Cathay debuts business-class seat with look-alikes, lasers
HONG KONG: Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. unveiled a new business-class seat to about 3,000 customers as it begins a HK$1 billion ($129 million) cabin upgrade to fend off competition for lucrative premium travelers.
The carrier put on a laser show, paraded new cabin-crew uniforms and hired Lady Gaga, Tina Turner and Marilyn Monroe look-alikes to entertain frequent fliers attending the event at Hong Kong's convention center late yesterday. The seats, which are longer and wider than Cathay's current units, will be rolled out across 50 long-haul planes from March.
"I really like the extra space," Helen Au, managing director at Hong Kong-based German Wines Ltd., who takes about four long-haul flights a month, said after trying a seat mock-up. "It's much more convenient."
Incoming Chief Executive Officer John Slosar will oversee the revamp as Emirates Airline and Singapore Airlines Ltd. woo Hong Kong travelers with Airbus SAS A380 superjumbos while U.S. carriers add China flights. British Airways Plc and Deutsche Lufthansa AG have also unveiled new first-class cabins this year as travel rebounds from the global recession. "The premium carriers in this region have to be very mindful of what's going on in the Middle East," said Derek Sadubin, chief operating officer at consultants Centre for Asia-Pacific Av i a t i o n . "And, there's obviously some very strong trans-Pacific rivals." Cathay, which generates about half of its sales in China and Hong Kong, fell 0.8 percent to HK$23.90 as of 11:01 a.m. in Hong Kong trading. The stock has surged 65 percent this year, the best performance on the benchmark Hang Seng Index.
The airline, Hong Kong's biggest, will install the new seats in 30 Boeing Co. 777300ERs and 20 Airbus SAS A330-300s by February 2013, according to a statement. The planes will fly to markets including Europe, North America, Australia and India.
The new lie-flat business-class seats have a 75-inch (1.9 meter) usable bed length, 4 inches more than the current units. Slosar told reporters he slept "very well" on mock-ups of the new leather-covered seats.
The seats feature storage compartments for personal possessions, such as mobile phones. They will be arranged in straight lines across the cabin, with the center two seats facing slightly inward, rather than the current outward diagonal layout resembling a fishbone. "These seats will be more interactive, as I'll be able to talk to friends when we travel together," said Ed Ng, director at design company AB Concept, who flies about twice a week with Cathay. "I love the little cabinets." The lowest fare for a return business-class ticket between Hong Kong and Sydney for March is HK$36,920, according to Cathay's ticketing website.
In September, Cathay also opened The Cabin, its fourth airport lounge in Hong Kong, which offers Apple Inc. iPads and a health bar. The airline is also working on renovating its main lounge, The Wing.
"Business class is an important and challenging market for us," Slosar said. He declined to comment on whether the airline planned to overhaul coach class or add premium-economy seating. Dubai-based Emirates, which is building up a fleet of 90 A380s, offers superjumbo business-class passengers a seat that reclines into a 79-inch long bed, as many as 1,200 channels of inflight entertainment and access to onboard lounges. Singapore Air touts lie-flat seats and access to 120 movies that can be viewed on personal 15.4-inch liquid crystal display screens. Korean Air Lines Co., which competes with Cathay on China-U.S. routes, will also begin flying A380s next year as it seeks to boost premiumsales to 50 percent of overall revenue. United Continental Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. are adding China services, lured by growth that's three times the pace in the U.S.
Cathay may eventually consider adding A380s, outgoing CEO Tony Tyler said in a Bloomberg Television interview last month. Tyler will leave at the end of March to become director general of the International Air Transport Association.
The airline will begin flying to Chicago and Abu Dhabi next year, as well as boosting services to New York and Toronto, as the economic pickup spurs business and leisure travel. Overall, it will boost passenger capacity about 11 percent. Globally, first and business-class passenger traffic rose 9.2 percent in the first nine months of the year, according to IATA. Overall passenger traffic jumped 8.5 percent through October, with a 10 percent increase in Asia-Pacific region, trade group said. -Bloomberg