Cathay Pacific reveals new Premium Economy & Economy seats for 2012

By David Flynn, December 12 2011
Cathay Pacific reveals new Premium Economy & Economy seats for 2012

LATEST| Read our 'world first' review of Cathay Pacific premium economy

PREVIOUS | Cathay Pacific has revealed the first details of its new Premium Economy class as well as a replacement for the airline's much-criticised international economy seat, both of which will debut in March 2012 on flights between Hong Kong and Sydney.

While no pictures have been made available to the media, details of both the Premium Economy Class and the new long-haul Economy Class seat are listed below:

Update: Cathay Pacific has now revealed prices for its premium economy class and they sit about 50% over economy. Read our report for full pricing and more details.

Premium Economy

The Hong Kong flag-carrier's new Premium Economy cabin will be introduced on long-haul flights from March 2012, with Sydney among the first cities to see the new seat, along with Singapore, New York, Toronto and Vancouver.

Cathay says that other North American, European and Middle East destinations will follow, including London, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The new Premium Economy product will feature a quieter, more spacious cabin than the existing Economy Class, with between 26 and 34 seats (depending on the aircaft type) in a separate cabin sandwiched between business and economy.

Seat pitch will be 38 inches – six inches more than Economy Class – while the seat itself will be 19.3 inches wide, with an 8 inch recline.

(By comparison, Qantas' A380 premium economy seat – which is now also being retrofitted to its remaining Boeing 747s – has 38-42 inches of pitch and is 19.5 inches wide.)

Front-row seats will be fitted with a legrest, with other seats sporting a three-position footrest.

Each seat will have a large meal table, cocktail table, 10.6-inch personal television, an in-seat power outlet, a multi-port connector for personal devices, and extra personal stowage space, plus noise-cancelling headphones and a large pillow.

Alex McGowan: Premium Economy is "economy plus, not business class minus"
Alex McGowan: Premium Economy is "economy plus, not business class minus"

“The key with something like premium economy is to understand that it’s an economy plus product, not a ‘business class minus’ product – at least from a philosophical perspective, but not as a product definition” says Alex McGowan, Cathay's General Manager for Product.

“Trading down from business class into premium economy is not the game we’re in" McGowan told Australian Business Traveller.

"It’s for people in economy who want more space, more exclusivity, and a few details like better catering and wine. It’s also about capturing people who may want not to travel in economy but can’t afford to travel in business class.”

Premium economy "is not seeking to capture people who want to trade down from business class. Realistically if you’re a frequent business traveller who has important deals to do when you get to your destination, you need that flat bed and you need an environment that’s conducive to sleep and work so you can be at your peak when you arrive.”

Sweetening the experience for Premium Economy passengers, Cathay will provide priority check-in at dedicated counters and priority boarding ahead of Economy Class passengers.

There will also be an increase in baggage allowance from 20kg to 25kg (for luggage allowances measured according to weight) or two pieces of baggage from 23 kg to 25kg each (for allowances measured by the number of pieces).

Premium Economy passengers will be welcomed aboard with juice and champagne, and enjoy an enhanced onboard meal selection. Each passenger will also receive a bottle of water and additional snack choices to include more fresh fruit, energy bar and dessert.

The new Premium Economy cabin will be installed on all Cathay Pacific long-haul aircraft including Boeing 777-300ERs, Boeing 747-400s, Airbus A330-300s and Airbus A340-300s.

The first 777-300ER and Airbus A330-300 featuring Premium Economy Class will enter into service in March. Cathay plans to have 87 aircraft fitted with the product by the end of 2013.

However, in order to add the Premium Economy cabin inside its Boeing 777-300ERs, Cathay Pacific will axe the first class cabin in some 777s and also reduce the number of business class seats.

"We can confirm that the aircraft to be deployed on our Toronto service starting March 2012 will consist (only) of Business Class, Premium Economy and Economy Class” a spokeswoman for the airline told Australian Business Traveller.

Cathay Pacific will offer free premium economy upgrades to top-tier frequent flyers travelling in economy class throughout March, ahead of commercial bookings commencing from April 1st.


Cathay will ditch its current 'long-haul' fixed-shell economy seat (below) in both Airbus A330-300s and Boeing 777-300ERs, although it will remain on the older Boeing 747s and Airbus A340s.

Cathay's fixed-shell economy seat (shown here) will be replaced by a more conventional and more comfortable recliner
Cathay's fixed-shell economy seat (shown here) will be replaced by a more conventional and more comfortable recliner

In its place will be a new recliner Economy Class seat – yes, that torturous fixed shell is no more! – with a 'cradle mechanism' for a comfortable 6 inch recline (two inches over the current long-haul economy seat). Pitch will remain the same, at 32 inches.

Each seat will include extra storage space for personal items, a touch-screen video panel, an iPod/iPhone outlet to pipe your own music or videos through the in-flight entertainment system and a USB socket for powering and recharging devices.

The first aircraft featuring the seats will enter service in March on flights from Hong Kong to Sydney and Toronto. A total of 36 Boeing 777-300ERs and 26 Airbus 330-300s will be fitted with the seats by December 2013.

