Cathay still fixing Safran seats, lavatories on even new A350s


Seat materials separating from their structures. Toilets taped together. Lavatories sealed with shabbily rough caulking. That’s not what Cathay Pacific promises with its “Life Well Travelled” slogan, and it’s what the airline would have hoped to have turned its back on last year with its troubled Airbus A350 program, when executives told Runway Girl Network there was a plan in place to fix the situation.

Yet a recent flight on even one of the newer A350-900 aircraft showed the same old problems — in some cases, even worse.

These are not hidden issues. At my seat, the leather shroud in the footwell was separating from the seat shell.

Cathay’s choices in its fit and finish may have contributed to the extent of the problems. Image: John Walton

The side table lamination was peeling away.

The lamination of the side table is a key issue. Image: John Walton

The sections of the seat did not line up properly.

Peeling surfaces and sections of the seat out of alignment are a problem. Image: John Walton

The lifejacket compartment was tied to the seat structure.

Sharp edges and cable ties do not make for a premium appearance. Image: John Walton

Sharp edges within the footwell had not been smoothed.

It’s not just the sharp edges — it’s the grubby nooks and crannies. Image: John Walton

Other seats in the cabin seemed to be in a similar situation.

The lavatories were worse — and RGN checked all the business class ones.

One toilet was literally taped together with what looked like (and seemed to be adhering like) clear packing tape.

In all this journalist’s years of travel, never has a lavatory been in this state. Image: John Walton

Multiple lavatories’ ceiling and walls were secured with the same clear tape.

There are clear structural issues with the lavatories. Image: John Walton

Caulking was so rough that it looked impossible to sanitize.

The caulking repair job looked slapdash. Image: John Walton

Production quality was atrocious, from the doors that didn’t lock properly to the labelling that was wearing away.

Broken, dirty, and poorly repaired facilities are not a good look. Image: John Walton

This aircraft was B-LRQ, delivered to Cathay in June 2017, months after the airline told RGN that the issues were being fixed. It’s surprising that any long-haul aircraft would be showing quite so much wear and tear after just over a year in service, but this felt like a twenty-year-old aircraft.

Eighteen months ago, Runway Girl Network flew on an earlier Cathay Pacific Airbus A350, and was shocked at the state of the Zodiac Aerospace (now Safran Seats) Cirrus seating product. The following month, Cathay’s general manager product and head of cabin engineering later outlined the airline’s plans to fix the problems to RGN.

It almost beggars belief that these issues remain so evidently ongoing, and it was with some incredulity that RGN raised the issue with Vivian Lo, general manager customer experience and design, at the airline’s Cathay City headquarters the day after the flight (which was provided by Cathay Pacific), showing her the pictures used in this article.

Acknowledging that there were clear issues, Lo said, “what we have done is to ensure we have the right fixes. On top of the fact that those first three aircraft shipsets were completely replaced, we have worked a lot in terms of agreeing what is the right quality and we ensured that those were delivered for the A350-1000 at launch.”

“Given the issues we have had with the A350-900, obviously it was a very — I won’t say painful, but it was a rocky and lengthy experience. What we’ve seen in the last maybe six months of execution of the A350-1000 is that a lot has improved, and they [fixes] are also retroactively being [applied],” Lo explained.

“We’ve fixed that for the A350-1000 at launch, and those changes are now being retroactively launched for the rest of the A350-900 fleet. We have a combination of issues, but for example in terms of the bed extension I think we are about 75% done. Lamination of the surface table is around three-quarters done. The majority of the fixes we should be either completing by the end of this year [2018] or at the latest the second quarter next year.”

Lo was realistic in her response to the images RGN showed her. “In theory we should have critical mass now, so it’s a surprise that we still have that. Obviously it is one of those 25%. We are looking at completion, definitely, by second quarter next year. So we shouldn’t be seeing this. It’s a disappointment for us.”

Cathay’s latest version of the Cirrus seat is more ambitious than some other airlines’. Image: John Walton

For the table laminate, Lo confirmed, “there’s a new material there, and then in terms of the deployment of the back extension and the triangular cushion, we’ve changed the way that it operates. For the armrest it’s slightly slower in terms of progress, there’s a new deployment mechanism. In terms of the recline deployment the system supporting that is also different, so it is basically a lot of work from both teams, including our engineering team, in terms of commanding those changes, but we think we have got an agreed standard that is satisfactory for the -1000.”

The A350-1000, Lo said, is the product Cathay refined, and has been delivered to its design intent. “The main difference is the quality of delivery. The seat design is exactly the same, but at launch we don’t have the same kind of issues with the laminates, with the deployment, the recline et cetera. So far our feedback on the A350-1000 was that those issues were all addressed.”

More widely with the seatmaker, Lo noted, “with Zodiac being a strong — not just a supplier but a partner for us, providing a lot of the premium seats, we have really done a lot in improving that overall partnership, engagement and supplier management program. Obviously they have also gone through a lot of management change, and Safran has taken over. I think they have put in some very solid management that really knows what the key issues are, and they make it their top priority to address them.”

“So far the feedback on the A350-1000 product was substantially better, both in terms of the Zodiac business class seats as well as all the other issues that we have from the lavatory that is more an Airbus issue.”

Calling the lavatory situations on B-LRQ “really one of the worst examples” of the problems, Lo highlighted that Cathay Pacific is dealing with Airbus as the catalogue supplier of lavatories, rather than Safran Cabin (previously, as with the seats, Zodiac Aerospace). Again citing solutions put in place for the A350-1000, Lo said that the updated lavatories are being retroactively reinstalled on the -900 fleet.

