-tech touches.

By David Flynn, April 10 2024
Up close with Cathay’s new premium economy seat

“More premium than economy”: that’s the thinking behind Cathay Pacific’s newest premium economy proposition, which will take wing from mid-2024 on its flagship Boeing 777s alongside Halo first class and Aria Suites business class.

With their greater comfort, extra legroom and recline, added features and upgraded meals compared to economy class, premium economy has become a hot pick for business travellers and holiday-makers alike.

Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.
Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.

“Although the cabin is called ‘premium economy’, when we are designing the product we are very much thinking about designing a premium cabin” explains Vivian Lo, Cathay’s General Manager of Customer Experience and Design.

“Our overall approach is to really focus on customer needs, on research and listening to customers, so our products evolve around human-centric design.”

Privacy is high on the list of what premium economy travellers are looking for, Lo says, so the new Recaro seat incorporates extended ‘wings' which extend from the cushioned leather headrest.

Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.
Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.

And they certainly do the job: sitting in a mock-up of the seats at an invitation-only launch in Hong Kong this week, I wasn’t able to see my neighbour’s face at all – although leaning forward a little makes conversation easier if you’re flying with a friend.

(And as before, those paired seats at either side of the plane are the place to book for couples.)

Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.
Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.

These wings also provide another place to rest your head when napping or sleeping – although seats adjacent to the aisle in this 2-4-2 layout have only one winged headrest, leaving the aisle-side unobstructed.

The seat’s physical dimensions haven’t changed from before: you’re looking at 21” width set at a 40” pitch.

Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.
Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.

A swing-up legrest (with extra padding on all but the front row) combines with a steep 8” recline to cradle passengers for maximum comfort.

And with the seat tilted fully back, the legrest raised and the T-bar footrest in place, it certainly feels like the ticket to as good a sleep as you’ll get without paying for a lie-flat bed in business class.

Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.
Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.

Even with with the seat in front fully reclined, one doesn’t need to be a contortionist to get in and out if sitting next to the aisle.

Thoughtful passenger-friendly touches abound, such as an adjustable LED reading lamp built into the headrest wing so it effectively ‘follows’ where you’re sitting or leaning, compared to an the feed to reach up and fiddle with an overhead lamp.

Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.
Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.

(Cathay’s current A350 premium economy seat uses an LED lamp on a flexible stalk, but I prefer the simplicity of this inbuilt solution.)

The spring-loaded meal table effortlessly rises at the touch of a button, so there’s no fiddling with latches and levers, while the water bottle holder is tucked away in front of the seat, adjacent to the leg-rest.

The video screen is a whopping 15.6” (up from a modest 11”) which occupies almost the entirety of the seatback.

Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.
Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.

The sheer size of this tablet-like 4K HD video screen can’t be fully appreciated until you’re in the seat and it’s right there in front of you like a personal IMAX screen, piping through movies and TV shows (live TV is also on the cards, but not at launch).

Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.
Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.

As a bonus, audio is streamed via Bluetooth to your own headphones or earbuds.

A seat-back pocket finished in caramel leather has room for a 13-inch laptop, while another wide pocket nestles under the armrest of each seat.

Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.
Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.

Just above and in front of that compartment is a handy USB-C power outlet. Rated at 45 watts, it’s up to par for phones and tablets – but you’ll want to pack your laptop’s AC adaptor and plug it into the AC socket at the front of the seat, where you’ll also find USB-A socket.

Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.
Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.

And in a vote of confidence for the premium economy market, the upgraded 777s will have six rows of premium economy rather than the current four, resulting in a 50% boost from 32 seats to 48 seats – and they’ll will also sport two dedicated premium economy washrooms, one on each side of the cabin.

“That was actually a very, very important learning that we had from previous experience,” Lo shares – “and with lavatories on both sides, customers won’t have to try and cut across the front of the first row of the cabin.”

Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.
Cathay's new 777 premium economy seat.

Lo says the new premium economy seat is also under consideration for Cathay’s A350 jets, and any eventual refit would add a washroom to the premium economy cabin.

But premium economy is about more than just the seat, Lo says, with the airline investing in ”a new dining experience” in partnership with popular Hong Kong restaurant group Pirata focussed on Italian comfort food.

Some of the Pirata dishes behind Cathay's latest premium economy menu.
Some of the Pirata dishes behind Cathay's latest premium economy menu.

Available on selected medium- and long-range flights departing from Hong Kong, Cathay’s Pirata premium economy menu includes starters such as Caprese salad and baby octopus with crushed potato, while mains range from Parma ham with provolone and sage, to chicken pizzaiola with roasted zucchini and saffron rice, orecchiette pasta with Italian sausage and an ‘Italian meatloaf’ of ground beef and pork, paired with sautéed spinach and creamy mashed potatoes.

The new premium economy seat will join Cathay’s Aria Suite business class across all 30 Boeing 777-300ERs in an extensive refit program running from mid-2024 to early 2027 – although those 777s will lose first class, which will become exclusive to the new 777-9 fleet due for delivery from 2025.

And at this stage, this premium economy seat will be seen only on the 777s, with CX exec Lo revealing that an eventual upgrade for the A350 workhorses would see even fresher designs for and premium economy and business class under consideration.

David Flynn travelled to Hong Kong as a guest of Cathay Pacific

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1197

I do worry about what the situation is when the seat in front of you fully reclines.  It looks like you will be stuck just like the situation on QF but at least the extra 2" legroom on CX will make it slightly better.  Good to see that there are 2 dedicated toilets for W on CX.  The lack of even one W toilet on QF's 787 is a serious miss.

The recline and general seat dimensions of the new seat have not increased from those of the current PE seats which I have never found to be a problem when the forward seat is fully reclined.

01 Dec 2012

Total posts 52

Good to see upgrades of both the hard and the soft product - at least on the 777. The food and drink service on four legs in 2023 flying premium economy was disappointing, with meals at economy standard and wine served in paper cups!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2013

Total posts 58

Italian cuisine on a Hong Kong-based airline? Given that city's role as a culinary capital for Cantonese and other southern Chinese cuisines, one wonders why. 

Etihad - Etihad Guest

21 Jul 2019

Total posts 167

You're not the only one pondering this Incongruous and mind-boggling decision. It would be like Air France touting a completely American southern style BBQ menu.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 May 2019

Total posts 5

Given that there are so many Michelin stars Italian restaurants in HK.  It’s not surprising. 

27 Sep 2023

Total posts 8

Those seats look thin and uncomfortable, probably even worse when the person in front of you reclines. Not having headrests on one side is also not the most ideal and it doesnt look comfortable as well to "rest" your head on them.

30 Aug 2013

Total posts 436

Ther's something about these seats that feels dated and tired already. 

I think its the fairly drab colour scheme of brown with a sort of pond-green. Also the fact the headrests are wrinkled before they are even installed on a plane doesn't help.

27 Feb 2014

Total posts 4

I do wonder if airlines introducing seats with extended privacy wings have actually done product testing on anyover over 6ft tall.  I am worried that the fixed hard wing would be crushing into my shoulder the whole time

JKH
JKH

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Sep 2017

Total posts 165

They look OK. PE catering definitely needs a lift. To date it’s pretty much Y-class from days gone by.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 May 2019

Total posts 5

I had an issue with their current PE where I can’t even see the infotainment screen when the seats in the front is fully reclined (brutally).  It very annoying and I think this issue will not go away in the new PE seats.  I don’t have any problem with their catering, it’s far better than QF. 


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