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Flight Review: Cathay Pacific Business Class Old Versus New

Oct. 25, 2011
7 min read
Flight Review: Cathay Pacific Business Class Old Versus New
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Looking down the cabin of Cathay's new business class cabin.

Back in June, I attended the T-BEX (Travel Blogger Exchange) conference and I ended up using British Airways miles to book a roundtrip business class award on Cathay Pacific from JFK to Vancouver. These flights were going for over $600 in coach, so I felt that using 50,000 miles and $50 in fees for a lie-flat business class roundtrip was a pretty good deal. In the end, I got the new business class on the outbound and the old business class on the return so was able to do a side-by-side comparison of the products. Here’s how the two stacked up.

In With The New

The flights worked out so that I did my comparison backwards, starting with the new business class on my outbound flight from JFK-Vancouver. You might recall that I had quite a few woes taking off that night, what with several flight delays lasting hours and hours (I ended up being awake nearly all night and a zombie when I landed in Vancouver). While I understand that weather happens and Cathay clearly didn't want to delay our flight by 6 hours - they did know their 777 was being diverted to Toronto hours before the scheduled departure, so I would have appreciated the advance warning so I could spend my delay at my apartment in NYC. However, as luck would have it, they updated the huge delay the second I stepped into the terminal to check into my flight - but only by 2 hours at first so I couldn't even go home. Oh well.

At least the airline gave me access to British Airways’ Terraces Lounge at JFK while I waited, which was a good place to pass some time, what with great snacks, free WiFi, and practically no one else in the lounge except for some fellow snoozing passengers. The airport was a zoo that evening with the food court overflowing with hungry travelers with vouchers to use, so I tried getting my dinner in the Terraces lounge. However, the pre-dinner service is only for British Airways Business and First Class passengers - or Cathay Pacific First Class. No dice for Cathay Business class peons.

When we finally did board our 777 to Vancouver at nearly 6am, I got to see the new business class in all its glory. Like the old herringbone structure, each row of seats is 4 across, with one on each window and two side-by-side running down the middle. I liked the new color scheme with white/cream colored materials, gray-green fabric, and light wood surfaces along with brushed chrome accents.

What’s new about the configuration is that, rather than all the seats facing an aisle, as they do in all the current herringbone configurations, they are sort of wingback-shaped and partitioned off from one another in that way, instead of with the tall dividers you usually see. The ones on the windows actually face out toward the windows, and the side-by-side seats in the middle actually are angled toward each other. So if you’re traveling, you get maximum privacy (and minimum stranger eye contact!) on the windows, and if you’re traveling with someone else, you can have your own little mini two-seater in the middle if you want.

A view of my's both an aisle and a window, love how the airline finally figured out how to configure semi-private business class seats that still have a view...and lots of surfaces and cubbies for storage.

The 46 business class seats themselves are a decent 21 inches wide and recline to a lengthy 75 inches when in full lie-flat position …almost enough to contain my long frame! The one weird thing is that your head is toward the aisle and your feet are toward the wall when you’re lying down, so it feels a bit harder to tune out the activity happening up and down the aisle.

Didn't expect to watch the sun rise while on JFK's runway staring at a British Airways 747!

The controls were super easy to use, as was the handheld remote controlling the entertainment system. These seats were equipped with a big 15.4-inch TV with Audio and Video on Demand with hundreds of movies, TV shows, radio channels, games and music, as well as a noise cancelling headset with which to enjoy them (enclosed in a little cabinet with a vanity mirror you could use to primp before landing).

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Though it was quite late by the time we took off, I still decided to have dinner (this is my job after all!), and chose the USDA prime beef tenderloin, which was nice, though admittedly I was a little bit zoned out since I couldn't fall asleep in the lounge for fear of missing my flight. The service was polite (for example no haggard flight attendants on a rampage to have phones switched off), and I have to say I dug the new Cathay uniforms. All in all, despite the delay, I really loved the new product and I did end up getting a couple hours of solid sleep.

Menu for the relatively short JFK-YVR hop

Something Old

A shot of the old business class cabin, suddenly those herringbone seats are looking a little narrow and crowded.

On the way back to JFK, I was assigned to one of the airline’s 777’s that hadn’t yet been retrofitted with the new business class. The airline just installed its old business class 5 years ago in 2006, so it’s not quite outdated, but it is looking a little tired these days.

It’s in the usual herringbone configuration, with 57 seats shoe-horned into a tight space. The seats felt a lot more narrow, at just 18.5 inches and with really high dividers between the seats (though I did like the extra privacy these afforded). Plus, the bed, though lie-flat, only got to 71 inches when fully reclined, so I was a bit cramped.

Other than that the entertainment system was pretty much the same, with large 15.4-inch screens, and the meal and flight service was still excellent, so I was happy with those aspects.

The Verdict

I actually thought both business class products were really nice, though after experiencing the new business class first, the old one felt a lot more cramped and conventional. I love flying on new classes of service to check them out while they still feel new and exciting, and Cathay really managed to make the experience feel like both of those things, so I’d definitely recommend it, and I’m looking forward to testing it out at some point on the long-haul to Hong Kong. If you have a bunch of British Airways miles laying around, I'd definitely recommend using 100,000 for a roundtrip Cathay Pacific business class award to Asia. After British Airways launches their new Avios program, I bet this amazing valued award option will become much more expensive, so get in on it while you can! BA is also a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards (Platinum and Premier Rewards Gold for example) and Chase Ultimate Rewards (Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold).

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