Cathay de­buts busi­ness-class seat with look-alikes, lasers

The Pak Banker - - Company& -

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

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