Innovative airlines 2011: #9 Cathay Pacific

At number 9 we find Cathay Pacific, winner of the ‘Airline of the Year’ award in 2009, and also one of the just six 5-star airlines in the world. Cathay was hit hard during the financial crisis as it is heavily exposed to business travellers from the financial sector. Cathay responded by parking aircraft, reducing routes and frequencies, and asked its staff to take unpaid leave. The airline also reconfigured its business class cabin on a number of aircraft and introduced a fee for extra-legroom seats in Economy.

As its performance has improved sharply recently, thanks to the economic growth in Asia, Cathay is investing again in its product and has launched an USD129 million upgrade program that includes a new Business Class cabin. Cathay’s new full-flat seats have a novel feature called ‘Bed Extension,’ which significantly increases the bed width (more details here).

Cathay Pacific earlier also announced it will introduce a Premium Economy product by 2012 as such a cabin would help capture passengers trading down from Business Class. Not all seating innovations turn out well however. The airline’s ‘fixed shell’ economy seats, which were introduced between 2007 and 2009, proved to be uncomfortable when put into the recline position, and following passenger complaints Cathay is changing them for a new economy seat.

To emphasize its service expertise, Cathay Pacific launched a book called ‘Service in the Sky’ in mid-2011. Written by training instructors from the airline’s ‘Inflight Services Training & Development’ department, the book contains cabin crew training modules, including 24 real case studies depicting difficult situations and recommended approaches, as well as articles on different aspects of Cathay Pacific’s service beliefs and its training philosophy and techniques.

Cathay Pacific is among a limited number of airlines that prepare parts of the menu fresh on board. The airline’s long-haul aircraft feature an onboard rice cooker, as well as a toaster oven and an espresso machine. In an interesting co-creation initiative, Cathay Pacific also recently held a contest in the USA, called ‘The Art of the Desert,’ in which it asked its Facebook fans to come up with an Asian-inspired dessert, snap a photo of their creation, and submit it online for voting. The winner will be announced in February 2011 and will have his or her dessert served on the airline’s flights out of North America during 2011.

Connected travellers
Catering to the connected traveller, Cathay Pacific will fit its entire fleet with broadband Internet and cellphone connectivity by early 2012 in partnership with Panasonic. The service will also include an inflight entertainment portal which passengers can access via their mobile devices or via the seatback IFE screen for free. On the ground, Cathay in October 2010 opened a new departure lounge at Hong Kong International Airport, called ‘The Cabin’. Designed by Foster + Partners, the lounge features an IT Zone with free WiFi, iPads, a ‘Techno Bar’ with 6 iMacs, and so-called ‘Solus Chairs’ – a futuristic bubble-like chair that provides each person with a private space to eat, work and relax.


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