Aiming to bridge the gap between the sophistication of business class and the cramped quarters of coach, Cathay Pacific recently launched Premium Economy class in its 747 and 777 aircraft, available on flights between New York and Hong Kong from April 2012.
I had the opportunity to test drive the new seats and amenities on a delivery flight out of Seattle last month, and at a 60% increase in fare—or approximately $1,600 versus $1,000 from JFK to HKG—the upgrade is worth the perks.
To start, there is priority check-in at dedicated counters and priority boarding before regular economy passengers, which means less waiting in line and more time for duty-free shopping. Speaking of shopping—one of the great Hong Kong pastimes—Premium Economy passengers also receive an increased baggage allowance from 20kg to 25kg, so there's no need to leave behind that extra pair of shoes.
Onboard the plane, Premium Economy is housed in its own private cabin behind Business Class. With just 26-34 seats depending on the plane, the section automatically feels more intimate than Economy—a pleasant plus for me, and many other travelers. To add to the upscale ambience, flight attendants stand ready and waiting with complimentary champagne or juice that rests on its own retractable cocktail table from the armrest. Even more crucial was the pair of noise-canceling headphones, which allowed me to sip in silence while the rest walked past me toward Economy.
While the seats themselves will never achieve the luxury and comfort of the flatbeds available in every Cathay Business Class pod, customers will be pleased to find that the Premium Economy seat pitch is 38 inches—a full six inches more than Economy. The seats are wider and cozier, and come outfitted with plush pillows and blankets. Add to that an amenity kit filled with soft grey socks, an eye mask, a tiny tube of toothpaste and a travel toothbrush, and you're ready for bed.
Some may find themselves too excited by the entertainment options to fall asleep right away, however. Each Premium Economy seat is equipped with a 10.6-inch personal TV screen featuring more than 200 movie options and other entertainment. If you're somehow dissatisfied with the selection in the viewing catalog, you can also connect your iPod or iPhone to the seat's port and stream personal videos from that device. Plus, if you need to write an article about the flight while you're on said flight, there's also an in-seat power source for your devices.
If you're less of a technophile than a food lover, you'll be more than pleased with the added menu options offered to you in Premium. From a seasonal salad with grilled prawns to braised e-fu noodles with assorted dim sum, har gow and siu mai or century egg and salted pork congee, you can start your overseas experience before you even arrive. And though the service details in Business—warmed nuts, post-dinner gourmet chocolates—were slightly more over-the-top, the snack offerings in our cabin still abounded.
Maintaining its proven track record of signature service at this in-between price point, Cathay opens up a new level of comfortable travel to a segment of the population we imagine has been waiting for such an option, and won't be disappointed.