No Surprise: Cathay Pacific Will Shrink Economy Seats

File this under “it was only a matter of time.”

When the 777 was first introduced, nine seats per row in economy was the standard configuration. However, as airlines have become more profit-driven, they’ve realized that they can squeeze 10 seats per row into economy and get away with it. Ultimately consumers mostly aren’t willing to pay extra for the additional seat width, so from the airlines’ perspective it’s a no brainer to squeeze as many seats as possible onto each plane.

As a result, over the years we’ve seen the standard go from nine seats per row to 10 seats per row. Interestingly even some Gulf carriers renowned for their excellent products, like Emirates, have had this configuration for years.

Emirates-Economy
Emirates 777 economy

For a while there were about a handful of airlines holding out, though that’s slowly changing. Even Skytrax 5-star airlines like Qatar Airways and EVA Air have recently announced that they’ll install 10 seats per row in 777 economy.

As it stands, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines are among the only major airlines to still offer nine seats per row in 777 economy. Coincidentally, both carriers aren’t performing especially well financially, in particular Cathay Pacific.

Well, Cathay Pacific has just confirmed that they plan on installing 10 seats per row in their 777 economy. While a timeline hasn’t yet been given, here’s what the airline’s chief has just said, per the South China Morning Post:

Chief executive Ivan Chu Kwok-leung said in an exclusive interview: “If you look at the Boeing 777s, which everybody uses from the Gulf to the US to European carriers and ourselves, the standard is 3-4-3. I think we are moving towards that stage, it’s very clear.”

An additional row of seats could add up to 35 more economy seats on regional aircraft and at least 17 more on long-haul flights, adding nearly 1.1 million extra seats per year to the 70 Boeings in the Cathay fleet. The move amounts to 4 per cent more seats a year.

British-Airways-Lounge-Chicago-22
Cathay Pacific 777

The airline suggests they’re making this move because Hong Kong Airport has no more available slots and they want more seats, but such an elaborate explanation isn’t really needed. The reality is that they can’t command a price premium for the added comfort (in reality they can only command a premium because of their dominance in Hong Kong), and their configurations are really inefficient.

As the article references, take for example the Hong Kong to Vancouver route. Cathay Pacific operates two daily frequencies with different 777 configurations — one configuration has 340 seats, while the other configuration has 275 seats. Meanwhile Air Canada operates the same route with the same plane, except their configuration has 450 seats. Cathay Pacific is at quite a disadvantage there!

economy
Air Canada 777 economy

On the plus side, Cathay Pacific’s chief has promised to maintain the 32″ of pitch they offer in economy on the plane, which is better than most competitors.

Bottom line

While this is bad news for passengers, especially on longhaul flights, unfortunately this was inevitable. The average passenger simply isn’t willing to pay a premium for slightly wider seats, which is why over time 10-abreast 777 economy seating has shifted from the exception to the norm.

Now we just have to wonder how much longer Singapore Airlines will wait before updating their configuration…

Singapore-Airlines-777-First-Class-45
Singapore Airlines 777 economy

How soon do you think Singapore Airlines will give in and go 10 abreast on the 777?

Comments

  1. Saudia seems to be upgrading from 10-abreast back to 9-abreast on their 777s. I’m also curious to see how long Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Asiana, British Airways and Turkish Airlines would hold on. ANA and EVA are reconfiguring only some of their 777 to 10-abreast, as they are using the ‘more comfortable’ 777s on longer long-haul routes.

    I was expecting that Cathay would only reconfigure their regional 777-300s to 10-abreast, since they have upcoming orders of five 777-300s from Emirates, to replace their 777-200s, in addition to introducing a new regional business class. If it were so, they’re perfectly fine for short-haul routes. Philippine Airlines was one of the first to introduce 10-abreast on 777s, but their seat pitch of 34″ makes up for it.

  2. Funny enough TG had 3-4-3 configurations when they first introduced the 777 and then reconfigured it to 3-3-3 because everyone was avoiding them

  3. Any idea when this is happening from? I’ve got a flight booked in a month and I chose Cathay partyl due to 3-3-3. 3-4-3 for some one who has actually gone near a barbell is a nightmare!

  4. I don’t actually think SQ will go 10-abreast. They seem to be switching most of the 777 (except the ERs for premium routes) fleet to smaller A350s

  5. Lucky, your reviews are great to read but useless for me. And probably for many people as well.

    Another reason why I don’t use your card links. Because bottom line you have done nothing for me. Most of the world travels in economy. Get on with the program and start reviewing economy.

    Show us the tricks about the economy class.

  6. @Credit,

    You are absolutely correct, most of the world does indeed fly economy. And there are many blogs dedicated to flying in the back with the poor, unwashed masses. If that is where you choose to spend your time when you fly, why exactly are you here?

