Rumor: Cathay Pacific To Introduce Buy On Board In Economy On Select Routes

Filed Under: Cathay Pacific

Update: Cathay Pacific has reached out to provide the following statements regarding this:

— Regarding dine on demand: “Regarding the ‘Dine on Demand’ concept, which we conducted for a trial period in May and June 2017, we are currently in the process of analysing both passenger and crew feedback. We will share more updates on the new Business Class dining service once available.”

— Regarding buy on board meals in economy: “The media report is categorically inaccurate. Cathay Pacific is a premium, full-service airline and there are no plans for what was rumoured.”

Cathay Pacific has been struggling financially the past few years, as they’ve faced increased competition from Gulf carriers as well as ultra low cost carriers in Asia, which has brought downward pressure on their yields. Their CEO has also warned of continued turbulent times ahead, so it doesn’t look like things will change overnight.

Historically Cathay Pacific has tried to differentiate themselves as a premium carrier, though they haven’t necessarily been able to command the revenue premium that they were hoping for with that. For example, they’ll soon start reconfiguring their 777s with 10 seats per row rather than nine. It looks like we may see a pretty radical change coming to Cathay Pacific’s short-haul service soon.

Cathay Pacific to introduce buy on board food on short-haul flights

FlyerTalk user percysmith shares some updates about Cathay Pacific’s service. Perhaps most interesting is that Cathay Pacific will be introducing buy on board food on select short-haul flights. While we don’t know the exact start date or details, based on what we know, buy on board menus will be introduced on all flights to Manila, Cebu, and Ho Chi Minh City, as well as redeyes to Jakarta, Osaka, Seoul Incheon, Singapore, and Tokyo Narita. We’ll have to wait and see if they’ll still offer free drinks and “just” charge for food, or whether they’ll match British Airways completely, and charge for everything.

With the amount of competition they have from low cost carriers on some of these routes, a move like this isn’t surprising. Not only could they save a lot of money by not having to serve free food and drinks, but they can also generate quite a bit of additional revenue from the sales.

One could argue that the free services is what differentiates Cathay Pacific from ultra low cost carriers, though if there’s one trend we’ve seen lately, it’s that full service carriers and ultra low cost carriers are starting to meet in the middle in terms of the products they offer. Clearly full service airlines can’t command sufficient premium revenues, and this is also why Singapore Airlines is introducing new unbundled economy fares (though they’re not as restrictive as the “basic economy” fares offered by US airlines).

Cathay Pacific won’t introduce dine on demand in business class

Earlier this year Cathay Pacific trialed offering dine on demand in business class on their routes to Chicago and London Gatwick. While Cathay Pacific has long had an industry leading first class product, their business class hasn’t impressed nearly as much. So they’re trying to improve their business class product to become more competitive, and dine on demand in business class seems like a logical way to accomplish that, especially given how many late night flights they have.

While passengers seemed to like the dine on demand service, rumor has it that it was extremely unpopular with flight attendants. So we haven’t heard more about this offering expanding up until now, and it looks like we now know why. The same source suggests that Cathay Pacific has canceled their plans to introduce dine on demand in business class, and will instead introduce a new service flow and equipment in 2018. We’ll have to wait to see all the details of that.

Cathay Pacific’s A350 business class

Bottom line

It’s not surprising to see Cathay Pacific looking to cut costs in economy, given the competition they face, and the lack of a premium they can command. This seems to be the story of most full service airlines nowadays. We’ll have to wait and see the full details, and whether Cathay Pacific continues to offer free drinks in economy, or whether all food and drinks on the above routes will only be available for purchase.

As far as their business class service goes, if they couldn’t get a good service flow with dine on demand, then I don’t blame them for not implementing it. There are plenty of decent alternatives to dine on demand, so at a minimum I hope they give passengers the option to have their entire meal at once at a later point in the flight, which should be less work for the crew than a full dine on demand menu.

