Cathay Pacific’s Minor First Class Service Cuts

Cathay Pacific has one of my favorite first class products in the world. While they don’t have fully enclosed suites, they have a very consistent product, and among the most comfortable beds in the sky.

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Cathay Pacific has been struggling financially, especially as they’re facing increased competition from both Asian low cost carriers and Gulf carriers, which are hurting their yields. Beyond that, they have pretty sparsely configured cabins. For example, on the 777 they have nine seats per row in economy, while 10 has become the new standard (though there are reports that they’ll be changing that).

Let’s take the Vancouver to Hong Kong market, for example. Cathay Pacific has 340 seats on their three cabin 777s (and only 275 seats on their four cabin 777s), while Air Canada has 450 seats on their three cabin 777s. Between the generally low fares in the market and Cathay Pacific not being able to command much of a price premium in economy, they’re really losing out.

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Anyway, while the airline has been cost cutting lately, up until now first class service hasn’t really changed. The lack of change in Cathay Pacific first class is what stands out to me in many ways — they’ve barely changed in the past decade.

Well, Cathay Pacific has made some very minor cuts to their first class service, which I mention more out of interest than anything else, because I don’t think they materially change the experience.

For example, they’ve recently downgraded the chocolates they offer in first class, from individual plates with a variety of chocolates, to little packaged boxes with two pieces each.

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Furthermore, as of February 1, Cathay Pacific is cutting the first class pre-takeoff amuse bouche. This was originally written about in this FlyerTalk thread, though I was able to confirm it with a contact at Cathay Pacific as well.

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Like I said, I really don’t think either of these changes individually is significant. If anything, I find it an odd way to cost cut. They serve each first class passenger a tin of caviar, and continue to serve Krug champagne, while they’re cutting an amuse bouche that probably collectively costs $5 per cabin per flight.

I suspect they’re trying to maintain the core of what they’re known for (good service, seats, champagne, caviar, etc.) while cutting all the frills around the edges. So I suspect this is only the beginning of Cathay Pacific’s onboard cost cutting.

It’ll be interesting to see if anything else changes.

Comments

  1. Granted I’m just an amateur airline enthusiast but I’d think it would make more sense to maintain, or even improve upon their premium first class product. First class fliers are spending $10k+ for a flight (yes, some are using miles) and are motivated by quality when determining the airline they’ll fly.

    Meanwhile, they should look to cut economy as much as they possibly can. Economy class fliers are purchasing their ticket based on price. They dont care if the meals are any good, they dont care if theyre served black label vs red label, they dont care if they have 34 inches of pitch or 31. They want to get where they’re going at the cheapest price possible. And while that’s certainly fine, airlines would be better off cutting from that class of service instead of from their most lucrative customers.

    I’ve flown paid J a coupe of times and based my purchase off of flat bed seats, meal quality, lounge access, etc… in addition to price. I’m flown paid Y many many times and (unless the cheaper flight has a 10 hour layover) i’m always, ALWAYS booking the cheapest ticket.

  2. How do you figure the $5 cost of catering the amuse bouche per cabin, per flight? Does it really help build your credibility when you just make up numbers?

  3. @Alex

    Most airlines don’t base their F revenue on fliers who pay for the tickets, but instead on corporate frequent fliers that are under some contract with the airlines. It makes sense, therefore, to cut F benefits because most of the revenue comes from ultra-loyal customers anyway.

    I feel like Cathay is one of the few airlines where they pride themselves on the “we love Y fliers too” mentality. This rings true for most of the well-known Asian carriers. I have friends who don’t know what life outside the Y cabin looks like and they simply love SQ and do the whole “SQ is the best in the world!” thing. The marketing that comes from having a seat that’s around 2 inches roomier is so intense that it’s outweighs having marginally cheaper tickets, especially when the “cheaper tickets” market is as crowded as it is nowadays.

  4. Im sorry, but replaces chocolates and amuse bouche is going to really do anything to china the bottom like of the airline? First class service is suffering because corporations are no longer paying F class for employees. It is easier for folks to fly private – if they can afford it – and most people just do not want to spend the money they want for the service. Wealthy people are no longer requiring F class to travel – I mean even Ivanka Trump travels Jet blue frequently – I have seen her personally fly on my flights several times. That era is truly gone with the wind.

  5. The amuse servings are uniformly disgusting–dog food comes to mind. Will miss the pralines/chocolates, though, especially the orange chocolate sticks.

  6. Cathays main problem financially is mainland Chinese people are not flying anywhere via HKG anymore, and it will continue. With the ease of using CA,CZ, MU and other Far Asian carriers who has better connections and more frequencies and shorter routes, CX is not an option anymore. And Europe originated pax would fly whoever cheaper/ better to Australia, and so here comes Middle Eastern carriers. Similiar happens on American travellers to Asia.

  7. Exclusive of alcohol, the cost of catering the entire first class menu can’t possibly run more than a few hundred dollars per flight. Even if CX was paying retail value – which they most certainly are not – we are only talking about a few meals for at most 6 passengers. Even if they catered enough for everyone to have everything on the menu, food just isn’t really that expensive, especially when you’re buying it in large quantities or as part of a contract. You also have some assembly cost here, either with the catering vendor or the inflight crew. I’m not saying they shouldn’t factor in these expenses, but ultimately I have to agree with Lucky – if they want to make meaningful savings out of food cuts they’re going to have to dig a little deeper than these two things. The question is how to do it without totally cheapening the experience, something they can hopefully figure out.

  8. @Matt
    Granted, I’ve only flown Cathay F once (HKG-JFK), but I really enjoyed the crab & mango amuse bouche. Now, I don’t think I’d miss it if I ever get the chance to fly in that cabin again, nor would it make me change my mind about flying CX, just saying that in my experience, I enjoyed it (as did my wife)!

  9. CX home market intensely dislikes fridge-cold food and drinks (hence the Chinese soup on long hauls); sweets are generally consumed Sparingly..

  10. The amuse bouche was a relatively recent, wasn’t it?

    Guess their cost benefit analysis after adding shows that it wasn’t a worth while addition. Always enjoyed it, and it was a way CX differentiated themselves. If I am not mistaken, they are the only airline to give something other than nuts prior to takeoff.

  11. “Air Canada has 450 seats on their three cabin 777s.”

    Actually only a few Air Canada B777-300ER’s have 450 seats; they operate specific routes to be competitive with a higher density aircraft on those flights. Most of the Air Canada B777-300ER’s have 400 seats.

  12. Cathay’s pricing is way out there. I recently priced a non-stop round-trip from London to HK in First Class for both Cathay and BA.

    Bottom line, I could get a BA RT for $6K and the Cathay flight was $15K

    Now, Cathay is a lot nicer. But 250% nicer? Don’t think so.

    Funny thing is – they are both in the OneWorld Alliance, which I thought meant comparable pricing

  13. Well that’s it!!! I’m never going to fly Cathay again…!!! The sheer gaul of requiring me to take a break between gorging myself in the lounge and then having a seven course meal in the air, and asking me to use my own arms to open a box of chocolates…. what do they take us for…!!! 🙂

  14. @Jack: no, Swiss gives you a pre-flight snack too. Usually a cheese’n’meat thingy and some breadsticks.

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