Aircraft Type: 777-300ER
Class: Premium Economy
Date: 30th November 2013
Best for: Savvy frequent travellers who are happy with a great reclining chair but don’t want to spend their money on business class.
Most likely to sit next to: On our flight, I was next to business travellers, one of which was a Boeing Engineer, and most were by themselves.
Business or pleasure: This cabin is perfectly suited for both. In-seat power (proper UK/HKG plug sockets), USB sockets (not on first row) and a wealth of entertainment options, this is good for people who work hard, play hard.
Routes: Premium Economy is now available on a variety of routes with Cathay, as they roll the product out across their fleet, the chances are, if you are travelling long haul, you’ll be able to find a premium economy cabin.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Marco Polo Club, a great earner, that allows you access to a fleet of OneWorld lounges and perks. Premium Economy offers an extra 10% mileage accrual on flights compared to the Economy Class.
Best bits: The front row, the little extras and the perfectly comfortable seat.
Worst bits: There are two aircraft configurations, one with a toilet in the cabin, one without. Both mean a decent walk through the economy cabin if you need to freshen up after a long flight. When there is a toilet, book a seat on the right hand side so you can utilise it properly. (We had to think hard for a ‘worst bit’)
Cathay Pacific Premium Economy Report
We were very excited to try out the Cathay Premium Economy experience, so when the chance came up, we jumped at it. We were able to check in online the day before the flight, and the whole online check-in process was a breeze. Even on our iPad, which is always a good test of online compatibility. Seeing the seating chart was easy, and picking a seat was straightforward. Knowing that Cathay’s premium economy offers a leg-rest on the front row, we decided to give the front row a go, picking seat 32H, an aisle seat on the right hand side. The configuration of this particular aircraft was 2 x 4 x 2, similar to most premium economy cabins.
We took the Heathrow Express in to the airport from Paddington, to take a look at the new branding of the train company, with uniforms designed by one of our Thedesignair Judge‘s companies, NOUniform. Whilst the train is fast and painless, the price of £20 one way seemed very steep for a 15 minute journey.
Arriving at London Heathrow, we knew to go to Terminal 3, and with their external facelift, it really does make the terminal look very smart, and dare we say it, ‘festive’ for the Xmas period. Heading over to check-in zone B, which is situated around the corner from Virgin Atlantic and Emirates, we were pleasantly surprised to see very little queuing at all for any of Cathay’s four cabin classes. Cathay Pacific, like most carriers, offers a separate check in zone for their premium economy customers. Whilst there were two people ahead of us, we had checked in and grabbed the boarding pass in less than 3 minutes from queuing. The check in staff wore Cathay uniforms, and were very helpful and polite, although they did seem unfamiliar with the layout of the aircraft, stating our seat wasn’t a front row seat, which caused me a little concern.
Immigration and border control was the slowest we have seen at Heathrow for a while (but still much better than it has been previous), there is no ‘FastTrack’ for premium economy passengers, and my experience was purely luck of the draw, picking a lane that was undergoing a staff change-over during my 10 minutes queuing.
Soon enough we were in the airside part of the terminal, which has a wealth of shopping and seating options. Interestingly, those able to access the Cathay Pacific lounge at Heathrow, should note it is near gate 11, yet the aircraft seem to depart from different piers, meaning usually a 10-15 minute walk from the lounge to the aircraft. After a bit of shopping it was time to head to the gate. Pre-boarding commenced one hour before flight, and boarding 40 minutes before scheduled push-back. Boarding was commenced in stages, First Class, then Business, then premium and finally economy. The fact we were able to board before the rest of the economy passengers gave us more time to settle into our seats, and stow our belongings. It’s a nice touch.
The premium economy cabin is situated behind the Business Class cabin. There are two 777 configurations, a 3 class and 4 class cabin version. In the 4 class aircraft, the cabin offers a 2 x 4 x 2 cabin, with 3 rows on the right hand side (H&K), and 5 rows in both the middle and left hand (A &C). On first impression, the seats look nicely spaced out, and the front rows have an obscene amount of legroom. In front of 32 H & K is the toilet, whose door faces the front meaning that the light and action of the toilet doesn’t bother the passengers in the cabin (a nice touch). The only downside is that the legroom compared to the other front rows is reduced by 6 inches or so. But even so, there is enough for someone of 5’11 to stretch out and barely touch the wall in front.
Once sat, we were treated with champagne, orange juice or water before take off. The whole cabin was served by two cabin crew, which was more than enough to make the service intimate and professional. The neutral green and grey earthy tones to the cabin, when we boarded, had a lovely warm glow to it (as it was a night flight we only had on-board lighting and no daylight to fill the cabin), a little retro perhaps, but still a calming environment. Now, as the flight took just a little over 11 hours, seat comfort was very important.
Interestingly, when we first saw the Cathay Pacific Premium Economy seat online, we thought it looked a little understated. There was nothing flash or imposing about the design. It looked like a slightly tweaked economy seat. Even with all the stats to hand, being honest, we didn’t expect much. As we settled into the seat, we were pleasantly surprised. The seat is much larger than it looks, and is of decent width to accomodate not only ourselves, but pillows, cameras, iPads and anything else we could find.