Are you surprised to see Cathay Pacific allegedly introducing buy on board in economy?

(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)

  1. Disgusting. Legacy airlines trying to be low cost… what about having less exorbitant CEO and VPs salaries and bonuses.

  2. I’m afraid this will only backfire on Cathay. Folks in Hong Kong have been complaining about CX for a while and have gotten more vocal in the past year or two to a point that some say they rather fly Hong Kong Airlines. There were even rumors of a Cathay bankruptcy and insolvency. This is not how you want to be perceived at your home base. Free meals are important to Asians, something uncomprehensable to North American flyers, and to stoop to the levels of LCCs but yet unable to compete with them on price is not something Cathay should do. Hong Kong locals also accuse Cathay for hiring more and more foreign flight attendants (notably Filipinos) at much cheaper wages to force them out. I personally flown them from HKG-DPS last month and found them unremarkable with disinterested service. Despite this, the cost of my ticket was twice what LCCs charge for this route.

  3. It kind of makes sense on a redeye and actually will work out better – rather than keep the lights on to do a dinner (Which no one wants or needs -e.g. the Singapore redeye is 1am-5am) hopefully they can just sweep through and then dim the lights immediately

  4. Cathay’s business class is a mediocre offering, like what I’d imagine business class to be on a military transport, down to the cabin aesthetics. This is an airline that’s clearly living on a twenty year old reputation for being a market leader. While dine on demand would have been great, it’s several steps too far for where they are. I think a couple of basic improvements would go a long way. First, provide a mattress pad for better sleep. Second, provide edible food. It doesn’t need to be fancy or dine or demand but just edible and made with reasonably healthy ingredients. Despite the claims on the menu for sourcing the freshest local produce, most of their food is downright vile.

  5. So CX FA’s reluctance to work harder (fine on demand) is a more important consideration than customer convenience / preference? No wonder CX is going downhill. BonB for a so-called full service carrier is disgusting – just ask BA passengers. And CX is already miserly when it comes to giving out OneWorld miles for coach travel; so why should anyone fly CX and not a LCC?

  6. @Bill, agree their reputation has been suffering for some time in their home city, and my last few fights with them were very unremarkable. They also lost a lot of loyal elites when they moved Marco Polo club to a tier-point system but made it too hard to retain gold or diamond (something they’ve since tried to correct by awarding more tier points per segment).

    Interesting to see them go the “BA” route for shorthaul and will be something of a cultural experiment. I doubt if CX will really be able to lower their prices enough to compete with the LCCs; unlike BA or US carriers they don’t have narrow-bodies to operate on regional routes only, and they have to keep most of their aircraft configured for ultra-long-haul, so I don’t see how they could implement a true dense low cost regional model?

    More than anything they need to find a plan and stick to it – with mainland carriers upping their game and their direct connections and SQ (also losing money) upping their premium game, I question CX decision to cut costs further, but right now it seems like they are just flailing around trying different strategies.

  7. They should take a page out of the Malaysia Airlines chapter. Cutting what you can give to customers doesn’t bring you the profits, it’s streamlining operations that does. Renegotiate catering contracts, pull out of non profitable markets, reduce manpower to as lean as possible and stop competing in the ultra luxury market. MH only ever wanted to be a 4 Star airline post recovery and it is already making profits only 3 years after the twin disasters.

  8. @Sam G CX already don’t do a dinner service on Singapore red eye, instead they keep the light off and serve a snack box to passangers who were still awake. And the snakes box is like the second meal service on trans-Atlantic.

  9. I’m not surprised. Especially with the competition from the gulf carriers. The “service” you get from cathay, is nothing compared to the service you get from the ME3. Especially with Qatar, they make you feel welcomed even in economy.

