Cathay Pacific just celebrated its 70th year of operation as Hong Kong’s flag-carrier.
Whether it’s coincidental or pure corporate strategy, the airline retired its iconic Boeing 747 aircraft, famously featured with its jaw-dropping approaches at the old Kai Tak airport, evoking memories of the past as flight CX543 made its last voyage from Tokyo to Hong Kong.
— Cathay Pacific (@cathaypacific) October 2, 2016
But over the weekend, Cathay Pacific also appeared in the news that left a bitter taste to its frequent (economy class) passengers: it has reconfigured its cabin so that each row will sit 10 passengers instead of the previous nine. The more the merrier certainly does not apply in this situation as the new 3-4-3 arrangement of the new Boeing 777 aircraft reduces the width of each seat by up to 1.5 inches. So after we have been squeezed in the front with limited legroom and inconsiderate folks, it’s time for a tight squeeze with our row-mates.
“If you look at the Boeing 777s, which everybody uses from the Gulf to the US to European carriers and ourselves, the standard is 3-4-3. I think we are moving towards that stage, it’s very clear,” Cathay Pacific’s Chief executive Ivan Chu Kwok-leung said in an exclusive interview with South China Morning Post.
Reading between the lines, it seems that Cathay Pacific is willing to join the bandwagon of 10-a-row airlines even if it meant sharp criticism from passengers. Should we expect more people skipping Cathay Pacific or getting featured in the news for various reasons — scuffle with seatmate during flight, argument with flight attendants or panic attacks due to claustrophobia.
It’s likely the new layout will bring in more profits, but with aviation fuel understandably lower in the past several months, it’s hard to understand why it’s the passengers who have to pay the price — even at discounted fanfare rates — for such unwelcome change.
But it appears that another reason has come up to rationalize this decision.
Hong Kong’s existing runways at the airport is running at almost 100 per cent capacity every day which means Cathay and other carriers cannot expand the number of flights departing and arriving in Hong Kong in the near future.
“Slots are very scarce,” Chu added. “We want to generate more seats per slot, that’s the key thing. That’s why we are doing it. It’s very important we do it.”
Doing the math, extra seats per row could add up to 35 more economy seats on regional and at least 17 more on long-haul flights. This translates to 1.1 million more extra seats per year based on the 70 Boeing aircraft in the present Cathay Pacific fleet.
Increased number of passengers could also mean more cabin attendants needed on flights especially for long-haul flights.
By comparison, Cathay’s Hong Kong to Vancouver route can carry up to 275 passengers using Boeing 777. But with the same aircraft model, Air Canada fits ultra-dense 458 passengers into the same model.
A quick check for lowest available air fares:
Hong Kong to Vancouver (December 21, 2016 return December 30, 2016) Economy Class
Air Canada : HK$7,309
Cathay Pacific: HK$8,110
To those flying anytime soon, don’t worry. Although Cathay Pacific did not disclose a clear timeline for the implementation of this new cabin layout — maybe there is still time to launch a petition — it will happen within 2018.