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Cathay Pacific unveils new business class seats: everything you need to know

By David Flynn     Filed under: cathay pacific, sydney, Boeing, business class, CX, Hong Kong, iPhone, smartphones, iPod, Airbus, Boeing 747, Boeing 777, Boeing 777-300ER, first class, london, BlackBerry, Los Angeles, Cathay, New York, Airbus A330, ereaders

Update

Cathay Pacific’s new international business class seats made their worldwide commercial debut on March 1st and Australian Business Traveller was on board for a first-hand look at the new business class seats: click here for our detailed review.

Previous

Cathay Pacific is rolling out an all-new business class seat design and Sydney’s business travellers will be among the first to try it when aircraft with the new fit-out begin flying in March 2011.

Services between Hong Kong and New York, Los Angles and London will start to see the seat the following month on a factory-fresh Boeing 777-300ER.

So what do you get? How about more space, window views and an iPhone/iPod connector?

Here’s what you need to know about Cathay Pacific’s new business class seat (and you can browse our photo-gallery of the new seats here).

Design

Gone is Cathay’s brave but short-lived experiment with high-sided 48 inch (1.2 metre) walls running the full length of the seat-bed.

That design polarised opinion among business travellers and frequent flyers, with some relishing this ‘private cubicle’ while others derided it as ‘coffin class’.

The new CX business class seat opts for a more conventional yet modern design which brings back the space – and the window view for the outboard A and K seats – while retaining a high degree of privacy.

Passengers in the new business class seats are nestled into a wing-back chair design. An extended partition at shoulder-height enhances privacy but angles away from the headrest to encourage a feeling of personal space.

The design and finish of the seats takes some subtle cues from Cathay’s first class cabin.

Cathay Pacific consulted with high-mileage members of its Marco Polo Club frequent flyer program in evaluating the new seat at various stages of the design process. All up, Cathay says it is investing A$130 million in these new seats.

Dimensions

The new seats are also roomier. Seat width goes up from 18.5” (47cm) to 20.2” (51cm) on the Airbus A330 and 21” (53cm) on the Boeing 777.

What Cathay Pacific terms the ‘usable bed width’ is boosted even further, to 26.4” (67cm)on the A330 and 26.6” (67.5cm) on the 777  with the unique ‘bed extension’ which folds up automatically when the seat is reclined to the horizontal.

Retracting the armrest into the seat module somewhat reduces privacy for sleepy-heads but effectively claws back another 1.2” (3cm) on the A330 and 2.9” (7.3cm) on the 777, for total bed widths of 27.6” (70cm) and 29.5” (75cm) respectively.

And while the 82” (208cm) beds themselves are only 1” (2.5cm) longer in tip-to-tip measurement, the ‘usable bend length’ soars from 71” (180cm) to 75” (190cm) because the lower section of the bed is almost squared off to provide a consistent width for most of the bed’s length, rather than the sharply tapered design of the current bed.

Here's how the old vs the new stack up both the Airbus A330 and the Boeing 777-300ER.

Airbus A330-300

Current seats

New seats

Total bed length

81” / 206cm

82” / 208cm

Usable bed length

71” / 180cm

75” / 190cm

Usable bed width

23.5” / 60cm

26.4” / 67cm
(with bed extension)
27.6” / 70cm
(armrest retracted)

Seat width

18.5” / 47cm

20.2” / 51cm

 

Boeing 777-300ER

Current seats

New seats

Total bed length

81” / 206cm

82” / 208cm

Usable bed length

71” / 180cm

75” / 190cm

Usable bed width

23.5” / 60cm

26.6” / 67.5cm
(with bed extension)
29.5” / 75cm
(armrest retracted)

Seat width

18.5” / 47cm

21” / 53cm

 

Configuration

Unlike the herringbone layout of Cathay’s current business class cabins the outboard seats are positioned towards the windows.

The centre seats are gently angled towards each other for what CX calls ‘companion travel’. There’s still a privacy screen, and with the seat reclined this provides sufficient privacy for solo flyers. Those travelling is pairs can drop the screen and slide the seats forward to share snacks and chat over the central ‘cocktail table’ fixture.

