Cathay Pacific is about to see the commercial take-off of its latest arrival, the A321neo. With the pandemic hitting at a pivotal time for the carrier, commercially things have been bittersweet. While passenger numbers have been decimated for 18-months, the regrowth of the airline can now be expedited by the addition of a new narrow-body fleet meaning thin routes, once operated by 777’s and A330’s, can return to profitability quicker.
With the carrier shaking off the behemoth seat count it operated prior to the pandemic mainly due to its heavy wide-body fleet, what will this mean to passenger comfort? As a passenger, one of the major draws to Cathay was due to its large spacious cabins – and while only psychological, the effect of space was often associated to luxury, meaning Cathay could afford to be one of the more costly options in the region, and somehow still fill its planes.
With Cathay now competing with the same smaller metal as low-cost carriers in the region, how is it positioning itself to continue to win over market share? For example, rival in the region – Singapore Airlines has adopted a similar model to Cathay, merging its feeder traffic brand Silk Air in to the main carrier. Yet Singapore Airlines has stated it will offer flat-beds in Business Class on its 737 Max aircraft to maintain a premium positioning, this is something Cathay has decided against.
Chief Executive Officer Augustus Tang said: “We’re incredibly excited to see our next-generation A321neo take to the skies for the first-time next month as we continue to add more passenger services in the region. The single-aisle A321neo is the newest addition to our fleet and has been designed and fitted with an array of new features that offer the most enjoyable short-haul experience in the world to our customers. We look forward to deploying A321neos on more regional routes and welcoming customers on board.”
The A321neo is Cathay’s first aircraft to feature a newly designed Regional Business Class seat product by Rockwell Collins and adapted by JPA Design. This next-generation hard-shell recliner seat – similar to those found on Oman Air – provides “a cocoon-like feel with divider screens for maximum privacy, while the 15.6-inch 4K Ultra-HD personal TV screens offer an incredible in-flight entertainment experience.” In reality it’s not too different from the regional business class seats in its existing cabins, but this is certainly an elevated experience.
Meanwhile, the Economy Class seats feature “11.6-inch 4K personal TV screens along with a generous recline, comfortable seat cushions and new adjustable headrests.” Realistically Cathay seat have always been comfortable, and the brand’s soft touches and catering have always been strong PaxEx elements.
In fact, Cathay has seemingly bet on entertainment as a key differentiator in the narrow-body market. With the A321neo, Cathay Pacific is the first airline in the world to provide 4K ultra-high-definition screens, a 4K video-on-demand experience (although how many of the movies and shows will be in 4K is another issue) as well as more importantly Bluetooth audio streaming (which is being introduced progressively) across all cabins.
In addition, the A321neo will have a new and enhanced content selection providing one of the largest movie and TV libraries available on a regional single-aisle aircraft. And with high-speed Wi-Fi on board (also being introduced progressively), customers should be able catch up on emails or stay in touch with friends and family.
The cabin and features are inherently ‘Cathay’, and probably well positioned for a post pandemic world. While these sleeper-style seats may not be fully flat beds, for 2-6-hour flights, they are perfectly comfortable. In a pre-pandemic world, we might have questioned the logic behind not providing fully flat beds. Yet post-pandemic and commercially-speaking they are the perfect solution to bring the carrier back to profitability while still providing a perfectly suitable Business Class product.
Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A321neo aircraft will enter into commercial service on 4 August 2021 when it takes its inaugural flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai (Pudong). The airline intends to deploy the aircraft on flights to Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Qingdao, Kaohsiung and Taipei during August.