A Premium Affair onboard Cathay Pacific YVR-HKG

In the past, airlines made it easy to choose between economy and first class. Then business and frequent travellers wanted an upmarket product but not willing to pay for First. They came up with Business Class. With a deteriorating economy and the financial markets in turmoil, corporations are shredding travel expenses. Thus airlines came up with premium economy to entice leisure travellers to increase their budget. Cathay Pacific unveiled their New Premium Economy Class on their long-haul routes earlier in 2012, though they did this by sacrificing cabin space in the Economy section and eliminating First Class on certain of their planes. The problem is will this gamble pay off? Already the airline is having to slash prices on its premium economy class routes. Furthermore on certain dates, their Premium Economy fares can be higher or close to Business class fares. Considering the value in the Premium cabins is space, if I value Economy class cabins at 100% of what I would consider paying for airfare, then I value Premium Economy at no more than 115%, and Business at closer to 160%.  But if the price of premium economy veers too close to Business Class, then I would pay for the latter instead or stick to Economy.

On this occasion I needed to head to Singapore for a week, and Cathay Pacific was having a double miles promotion on Premium Economy tickets between Hong Kong and North America. I registered with Asia Miles for the promotion, and purchased myself a Premium Economy ticket which was good value since the Economy class tickets were already nearly as high. The flight between YVR and HKG is one I have taken many times, mostly in Economy and with the new Premium Economy, I wonder how it will fare with another trip I did earlier this year on the new Economy class seats (not the fixed shell) that Cathay installed.

Vancouver International Airport
Vancouver International Airport

I reached Vancouver International Airport at night and as usual there was not much people waiting in line at the check-in counter. This is probably because the flight I am taking makes a stopover in Vancouver from New York, on its way to Hong Kong. Thus many of its passengers are transiting. Check-in was fast and I obtained a lounge invite based on my Marco Polo Silver status.

Similarly being one of the last flights to leave Vancouver until a few hours later in the morning, there was no queue in security screening. Though most of the landside shops have already closed for the night. Upon crossing security, the duty free shops and a couple of souvenir and magazine stands are still open catering to travellers. I headed to the Cathay Pacific operated lounge on the second floor through the elevator. The lounge is basic with some hot food like dumplings, sandwiches, instant noodles, crackers and nuts. The beverage area comprised of tea, coffee and an average selection of wines and spirits. There is a small First Class section beside the food counters, along with a dining area. The main lounge itself is pretty small but it is pretty well furnished, and with free wifi, I sat back and relaxed until boarding was called.

Waiting Gates
Waiting Gates

There was quite a long walk to the gates and it is not recommended to head to the gate early as transit passengers from New York are held in the gates and only until they have re-boarded the aircraft, are passengers from Vancouver then allowed to board. Thus there is no places to sit until the re-boarding is completed. Upon boarding though, I noticed the aircraft is the one decorated with the Asia’s World City livery, a plane that I had taken before too.

CX889 Vancouver YVR – Hong Kong HKG
Monday 15 Oct 2012
STD-STA: 02:45-O6:55
Actual: 03:05-06:56
Boeing 777-300ER B-KPF
Seat 30G

With the Marco Polo Silver status, I was able to choose bulkhead seats on both Cathay’s economy and premium economy seating which is a perk for me as I think they are the best seats due to a more spacious legroom and with no passenger reclining to your space since Cathay has eliminated fixed-shell seats from its long-haul fleet.

Premium Economy Amenities
Premium Economy Amenities

On the seat itself when I started boarding, there is a blanket and a pillow on my seat, while an amenity kit is placed on the pocket in front of me. The seat I chose though has a small drawback being beside the emergency exit and thus near the entrance of the lavatory. It is not as bad as seat 31G though. To help travellers get familiarized with the seat, there is also an onboard seat guide to the new premium economy seats.

It was a nearly full cabin on the Premium Economy cabin with only one or two empty seats. Being seated in the aisle was convenient though and the bulkhead seat definitely provided more personal space. The seat was comfortable and was slightly wider but did not offer much more difference since it was configured in the 2-4-2 configuration.

Bulkhead Legroom
Bulkhead Legroom

Another mark of the premium service was the presentation of a welcome drink along with hot towels upon being seated. This was similar to that of Business Class. The first meal service also features an upgraded main course from the Business Class cabin. The menu on the way to Hong Kong is as follows:
Supper 晚餐

