Cathay Pacific is adding premium economy to its Auckland flights from October this year.
28 of the 'more premium than economy' seats – which boast greater comfort, more legroom and a better selection of inflight food than their low-cost siblings – will be added to the Airbus A340-300 aircraft dedicated to the Auckland-Hong Kong route, with their debut scheduled for October 15.
Cathay has already rolled out premium economy on the majority of international routes flown by its Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 aircraft, and in our experience they strike a near-perfect balance between economy and business class – and are definitely more than just an ‘economy plus’ experience.
They also share some high-value business class touches.
Above and below are the two 'hero shots', lovingly crafted by Cathay Pacific's PR & marketing people, which you'll see time and time again in advertisements and travel publications.
But what are the seats – especially those which aren't in the very front row – really like?
Cathay Pacific's premium economy experience
Before you even set foot on the plane there some some PE perks such as a dedicated check-in counter and up to 25kg of checked baggage.
On board the A340-300, you'll find Cathay’s premium economy cabin is sandwiched between business and economy, with 28 seats on the Airbus (four rows in a 2-3-2 layout) and 32 on a Boeing 777 (four rows of 2-4-2)..
One flight attendant is dedicated to premium economy, with additional crew available to help out from either the business or economy teams depending on the number of passengers in each cabin.
The cabin has a cosy feel but Cathay’s shift towards a slightly softer green than the airline’s traditional ‘sea green’, shot with subtle threads of gold (similar to CX business class) keeps things on the light side.
As there’s no toilet in the premium economy cabin, passengers must head to the very first toilet in economy, which is four rows behind at the rear of the first economy section.
The seat itself is a 'regional business class' design which has been modified by Cathay to better suit long-haul international flights.
The canny decision to use a business class seat gives Cathay Pacific a substantial head start in the premium economy stakes.
Seat pitch is 38 inches – six inches more than Cathay’s economy class – which provides plenty of legroom.
What's this 'seat pitch' business all about, how is it measured and what does it mean? Read out article and get seat-savvy!
Of course, the very front row has even more legroom.
Each of the first row of seats in the premium economy cabin is fitted with a plush inbuilt leg rest.
Add the pop-up video screen and extra legroom and row 30 is clearly the place to be in premium economy – as long as you’re willing to gamble on a baby travelling in one of the bulkhead bassinet positions (located in front of each block of window seats).
All premium economy seats in the other three rows have a three-position footrest.
The seat is 19.5 inches wide, compared to around 18 inches for Cathay’s economy seat.
That extra 1.5 inches makes a noticeable difference, no doubt helped by the wide armrests (which are capped with leather) as well as the seat’s padding, scalloped side panels and lumbar support.
There’s an 8 inch recline which keeps plenty of space around the knees, even if the person in front of you fully reclines their seat.
However, you’ll find it hard to use your laptop – even a compact 13 inch Ultrabook – as the screen can’t be pushed back much past the vertical position.
Here's how things look for the tech-toting traveller when seat in front is in its regular position...
... and here's the scene when that seat is fully reclined.
Each seat has its own AC power outlet with an international socket, mounted in a centre block between each pair of seats.
For eating, working or reading there’s a standard bi-fold table.
Each pair of seats also shares a small centrally-located table and has its own tiny swing-out surface which Cathay perhaps over-generously calls a ‘cocktail table’.
We’d be somewhat cautious about resting a drink there: at around 8cm on the diagonal (slightly less than the length of a business card) and sitting out perilously close to your leg, we predict many an accident involving spilled drinks and swearing.
That said, it’ll prove a handy resting spot for iPods, iPhones and the like if you’re using them for some in-flight music.
There’s also the option of playing video from your iDevice onto the 10.6 inch screen, in the event that your entertainment desires are not sated by Cathay’s exceptional collection of movies and TV shows on its Studio CX network.
While a USB port sits adjacent to each screen, this is only capable of recharging your smartphone, tablet or other USB-powered device.
To get video from your iDevice onto the in-seat screen you’ll need to use the round multi-pin video plug below the USB socket, using a special adaptor cable which can be borrowed from the cabin crew.
This has Apple’s 30 pin iPod/iPhone connector on one end and plugs into the round multi-pin socket directly below the USB port.
You can then control video playback straight from your iDevice.
Most CX flights already carry a clutch of these adaptors to lend to travellers, although they won't work with the iPhone 5, which uses Apple's newer and very different Lightning connector.
To the left of the seatback video screen is a coat hanger hook, while directly below is a nook for stowing personal items.
It’s over a foot long but is quite narrow and shallow, with small cut-outs with CX says is to help passengers see what they’ve stowed and hopefully avoid items being forgotten and left behind.
This nook is about the right size for your smartphone or iPod, your own earbuds, a snack bar, a pair of reading glasses (although but not in their case) and, well, we’re not sure what else… but it’s better to have that one hidey-hole than none at all.
Premium economy passengers get the same noise-cancelling headphones handed out to business class...
... along with a business class pillow, which is larger and better padded than its economy counterpart.
Ditto for the blanket, another item shared with the pointy end of the plane, which is a softer and gentler weave than the standard economy throw.
Cathay Pacific reports a good take-up of premium economy on flights from Australia to Hong Kong, and there's every reason their upgraded Auckland services will follow the same pattern when they launch in October this year.
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