Thanks for joining me for the latest installment in my airline review series – this time, Cathay Pacific Premium Economy, which I recently travelled for a trip to London courtesy of my employer. A disclaimer at the start – while my employer paid for my ticket and arranged my flights, all opinions are my own personal views and do not represent the views of others unless otherwise stated. I was joined on the outbound flight by my colleague L.
I have flown Cathay Pacific Business Class before and enjoyed the experience. Having flown only Business or First Class to Europe in the last 25 years I was definitely curious to see how Premium Economy stacked up, and whether it is a genuine alternative to the far more expensive Business Class.
At the airport
At check in in Sydney we get off to a good start with a dedicated check-in counter and no queue, so I’m on my way with my express lane pass for immigration and security in no time. L checks her bag and is delighted to discover she’s been given priority baggage handling when we emerge in London.
On the home flight from Heathrow again we get dedicated check in and no queue, but things are a little different. I get the luggage nazi who insists my bag is far too big for carry on, and must be checked (it’s not, I’ve actually taken the same bag on Cathay previously, and it fits in the airline’s own luggage sizer, but no, it’s too big). I’m outraged to see multiple passengers with multiple bags, and bags bigger than mine in all cabins of the plane once we board. No priority baggage from Heathrow and I wait and wait while my bag arrives in Sydney. No express lane pass in Heathrow either, so it takes a good 25mins to clear security……
There’s no lounge access for Premium Economy so we are at the boarding gate in time for the commencement of boarding on all four legs of the trip. This is when things get really interesting. Cathay markets priority boarding in Premium Economy in all its marketing materials, and we do get priority boarding between Australia and Hong Kong on both the inbound and outbound legs. There’s no first class seating on the A330 planes operating between Hong Kong and Sydney, so we are invited to board with the Business Class passengers.
Between Hong Kong and London things are different – it’s a 777 with a First Class cabin, and it’s First and Business passengers who are invited to board first. Premium Economy passengers board with Economy passengers, and because Cathay has a regimented boarding system that boards by row from the back of the plane we are actually boarded last – ie the lowest priority.
Seats in Premium Economy are slightly wider than Economy, with an increased seat pitch and back incline. The seat incline mechanism is manual like in Economy and is stiff. On two legs I need to get up wrench my seat back upright as it won’t right itself automatically. The space between the rows is quite good until the person in front puts their seat back – with the extra incline you lose any additional space from the increased pitch, and it is still impossible to get out for a walk or comfort stop without your neighbour having to get up. A tiny footstool attached to seat in front adjusts to a couple of heights but is not overly comfortable (front row of the cabin has footrests within the seat which give far more support to the legs and look a much better deal). When it’s time to sleep, yes, the seats do recline a bit further (but not that much. Their own website indicates the difference in seat incline is a mere 2inches). L declares the seating arrangements as very similar to the Emirates A380 Economy offering she had traveled on recently.
Cathay’s marketing makes much of the pre-take off champagne and hot towels as per the Business Class offering. One tray of pre-flight drinks is offered on the leg from London to Hong Kong, so six of the 34 patients in the cabin enjoy that service. Nothing is offered to the remaining passengers until the meal service begins.
While meals are served Economy style on a single tray with plastic bowls and plates, a choice of 3 Business Class main courses (entrees) is offered. The food is tasty and hot, and across the four flights we are offered a good variety of both Asian and Western options. A printed menu is provided at the beginning of each flight. A choice of two whites and a red wine is offered at each meal, however, no top ups are offered, and inexcusably, the red is served chilled.
An amenity kit of socks, earplugs, eyemask, toothbrush, and (single use size) toothpaste is offered in a nifty little fabric wallet. Pillows are comfortable and the standard Economy class blanket is offered and leaves fluff all over my black top.
Service is polite, but not particularly attentive and is consistent with an Economy cabin.
I hate to say it, but I can’t get excited about the Cathay Pacific Premium Economy offering. The service is inexplicably inconsistent between flights, and any advantage in the increased seat pitch or incline disappears as soon as the person in front reclines. While the bag nazi at Heathrow was not a function of Premium Economy it turned me off completely.
I would certainly keep an open mind on Premium Economy on an alternate airline (such as BA or Qantas) where the seat pitch and incline is better than those of Cathay, but would not travel Cathay Premium Economy again.
At the end of the day, the bells and whistles of Business Class are there (sometimes), but at twice the price of an Economy ticket, it makes for a very expensive glass of champagne (when they serve it!)
I would love to hear others’ opinion on Premium Economy flights regardless of the airline.
Disclaimer: the author’s ticket was paid for by her employer. All opinions are those of the author unless otherwise stated.