Cathay Pacific will launch all-new first class suites and regional business class seats over the next three years as the airline’s newest jets from Airbus and Boeing take wing.
However, the Oneworld member isn’t saying exactly what passengers will see at the pointy end of the Airbus A321neo and Boeing 777-9 aircraft – partly because the designs themselves are less ‘under wraps’ than ‘still to be decided’.
“We are still in the process of working on our options,” explains Vivian Lo, Cathay Pacific’s Head of Customer Experience & Design – a newly-created role to oversee the ‘end-to-end customer journey’ from the website to the ground and in the air.
Speaking with Australian Business Traveller in the airline’s new The Deck lounge at Hong Kong, Lo emphasises her desire to fully discent what Cathay’s premium travellers want.
“Ultimately we need to understand what our customers expect, and what they prefer most.”
New regional business class for 2020
First up will be a new regional business class seat which will debut on the Airbus A321neo jets of Cathay’s regional arm Cathay Dragon.
The A321neo is the largest member of the A320 family, and Cathay Dragon – formerly known as Dragonair – will bring 32 of the fuel-efficient neo jets into its short-range fleet from 2020 to 2023.
“The A321neo is a very modern aircraft, with a lot of the technology that our customers love from the A350 in a narrow-body environment,” Lo enthuses, and confimed to Australian Business Traveller that the Cathay Dragon A321neos will sport an all-new business class seat.
“We are in the early stage of design of the product for the A321neo but we're very excited about that. It will be a next-generational product for Cathay Dragon.”
However, passengers can expect the new seat to be a recliner rather than adopt a fully lie-flat design.
“I think it will be most likely reclinable because it is a narrow-body aircraft,” Lo predicts.
That said, some airlines have decided to push ahead with flat-bed business class on single-aisle jets, most noticeably US carrierJetBlue’s Airbus A321 Mint premium cabin and Flydubai’s Boeing 737 MAX business class.
Lo adds that Cathay Dragon’s shorter flight range also removes the need for a flat bed. “Basically we're still seeing the majority of the flights are below two hours, stretched to four and at most six.”
In the past, Cathay Dragon’s business class seat has also been rolled out as regional business class on some of Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 jets.
“We are actually looking at various different options right now, so we don't have a decision yet,” Lo said. “There are a lot of plans in terms of how we want to refresh or redesign some of the future business class products.”
New first class for 2021
The launch of new business class seats for Cathay’s shortest flights will be followed by new first class suites for its longest journeys – specifically on the Boeing 777-9, which will become the airline’s flagship when delivery of the advanced jets begins in 2021.
Lo says the airline has not yet determined if it will adopt an enclosed suite with sliding doors for privacy or retain the ‘open suite’ design of its current Boeing 777-300ER first class cabin.
“Both options are open – we are looking at both with different suppliers, “ Lo tells Australian Business Traveller. She expects Cathay Pacific will settle on one supplier for the first class suite and then begin development of the Boeing 777-9 product.
“We're doing a lot more ‘co-creation’ with our suppliers,” Lo said.
“Basically you try to choose a good supplier with some options and then you co-create together with them and the designer and, assess what is best in terms of technology, in terms of customer experience as well as in terms of the maintainability of the product in itself.”
This could include the decision to select one of that company’s already-developed designs but make copyrighted customisation to its look, feel and features, or start with a blank sheet of paper to create a bespoke suite which would be unique to Cathay Pacific.
“We'll try different things together,” Lo added.
Cathay’s Boeing 777-9s are also expected to see a next-generation business class seat beyond that of the current Airbus A350 fleet.
David Flynn travelled to Hong Kong as a guest of Cathay Pacific