Cathay remains bullish on new first class for 777-9

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First class is here to stay on Cathay Pacific, with new seats on the way for the airline’s future flagship, the Boeing 777-9, as well as a substantial upgrade to the soft product delivered to the existing first class seats, which are already undergoing a hard product refresh, the airline confirms to Runway Girl Network.

Vivian Lo, general manager customer experience and design, details Cathay Pacific’s process at the current point in the new 777-9 seat program: the airline is working closely with the airframer, seat supplier, inflight entertainment provider, and its own industrial designer, to avoid the pitfalls the airline encountered so dramatically with its last premium product, the upgraded Safran Seats (previously Zodiac Aerospace) Cirrus seat for the Airbus A350.

“We have re-confirmed that we will have a new first class in the 777-9X. My team are very busy designing that,” Lo tells RGN at the airline’s Hong Kong headquarters. “We believe that it is too early to discuss exactly what will be there, but we have always taken pride whenever we launch a product that it is flagship and industry-leading, and that’s where we aspire to be. We’re committed to be best in class. We’re working towards a new product that will come in 2021. Meanwhile, we’re also looking at how we want to enhance the first class experience before we add the new product.”

Ensuring that the seat is up to date and works for the future first class traveler is crucial. Image: Cathay Pacific

Those enhancements will be about continuing the seat materials-and-finish refurbishment Cathay started just over a year ago, as well as looking to upgrade the first class service concept in the context of an upgraded business class food and beverage concept in particular.

“Part of that is refreshing the hard product, but my team and I are also working towards looking at the soft product, whether that’s food and beverage, the amenities, the duvets, et cetera, so that you also enhance that overall experience for our most premium and special customers,” Lo explains.

A food and beverage refresh is on the cards for first class. Image:Cathay Pacific

Yet a substantial part of the network, including some of the most lucrative routes, will remain without a full first class connecting experience. Australia flights, for example, largely do not operate with aircraft equipped with first class cabins, as indeed did this journalist’s flight to Hong Kong from Melbourne. So, RGN asked, how does Cathay Pacific plan to manage this premium cabin class disconnect, especially in an age of ongoing competition from Gulf carriers on many of the longhaul-to-longhaul routes that Cathay Pacific would have previously counted as its bread and butter?

Pressure from its competitors and its own business class puts first class in an interesting position. Image: Cathay Pacific

The answer, Lo says, is “depending on whether there’s a compelling competitor that can offer first class throughout. I think there’s only a limited number of genuine first class operators out there. I think all of them don’t have first class for all their routes. So it’s an experience that we would need to manage anyway.”

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“I don’t have a fixed answer on how to totally manage that experience,” Lo muses after a few moments of contemplation. “For those routes where we will have a first class, we will make sure it’s differentiating on the experience, but what we also have to manage is continually improving our offer on the business class suite.”

In particular, competing with the Gulf carriers — including, of course, Cathay Pacific’s oneworld alliance partner airline Qatar Airways — is a complex mixture of factors, Lo says. “I think a lot of that depends on the loyalty program, the alliance, and also the individual product that you have. Different customers have different expectations. For example, the competitors you mentioned have all quite strong product, but at the same time Cathay’s product design is about thoughtfulness. It’s actually understanding our customers in a certain way. We still have a strong group of customers that continue to support us.”

The current first class seat is in the process of a hard product refresh . Image: Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific provided flights to enable this interview.

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