Cathay Pacific has revealed the new Business Class product for its narrow-body Airbus A321neo aircraft, set to enter service between Hong Kong and Shanghai in early August 2021, ahead of further deployment to cities including Guangzhou and Taipei later the same month.
It’s the first new Regional Business Class seat the airline has introduced in nearly nine years, when the current product was launched.
With the Hong Kong-based carrier sticking firmly to its “recliner plus” concept in the Business Class cabin for most shorter flights, Singapore Airlines will be breathing a sigh of relief. The airline is moving towards an all-flat-bed offering in Regional Business Class, ahead of its latest product launch later this year – on the Boeing 737-8 MAX.
Cathay actually received its first two brand new Airbus A321neos from Airbus way back in late 2020. When they arrived in Hong Kong, the pair were originally painted in the colours of regional subsidiary Cathay Dragon – the intended operator of the aircraft.
In October 2020, Cathay Pacific announced the immediate end of Cathay Dragon operations, folding most of its former routes into the mainline operation and that of low-cost subsidiary HK Express.
The airline also confirmed that Cathay Dragon’s Airbus A321neo aircraft orders would instead be taken by Cathay Pacific, alongside the transfer of some older Airbus A320 and A321s, the first time the airline has operated single-aisle aircraft since Boeing 707s were phased out of its fleet in 1983.
Two more A321neos have since been delivered, for a total of four in the fleet, though these arrived fresh from the factory in Cathay Pacific colours.
Two more of the aircraft type will join the fleet this year, with the airline ultimately planning to operate 16 in total on flights of up to five or six hours.
“We’re incredibly excited to see our next-generation A321neo take to the skies for the first time next month as we continue to add more passenger services in the region. The single-aisle A321neo is the newest addition to our fleet and has been designed and fitted with an array of new features that offer the most enjoyable short-haul experience in the world to our customers. We look forward to deploying A321neos on more regional routes and welcoming customers on board.”
Augustus Tang, CEO, Cathay Pacific
The merger of Cathay Dragon into Cathay Pacific isn’t the only one the group is making at the moment. Earlier this month the carrier revealed it would roll its Asia Miles and Marco Polo Club programmes into a single (as yet unnamed) scheme by early 2022.
New Regional Business Class
Cathay Pacific’s latest Regional Business Class will debut on these new A321neo aircraft, with 12 seats across three rows in a four across (2-2) configuration.
This is the Collins Aerospace Air Rest model, a ‘shell’ cradle-seat design, first launched in Business Class by Oman Air on its Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in 2018.
As with Cathay’s existing Regional Business Class product, reclining your seat does not invade the space of the passenger directly behind you, since the back slides down and the base slides forwards inside its fixed shell into a ‘Lazy Z’ position.
Unlike the current seat, however, a divider extends by a few inches between the seat pairs for added privacy.
Each seat also features individual charging and USB ports below the centre armrest.
Seat pitch is typically 45″ with this product, but Cathay Pacific has remained very tight-lipped about its dimensions and other technical aspects, also omitting to mention how its seat width compares to the 21″ on offer in its current Regional Business Class seats.
Cathay Pacific’s current Regional Business Class is installed in a 2-2-2 configuration on selected Airbus A330s and a 2-3-2 configuration on some Boeing 777s.
The airline has not confirmed at this stage whether it plans to retrofit the new Collins Air Rest seat on its wide-body jets, so for now we can expect to see them exclusively installed on the A321neos.
“The A321neo is our first aircraft to feature our newly designed Regional Business Class seat product. This next-generation hard-shell recliner seat provides a cocoon-like feel with divider screens for maximum privacy.”Cathay Pacific
Design and finish, which it has to be said has taken on a very neutral colour palette of light grey and cream, is by JPA Design. The same firm was behind the latest Singapore Airlines long-haul Business Class seats, installed on its A350s and A380s.
The seat choice itself is no major surprise, with a leaked photo circulating online in December 2020.
One area that is definitely getting an upgrade from Cathay’s current Regional Business Class is the in-flight entertainment system.
The new Business Class seats boast a 15.6″ 4K Ultra-HD personal TV screen, up from 12.1″ in the current version.