Our seat was on the front row, so whilst having immovable armrests (like every other seat) the TV screen was on an arm that came out from between the seats. This meant we didn’t have the useful seat-back TV and tray that the rest of the seats have, that can store phones, passports and amenity kits. But what it did mean was that we were subject to a leg rest (well worth trying to get these seats). The leg rests were pneumatic, meaning at the touch of a button, they came up to meet your legs and offer them some support, and even had a fold down footrest, but we wouldn’t recommend this if you are anything over 5’6 as it lifted our legs away from the leg support. No matter though, as the seat when fully reclined (it goes back a LONG way) is nothing short of armchair perfection. If you don’t sit on the front row, expect a whopping 38″ seat pitch with a footrest that comes down from the seat in front, which offers two positions for maximum comfort.
Other elements we love about the seat include the mini cocktail table (whilst a little bit stiff) that opens out into the seat to offer extra storage for drinks and nuts as well as the fold out dining table, which is super huge and also the oversized pillow. It seems that everything about this product is designed to give you extra, from extra space to extra service. When it came to sleeping, we managed to sleep soundly for a good few hours, and we woke up and disembarked feeling fresh and fairly rested.
The TV Screens when you first sit down are formidable, at over 10 inches wide, the touch-screens are both responsive and packed with goodies. From the outside plane cameras to excellent bi-lingual route maps, through to the famous Studio CX itself. A wealth of shopping, games, entertainment, and of course – video and audio options. The navigation of the menus is fairly intuitive, we were browsing like a trooper within a few minutes. Unlike both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways however, we had to wait until airborne before watching the IFE, although this was fairly rapid, and it launched within 10 minutes of take-off.
There were many films, although surprisingly, not as many recent ones as I was expecting. That said, the selection was fully inclusive, and ranged from children’s to foreign art-house and many blockbusters in between. But it was the TV selection that was most impressive. Full series of shows, from Sex and the City to The Big Bang Theory, this was a great way of getting stuck in to some of your favourite shows. Our only small bug bear on this was the fact the advertising before each film took roughly 5 minutes to get through, and the TV shows had on average 3 minutes of advertising.
We also liked the fact the arrivals screen, shown on final approach, constantly updated their information to add gate numbers and times for connecting flights. This meant you really did have the most up to date information available to you as you landed.
We have probably left the best until last. The dining on Cathay Pacific (As it always has been) was second to none. The food quality, portion size, taste was phenomenal. The dinner, (Piccalilli Potato Salad with Szechuanese chicken with Yu Shang chilli sauce, steamed jasmine rice and pak choy with garlic, followed by ice cream) was tasty, hot and full of flavour, and the level of spice was evident, but would have suited any palette. The dinner was supported by a Germanic 2011 Riesling or a French 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, both very pleasant.
The ‘big hitter’ on this flight though was the breakfast. (Fresh Fruit, yoghurt, Scrambled egg with herb potato topping, pork sausage, tomato ragout and creamed spinach along with bread rolls and preserves.) This was by far one of the best breakfasts we have ever tasted on a flight. The sausage was tasty and succulent, the eggs were creamy and wet (compared to the ‘egg brick’ most of us know and love to hate) and the juices and fruit were cold and tasted like a healthy-wake-me-up-kick-of-sunshine. It was also nice to see Congee on the menu for breakfast, although we have already tried that before, and it’s not to our tastes! The cabin crew assured me it was a great choice though.
So the extras make the biggest difference between economy and premium economy. Champagne on boarding, big comfortable noise cancelling headsets, Jurlique products in the toilet (that even include a face wash to help freshen up before disembarking), dedicated cabin crew, hot scented towels and extra large TV screens all make for an enjoyable trip. G.O.D. still produce the amenity kits in the cabin, and they offer everything from padded eye masks to Jurlique beauty products, in very fun packaging. But it is ultimately the sense of space that we take home with us from this experience. As for arrivals, our bags were at the carousel before we were, what more could you ask for?
Cathay Pacific have carefully positioned themselves as a ‘premium’ carrier, offering quality and luxury throughout all of their cabins, but the biggest surprise here is in their premium economy product, which five to ten years ago would have been an award-winning business class product in its own right. Their service is as friendly and welcoming as it can be, their hard product is excellent, dining is out of this world, and we couldn’t help but leave happy from the experience. Many carriers could learn from this experience, even Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy product (the first airline to introduce the class) struggles to compete with the level of space or comfort here. We can’t wait to travel with Cathay again and it certainly will effect our own trip booking in the future.
Flights between London and Hong Kong currently start at very reasonable £1129 but during certain times of year can be less, as Cathay Pacific do flight sales from time to time, but as it’s the holiday season, why not treat yourself to a little extra comfort for 2014!
Book your Cathay Pacific Premium Economy tickets right now http://products.cathaypacific.com/premiumeconomy/ The airline has introduced their very own micro-site to promote the product, including a review from yours truly.