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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cathay Pacific brings premium economy to its New Zealand service

Following on from the Air NZ/Cathay Pacific partnership on the Auckland-Hong Kong route (and Air New Zealand now selling through tickets connecting with Cathay Pacific flights into China and London through Hong Kong), Cathay Pacific has announced it is upgrading its Airbus A340-300 fleet which serves Auckland, Amsterdam and Paris.  The upgraded aircraft will start operation in October 2013.

That upgrade includes:
- Addition of a premium economy cabin in a 2-3-2 configuration using its premium economy seats that are a version of its regional business class;
- "Refresh" of business class, essentially tidying up the existing cabin with new colours.

What it does not include is a replacement of the controversial fixed-shell economy class seats.

What does it mean?

1.  You will be able to buy premium economy seats from London to Auckland on Cathay Pacific, which given the prices often advertised for the services to Australia, is likely to be very competitive with Air New Zealand's premium economy fares via LA.

2.  Air New Zealand will be able to sell codeshare tickets in premium economy all the way.

3.  Premium economy travellers from New Zealand to Asia and Europe now have another choice, and can credit any OneWorld frequent flyer programme (e.g. Qantas Frequent Flyer, BA Executive Club and obviously Cathay Pacific AsiaMiles) with such a flight.

For the route between Auckland and Hong Kong it presents an intriguing choice for travellers.

Business Class

Air New Zealand's Business Premier product on its Boeing 777-200s offers a wider, longer seat than Cathay's similar configuration Business Class (although Cathay's in flight service is very competitive).   Cathay's "refresh" wont make much difference, given Air NZ will be "refreshing" its Boeing 777-200s starting in 2014,  I'd say Air New Zealand will maintain its hard product edge here.  Bigger, more comfortable flat beds, with improved catering should mean it is superior to its partner.  However, Cathay can easily match Air NZ in soft product.

Air NZ ahead in Business

Premium Economy

Cathay will be ahead here after its upgrade.  Its 2-3-2 configuration on A340s beats Air NZ's 3-3-3 on the 777s.  Cathay's premium economy seats are wider and purpose built for premium economy, with only slightly less seat pitch than Air NZ.  Air NZ's seats are identical to the economy seats besides the seat pitch and extra recline.   So on hard product Cathay appears ahead for now, but Air NZ on soft product is likely to be ahead, as it offers catering just short of Business Premier.  Cathay's catering in this class is a cut above economy, but isn't close to Business Class.  The real change will come when Air NZ installs SpaceSeats in Premium Economy in 2014.  That will mean Air NZ's hard product will arguably beat Cathay's, as a 2-2-2 configuration in a 777 is far more roomy (and avoids the dreaded middle seat) than 2-3-2 in a narrower A340.

Cathay ahead in Premium Economy until Air NZ introduces Spaceseat


No changes here for Cathay or Air NZ for now, so I would prefer Air NZ's 9 abreast 777 to Cathay's 8 abreast A340, because Air NZ has an inch more seat pitch and Cathay's shell seat appears to be unpopular.   However, when Air NZ converts its 777s to 10 abreast including the Skycouch, it may be more moot.  Both airlines have similar soft products, so your choice will be a seat that doesn't recline comfortably to a narrow one (although if Air NZ increases pitch to 33" that helps a little).

Air NZ ahead in Economy until Air NZ adds another seat to a row, narrowing it, making it too close to call.

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