Cathay Pacific’s new international business class seats made their worldwide commercial debut overnight on the CX101 service from Hong Kong to Sydney.
Australian Business Traveller snared some time with the factory-fresh Airbus A330-300 (which arrived from Airbus HQ in Toulouse only three days ago) at Sydney International Airport for a first-hand look at the new business class seats.
Business class occupies the very front of the two-class A330-300 and is divided into two cabins.
The frontmost cabin is the larger of the two, with seven rows numbered 11-12 and then 14 through 18 – yes, in a nod to triskaidekaphobia, row 13 is missing.
Snuck away behind the galley kitchen is a second business class cabin (below) with rows 19 to 21, separated from the economy section by a curtain.
While frequent flyers may gravitate towards this secondary cabin for its smaller and more intimate feel, be warned that directly behind the bulkhead adjoining economy are two bassinet positions – so the best chance of a quiet and productive flight (or a restful one, if you’re travelling overnight) will be to stay forward of row 20.
The overall feel of the new cabin is much lighter and more elegant. There’s less of Cathay’s deep sea green on the fabric of the seats while the sidewalls are finished in brushed metal with touches of grey and champagne.
Cathay has also gone an extra mile in little touches such as bamboo patterns and abstract prints by Hong Kong artist Maria Lobo on the bulkheads, and a vase containing a fresh-cut flower in front of each set of middle seats.
Both business class cabins sport a spacious 1-2-1 configuration (seat A on the left side, D and G paired in the middle and K on the right) for a total of 39 seats across 10 rows – there’s no seat 19K, as that space is given over to a toilet and coat closet.
As with an increasing number of airlines. Cathay has opted for a herringbone layout in which all seats are angled rather than arrayed front-on.
The seats nearest the windows are angled away from the aisle and towards the windows for maximum privacy – an effect enhanced by those outboard seats being slightly offset from their middle-row counterparts.
Sit in a bulkhead seat such as 11A, 11K or 19A and it’s as if you are in your own private world – the only way to see your fellow passengers is to crane your neck around the extended partition.
By comparison, the two centre seats are angled towards each other – although the seats recline so far back that you still get plenty of privacy. You could fly from Sydney to London and manage to ignore the other passenger all the way.
What if you're travelling with a colleague or your partner and want to chat? Move the seat forward, lean forward from the recessed seat-well, swivel around so you're angled towards your seatmate and possibly raise your voice a little because you're still a distance away from each other. The CX-supplied PR shot below shows what we're talking about.
This isn’t going to be a hit with those who like to travel in pairs and share the journey. But it’s a win for most business travellers who tend to fly solo.
All of the business class rows are located forward of the A330’s wing, although the view from the last two window seats (21A and 21K) is partially obstructed by the engine cowling.
Cathay Pacific’s new business class seats are modified from a base design by French firm Zodiac Aerospace, which markets them as the Sicma Aero Cirrus to airlines around the world (US Airways uses these as their international business class Envoy Suite).
It’s noteworthy that Zodiac Aerospace promotes this as a First Class product – we could well imagine these seats in the first class cabin of smaller carriers running shorter routes.
The seats are set into a fixed shell so that reclining them doesn’t steal space away from the passenger behind you. The aisle side of the shell includes an angled extension adjacent to the head and shoulders to enhance privacy.
A cluster of controls on the side panel includes a reading light (with adjustable brightness), seat adjustment, the IFE (in-flight entertainment) controller, a universal power outlet for laptops and a USB port for charging tablets and smartphones.
There’s also an iPhone/iPad/iPod connector socket so you can play video from your iDevice onto the 15-inch video screen (below).
But this isn’t Apple’s standard skinny 30-pin plug: 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 had some initial concerns about the placement of the laptop power socket, which sits at the bottom of this panel – just above the armrest and cocktail table.
Our experience with the previous CX business class cubicle design is that locating power outlets high on the side of the seat impinges on your space, especially if you’re using an Apple laptop with a palm-sized adaptor.
But the new seat and panel are angled slightly away from each other so there’s no problem with your elbow or forearm knocking the power brick.
One thing that’s got to be said for these new seats is that there’s plenty of storage space for your odds and ends. This was one shortcoming of the previous Cathay Pacific cubicles, as it is with many business class seats.
At the aisle-side foot of each seat is a compact shoe locker (above).
Set into the wall under the cocktail table is a nook with ample space for laptops, tablets, books or magazines, along with a mesh holder for your water bottle (below). This is all within easy reach when the seat is reclined into a lie-flat bed.