Again, it wasn’t just the structural issues, it was also a lack of cleanliness. Image: John Walton

This may not go as far as entire lavatories being removed and exchanged, although given the extent of the problems this would not seem overkill. Lo noted that much of the materials making up the surfaces of the lavatories will, however, be replaced, but that supplier constraints are still a problem.

“The progress is not just about whether we have ground time, it’s about how fast the supplier is able to provide those new materials. The pace is really set by Airbus for the lavatories, and Zodiac for the business class seats,” Lo said.

RGN experienced a substantial amount of déja vu during these discussions with Cathay Pacific, as indeed on the flight. Cathay Pacific is not the only airline to be experiencing these problems, either with Safran’s seats or with its Airbus-supplied lavatories.

But as just one recent comparator example, Cathay’s A350s stood in marked contrast on the same trip with Finnair’s, where even RGN’s fine-toothed comb couldn’t throw up any visible problems with the cabin or the seats — also Cirrus, although a less ambitious finish.

Years after these problems were identified on the airline’s first A350’s delivery flight, they are yet to be fully solved. Perhaps the most baffling aspect of the entire situation is that it is still unclear why Cathay Pacific remains unable to do so.

The level of grime in the cabin was frankly surprising. Image: John Walton

To top it all off, the seats weren’t just broken. They were dirty. Image: John Walton

Editorial Disclosure: Cathay Pacific provided the flights referenced in this article.

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  1. Jeanette Townsend

    Recently traveled Cathay to Hong Kong and on to Sydney from Washington DC, with return month later. On both outward legs A350/900 in premium economy. Both outward flights were atrocious from the not working seats and lack of power to seats to overflowing toilets, not to mention total lack of toilets for premium economy. And don’t get me started on food. The return was slightly better with old 777 on first leg and 350/900 to DC. Seats and erratic power still problem and food not improved but at least toilets not overflowing.

    When I wrote an extensive critique I was rewarded with a useless $75 service voucher, only usable on a Cathay flight, if I ever use them again.

    Everyone appreciates that the only growing profit sector on international flights is premium economy so you would think that Cathay would do everything possible to attract new customers and gold on to those who travel with them. Unfortunately this doesn’t appear to be the case.

    I’m not new to Cathay. It was always my airlines of choice for travel from the middle East to Australia when I lived in the ME for many years and continuing when I moved to Asia and traveled to the US. Admittedly, it was mostly in business class but occasionally in regular economy. I never experienced the level of service or the appearance of a broken airplane in all those flights, in spots of it having an aging fleet. Somehow I get the impression that Cathay it’s headed towards insolvency or they just don’t care, like many US airlines currently don’t care.

  2. Rob

    The Cathay A350 business class seat product is a lesson in over promises, too few resources and management in Zodiac who needed to put their mark on everything

    The seat itself was ambitious from the outset with a 16G oblique seat & surround with a structure mounted airbag

    Add on top of this a new composite production method variant, multiple new moving mechanisms with smaller package requirements due to integration areas, and the use of a decorative laminate which was impossible to work with (Isovolta Airdec-GE & Airdec-F1) due to the quality of the laminate itself

    This was all before multiple production facilities were brought on board under the banner of accelerating production. These facilities had little experience and even less focus on quality and specifications in an effort to just get product out the door

    The QIP was handled in much the same manner, with the people running it over promising everything and not consulting with the people doing the work, as over a year was spent analyzing the issues, running the prototype builds and cycle/abuse testing everything by the Zodiac team.

    And now none of the original team or QIP team is involved in the production or further design changes (all have left the company) and thus all of the history has been lost and the same mistakes are being made and will continue to be made.

    Some of the issues will never be able to be fixed (alignment between monitor shroud and backshell and associated trims), and other have fixes but will never actually be fixed due to delays in decisions by Zodiac management. The ones that are fixed will come up again and again as the production line making the units changes completely every 12-16 months so all history is lost.

    This ends up being a sad reminder to all involved to properly staff, retain the people who know what they are doing, and consult with the people who do the actual work before committing to something.

    • JoeR

      You sound like you know a lot about this matter. Is this the current state? Or is this from historical knowledge?

  3. Idrather notsay

    I’m confused. Maybe Cathay’s ambition explains why they have problems with the *seats* and e.g. Finnair does not. But that wouldn’t explain a difference in bathroom quality, would it? Air the Finnair and others’ ( Lufthansa, delta) a350 bathrooms working better? If so, why the differences? If not… that’s helpful to know, so as to avoid.

  4. Andrew

    How have other airlines fared with the A350 cabin? Cathay Pacific has copped a lot of flak for the atrocious state of the fittings on their brand new aircraft, but my understanding is that Airbus uses the same supplier for the toilet and galley installations in ALL A350s. Airlines such as Qatar and Singapore Airlines must surely be facing the same issues. Is that the case?

    • Mary Kirby

      Finnair discussed how it grappled with A350 delivery delays due to problems with Zodiac premium seating. The carrier’s CEO, Pekka Vauramo, said Airbus would foot the initial bill. “We buy the aircraft with the seats from Airbus so of course it’s between us and Airbus but of course I know the issue is with Zodiac. They need to come up with the solution.” Would Finnair buy Zodiac again? “Difficult to say. Difficult to say but I mean of course if I knew that there is problems I wouldn’t buy, but,” said Vauramo. “It’s very frustrating.”

  5. I think the Authority can take the necessary step to fix this issue. It is not a regular things in the airplane, but it fixes very early .thanks a lot for sharing this informative post.