Cathay Pacific replacing 'uncomfortable' economy seats after complaints

Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's biggest airline, will replace economy-class seats in long-haul planes after passengers complained about discomfort, according to three people familiar with the plan.

The existing coach seats, which have fixed-backs to prevent passengers from disturbing the person behind them when reclining, will be refitted and moved to short-haul and regional aircraft, said the sources, who declined to be identified before an announcement.

The seats were in 41 Cathay planes at the end of last year. Older aircraft were refitted with the units in a program that ran from 2007 to November, 2009.

“There's been a lot of criticism of the seats,” said Shaun Rein, managing director of Shanghai-based China Market Research Group, which does consumer surveys for airlines and other clients. “It seems that Cathay is listening.”

The airline will also overhaul business-class and first- class seats as part of the long-haul refit, which includes Boeing 777-300ERs and some Airbus SAS A330s, according to the people.

Cathay's seat order for its last long-haul revamp, which included coach and business-class units, was expected to be worth about $US155 million ($A158 million), Amin J. Khoury, chairman and chief executive officer of supplier B/E Aerospace, said in a March 2006 conference call, according to a Bloomberg transcript.

“While our passengers value the protection of living space afforded by the fixed backshell seat, we are constantly looking for ways we can further improve our products and services,” Carolyn Leung, a Cathay spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed reply to Bloomberg questions.

Cathay will also add premium-economy seating in the long- haul revamp that will begin next year, said the people.

Uncomfortable Seats


The fixed-back seats are uncomfortable and don't provide head support when put into the recline position as the cushions move downward rather than pivoting backward, said Ali Chan, a salesman for a credit-card maker, who flew on holiday to Rome with Cathay about two weeks ago.

“I can usually sleep on planes, but this time I woke up again and again,” he said. “I would avoid flying long-haul in this seat next time.”

B/E Aerospace, the world's largest maker of cabin interiors, is working with Cathay on cushion upgrades for the fixed-back seats, said Greg Powell, a spokesman for the Wellington, Florida-based company.

“We're happy they're taking the seats and putting them on an existing fleet,” he said. The fixed-back seats were specifically designed for Cathay, he said.

The new revamp will be announced in early December, two of the people said. The airline is still working out the costs of the overhaul, which will take about two years to complete, all three said.

Cathay operated 31 A330s and 18 777-300ERs at the end of June, according to its interim results announcement. The airline has 12 A330s fitted with long-haul cabins, according to its website.