"As always, the comfort of our customers was front and centre of our design process and we believe the results represent a very significant upgrade in the product we offer" says Cathay Pacific Chief Executive John Slosar. "Our new long-haul Economy Class seat will also provide more space and comfort, particularly in the enhanced recline position."

In addition to the Boeing 777-300ERs and Airbus 330-300s, Cathay will also upgrade selected Boeing 747-400s with both the premium economy and new economy class seats – see our report for full details.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.


04 Nov 2010

Total posts 672

Sounds like CX has a pretty standard premium economy seat, I was hoping for something a little more adventurous, maybe a bit more "Air New Zealand" and a bit less "Qantas and everybody else". At least the width and legroom sounds about right. Worth looking forward to, especially if you're just doing a day trip to HK, eight hours in a comfortable seat with good legroom and decent meals is all you really need.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2011

Total posts 735

.......and yet again another carrier ditching their First class on certain routes, what a shame.......

17 Nov 2011

Total posts 27

I understand much of the criticism of the old fixed-shell economy seat, but I will miss it (To be honest I didn't find it all that uncomfortable). Being a tall traveller (6'4") who can't get much sleep when flying economy, I loved not having someone in front recline. These seats were great as they really defined what was 'your space' in a seat, rather than having to worry about the person behind you if they wanted to use a tray table, or thinking about what the passenger in front might do next.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2555

CX's fixed-shell economy was a bit like their old cubicle-style business class – the thing that many people disliked about it was also a positive factor for some. In business class the plus factor was privacy; in economy it's definitely having your own space and nobody intruding on it. But oh, the lower-back pains I had every time I flew in one... 

Sounds like a pretty standard PE service, nothing that stands out. But I guess they don't want to erode their business class service.

Im a PE fan, because i cant afford business class, but i will pay that little bit extra to the extra comfort and quite cabin (which is the airlines' intention, for Y pax to upgrade to Y+)

I've tried several Y+ products, or PE and the standard is dedicated cabin and bigger seats, after that PE varies from airline to airline.

Air NZ, more than the standard PE, because the seats have more legroom on 777 after the re-config, same food as business class. Never tried it.

Japan Airline, standard PE BUT access to the Sakura business class lounge. Never tried it.

Virgin Atlantic, standard PE, use the same toilets as economy, so very long queues, no bars or self service snacks.

Air France - standard PE. Never tried it.

Qantas - standard PE with snacks/food such as paninis on demand.

Virgin Australia - standard PE with dedicated toilets and bar area.

British Airways - standard PE but i heard they are now serving business class meals.

Turkish Airlines - 42" seat, different meals. Never tried it.

Thai Airways - 42" seat, but only available on US-Thailand route. Never tried it.

China Southern - Never tried it.

And I think Lufthansa and one of the scandanavian-based airlines also has PE. But i've never tried it.

apart from that, I can't think of other PEs. It would be interesting to compare them all to see which one you get the most bang for your buck.

Anyway all eyes will be on Malaysia Airlines, who will also be introducing PE.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2555

That's a great summary, AirTravelAddict – you can also add United, although this is really just 'Economy Plus Legroom' – same seat, same meals, same laughable excuse for IFE on Au-US flights. I'm with you on Premium Economy as great value for money: business class is of course (usually) a superb experience and if you need the lie-flat bed, desire the better food or other benefits and can pay the asking price then it's the one to go for, but in pure 'bang for bucks' I really do believe that Premium Economy is hard to beat.

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 667

Don't forget that you'll still find Air NZ's old premium economy floating around as well. That's a pretty good deal on the 747s (where there's some upstairs and in quiet little cabins on the main deck) but less so on their 777-200s.

In addition to United's Economy Plus that David mentioned below, Delta has Economy Comfort, and I reckon you could potentially throw Air New Zealand's "Space+" zone on its 767s into that category, since those run some fairly long flights.

Premium Economy is also useful as a frequent flyer, because your likelihood of being bumped up to business class on a busy flight when economy passengers are moved into premium economy is fairly good.

17 Nov 2011

Total posts 26

The CX new Y+ seat seems to be nothing better than the competition.  I was expecting a bit more pitch, but otherwise about fine.  Food and other services should be great, as they (almost) always are.

However, if CX had made their Y+ a "business class minus" product, wouldn't that make business travellers on CX Y trade up to CX Y+ and other business travellers already on other airlines' Y+ move to CX?  If so, would that equal out or be more revenue than the loss of J passengers who have traded down to Y+?


04 Nov 2010

Total posts 672

@Comcats - I don't think that CX Premium Economy needs to be much better than the competition, and anyway there's only so much you can do with a seat, legroom etc when you want it to be more than economy but less than business. I think the thing is that CX just needed a Premium Economy product, full stop, so that it has that same in-between option as an increasing number of carriers, and so in turn it can keep those passengers who wanted better than economy but not at the expense of business class. The only ways to lose in the Y+ game is to not have a Y+ product, or to have a crappy Y+ product (eg United, BA).

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