  10. I hope this won’t be the start to applying the same for many other routes in the months or years to come.

  11. I might be the minority but I am not a fan of Dine on demand. It is very disturbing on night flights if the person close to me decides to eat while I try to sleep. It is much easier if the whole business class section eats at the same time. I flew CX from Lgw to Bali over Christmas and we were happy with the service, which did not offer Dine on demand. On all 4 flights the crew were great (unlike on Qatar where it is hit and miss). I would not hesitate to fly them again.

  12. I would have paid CX not to eat the egg and ham roll-ups they’ve been serving on the HKG/MNL/HKG legs. The presentation paper bags they came in probably cost more than the egg rolls.

    Their general economy food being served on all flights for the last few years has been a disgrace, so much so I buy my own food and take it on board, e.g. Pizza Marzano, Starbucks etc… the extent even the stewardesses (am I still allowed to call them that) have said to me ” what a good idea, that looks much more tasty ” . Keep the soft drinks on a free flow basis and dump the food.

    And don’t get me started on the Business Class food, the menus haven’t changed for years, and they always choose to serve better food on the Japan flights when compared to Jakarta, KL, or Singapore.

    On the question of the relatively new teir points system….suck it up guys, many airlines are going to this. The good old days have gone vis-a-vis mileage, and to be honest CX spoiled manyof us for years with upgrades. SQ have always taken the view that they would rather break their own legs than give you any form of upgrade, no matter how glittering your PPS or KrisFlyer status was.

  13. Having witnessed a degrading service of CX over the years, I do not recognise them as a premium airline anymore. My last trip’s service experience on Hong Kong airlines was conceived even better.

  14. Not surprising but not welcomed. Of course on the MNL flights the food bag they serve is a snack, not a meal, so they aren’t really ending meal service. It would be nice if the BonB is something worth buying or what they think they can force on those few who are really hungry, especially if as you note the real purpose is to load less food, not sell food.

    The C class meal when you want it actually exists on all flights, it just isn’t the default. If you ask for a meal to be held for later consumption, they will hold it. I’ve done that many times. But you have to ask.

    Overall CX management is ruining the airline, leaving the premium space to SQ. They’re better than the US and EU airlines and at parity with TG, JL, etc. Their advantage for the next few years is their lock on slots in HKG, until there is a third runway and then if you haven’t sold your stock, watch out!

  15. overall generally there is no smoke without fire. So even if this is not happening, the fact that there is a rumor on CX secrets most likely means that at some levels the possibility has been discussed. I wouldn’t not be really surprise if CX used “CX secret” to a certain extend to test the water and see the reactions

  16. I really hope CX is able to find the magic again in Business Class. I second others that live in the region and depend on CX (and for me, now, more exclusively SQ) for hops around Asia and connections into North America: they are living on a reputation for excellence that is long past its expiration date.

    I commend CX on their hard product; and you would be hard pressed to find more routes in the region with an immaculately clean 1-2-1 configuration (a well designed reverse herringbone at that) in Business Class. Most of SQ’s regional flights are using the 2-2-2 set up with an interior that was beautifully designed but is now showing its age.

    For premium travelers (J, not F), CX’s central problems are catering and spiritless, mechanical service (no warmth or personal touches that make the experience memorable). I would argue CX ranks close to the bottom of major Asian airlines in these categories.

    Dine on Demand is a nice luxury, and I wish more airlines adapted it, but CX’s food in Business is woefully inadequate, particularly in region where competitors like BR, TG, SQ, and NH are making an effort – and largely succeeding – at putting out some fairly tasty cuisine.

    I also find it so strangely frustrating that they announce boarding, everyone lines up, they check passports, and then they have people stand there for another 10 minutes like bozos before actual boarding begins. Every time I promise myself I am going to just show up later and board after the lines subside, but I always end up in line. Haha, guess I have myself to blame for that one.

  17. I can’t wait for the buy on board !
    People always complain about how horrible the food taste anyways even if u give them a free meal
    Most of the time , people don’t like to eat plane food !
    I don’t mind bringing my own food if I pay less for my short haul flights

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