Cathay’s 2010-era business seat is solid, but needs changes


Cathay Pacific finds itself in a sticky financial situation, and its passenger experience reality doesn’t look like a bed of roses either, given its 2007-era first class, narrowing economy that is heading for 3-4-3 on the 777, undifferentiated premium economy — or in its 2010 business class product, flying on the majority of its fleet. This summer, I flew from London to Hong Kong, on to Tokyo Haneda, and back to Hong Kong, and the trip stimulated a lot of thoughts about Cathay’s passenger experience.

Overall, the product remains solid. Zodiac’s second-generation James Park Associates-designed seats, which Cathay Pacific played a large part in updating from the original US Airways implementation (also still flying), are still well above average in space and comfort. The flights were efficient and got me where I wanted to go, fed and watered, with the amount of sleep that I needed to hit the ground running.

But business class these days is about more than just being solid and efficient, and there are quite a few areas in which Cathay Pacific could and should look to improve.

While the Cirrus product remains ahead of the pack, the fittings and fixtures of all three of my seats were showing their age, with some parts of the shrouding separating as adhesive loses its grip, and others showing visible wear. It’s by no means an issue to the extent of Cathay’s substandard A350 seats, but it’s a shame Cathay hasn’t remedied the situation.

Much of the wear and tear feels like it just needs someone with an eye for detail to cast their gaze over the cabin. Image: John Walton

More care is needed with the softer aspects of the product too. Two of the cushion covers on my flights were so old and tatty that the fabric had bobbled as it wore away. In places, the fabric of the seat covers, too, was worn, with flyaway threads. These aren’t themselves massive issues, but again, it feels like a missed trick to leave them unresolved.

Elderly, bobbled fabric and ratty threads hanging loose — not a great look. Image: John Walton

The “tower of power” that contains the storage area, in-seat AC power outlet, USB socket, the defunct eXport old-school dock connector iPod socket, inflight entertainment remote, and the controls for moving the seat, has aged relatively well apart from the fact Cathay hasn’t taken the opportunity to remove the eXport and update the USB socket to a high-power charging version. It’s also a shame that Cathay hasn’t chosen to enable passengers to play their own content following the demise of the eXport, which died with the old pre-Lightning connector in 2012.

The Tower of Power is still convenient, but the eXport/USB combo could do with an update. Image: John Walton

The StudioCX entertainment system, while offering a reasonable number of new-release movies, hasn’t been upgraded to the latest generation of screens. I also found the three-minute advertising reel before every single programme deeply annoying — surely not an emotion that Cathay wants to engender among its business class passengers.

Lastly, Cathay needs to look at how it commissions video encoding, and ensure that it has purchased adequate quality for even its mediocre business class screens. I watched the film Arrival and the video quality was truly atrocious — it felt like watching a 240p YouTube video.

This image quality just isn’t acceptable. Image: John Walton

Cathay Pacific is already in the process of rolling out a new dine-on-demand service for business class, and indeed this isn’t before time. While I found that, on balance, the food was tasty, plentiful and all options were available, the presentation wasn’t up to modern business class standard.

Moreover, Cathay’s long-held trolley service meant that, by the time the trolley reached me, the rice was barely lukewarm, dried out and crunchy-edged thanks to the dry aircraft cabin. There are so many ways to avoid dried-out rice that it’s almost unbelievable that Cathay hasn’t figured out a way to do it.

A lack of inflight connectivity also rankled a bit. It’s becoming increasingly frustrating not to be able to get online and at least do email triage in the sky, and Cathay’s lack of movement on connectivity is a downside.

In terms of ground service, boarding in London was chaotic, poorly signposted and badly managed, with staff who seemingly couldn’t care less. Boarding was called from the lounge, but despite waiting a few minutes and having to hike to the very far end of Terminal 3 it hadn’t even started by the time I arrived at the gate. First, business and economy passengers were all left to mill around without announcements or any attempt at organisation or prioritisation by the gate agents.

I suppose my frustration with Cathay Pacific is that I can see so many ways in which small changes would make big improvements to the business class passenger experience, something that Cathay itself is very keen to do. It just feels like it needs to do more, more quickly, and more thoroughly.

Overall, Cathay’s Cirrus is still a very good business class seat. Image: John Walton

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  1. Jon

    Great writeup. I flew a RTW with my wife a couple years back which included a few flights with CX J, and I feel the same way. The seats were in better shape, but compared to the previous flights on QR (worse seat, but better service and food), and Iberia (even worse seat, but still arguably better food and similar service), it’s hard to see why CX J is so highly recommended. The seat is certainly still quite comfortable and the service is responsive when requested, but the terrible IFE experience and ‘meh’ food certainly left me underwhelmed by the experience.

    • John Walton

      The review would have looked the same, as it always has in the eight years that I’ve been professionally reviewing flights (on both airline-provided and self-funded flights; this year’s ratio so far is 3:31). Both the Cathay and Finnair reviews (and every review I write) are up-front, no-PR assessments of where the hard and soft products sit, both in and of themselves and in comparison with the competition. Is there something specific or inconsistent in the two reviews that you think isn’t correct?