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Special Delivery: A New Premium Economy for Cathay Pacific

Cathay and its newest Boeing 777-ER. Photo by Bobbie Leigh

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.

Inside the legendary Boeing factory. Photo by Bobbie Leigh


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.

New Premium Economy seats on Cathay's latest Boeing 777-ER. Photo by Bobbie Leigh

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


Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.

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1 Comment

  1. Ed Wetschler
    March 21, 2012 at 12:52 pm — Reply

    On my November flight on Air New Zealand, the Premium Economy seats and even the way they were positioned were entirely different from the Cathay Pacific design. Moreover, on some domestic flights it’s hard to even tell that you are in Premium Economy. So caveat emptor, because when another airline uses the P.E. label, it may have nothing to do with the seats you see on this page.

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