After upgrading their Business Class section, one of Asia’s best airlines is turning its attention to the back of the airplane, all in response to competition from regional rivals.
According to the British airline rating site Skytrax, there are exactly seven airlines in the world worthy of a 5-star rating. One of them is Cathay Pacific, based in Hong Kong, which flies throughout Asia and across the Pacific.
Having recently remodeled their Business Class cabins, they’re now turning their attention to the back of the airplane in a big way. And if you’re going to be on one of those 14- or 16-hour trans-Pacific aerial ordeals, that’s good news, indeed.
Especially when it comes from an airline whose reputation for cabin service is among the best in the world.
I flew this airline many years ago between Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok. That reputation was well-deserved then, and judging by their Skytrax rating, it still is.
NO COMFORT FOR OLD PLANES
CP’s plan for their economy seats is a two-parter. Part 1 is to create new cabins in Coach on their long-range Boeing 777ERs and Airbus A330s. That’s the good news.
The bad news? The Coach seats aboard their older planes, such as the Boeing 747s and Airbus A340s, won’t be upgraded.
This is why you need to pay as much attention to the airplane you’re flying on as the price of your ticket.
CP had tried this kind of Economy upgrade five years ago, replacing the traditional reclining Coach seats with hard-back seats that slid forward to recline, similar to the hard-back, lie-flat seats you find in many Business and First Class sections.
But they didn’t sit well with a lot of passengers, so it’s back to the future with old-school reclining seats in Sardine Class.
I had my own experience with hard-back, lie-flat seats early this year on British Airways between LAX and London Heathrow. Absolutely, positively, hands-down the most miserable two flights of my life.
The amount of legroom in the new Cathay Pacific economy seats — measured by what the airlines call “seat pitch” — will remain at 32 inches. That’s more or less standard industrywide, and for most passengers, it’s decent.
(I’m hoping they give those seats just a touch more hiproom as well, but I doubt it. That’s where the real misery is these days on long flights — and not just because I’m as wide-bodied as any jumbo jet.)
What will be different will be the amount of recline in each Coach seat. You’ll be able to lean back an extra two inches. The airline also is promising more personal storage space in Coach.
For those who have trouble sleeping in Coach on flights of any length, that extra two inches of recline should be good news. For those who like to use their laptops while the passenger in front of them sleeps, maybe not so much.
What can I say? In life, there are tradeoffs.
The other half of their plans involves creation of a new Premium Economy section on its long-haul flights. Wider seats, with a generous 38 inches of seat pitch.
Anyone shorter than, say, Yao Ming should be able to stretch out in grand style.
WHAT, NO XBOX?
Add in a touch-screen video monitor for entertainment, wi-fi Internet access and outlets for Apple digital devices, along with CP’s usually glittering cabin service, and you may be reluctant to get off the airplane.
Naturally, you’ll be paying extra for the comforts of Premium Economy. How much extra, the airline didn’t say in their announcement yesterday.
This is all due to take effect starting next March — first on flights to/from Sydney, Toronto, Vancouver and New York. The rest of their long-haul routes,including Los Angeles and San Francisco, will follow.
(NOTE: When it comes to flying to Asia from the West Coast, San Francisco often is somewhat cheaper than LAX, and Vancouver may be cheaper, even substantially cheaper, than both of them. That combination can create some intriguing vacation opportunities).
RAISING THE BAR
Cathay Pacific is facing heavy economic pressure from Singapore Airlines and China Southern. Both are flying the double-deck Airbus A380 super-jumbo jet, which carry more passengers per plane than anything else flying.
Cathay Pacific’s way of fighting back, as explained by CEO John Slosar, is “providing a superior experience in all classes of travel.”
If you’re accustomed — or perhaps more aptly, resigned — to the way US-based airlines treat their passengers, you may find that statement more than a little eye-opening.
Facing increasing competition from rivals, airlines in this country typically respond by cutting back on the number of available seats, or reducing seat pitch to cram in a few extra seats, or raising ticket prices — or charge for services that had always been free in the past.
How many would try to meet the challenge of competition by offering all their passengers — not just the high rollers in First or Business Class — a better flying experience?
Am I the only one who thinks our airlines could learn a lot from these guys?