Workspace

Directly next to each bi-fold dining table sits an oversized cocktail table which can become part of your in-flight workspace.

Cutting-edge touches to the seating module include an iPhone/iPod connector which can pipe video from these device onto the personal TV screen, and a USB port for recharging your BlackBerry, mobile phone or ebook reader.

However, the iPhone/iPod connector isn't the standard skinny 30-pin plug so you can't just plug your iDevice straight into the panel. As with Singapore Airlines, United and several other carriers Cathay is using a round multi-pin socket which Apple calls an 'iPod Connectivity Cable' port. CX cabin staff will have the special cables on hand to lend to passengers during the flight – one end of the cable plugs into this socket while the other has the more familiar flat Apple connector.

We’re still a bit concerned over the placement of the universal AC socket, which sits just above the armrest. Our experience with the current CX business class design is that locating AC outlets high on the side of the seat rather than down under the front impinges on your space, especially if you’re using an Apple laptop with a palm-sized AC adaptor.

The new location has the laptop power cable running in front of the cocktail table and workspace which could be an added bother, but we’ll withhold judgement until we test the seat for ourselves early next year.

Storage

A spacious side storage module provides handy access to handbags and laptop bags so they don’t have to be stowed in the overhead bin.

There are additional nooks for smaller personal items (such as reading glasses, noise-cancelling headphones or an iPod) and shoes, with a small vanity mirror mounted inside the door of the side cabinet.

So who gets it, and when?

The new business class seats will first be fitted into all new aircraft deliveries before overhauls of existing aircraft in a process expected to take two full years.

This will start with an Airbus A330-300 due to enter service in March 2011, to be deployed on some of the runs between Sydney and Hong Kong as Cathay showcases the new seating across several long-haul routes.

The initial A330 will be followed by a new Boeing 777-300ER in April, which will divide its time between the popular ‘ultra long haul’ routes of New York, Los Angles and London while other on-order 777s join the fleet.

Toronto and some unnamed European destinations will see those B777-300ERs in 2012, after Cathay begins retrofitting  its existing 777s in late 2011 for deployment on other ‘ultra long-haul’ routes.

These 777-300ERs will also service as replacements for Cathay’s 747-400 fleet, with the airline already having close fourteen 777s in operation and 18 more of the wide-body twin-jets on the books.

Additional on-order A330s will be scheduled onto other Australian routes (Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Melbourne and Perth) from the second half of 2011 into 2012.

A330s already in operation will be retrofitted with the new business class beginning mid-2012 and be deployed onto Cathay’s medium-haul flights such as Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing and Shanghai.

All of Cathay Pacific's 30 Boeing 777-300ER and 20 long-haul A330-300s in the fleet are expected to have the new seating and cabin installed by February 2013.

A Cathay Pacific spokesman told Australian Business Traveller that contrary to some rumours, the cubicle-style business class seating would not be installed onto other aircraft in the CX fleet when removed from current A330s and 777s during their 2011-2012 upgrades.

What about premium economy?

Cathay Pacific is believed to have plans to introduce a premium economy class onto long-haul and ultra long-haul routes. But at last night's launch of the new business class seating in Hong Kong, the airline's Chief Operating Officer John Slosar said "The focus tonight is on the new business class. We can talk about (premium economy) in due course."

Given suggestions that Cathay may also be readying to replace its fixed-back economy seating, which has come in for its own share of criticism, it's not unreasonable to think that both the economy and premium economy seats would be fitted into the same new A330 and Boeing 777 as the new business class seats. If so, we can expect an announcement early next year before the first of the new A330s enters service in March 2011.

Alternatively, if CX's ticketing system isn't yet ready for the addition of a fourth travel class, the introduction of premium economy might be delayed until future deliveries of Boeing 777s - Cathay certainly has enough on order, and is second only to Emirates for the highest number of 777-300ERs in its fleet.

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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.

 

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