Short But Sweet, Great Seat (for a 3-4-3 Configuration…)
As I mentioned in my review of Lufthansa First Class, I needed a very last-minute way to get back to the states from Singapore, and that journey began with a short hop from Singapore to Hong Kong in Cathay economy. Yep, you read that right: economy. I was really hoping to get into their premium economy seat so that I could test it out, but sadly there was no availability on the flight I needed. Overall I had a great experience – read on for details.
In this post...
Reviewed in 30 seconds
- Adjustable, supportive headrest, a must in longhaul economy
- Great IFE display and hybrid tablet holder/mini traytable/drink holder
- More seat recline than I expected
- 3-4-3 configuration means narrow seats
- Overhead bin space could be hard to find on a full flight
- Not many truly good seats to be had in the economy cabin
Food & Beverage3.8
Cabin Crew & Service4.7
How I Got Here
What do you do when your flight to MUC leaves from HKG in 10 hours? Find any nonstop option from SIN to HKG, of which there are many, but today I was pretty much out of luck except for an Asia Miles redemption for economy on Cathay. Not ideal, but these things happen when you play the points game. I got my Asia Miles from American Express Membership Rewards points, which I earn via one of the 7 Amex cards I have. The three main ones I use regularly are:
- The American Express® Gold Card – [dining when not using the Citi® Prestige Card; groceries]
- The Platinum Card® from American Express – [flights and hotels]
- The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express – [non-bonusable purchases; groceries]
I originally transferred these miles over a long time ago, targeting a round-trip first class trip I never got to take. Since Asia Miles expire 36 months after deposit/earning, my expiration date is coming up in just a few months. Normally I would hold out for a business or first class seat in order to maximize my cents/point — I usually don’t redeem points unless I’m getting a value equivalent of at least $0.05 per point — but in this case, I needed the seat so I just went for it. Turns out that this flight would’ve cost me $454, and at only 10,000 miles, I was redeeming at approximately $0.045/point; not too bad…
Leaving Singapore is always a pleasure. Not because I’m leaving, but because I’ve never had a bad experience at Changi — it just seems to be one of the easiest airports in the world to navigate. Check-in, customs and immigration, and security were a breeze. I didn’t have Cathay lounge access, sadly, but right across from it on the mezzanine level of terminal 4 is the Blossom lounge, which I had access to thanks to my Priority Pass Select membership from:
- the Citi® Prestige Card
- the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card
- The Platinum Card® from American Express
- the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
I actually do have all of these cards for various reasons, so it seems kind of ridiculous to have that many Priority Pass cards, but there it is. Anyway, boarding was efficient, and I think that set the tone for the flight, whether it’s thanks to Cathay or thanks to just more amazingness that is Changi International Airport.
What can I say? This is a very standard economy cabin on the 777, in a 3-4-3 configuration. I definitely liked the upholstery on the new seats much more than the older seats, as it seems to match business class and premium economy in terms of aesthetic. The cabin lighting scheme was pleasant throughout the flight.
Where to Sit
Bad news: the number of seats that I would call “good” in the economy cabin is pretty low. There are currently two different configurations for the 3-4-3 cabins on Cathay, and regardless of which one you’re on, the best economy seats will be at the front of either econ cabin. These are bulkhead or exit row seats, so the traytable is in the armrest (love it or hate it), and you’ll have more legroom and nobody reclining in front of you. The exit row seats next to the door may be colder than other seats during your flight, but the extra legroom is worth it. As always, avoid the last row (in either econ cabin), and if you’re sensitive to noise then avoid anything near a galley, period.
This is Cathay’s updated economy seat, and it shows – just compare the two photos below and you’ll see what I mean.
Updates to aircraft interiors are always welcome, except when they mean adding an extra seat to every row. It may not seem like a big deal, but going from a 3-3-3 to a 3-4-3 cabin configuration really cuts down on your personal space. Still, for a seat this narrow, and truly the only one of its kind I’ve ever sat in (I’ve flown plenty of longhaul economy flights, just not in a 3-4-3 config), I didn’t feel like I was being tortured. This seat for 15+ hours, though? I’d try to find a different Cathay configuration and get in the 3-3-3 economy cabin before flying this new configuration.
