Cathay Pacific Cuts First Class On Many Short Flights

Filed Under: Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific is becoming the third airline in the past few months to scale back first class. Just a few months ago Korean Air announced that they’d cut first class on dozens of routes, while Asiana announced that they’d eliminate first class altogether.

So, what is Cathay Pacific changing?

The current state of Cathay Pacific’s first class

Cathay Pacific is an airline that has mostly remained pretty steady when it comes to their approach to first class. They’re not eliminating it, but also not growing its footprint.

Currently Cathay Pacific only has first class on select Boeing 777-300ERs. Last I checked, the airline has first class on 32 of their 777s, which is well over half of their 777 fleet.

Cathay Pacific’s 777 first class

They offer first class in premium markets, mostly on long haul routes, including to London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, etc.

Up until now the airline has selectively offered first class on routes within Asia:

  • They’ve pretty consistently offered first class to Tokyo Haneda and to Beijing
  • They’ve also selectively offered first class in other markets, including to Bangkok, Shanghai, Singapore, and Taipei

It has always been a real treat when you could find a route within Asia featuring first class, especially if booking as part of a long haul first class award.

Cathay Pacific eliminating first class on most short haul routes

As of this week, Cathay Pacific will no longer sell first class on any regional routes, with the exception of flights to Beijing and Tokyo Haneda.

For the most part Cathay Pacific isn’t actually changing around aircraft assignments. That’s to say that other regional routes will still feature planes with first class cabins. However, the airline simply won’t sell first class seats on those flights.

Rather select passengers (presumably elite members in their loyalty program) will be able to assign those seats at no additional cost when flying business class.

Service will be the same at all first & business class seats on these flights. Rather than having two first class flight attendants, they’ll have a total of seven flight attendants to serve the first and business class cabins.

What’s Cathay Pacific’s motivation for this change?

On the most basic level I suspect they’re cutting first class on most of these routes because the demand was limited. I imagine the cabin was largely full of people upgrading or on award tickets.

I’m sure if any of these other routes were consistently selling out first class cabins then they wouldn’t be cutting them.

There are a few other considerations, though:

  • Cathay Pacific sometimes has aircraft swaps on regional flights (if a long haul plane goes mechanical they’d rather take a plane from a regional flight than cancel a long haul flight), so this created a challenging situation when they had to downgrade first class passengers and pay compensation
  • The incremental catering and staffing costs probably just weren’t worth it
  • Aside from Tokyo Haneda and Beijing, the other routes don’t feature first class regularly enough for there to actually be consistent demand; it often wasn’t even a daily flight that featured first class, but often just a few flights per week

Bottom line

I don’t consider this to be a huge deal, and see why Cathay Pacific made this change. These routes mostly didn’t have a lot of first class demand, and on top of that there were often last minute swaps.

Now they’ll be able to instead exceed expectations by offering these first class seats to business class passengers.

I’d say the much bigger “premium” issue that Cathay Pacific has on short haul flights is their huge inconsistency. Some planes are operated with long haul planes, featuring fully flat beds with direct aisle access.

Cathay Pacific’s A350 business class

Meanwhile other routes are operated with regional planes, featuring regional seats that are quite uncomfortable.

Cathay Dragon’s A330 business class (same as Cathay Pacific’s)

The difference between these experiences is night and day. With Cathay Pacific it’s not like the US where premium markets have premium planes, but rather you’ll find aircraft assignments to largely be pretty random.

What do you make of Cathay Pacific’s decision to eliminate first class on most regional flights? 

  1. @ Joshua — We’re talking about premium travel here, and in that context I think it was a fair statement. Cathay Pacific operates tons of redeyes with regional planes, and those seats are some of the least comfortable premium seats out there, in my opinion.

  2. *cries in Shanghainese*
    TPE barely gets this treat every month, but with the amount of flights offered at PVG and SHA by CX and KA, it must warrant at least 10 first classs seats per day, right? right?

  3. Nothing more frustrating than when you get the last minute swap on CX connecting to an intra-Asia flight. Flying HKG-SIN in business next Friday – currently in lie flat and praying that does not change

  4. What will happen to the connecting first class fares on itineraries such as Singapore to London on Cathay Pacific, which used to be all-first previously?

    Will the fares be lowered since the Singapore – Hong Kong sector is now forced to be in second class?

  5. @The nice Paul – Given where business class is today, no one pays for first class (except for the uber rich like athletes and celebrities and some corporates). Airlines cannot afford to keep it for awards and upgrades. It will continue to have a slow death.

  6. It’s also about how they just swap things around that differentiate hugely I n experience and expectations. E.g. My upcoming CX flight equipment just got swapped from a 35k to a regional A330z. If they cared at all they would have at least assigned a long haul config 330, but then again what can you do…

  7. I booked a first ticket from HKG to Singapore a few days ago apart of a longer routing originating from JFK (but with other segments in business). I am flying to HKG on the 27th (on AA) and then Singapore on the 2nd (in CX first). Would my itenirary still stay the same or will I be downgraded on the HKG-SIN leg? Do I need to take any action at AA/CX (this was booked as an award from AA)?

  8. @ _ar

    Completely agree. Qatar is a fascinating case study: long haul 1st is confined to their handful of A380s, while their J product is better than many (most?) airlines’ 1st class. Each year they add more long haul planes to their fleet, but none with 1st class. Will 1st disappear from their long haul routes when they retire the A380s?

    Despite the hate on here, BA probably runs more 1st class routes than most other airlines. But even here, many new deliveries don’t features 1st cabins, and routes that used to have it (eg, LHR-EZE) no longer do. With a new Club Suite arriving next month, I’m intrigued to see what they then do with their imminent upgrade to 1st class.