  7. Air China is 3-3-3 on their 777s as well. I much preffered the A330 economy which is 2-4-2 when travelling Europe to Australia via Beijing with them last November. Taking one of the aisle seats in the middle block when flying alone often results in having an empty seat next to you.

  8. Problem is most economy flyers are not aware or informed about seat with at time of booking, so price remains the main selection criteria. I’m certain if coach passengers were informed and could easily compare seat with and other criteria between airlines, they would take that into account

  9. Yes, BA are obviously still 9 abreast in the 777s – and they’re performing very well financially!

  10. Yes, and here is (yet another) airline that’s 9 abreast: ANA 777’s are 2-4-3. I *think* they are the only (major) airline with this configuration. I’m sure I will be quickly corrected if I am wrong.

    It would be nice if things were a little more fact-checked before making blanket statements like “As it stands, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines are among the only major airlines to still offer nine seats per row in 777 economy.”

  11. @Kevin

    I wouldn’t be here if the blog wasnt free. The blog is fun to read but not useful for me.

    I bet most people would be with the unwashed masses if they had to pay fares from their own pocket. Business class is full of posers who are all flying on someone elses dime and pretend they are all rich and generous in real life. No wonder trump is doing so well. So many mini mes of that asshole in this country.

  12. UA is still 9 across in all of their 777s in either a 3-3-3 config for international flights or 2-5-2 for Hawaii

  13. @Credit some people (like me) actually pay a majority of our own business fares. Whether it’s from personal income or that we actually own the company that pays for the tickets. I’ve flown over 10 flights 10+ hours this year so far. Many of us need beds and a good night’s sleep when we fly. So for us posers, Ben’s reviews are really helpful, because indeed if we are spending this amount of money, we want to be sure we’re getting as best value and hard/soft product as possible.

    I do, however, think a few Economy reviews would be a good addition.

  14. @vand

    Of course. Enjoy your business class. I fly in it when using miles. But fly in economy when paying cash.

  15. KE and OZ still has nine seats per row on their 777, these companies are not among major airlines?? lol

  16. This is also one of the reasons why A350/787 are the future.

    I’ve already noticed that I’ve started to prefer routes/airlines that fly A350/787 on the routes I need to fly.

  17. @Credit
    “Enjoy your business class. I fly in it when using miles.”

    Isn’t that is what this blog about? Helping people to ungrade to business class using miles instead of paying for it. I am sorry that you didn’t learn anything from reading Lucky’s blog and refuses to use his links. Somehow I have the feeling that he is doing quite well without your support.
    Cheers

  18. “As it stands, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines are among the only major airlines to still offer nine seats per row in 777 economy”.

    BA too offers 9 seats per row on their 777s.

  19. Cathay was actually the one that suggested a wider fuselage to accommodate 10 abreast during the 777 development programme “Working Together”.
    Therefore, I guess it is surprising to see Cathay make the change now rather than 20 years ago.

    On the other hand, still very sad to see Cathay retire all her 747 pax fleet… Hope CX will buy 747-8I some day. The business case for slot-tight destinations is still strong if the plane is acquired at a huge discount.

  20. While this change is unfortunate I think it is an overall net positive for everyone… Other than the occasional fare war sales for years TPAC flights have always been around a thousand or more r/t, but in the past few years we are seeing many more $400-700 fares even from secondary cities – and that seems to be the new norm. At the same time premium economy fares are slowly trending down towards to the regular TPAC coach fare from several years ago.

    So customers who are willing to pay to fly a more comfortably can purchase premium economy tickets for just a little more than what a typical coach fare used to cost years ago at the same time air travel has become much more affordable for many people and traveling abroad (particularly Asia) is no longer a once in a decade kind of thing anymore from a financial standpoint.

    Overall – I think this is a win for everyone.

  21. @golfingboy – a win for everyone? Except those in economy, unless Cathay are reducing their prices to compensate (HAHAHA)

  22. The Emirates cabin picture was of an A380, not a 777.

    I don’t think Singapore Airlines will be making their 777’s 3-4-3 as they are in the process of updating them to A350 interiors and they refurbished 777’s are in 3-3-3.

  23. Agree with Coach Flyer that those airlines who are flying their 777s with 9 seats abreast in the coach class do not advertise and most travellers are not aware that they are paying higher fares for the wider seats (chatted with friends a month ago on this subject and none of them realized that their flights from Toronto to Asia on Air Canada’s 777 has 10 seats abreast. Their only impression is the very narrow and uncomfortable seats but they dont know the reason) Think a significant number of travellers are willing to pay slightly higher fare for 9 seats abreast in long haul flights.

  24. The post is old news for Cathay flyers and has been discussed at length on FT.

    Having said this, the comments are helpful in identifying which airlines still have nine across on their 777s.

