Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cathay Pacific's Stylish New Biz Class

If you're flying on Cathay Pacific Airways this month or next, you may get a chance to try out the Hong Kong carrier's stylish new business class. Cathay is rolling it out this month on its Airbus A330-300s on some flights to Sydney, and next month on its Boeing B777-300ERs on some flights to New York, Los Angeles and London. It costs millions and takes months to retool a fleet of aircraft; by February 2013, CX expects to complete the upgrade across its fleet.

I saw a mock-up of the new biz class on a recent trip to Hong Kong at a glittering event called "Light Up the Sky'' at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, with several thousand of Cathay's closest friends. I flew in on the soon-to-be-phased-out biz class on flights provided on a complimentary basis by the airline. It's not like the old business class is so shabby.

What didn't they think of in the redo? Not much.

There's more space, for one thing. On both the A330s and the B777s, the usuable part of flatbed seats grows to 75 inches from 71. Usable bed width grows to 26.4 to 27.6 inches on the A330s from 23.5; on the B777s, it grows a bit more: to 26.6 to 29.5 inches from 23.5. The in-seat width grows two to three inches on both varieties of aircraft, too.

The amenities are especially good: a vanity mirror at your seat, storage space on the side for handbags or laptops, a shoe locker, a lovely wing-back chair, a full flat-bed, with outboard seats angled toward the windows; that last point is an improvement on the outgoing biz class, where window seats are angled awkwardly away from the window.

Hong Kong designer Eddie Lau has subtly revamped the simple elegance of cabin crew uniforms, and the serenly abstract paintings of artist Maria Lobo grace the cabin, as do fresh-cut orchids.

But are there enough in-flight entertainment diversions on those trans-Pacific long-hauls? Not to worry.

"On board ... a personal 15-inch widescreen TV and a noise-canceling headset will provide access to our in-flight entertainment system, featuring a library of 100 movies, 350 TV shows, 888 music CDs, 22 radio channels and select programming in up to nine languages,'' Cathay attests.

The food's not exactly boring, either. This is a very good product that's getting better.

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