Good Advice Tried and Tested

Cathay Pacific B777-300ER premium economy

14/10/2013

BACKGROUND This year Cathay Pacific has been fitting premium economy to its long-haul fleet of B777s, B747s, A340s and A330-300s. It’s not yet available on all flights but the plan is for it to be on 48 planes by the end of the year and 87 by the end of 2013.

CHECK IN I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 at 1545 for my 1820 departure on CX250 to Hong Kong, an 11-hour 45-minute flight. Cathay’s check-in area is in Zone B, with separate desks for economy, premium economy, business and first class – there was no one in the premium economy queue. Security was reasonably quick.

BOARDING There were two lines at Gate 18 – one for first and business and the other for economy and premium economy. The flight was boarding when I arrived at 1740 and there was no queue, with business and first class passengers free to walk straight on and economy class being boarded in stages, with the back rows first. Being in the middle of the aircraft, I had to wait until general boarding was called and queue for a few minutes on the airbridge before finding my seat. My jacket was hung for me and I was given a hot towel.

THE SEAT The premium economy cabin on the B777 comes in various configurations, ranging from 26 to 34 seats. This four-class B777-300ER had 34 seats in a 2-4-2 layout (A-C, D-E-F-G, H-K) across rows 30 to 34. Row 30 only had seats D-E-F-G and 31 had no seats H-K as the washroom was here.

I was in 32H, with the washroom in front. Premium economy was in a separate cabin in one sense, with curtains dividing it from business and economy, but in truth there was no division since the washroom on the right-hand side was also for economy passengers, and the nearest washroom on the left-hand side was back in economy. For that reason the curtain was kept open during the flight, so the cabin seemed to be simply the front of economy, albeit with roomier seating (the seat has a 38-inch/96.5cm pitch – six inches more than economy).

Footrests came down from beneath the seat in front – in the front row, it rose from your seat and was adjustable. In-flight entertainment (IFE) screens were a good size, at 10.6 inches, and there was a large range of film and TV content. Below was a small storage area, and the arm of the seat had a small slide-out tray. The tray table was a decent size but sloped downwards and was not good enough for a laptop, so I worked on my lap. The in-seat power worked well and took a UK plug.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? In this cabin formation, the best are 31A and C. Being by the exit, they have the most legroom, and they have no washroom in front. Row 30 looked good but I noticed people were stepping over the feet of these passengers to reach the washroom. Seats 32H and K are good, though you get people brushing past if you are in H. Avoid middle seats E and F because you have no aisle access.

THE FLIGHT After take-off we were offered champagne or orange juice. During the flight I noticed that some passengers were greeted by name – perhaps they were members of Cathay’s loyalty programme, but no one did the same for the passengers around me, or said hello to me. Noise-cancelling headphones and an amenity bag with socks, an eye mask, ear plugs, a toothbrush and paste were provided.

The food came on a tray and comprised potato and bean salad, a choice of main – braised pork cheek, Szechuanese chicken or lemon and spinach cappelletti, followed by ice cream. Snacks were available throughout the flight. The wines were Model Riesling Feinherb 2011, Obikwa Western Cape Sauvignon Blanc 2011 and Esprit De Serame Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (there was no champagne on the trolley).

After the meal I settled down to sleep, armed with a bottle of water, a thick blanket and cushion. The seat reclined eight inches, in contrast to economy’s six inches, and was wider (19.5 inches/49.5cm compared with 18.5 inches/47cm). Each seat had its own armrest so there was no need to fight for elbow room, and I found that by raising the legrest and placing my feet on the magazine rack, I could straighten out and sleep, which I did for six hours, only waking when breakfast started.

ARRIVAL We arrived on time and were quickly on the airbridge. First and business class passengers were first to disembark, followed by premium economy and then economy. Our bags arrived about 20 minutes after we had got off.

VERDICT: Very good. The seat is comfy and the service efficient, if perhaps lacking in personal charm. This is an upgraded economy service rather than a lesser business class, but for value for money it ranks highly if you want to sleep or work more easily on a long flight.

Factfile

  • PLANE TYPE B777-300ER
  • SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-4-2
  • SEAT WIDTH 19.5 in/49.5cm
  • SEAT PITCH 38 in/96.5cm
  • SEAT RECLINE 8 inches
  • PRICE Internet rates for a return premium economy flight from London to Hong Kong in November ranged between £994 and £1,419 depending on flexibility.
  • CONTACT cathaypacific.com

Tom Otley