The tablet and drink-holding mini traytable popout was probably my favorite feature on this seat. It is this simple piece of plastic that basically makes it possible to get work done while also enjoying a movie and a coffee. Remember these seats are narrow, so you may not be able to put both a drink and a tablet up there at the same time, at least not in landscape view. For reference, I have the smaller of the two iPad Pro models.
Sleeping in the Seat
I actually did sleep in this seat! I know, I know, I always say I can’t sleep sitting up and that’s why I try to fly first or business class when I can, but throw in some solid jetlag and it’s on. The trick here would be having an empty seat next to you, so you recline your seat and leave the one next to you fully upright, and you’ve got yourself something solid to lean on. This approach is actually as good as if not better than having a window seat and just leaning against the window. It was only a 3.5-hour flight, so I didn’t get a lot of sleep, but enough to sleep soundly through meal service :-/
Getting work done
NB: there is still no WiFi on some Cathay Pacific jets, yet, so the only work you’ll be getting done is offline work — mainly the 777s with the 3-3-3 layout (you’re good to go on A350s and 3-4-3 777s like the one I flew). Not a bad thing IMHO, and a good excuse for disconnecting for a few hours. For pretty much everything you wanted to know about Cathay’s fleet and to check if your jet will have wifi, see this google doc which is maintained by FlyerTalk members.
In economy, getting work done can be a real pain. Hence, you know, business class being a thing. In addition to ever-shrinking seat widths and seatbacks that recline just enough to make it hard for you to get your screen angle right, the traytables are tiny and ensure you won’t be able to use a mouse no matter how small your laptop is. All that being said, I would say that Cathay economy is about the same as every other economy class product I’ve flown when it comes to working at your seat. Definitely possible to put in some hours on the keyboard, but you’ll want to get up and stretch often (as you should be doing on a long flight, anyway).
“Lounging” and “economy” aren’t two words I’d normally put together, but let me give it a shot. About all you can do for lounging in Cathay economy is recline your seat and stretch your legs out. This seat did recline more than your average regional/domestic economy seat, so I was actually quite comfortable when reclined.
Food & Beverage
I can’t comment directly as I magically fell asleep after drink service, but I was told by my friend that they offered a meal and it “wasn’t terrible”. The aforementioned beverage service was very standard, but appreciated on a short flight like this. Cathay seems to do beverage and food service in quick succession, which is good because that means it won’t drag on and on as it does on some other airlines.
IFE & Video Screen
IFE selection and the screen were both great. 11.6″ seatback screens means you don’t have to use your own tablet (but you can!). On the bottom of the screen is two headphone jacks and a USB port. To see what’s playing on Cathay’s IFE right now, you can follow this link and search for your flight.
Headphones were available at the seat, but as is the case with pretty much every airline in any cabin, you probably own better headphones, so use those. While not winning any awards for loft or size, the pillows at every seat were a nice touch.
Cabin Crew & In-Flight Service
Service was excellent, and the cabin crew very pleasant. Certainly flying for more than 3.5 hours would give me a better idea of just how high the service level is, but based on my experience I would be willing to go out on a limb and say you’ll be pleased with the service level in Cathay Pacific economy.
The Bottom Line
While I have my sights set on longhaul business class and premium economy on Cathay, having only ever flown first class on them, I would be happy to fly Cathay economy again, even on a longhaul flight. The 3-4-3 seating configuration is a major bummer, but apparently, that’s the direction everyone’s heading. I suspect Cathay will rank among the top economy flight experiences out there.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
With a 60,000 point new cardmember bonus when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of having the card, plus 2x points on travel and at U.S. restaurants — all for a $95 annual fee — this card is one of the top rewards card values available. Chase points are transferable to 9 airlines and 4 hotels, giving you the option of booking directly via these loyalty programs for some massively lucrative award redemptions in first & business class or at 5-star luxury hotels & resorts.