by Bobbie Leigh
When Boeing delivers a new plane to Cathay Pacific, both companies pull out all the stops. In February, they jointly hosted a ceremonial roll out “delivery dinner” that began with a morning factory tour in Everett, Washington, a “delivery” dinner that night, and ended with a free ride for VIP’s and journalists between Seattle and Hong Kong the next day.
The delivery was a Boeing 777- ER (extended range) aircraft, the 25th 777 delivered from Boeing to Cathay. But this was a special delivery: the first triple seven reconfigured for Cathay’s new Premium Economy class and judging from my complimentary hop across the Pacific, it is infinitely better than economy. As Ivan Chu said at the handover, “We want the product to be more premium than economy.” The jubilant handover ceremony was at Seattle’s Museum of Future Flight with Champagne toasts, a dragon dance, and Chinese drummers.
But first the Boeing factory. It is billed as the largest building in the world in terms of interior volume. Almost 40,000 people work there on three shifts a day. Some 17 cafeterias provide the meals and 17 childcare centers help out families. The picture is almost surreal. The various aircraft on the floor are in different stages of dress—some have no tops, other no paint, while still others look like mammoth up-side-down grasshoppers. Supposedly, it is easier to build them that way. Some have wedged shaped tails, others like the triple seven, a tail cone. If you’re in Seattle, be sure to take the 90-minute tour of the factory by making reservations online at www.boeing.com.
The newly reconfigured triple seven is a wide-body, two-engine plane supposedly the first created with non-pilot “fly-by-wire” airline computer controls. The interior colors are muted, the lighting is gentle, and the space is both stylish and attractive. The plane has 268 economy seats, 40 business class “pods,” and between 26 and 34 premium economy seats per aircraft. The premium economy wider seats than economy also have wide armrests and are upholstered in a handsome emerald green.
The biggest deal in the new premium class is the 38- inch seat pitch (the distance from a point on one headrest to the same point on the headrest in front) which is six inches longer than in economy. The extra space translates into a lot more leg room. Although on our initial flight we had the run of the plane as there were only invited guests aboard, we could easily have gone to economy to stretch across three seats, but the premium seats were so well engineered sleeping was not a challenge. One of the pilots also explained that the premium economy section of the plane was engineered with additional sound proofing that made it seem much quieter than in economy. If sleep is not an option, Cathay has literally hundreds of video and other programs you can watch on the 10.6-inch personal television housed in the armrests in premium economy. Another helpful device is a multi-port connector for an iPad or computer. I also was immensely grateful for the noise-cancelling head sets, a soft pillow, and fresh fruit along with the business-class meals.
Along with more space for stretching out, travelers who opt for the new premium on regularly scheduled flights will have several more reasons to consider abandoning the back of the plane: priority check-in and early boarding, an increase in the baggage allowance, and Champagne or juice before take off.
Although it just launched premium economy for March flights, Cathay reported it had already sold more than 1,000 tickets. Initially, premium economy aircraft will be deployed on the Sydney, Toronto, Vancouver and New York routes, followed by London, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Clearly, there’s a huge demand in spite of the price—perhaps as much as 50 to 80 percent more than economy. For details: www.cathaypacific.com/us