At the broad end of the cocktail table, situated behind the control panel, is a cabinet (below) which contains a pair of noise-cancelling headphones while still having room for reading glasses or an in-flight toiletries kit. The inside of the door is also fitted with a vanity mirror concealed behind a sliding plastic flap.
Cathay suggests that passengers in the middle seats can leave the spring-loaded cabinet door open to act as a privacy screen, but we’re not convinced – the door is fairly small, it wobbles annoyingly and it just looks untidy having it hanging open.
This tiny recess threw us at first: it's a step to help cabin crew (and savvy passengers) reach the overhead lockers, while the green light is an at-a-glance indicator for flight crew that the seat is in the correct position for take-off and landing.
There’s also a good amount of workspace available, with a bi-fold table swinging out from under the cocktail table.
This proved large enough to comfortably hold a 15.4 inch laptop, although notebooks with a 13-14 inch screen – which tend to be the sweet spot for frequent flyers – will be a far better fit.
The new seats on the A330-300 are just over 20 inches wide, giving them almost a two inch advantage over the cubicle design, in addition to the feeling of being less enclosed.
We found it much easier to clamber into and out out of the seat when it's steeply reclined compared to the current cubicle design.
In lie-flat mode the seat turns into what should be an exceptionally comfortable bed. It’s several inches longer than the cubicle seating – Cathay rates the ‘usable length’ as 75 inches over 71 inches, even though the total ‘tip to tip’ length of the bed is 82 inches (81 inches in the old design).
At the far end of the seating enclosure is a raised ‘ottoman’ shelf finished with a very soft material which affords more inches of stretch-out room when the bed is fully extended.
It’s hard to imagine anybody but the loftiest flyer finding this bed too short for a good snooze.
Even at full recline there's sufficient privacy around the passenger's head.
By retracting the armrest into the seat chassis the upper half of the bed gains several more inches of elbow room, at the cost of reduced privacy if you're sleeping facing the aisle.
As the seat converts into a bed, a ‘bed extension’ panel swings up from beneath the base of the seat to add almost six inches of knee-room if you’re sleeping on your side.
As you’d expect from a brand new aircraft the seats were incredibly comfortable – they’ve not even been ‘worn in’, and the entire aircraft still had that ‘new plane’ scent (it’s like a new car smell but costs around A$220 million more).
But with Cathay spending HK$1 billion (A$130 million) on its business class overhaul we doubt they’ve skimped on anything.
So when can you fly the new seats?
Sydney is Cathay Pacific's first port of call for the new business class cabin, with the shiny new A330 running on the Hong-Kong-Sydney CX100/101 service every day of the week except Monday out of Hong Kong and Tuesday out of Sydney.
On those days - and on the other CX110/111, CX162/161 and CX138/139 services – the older A330s with the cubicle-style business class seating will run until June.
From June 1st to the end of July, three CX110/111 flights per week will have the new business class product (going to daily from August 1st); CX162/161 will also score the new seats on two flights per week from June 1st, increasing to four flights per week from August 1st.
From June 6th, CX100/101 will go daily with the new seats.
“We’re very fortunate that Sydney is the first port worldwide to get the new product, even ahead of the US” says Derek Morris, Cathay Pacific’s Sales & Marketing Manager for Australia. Morris says that other Australian cities will follow in 2012 "as deliveries of new aircraft and refits of current aircraft take effect.”
The plan – “and it’s only a plan at this stage because things can change depending on deliveries,” Morris cautions – is that Melbourne and Adelaide will see daily flights kitted out with the new business class seats from September 2012, followed by Perth and Brisbane in October 2012.
As for the rest of the world, a new Boeing 777-300ER fitted with the new seats will appear on various services routes from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, New York and London from early April to allow customers in all three cities to sample the new cabins.
Airlineroute.net currently lists the Hong Kong-Vancouver-New York service CX889/888 getting the 777-300ER on a regular basis from May 1st, with New York's CX830/831 from May 2nd and CX840/841 from June 1st.
The upgraded seats are also tipped to appear on the 777-300ER which will launch Cathay's new direct Hong Kong-Chicago flight (CX806/805) on September 1st.
On first impressions it’s hard to fault Cathay Pacific’s new business class seats. They’re a smart design with ample space, comfort and amenities for the eight hour trip to Hong Kong and eventually long-haul hopover treks to Europe and the UK.
We’re keen to put the seats to the test during a flight, and that will come soon – however if you’re on CX100 or CX101 in the next few weeks and have your own chance to sample these new business class seats, by all means share your thoughts in the Comments box below!
Photography by Dan Warne
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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.