Cathay Pacific is considering an upgrade to its current first class and business class seats, timed for the debut of the ‘game-changing’ Airbus A350 as the backbone of its new international fleet.
The Hong Kong flag-carrier is buying 48 of the next-gen Airbus jets, generally held as a challenger to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, and will allow Cathay to retire its current Boeing 747s and Airbus A340s for the advanced and more fuel-efficient airplane.
Toby Smith, Cathay’s General Manager, Product, tells Australian Business Traveller that the first of 22 mid-size Airbus A350-900s “is scheduled for February 2016”, and will sport a three-class configuration with business, premium economy and economy class.
This will be followed “sometime in 2018, we don’t have an exact month yet” by the larger A350-1000, for which Cathay has 26 on order and will carry a compact first class cabin.
“We’ll have (all) 48 of the A350s by 2020” Smith forecasts – and tips that they could both see the introduction of all-new seats in first and business class.
“We’re very proud of our new business class, the second-generation flatbed product which we internally call FB2” Smith says. "But it’s going to be just over three years before our first A350-900 delivery in early 2016 and a lot can happen in a competitive marketplace.”
“We can’t afford to stand still, and our competitors don’t stand still either. So we’re continuing to look to see whether there are further enhancements, essentially something new we might deliver in FB3.”
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While many airlines have moved to fully flat beds, Smith believes that the laggards with sloping sleepers are poised to close the gap.
“There is a risk over the next few years that competitors that (today) have slightly sloped seats are going to catch up, and flatbeds and a 15” screen becomes the minimum expectation.”
“And then for the A350-1000, we will be looking at probably a new first class by that stage. Our first class came in 2007 and while they continue to perform very well, the seat itself has been on the aircraft for some time.”
So how do you make today’s first class suites and business class seats even better?
“I think that’s the challenge for us, what do you do next? I mean, you can’t get flatter than flat!” Smith laughs. “You might make it a little bit wider or a little bit longer, but if you’ve got a bed that takes someone who’s 6’ 2”, 6’ 3”, that’s probably going to be good enough.”
“There are clearly enhancements in IT and connectivity which we’ll be focusing on” he predicts, along with suggestions that the next wave of seats will embrace incredibly fine attention to detail and the overall experience rather than any single killer feature.
“For us it’s (about) some of the smaller details in terms of the finish and really making sure that when passengers get onboard they know they’ve deserved an absolutely premium product” Smith reasons.
“Perhaps it’s trying to think of some of those smaller details that just make that journey that much better.”
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About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.