Cathay Pacific Airways took delivery of its 50th 777-300ER last month, and the new aircraft keeps a sharp focus on customer experience initiatives. In strong testament to the Boeing 777 program, Cathay Pacific Airways took delivery of its 50th 777-300ER on April 30. The milestone is important for both Boeing and Cathay Pacific: Cathay is the second largest operator of the type, after Emirates. Overall, the airline operates 67 of the twin-engine widebody aircraft.
The Significance of the 777 in Cathay’s Fleet
Cathay will also be one of the first airlines to take delivery of the new 777X aircraft when it receives its 777-9X planes in 2021.
During a delivery ceremony with Boeing at Paine Field, Cathay executives noted the strong partnership between the two companies and the long history shared.
Cathay Pacific was the first airline to launch the Polar route flying its Boeing aircraft to New York from Hong Kong. It was also the first airline to launch ultra-long haul flying using its Boeing aircraft.
“We are honored that the 777-300ER continues to play a prominent role in the success of Cathay Pacific’s business expansion and we look forward to expanding our partnership with the new 777X in the years to come,” says Ihssane Mounir, Boeing’s senior vice president of sales for Northeast Asia. Daily, Cathay flies 37,000 seats between North America and Hong Kong.
The airline notes that Toronto and New York are two of its most profitable North American routes, and the 777 plays a strong role in sustaining the carrier’s network allowing it to boost frequency and capacity on its most important routes. When it comes to number of North American customers paying the premium for first class, JFK and LAX take the top two spots with San Francisco being the third highest in demand.
The latest 777-300ER to be delivered does not have a first class cabin, but highlights the growing number of passengers booking into the airline’s premium economy class. Executives say that North American routes see a 60 to 70 percent load factor in the cabin. There is also a notable difference between the east and west coasts of North America with more premium cabin traffic originating from California and a stronger demand for the premium economy product from the east coast.
Just two days after the airline took delivery of its 50th 777-300ER, it started new service from Hong Kong to Boston with the type.
As the airline phases out its 747 fleet in its effort to boost unit passenger revenues, the 777 will grow to play an even more important role in balancing frequency and capacity across the network. Its ability to carry a significant amount of cargo makes it especially popular with airlines, and since 24 percent of Cathay’s business is tied to cargo, this will help to keep that component strong.
On-Board the Delivery Flight
All airlines handle their delivery flights differently, and Boeing hosts delivery flight handoffs to airlines almost on a daily basis which is why Boeing built a special Boeing Delivery Center building that boasts two jet bridges, numerous meeting and banquet spaces, and a Boeing collectibles shop.
Before boarding, Boeing’s Senior Vice President of Sales for Northeast Asia, Ihssane Mounir, thanked Cathay Pacific for a strong partnership over the years and spoke briefly to the gathered crowd of travel agents, media, and invited Cathay Pacific customers. With the giant Boeing 777-300ER in the background, Boeing passed over the ceremonial key to Cathay executives, and it was almost time to go.
Once on the tarmac,there was a ribbon cutting ceremony, and those on the flight were given boarding passes with the city name Boeing Paine Field to Hong Kong.
With only about 50 passengers on board a plane designed for 330 people, the delivery flight was like having your own personal plane. Following a tarmac tour of the plane and plenty of photo opportunities, passengers went through a security check, and we were ready to start our journey to Hong Kong.
Everyone was seated in the herringbone-style business class cabin, which features enormous entertainment screens and flat-bed seating. The economy class cabin was empty, but everyone was allowed free access to wander the aircraft at any time.
The cabin crew, specially selected to work this important flight, were as gracious and hospitable as can be. And that is not easy on a flight like this one where passengers spend hours wandering up and down the aisles, enjoying cocktails and wine while chatting with other passengers, and poking and prodding all parts of the plane in exploration.
Many passengers donned the first class pajamas distributed prior to take off, which was a special treat since they are typically reserved only for first class passengers.
Cathay begins the first meal service with cocktails delivered from a two-tier cart and warm cashews. This is followed with an appetizer and salad tray. The main course is served on the same two-tier cart with all of the options on display which is a really nice way to allow passengers to choose their meal since they can see what everything looks like before ordering. A cheese and fruit course follows with cordials and chocolates.
Throughout the flight, snacks were available from the menu, and two hours before landing another hot meal was served. Many passengers enjoyed the flight so much that the 13-hour flight passed too quickly.
Product Investments Continue
Following the ceremony and a delivery flight, the airline shared details on numerous other product investments on the horizon.
When the airline takes delivery of its new Airbus A350 aircraft in 2016, the 12 planes scheduled for next year will come equipped with inflight wifi capability. Details of the cost to passengers have not been finalized, but it is expected that premium cabin customers may have a free trial period to use it inflight.
Studies are in place to roll out inflight wifi across the rest of the fleet, but the airline confirms that there will be no inflight telephone capability permitted. The cost affixed to the wifi is an important consideration. When there is a charge, only eight percent of passengers on average use the service, but when it is free the usage rises to as much as 20 percent, according to the airline’s research.
The A350 will allow Cathay to open up long, thin routes to destinations like Madrid and Dusseldorf (the latter, which launches this year, will transition to the Airbus next year).
On the lounge front, Cathay has invested heavily in new lounges in Manila and Tokyo Haneda. When deciding where to open a new lounge, the airport development team takes into account the number of loyalty program members in a given destination in addition to the amount of premium traffic that uses the airport.
Beginning in March, Cathay partnered with illy brand coffee to upgrade the offering on board for first and business class passengers. It includes cappuccino, espresso, and café latte prepared fresh to order. The airline’s catering team collaborated with illy to develop unique coffee filter “pillows” specifically for inflight use. The size and material of the filter bags insures they work well with onboard coffee machines and allow for optimal water penetration during the brewing process.
Also being studied is the option for premium cabin customers to be able to pre-order their desired inflight meal. Like other airlines, the logistics need to be ironed out, but passengers appreciate having the advance flexibility to guarantee their preferred choice.
The airline is no stranger to charitable causes either with a current effort to raise money from passengers for victims of the Nepal earthquake. During a visit to Cathay City–the airline’s regional headquarters located by the airport–details were also shared about how cleaners remove partially used amenity kits and first class pajamas for further cleaning. These are then donated to local homeless shelters rather than being discarded.
Editor’s note: What are the benefits of subscribing to our weekly newsletter? You’ll get a summary of our top stories of the week, along with our exclusive Weekend Reads column and a Photo of the Week from the extensive AirwaysNews archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Click here to subscribe today!