“…the 15.6-inch 4K Ultra-HD personal TV screens offer an incredible in-flight entertainment experience.”Cathay Pacific
There will also be Bluetooth audio streaming in both cabins, either using your own Bluetooth-enabled headphones, or those provided for Business Class passengers.
“Our cocoon-like recliner seats feature divider screens for maximum privacy. Don our noise-cancelling headphones to browse our extensive media library on a 4K ultra-high-definition 15.6-inch screen.”Cathay Pacific
The airline is also promising “one of the largest movie and TV libraries available on a regional single-aisle aircraft”, alongside high speed Wi-Fi access plans.
With the A321neo, Cathay Pacific says it is “the first airline in the world to provide 4K ultra-high-definition screens, a 4K video-on-demand experience as well as Bluetooth audio streaming… across all cabins.”
The latest Airbus narrow-body overhead lockers are also installed on the new jets, one of the options in the manufacturer’s new ‘Air Space’ cabin, offering 60% more storage space than older A320 family models.
If the bland colours in Business Class are a surprise stray from Cathay’s stalwart racing green, it’s even more off-piste in Economy Class.
Here the airline has gone with a maroon seat surround, though maybe that’s not surprising given the original customer for the aircraft was Cathay Dragon. While it was easy enough to repaint the exterior, seat coverings had probably all been ordered by the time the merger suddenly came about!
If it’s Economy where you find yourself travelling on a Cathay Pacific A321neo, you’ll be pleased to know these seats feature 11.6″ 4K individual TV screens, half an inch larger than on SIA’s new A380s. They also boast the same Bluetooth headphone connectivity and have USB-A and USB-C ports for device charging.
The Singapore Airlines advantage
Cathay Pacific’s decision to stick with an enhancement to its existing recliner Business Class on regional aircraft, rather than take the plunge with flat-bed seats, significantly plays into the hands of regional rival Singapore Airlines.
The carrier revealed in 2018 it would transition to 100% flat-bed seats across its wide-body and narrow-body fleets, a process effectively already complete, with the exception of nine leased Boeing 737-800s due to be replaced by the Boeing 737-8 MAX in the years ahead.
When the airline reveals its Thompson Vantage flat-bed Business Class on the MAX later this year, it should score an easy advantage over rival Cathay Pacific in the narrow-body Business Class stakes.
Middle East carrier flydubai already operates with these seats on its MAX jets, and we expect Singapore Airlines to similarly install 10 in an alternating 2-2, 1-1, 2-2 layout.
That will mean two of the excellent ‘throne’ solo seats, with significantly increased storage space and direct aisle access.
As part of the cabin upgrade seat back in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems will also be fitted in both Business Class and Economy Class cabins on these aircraft, and Wi-Fi will be available.
One upcoming headache for Singapore Airlines that Cathay Pacific doesn’t face will be reassuring customers that the MAX is safe to fly once it is recertified and launched by local regulators, after a prolonged grounding following two fatal crashes involving the type.
The Collins Air Rest seat would be a great long-haul Premium Economy product, in our opinion, but it’s a little disappointing that Cathay Pacific has not taken the leap to flat-beds in Regional Business Class, in common with the likes of Singapore Airlines and flydubai.
Instead the airline has stayed firmly in “recliner-plus” fixed seat shell territory with this latest product, possibly because it was originally destined for the now-defunct Cathay Dragon.
By the time COVID-19 came along and the airline’s regional subsidiary was swallowed up by Cathay Pacific, it was probably too late to change this, even if the airline wanted to. It certainly seems as though the Economy Class seat colours were chosen for the Dragon subsidiary.
Singapore Airlines, on the other hand, had a planned merger with SilkAir in its sights when it first ordered brand new Boeing 737-8 MAX aircraft. The airline even made space for a flat-bed seat in its Business Class cabin from day one, before revealing its choice in February 2019.
Now that Cathay has helped make SIA’s upcoming narrow-body Business Class product an ‘easy sell’, the only challenge will be convincing customers the MAX planes are safe.
(Cover Photo: Cathay Pacific)