Cathay Pacific

By David Flynn, July 27 2011
Cathay Pacific

 Cathay Pacific’s new business class is a winner, and its premium economy seats are taking shape… but what about the oft-criticised ‘fixed shell’ economy seats?

Alex McGowan, General Manager of Product with the Hong Kong flag carrier, tells Australian Business Traveller that the airline is “working quite aggressively” on an overhaul for the seats – beginning with a deep dive into what passengers don’t like about the current design, and what they do want in a modern economy seat.

At issue is the seat’s construction in a single shell, which ‘reclines’ by edging the back cushion down and the bottom of the seat forward rather than physically tilting the back of the seat.

The upside is that there’s no intrusion into your personal space when the passenger in front ‘reclines’ their seat, because each seat stays within its hard shell.

The downside? Spend more than a handful of hours with the seat ‘reclined’ and your lower back will likely be aching due to the odd angle and the lack of lumbar support.

These two traits make Cathay’s economy seat well suited to short-distance regional flights in Asia but less so for longer trips, such as the 8+ hours from most Australian cities to Hong Kong, let alone the 12+ hours from Hong Kong to London or the US.

McGowan admits that while he feels the seat is “perfect for daytime flights  – when you want to watch TV, when you want to dine or talk to a companion" – it’s less good for long-haul overnight flights.

“We’re looking at what we can do and we always start from the perspective of the passenger. What are they telling us they don’t like about particular features, and how can we address that? We’re working on that quite aggressively."

“Then we need to look at what the alternatives are, what else is on the market, what are the innovations in this space and what’s being developed. That process takes time, so you’ll have to continue to watch this space for a little bit longer.”


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.

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