Prawns with edamame and red pepper salad 明蝦配枝豆甜椒沙律

Grilled Canadian AA beef tenderloin with red wine sauce, creamy polenta, sauteed mushrooms, roasted patty-pan squash, carrot and green beans 烤加拿大牛柳伴紅酒汁配奶油玉米餅,鮮茵,小南瓜,胡蘿蔔及青豆

or Sauteed chicken with black bean sauce, egg fried rice, pak choy and carrot 或豉汁雞柳配蛋炒飯,白菜及胡蘿蔔

or Pappardelle pasta with hazelnut pesto and roasted squash 或棒子香草汁意大利麵條伴南瓜

Ice cream 雪糕

Tea and Coffee 茶及咖啡

Breakfast 早餐

Seasonal fresh fruit 時令鮮果

Fruit yoghurt 鮮果乳酪

Seafood congee 海鮮粥

or Ham frittata with salsa, streaky bacon, roasted red skin potatoes and creamed spinach 或火腿蛋批配馬鈴薯,奶油菠菜及煙肉

Croissant with fruit preserve and butter 牛角包配果醬及牛油

Tea and Coffee 茶及咖啡

Snacks 小食

Cup noodle and assorted snacks are available throughout the flight. 航機上另備有杯麵及各種小食供閣下隨時享用。

Spirits and Aperitifs

Chivas Regal 12 years old

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Cognac

Vodka

Gin

Rum

Campari

Wines 

Germany white wine – Mosel Riesling Feinherb 2011

or South African white wine – Obikwa western Cape Sauvignon Blanc 2011

or French red wine – Dourthe Beau – Mayne Bordeaux 2010

Beer

Non-alcoholic Beverages

Soft drinks, juices, tea/coffee

Premium Economy Dinner Service
Premium Economy Dinner Service

For supper, I picked the steak, and meal was presented in a tray. While the main course was in a porcelain plate, the rest of the meal was in the usual Economy cabin plastic containers. The prawn and edamame appetizer was very good and refreshing. With the upgraded main course, I was glad in picking the steak which is a western-style course, and not something that Cathay Pacific excels in. However the steak was cooked to my liking and it was very tasty. This was better than some steaks I had on Business Class before so I enjoyed this particular meal, especially when topped off with a Häagen-Dazs ice cream stick for dessert. Passengers in Cathay Pacific Economy Class do get the ice cream stick as well!

Prawn and Edamame Salad
Prawn and Edamame Salad
Main Course of Steak
Main Course of Steak

While having the meal, I also enjoyed the inflight entertainment and the new screens were pretty good. As the screens on the bulkhead cabin had to be stowed under the seat, the screen can be scratched easily and there were some scratches on mine already. So this was something to note when choosing the bulkhead Premium Economy seats. Inflight entertainment was on demand and controlled via the normal keypad controller, though I remember using touch-screen controls on the refurbished Economy Class cabin. StudioCX is probably one of my favourite inflight entertainment system, the other being KrisWorld in Singapore Airlines as both have very intuitive menus that are easy to navigate and a wide selection of older movies, Asian movie selections (Indian, Japanese, Korean and Chinese), and one of the best choices of TV shows with multiple episodes of each show. Shorter TV shows makes a lot of sense especially for late night flights and meal services on Economy Class. I was able to catch a couple of Top Gear on this flight as my entertainment.

Entertainment at Dinner
Entertainment at Dinner

At the end of the meal service, a small bar of chocolates was handed out to passenger and there was also a tea or coffee service that was very much appreciated. With the end of the meal service, I reclined my seat back and got prepared to sleep. However I noticed one of the latches to pull out the footrest was faulty though the upper leg rest was still able to extend forward. For such a new cabin it was disappointing, and when I enquired the cabin crew about it, they said that the seat could only function as it was. Though this was not right according to the Seat Guide in the cabin. Thus while this may be Premium Economy, it still is Economy service where passengers are not expected to ask for much. Cathay Pacific does have a much worse service standards in Economy compared to Singapore Airlines in this regard.

Ghirardelli Chocolate
Ghirardelli Chocolate

I managed to get a pretty good sleep with some disturbances here and there. Though it was mostly due to the traffic near the lavatory. The seat was indeed more comfortable for sleeping than the Economy seats. About 2 hours before landing, the crew prepared to serve breakfast and this time I chose the congee. Onboard many East Asian carriers, congee is frequently found on the menu and given that Hong Kong is famous for its congee eateries, I picked that as my choice. I was not disappointed as the seafood congee had a generous filling even though the main course here is the same as the Economy cabin.

Breakfast Service
Breakfast Service
Seafood Congee
Seafood Congee

In addition to the congee, the breakfast was also served with warm croissant and a nice serving of yogurt with a bowl of fruits. This was a pretty good second meal prior to landing in Hong Kong. Now it comes back to the question of whether as a leisure traveller would pay for this premium in what is otherwise an Economy cabin. During a promotion period, I might pay since I could get double miles and with prices closer to the Economy cabin, this was easier on the wallet. However if prices were to be higher, I would not since the new Economy class seats on Cathay is adequate enough. My view is that passengers are likely to pay more for the comfort of a flat bed in Business Class but not for Premium Economy just because of the slightly better meal and seat, because the service is the same whether in Economy or Premium Economy.

Asia's World City Livery
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER with Asia’s World City Livery
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