Cathay Pacific's new Premium Economy seat in reclined position.

Cathay focuses on the “premium” with next-gen premium economy

Details and Design banner with text on graph paper backgroundCathay Pacific is revealing the next part of its 2024 #PaxEx puzzle with the unveiling of the airline’s new premium economy seats, originally intended for the much-delayed Boeing 777-9 and now to roll out as a retrofit programme this year when it refurbishes its 777-300ERs.

At first glance, the seat looks excellent. Aesthetically, the seat is clearly being positioned with the emphasis on “premium”, rather than “economy”. Seats are pitched at 40 inches — a good 2–4 inches more than most premium economy cabins of recent times — in the standard 2-4-2 layout for 777s, with sizeable legrests in every row, not just the first.

The seat looks to be a fairly heavily customised Recaro product, and from the design language and timing this seems likely to be the PL3810 product.

The key improvement to the seat itself looks to be around the winged privacy headrests that separate each pair of seats on the off-aisle side. If your head sits at a point where this would improve privacy, it’s a great upgrade, although your 6’3” (190cm) author will await taller passengers’ feedback as to whether it catches at the shoulder.

A close up of Cathay Pacific winged headrests.

The new headrests are one of the key functional upgrades. Image: Cathay Pacific

The palette is an interesting one, with the glossy PR renders looking much more green in their seat covers than the real-world shots from the reveal event around the Hong Kong rugby sevens tournament — including from Head for Points, Executive Traveller and Bloomberg’s Danny Lee

These suggest a more golden, tanned colour palette that steers towards the warm neutrals found in the airline’s most recent business class products rather than the signature greens previously seen. This is an interesting branding choice: this palette has generally been used by the middle eastern hub carriers to bring a desert signature warmth to their cabins. 

Cathay Pacific new Premium Economy seat in reclined position, with a warm palette.

CX new Premium Economy header. Image: Cathay Pacific

Indeed, the overall look and feel is much more similar to the colourways that Cathay is using for the forthcoming Aria business suite than has been the case in previous generations — not least, perhaps, as a result of the way Cathay originally rolled out and expanded premium economy in the past, enabling a more holistic view of colour, material and finish this time round.

Rotation

For those following the ongoing saga of the latest generation of large inflight entertainment screens raising shatter issues during dynamic testing (especially around the head injury criterion and neck injury element), it’s notable that the seats on display in Hong Kong use standard two-point safety belts and not airbag belts (as seen on Japan Airlines’ A350) or even three-point shoulder straps. If this is an accurate representation of what will be on board then it’s notable that these issues appear to be resolvable. 

The impressively specced 15.6-inch monitor is likely to be the ultimate test of Cathay’s next-generation inflight entertainment system — or, more accurately, its content service provision pipeline. 

4K screens will be on offer, but even on the relatively elderly monitors on four separate Cathay flights (777 and A350) late last year the perennial issue of screens that were higher definition than the content library loaded reared its pixellated, blurry head.

Given the seat pitch, this is likely to be among the lowest screen-inches-to-distance ratios on the aircraft, and thus any low-def content will be only too plainly visible on the high-def screens.

The one surprise visible on some of the real-world reveal snaps is a huge, boxy caged structure at foot level, presumably delivering power and content cabling to the seat. This looks much larger than one might expect — potentially a legacy 777 power or cabling quirk? — and indeed it looks and feels like something of an unfortunate afterthought. 

The box takes up quite a substantial amount of foot room at the key crunch point, whether or not one deploys the swing-down footrest. It’s all too easy to imagine catching a socked ankle bone on the exposed, raised screw housing or the 90-degree metal edges of the box.

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Featured image credited to Cathay Pacific