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Cathay Pacific aims to push out its new premium economy class even faster than last year's debut of the new business class cabin, with Melbourne and Adelaide set to see the new seats from August, and Brisbane and Perth starting in October.
“We will put premium economy on every one of our long-haul aircraft and we will do that as fast as we can” Cathay Pacific Chief Operating Officer Ivan Chu told Australian Business Traveller. “I am very bullish on premium economy.”
The new premium economy service will officially debut on April 1st on selected flights between Hong Kong and Sydney (CX101/100), New York (CX830/831), Vancouver (CX888/889) and Toronto (CX826/827, CX828/829).
However, premium economy will appear on some of those flights from March 1st, with four weeks of free upgrades offered to 'high-value frequent flyers' from Marco Polo and oneworld partner airlines who happen to be travelling in economy.
London will see premium economy on some days of the CX252/255 service starting in May.
All the above routes will quickly move towards daily services as new and upgraded aircraft become available.
Other cities on Cathay’s shortlist are San Francisco (August), Frankfurt (September) and Mumbai (October).
In addition to premium economy being fitted to all new Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s, ”we will retrofit our entire Boeing 777, A330 and A340 fleet and you’ll also see it on your 747-400 mid-year” Chu said.
Cathay will also introduce a four-class Boeing 777 with first, business, premium economy and economy to service New York "and in time, Los Angeles, London and Chicago and sometimes Tokyo.”
By end of this year, Cathay Pacific will have 48 aircraft installed with the new product comprised of 23 Boeing 777-300ERs, 17 A330-300s and eight Boeing 747-400s.
By the end of 2013, Cathay aims to have premium economy in all aircraft from its ‘long-haul’ international fleet.
The majority will also have the new business class and economy seating, save fourteen Boeing 747s which will retain the older business class cabin.
More premium than economy
The new seat, which Chu likes to describe as “more premium than economy”, took around two years to develop and is based on a business class seat from Weber Aircraft, whose parent company Zodiac Aerospace created Cathay’s new business class.
“This is a business class seat for single-aisle aircraft which we’ve modified to suit wide-body planes like the 777 and A330” Robert Funk, Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Zodiac Seats, told Australian Business Traveller.
“Most premium economy seats are economy scaled up, but this is a true business class seat.”
Other airlines using the same base model seat (which is Weber’s model 6810) are Korean Air for regional business class, as well as US carriers Delta and American Airline as ‘first class’ on their Boeing 737s and 757s.
The canny decision to use a business class seat Cathay Pacific a substantial head start in the premium economy stakes, but the seat’s design has been customised – or ‘Cathay-ised”, as one CX exec put it – by the airline and Weber.
Seats + service
“We spent a lot of time designing and developing the hardware but in the end buying a seat is quite easy – any airline can sign a cheque and buy a seat” Chu says.
“What we wanted to create was a premium experience from the ground to in the air with better check-in, baggage, meals and service.”
This includes priority check-in and boarding plus two checked bags of 25kg each.
Cathay’s premium economy cabin will have one dedicated flight attendant with additional crew available to help out from either the business or economy teams depending on the number of passengers in each cabin.
Passengers also enjoy meals from a subset of the business class menu: for example, if the business class menu for a main meal of lunch or dinner has five items on offer, four of those are listed on the premium economy menu.
Cathay has priced its premium economy tickets at about 50% above economy prices.
The cost of a Sydney-Hong Kong return flight in mid-April averages $2,300 for premium economy, compared to economy rates hovering around the $1,500 mark for the same period.
(However, depending on the dates of travel, the lowest premium economy return fare is $2,176 while economy sits just shy of $1,200.)
A better economy seat
Cathay is also ditching its much-maligned ‘fixed shell’ seats on long-distance routes with a more conventional but more comfortable recliner.
“We are replacing all long-haul economy seats with this new seat” Chu says.
The new economy seat will be fitted to all of Cathay’s Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A330-300 aircraft, with a Cathay spokesperson telling Australian Business Traveller that the seats would also find their way onto selected Boeing 747-400s including those bound for London and, we've heard, San Francisco.
The most welcome news for Aussie business travellers is that Cathay’s Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth flights with premium economy will also include both the latest third-gen business class seats and new economy seats.
Having the three very latest CX seating classes on flights will be a triple treat for travellers outside of Sydney, as all their CX flights still use the older cubicle-style business class.
According to Cathay, by December 2012 "roughly three-quarter of all Australian flights will have the new seats daily”.
Not all CX flights will have the new seats by year’s end, but those which don’t will not see them on even a few days a week as the airline strives for day-to-day consistency on flights with the new seats.