  9. I took cx premium economy from pek to hkg last year. Even though it was PE,
    It is still better than domestic first class on aa or ua.

  10. CX brought this upon itself, i.e., death of short-haul First by a thousand cuts. Terrible menus almost identical to Business Class, no blankets or pillows (though I’m sure some will argue that the F seats have a built-in pillow), and the seats themselves are nothing to write home about.

  11. I found the regional seat to be extremely comfortable for lounging on a flight several hours in duration. Probably more comfortable than many lie flat seats. Overnight flights are another story, however.

  12. Maybe if CX charged more reasonable prices for their F product there would be more takers. Currently their rates are astronomical and uncompetitive. Do some searching if you doubt it.

  13. I think the regional J seats are awful, just poorly designed: the only position remotely comfortable is upright, with the reclined positions being not just uncomfortable, but also awkward in that they raise the body in a way which makes you feel exposed. Add very limited storage space, including a phone cradle which was sized for circa 2005 Nokias, and you can see why I actually prefer domestic US first-class seats (seriously!). Food is meh, but the service is where CX usually still shines.

  14. From my experience booking regional F with Cathay, there are indeed equipment swaps at the last minute, wherein your ticket is downgraded to J — often with cash compensation and refund of the fare / miles difference. No big deal when it happens but always a bit disappointing. I also find that F is rarely full (or even half full) on regional flights, wherein J is full.

    I find equipment swaps less likely (I never recall it happening) on SQ because most of their regional 777s with a first class product are not designed for long haul routes, and are outfitted with their regional J and F configuration (2-2-2 in J and 1-2-1 in F). Hopefully SQ does not follow suit, although I find it less likely given that they heavily market F for the brand halo effect (like Emirates and Etihad); and given their regional F product is still pretty popular.

  15. CX regional J seats are not “uncomfortable” at all for flights that are 4 hours. Try an “Oasis” American Airlines plane for 4 hours if you want “uncomfortable” (with a dose of bad food and wine and bad service).

  16. @CX Flyer

    Are you saying the first class seats are nothing to write home about? I’d have to disagree on that. They’re still comfortable and wonderful for lounging and sleeping in, and it’s nice to be able to have someone dine with you if you aren’t traveling alone. They may not be as cutting edge or as private as some of the newer seats offered by Singapore, Emirates, Etihad, etc, but they’re still a great seat to travel in.

  17. “Cathay Pacific sometimes has aircraft swaps on regional flights (if a long haul plane goes mechanical they’d rather take a plane from a regional flight than cancel a long haul flight), so this created a challenging situation when they had to downgrade first class passengers and pay compensation”

    I wonder how much compensation they actually paid out. I once had a longhaul AA award in CX F with a connection to BKK also in F where the BKK flight swapped to 2 class day of. They met me at the arrival gate in HKG and gave me $600 HKD in cash as compensation. That’s $77 USD right now. I thought that was pretty weak, but AA refunded the mileage difference between F and J for the whole itinerary (67.5k vs 55k IIRC) so I ended up happy. Without AA’s compensation I would have considered complaining for more. Their HKG-BKK F fares were certainly a lot more than $77 more expensive than J.

  18. Also, I’ve had a number of private cabins in CX F intra-asia to SIN/BKK/MNL, and one HND which I guess is still possible. That is something that will be missed, especially as beyond the better seat, it is a significant upgrade in passenger experience. I’ve never had fewer than four passengers on an ultralonghaul CX F flight.

  19. Dear Ben,

    thank you for the great site and the extensive coverage.

    I am convinced that an inconsistent product with a permanent downgrading of all First Class passengers on the regional “positioning” segments to the next hub is really a bad idea.

    Just thinkt of a passenger from London or Frankfurt travelling through Hong Kong to one of the larger destinations in Asia. He is willing to fork out a tremendous surcharge on Business fare. Regardless if this is a saver on the respective class or near to a corporate or full fare.

    Which is justified through the great hard product and personal space (1-1-1 on CX longhaul First compared with 2-2-2 on LH Business). Some websites enable you to calculate the value for money by stating the seat pitch and features.

    And *if* you have a lots of money to spend and an avgeek or interested in planes First Class has a fair price tag. And a feeling of space in the lounges.

    If you split this experience between the “full service part” on long haul and the short-haul downgrading it is also nearly a rip-off. The passenger pays a through fare but is robbed of the first or last segment of each journey.

    So I am convinced that it would be fairer to have first class on all short-haul planes, at least one row. It is also a turbo charger for the brand image.

    Additionally the IT and “miles and points” world of today have many instruments to offer upsellings for miles and/or cash if the normal first passengers don’t fill the seats.

    So the consequent strategy is to have first class on all routes and planes.

    Best regards


  20. @ Gerd
    “So the consequent strategy is to have first class on all routes and planes.”

    And yet *every* airline on the planet is going in the opposite direction.

    Do you think it’s possible that it is you who is wrong, rather than them?

  21. @The nice Paul – I feel over the next decade F will become a more niche product, serving strategic city pairs and some long haul routes – JFK-LON will always have F despite the shorter flight because they are big financial/business hubs. Similarly, FRA, HKG, SIN, TYO will all have long haul F to certain city pairs. But outside of that, I don’t see a big future for F.

  22. Gerd, the issue is high margin F passengers don’t fly from London through Hong Kong to get to Bangkok or Singapore, they book the direct flight on Singapore Airlines or Thai or BA instead. Connecting F flights are very much a niche past time for people with lots of time on their hands – the passengers CX really wants are the ones willing to drop vast sums of money for the direct F flight from HKG to JFK or LHR. This is why regional F has no future outside of a couple of routes where there are actually people willing to pay for cash F rather than filling the cabin with mileage redemptions, which is what seemed to happen on the likes of BKK and SIN previously.

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