    Lucky, if you want to do something that no other blogger has done, compile the list of which airlines have 10 and which airlines have 9 across on their 777s, at least do it before seatguru decides to.

  25. Sadly I’ve gone to this place now when I set up for long-haul travel, since it seems all the airlines are different and none of them tell me what their seat dimensions are.

    https://www.seatguru.com/charts/longhaul_economy.php

    And even this site has some drawbacks, in that some classes of seats have wider armrests, so you’re not fighting with the next person over for the 2 in. wide armrest.

  26. @Credit :

    So I ask myself, does this guy realize what he’s just said? Does he mean to insult me, or is he just that stupid?

    I’d like to promote an internet fight between @debit and @credit. GAAP rules apply.

  27. @ Ben (not Lucky): Cathay has already reduced their prices, as have most other airlines. The value you get for your money today when flying is far better than what you got 10 or even 5 years ago. If you are a bit flexible, you can nowadays fly +10 hours in economy for around $500 and biz for $2000 or even less. For this you get products that are generally better than they have ever been. Now the seats in econ get a bit tighter – big deal? I traveled on Emirates 777 in econ, and didn’t mind it much.

  28. As for myself, when traveling in economy (which is usually the case for at least one leg of the trip), I prefer the 3-3-3 seating arrangement as shoulder room is what I desire. In addition the 3-3-3 configuration has a better chance of having an empty seat next to you allowing adequate shoulder room and “personal space”.

  29. Delta’s 767 fleet (which they fly from North America to Europe) has eight in the back. One of the best ways to fly economy internationally. BA is also not bad in the back.

  30. @Credit
    “I bet most people would be with the unwashed masses if they had to pay fares from their own pocket. Business class is full of posers who are all flying on someone elses dime and pretend they are all rich and generous in real life. No wonder trump is doing so well. So many mini mes of that asshole in this country.”
    Go back to your communist USSR. Oh wait, it collapsed, because of communism. Now people like you are why Czech Republic had to spend 40 years under oppression, did you spend 40 years poor and under oppression, wait no. You spent it in the US under luxury and freedom. Yet, you threaten freedom. Go back to North Korea! On other news, I think that 10 seats abreast is mostly becoming popular, because the average economy customer, sees all airlines as the same and doesn’t see that there are subtle or not so subtle differences between airlines. Luckily premium economy kind of substitutes old economy

  31. @Credit
    “I bet most people would be with the unwashed masses if they had to pay fares from their own pocket. Business class is full of posers who are all flying on someone elses dime and pretend they are all rich and generous in real life. No wonder trump is doing so well. So many mini mes of that asshole in this country.”
    Go back to your communist USSR. Oh wait, it collapsed, because of communism. Now people like you are why Czech Republic had to spend 40 years under oppression, did you spend 40 years poor and under oppression, wait no. You spent it in the US under luxury and freedom. Yet, you threaten freedom. Go back to North Korea! On other news, I think that 10 seats abreast is mostly becoming popular, because the average economy customer, sees all airlines as the same and doesn’t see that there are subtle or not so subtle differences between airlines. Luckily premium economy kind of substitutes old economy

  32. I think what a lot of the “it was only a matter of time” comments miss, is that this is a very special change.

    Airline economy seats have been configured the way they are for decades for a particular reason: the width of the average male’s shoulders is 18 inches. Source:
    https://www.fas.harvard.edu/~loebinfo/loebinfo/Proportions/humanfigure.html

    The untenable 10 abreast 777 config reduces this to around 17 inches. Ponder this for a moment. Airlines operating this ridiculous layout are giving an inch less to average male passengers than the widest point on that passenger’s body. There is literally no way for two adjacent average males to sit together than to twist their bodies.

    This is what all the fuss is about re. 777 10 abreast. It’s not a matter of some incremental, reasonable change that given time, passengers can adapt to. It’s about literally reducing a passenger’s personal space to less than one of their body’s dimensions, a change that they can never properly adapt to unless they lop off part of their body. 😛

  33. Air NZ went to 10 abreast on 777-300s and most Economy reviews bleat about the lack of room and narrow aisles while crew hate them as they have trouble with trolleys. And there’s always the dickhead who waits for service to start before trying to get to the loo.

    Air NZ countered with the book-three-seats Skycouch and take-up of that is apparently high. After three horribly cramped sectors, on one I was reseated with an empty centre seat after there was no way two fat guys could ride together without violence. I had a final leg on one of their old 747-400s, now gone, which was much roomier. Air NZ once set a standard with 34 inches pitch but, yeah, that was then.

    Now I ride Emirates and, somehow, 3-4-3 but it feels more spacious. Make all CEOs and cabin service chiefs ride long hauls on their fleets – 32 hours door to door on Emirates, say, at gunpoint, if necessary, and I guarantee a few rows would soon come out.

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