Cathay Pacific Downgrades Washington Route Just Weeks After Launch

Filed Under: Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific’s newest US gateway is Washington Dulles. The airline launched flights between Hong Kong and Washington Dulles as of September 15, 2018, and operates the route 4x weekly. Cathay Pacific has had a conservative growth strategy, so any new longhaul route is pretty exciting.

In this case the route was especially interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, this is Cathay Pacific’s longest nonstop route to date, at 8,153 miles. Second of all, this is also the first longhaul route on which Cathay Pacific is operating the A350-1000.

While the airline has been flying the A350-900 for a few years, the A350-1000 is a new aircraft for them, and Cathay Pacific is just the second airline to have that aircraft type (after Qatar Airways). So when Cathay Pacific launched the route they made a pretty big deal about it also being the first longhaul A350-1000 route for them.

I found that to be a curious move. On one hand, if you’re going to launch a new route, that’s a way to get more attention for it. At the same time, if you’re launching a new route (especially one with limited connecting traffic to a government market), you’d think you’d want to start with as small of a plane as possible.

So I guess this move doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but Cathay Pacific will be removing the A350-1000 from the Washington route between October 28, 2018, and March 30, 2019, and will instead replace it with an A350-900. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the aircraft downgrade extended beyond the winter.

Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class
The A350 that Cathay Pacific will use for the Dulles route starting next month

Meanwhile they’ll place the A350-1000 on one of their San Francisco to Hong Kong frequencies four times per week, which seems like a much more logical route for the plane, given what a huge market San Francisco is for the airline.

What does this mean for the passenger experience? Not a whole lot. Both planes have wifi and the same features that make the A350 special. The primary difference is the capacity, as the A350-1000 has:

  • Eight more business class seats (46 vs. 38)
  • Four more premium economy seats (32 vs. 28)
  • 42 more economy seats (256 vs. 214)

Cathay Pacific’s A350 business class cabin

Are you surprised to see Cathay Pacific downgrade their Washington Dulles route so quickly?

  1. “What does this mean for the passenger experience? Not a whole lot.”

    Wrong — Cathay Pacific’s A350-1000 economy seats are far, FAR superior than the A350-900 seats.

  2. Surprised CX is flying no First Class cabin to the US capital but suppose government clients can only book up to biz.

  3. @Alvin
    Yea, but note that Ben doesn’t fly longhaul economy 😉 so I’m not surprised if he didn’t know that

  4. @Alvin

    I am also curious as to why you say they are “far, FAR superior”

    Seatguru shows they both with 32 inch pitch, 18 inch width, and 6 inch recline. What are we missing?

  5. this route, and any route into DC not on a Star carrier, is not at ALL about connections behind Washington. It’s about serving the LARGE Washington, DC market, and providing service to Hong Kong and beyond. That market does exist.

  6. This is new worthy!? Did you know United downgraded FLL-SFO from a 737-900 to an 800. No one cares You are better than this !!!

  7. @Ryan – did United also launch FLL-SFO just a few weeks ago?….No? I rest my case.

    (Let us know if you need us to explain to you why this is newsworthy).

  8. @calmy @Tom @Lucky
    The double layer of padding, and much softer cushions, make the A35K Eocnomy class seat miles more confortable than the one on the A359, which is rock hard and uncomfortable. The difference is very noticatble, especially on long haul flights.

  9. @DavidB. That is correct.
    @Jason. One thing that’s confused me about the whole non Star Alliance airlines is why aren’t any OW airlines trying to codeshare for flights form DCA? Yes it’s a change of airport, but could give them another avenue to make sure these flights are full.
    @Ryan. The route launched less than a month ago. It’s IAD’s and CX’s longest route.

  10. @Nawaid, DCA is too heavily regulated. They can’t fly there. If you meant codeshares on AA out of DCA, there’s plenty with JAL, BA, etc.

  11. I flew the inaugural CX860. The meal service took 3 hours after take off, which was way too long. I’d rather have the old cart style dining. I’ll be flying this route again IAD-HKG in December. I am kinda glad they switched to a359 so I can reserve the mini cabin. Smaller cabin, less chaotic, and shorter lavatory wait. It looks like there are 4 lavatories shared between J and W cabin on a351. And 3 lavatories just for J cabin on a359. 🙂

  12. @Nawaid
    Most one world carriers at Dulles have load factors above 80% most of the year, so that’s pretty good. They dont need the connections. Also, American probably wouldnt give them the space for codeshares for DCA flights. AA makes more money flying local passengers going just to/ from DCA than on giving a discount to partner carriers to provide feed. Simply put, AA has no incentive to open space for connecting customers. And no paying customer is going to fly into DCA, collect luggage, and take the nearly 30 mile, $70 cab ride to Dulles tomake a connection. The DC are produces plenty of traffic for most carriers. More importantly, in generates a disprportionately large number of paid premium traffic (premium Y, business, First) and doesnt need as high load factors to make things work. I think CX is starting their flight too late in the season – it missed the summer rush and is going into the winter doldrums. Not surprised to see it’s not a stellar performer immediately.

  13. Not shocked at all. IAD is a dying hub it seems. Just look at the amount of traffic from 2010 and look at now; it seems like seeing planes fly in and out has halved frequency since. Anyone who lives in this area knows BWI is the cheapest, DCA is the fastest, and Dulles is just closest to home. I dont mind driving an hour to BWI to get $200 off a ticket price just like about 80% of the people here. United didnt even think that route would work with a 787 so not sure Cathay will survive even with the 359.

  14. The SFO market is much better than a IAD market. Living here in San Francisco, HKG to SFO is ideal. Just like HKG to/from ATL and HKG to/from DFW and MIA or Houston Interconterconternental will be not work.

  15. While Dulles might be a United hub, there are plenty of frequent fliers in the DC area who are loyal to AA because of DCA. Cathay is providing that demo with an attractive way of flying OO to Asia, which hadn’t existed. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cathay is betting to some extent on a sizeable market of DC business class travelers who generally fly domestic but have the occasial work trip to Asia, whether to Hong Kong or points beyond.

  16. IAD is the WORST US airport, hands down.
    When I lived in DC for six years, I avoided it like the plague – I’d fly out of DCA and connect in EWR, BOS, PHL, or ATL – heck, even DFW or ORD – rather than have to deal with getting out to IAD, subjecting myself to the disorganization (and oftentimes closed TSA Pre-Check lines), and going through the international arrivals process there. Even with Global Entry, one often still has to wait over an hour to get one’s bag and get through customs. It is just an unpleasant experience overall, coming or going, if you live in DC and fly internationally with any kind of regularity. Maybe if I lived nearer the airport I would take it more, but living in the city, it was not something I would do often.

    All this being said, now that I am based in SEAsia, it is nice to have another connection to the East Coast…I’ll be on CX860 in mid-December; having flown a CXA350-900 from HKG to BKK in J, I am not too worried about this swap – it was a very comfortable seat. Of course, 15 hours is a bit different than 2.5, but the champagne should help with that!

  17. I just flew this route at the end of September. I found the seats in business class to be extremely uncomfortable, very hard. Half the menu wasn’t available because the caterers forgot to load it and the lights turned on and off during most of the flight and the crew didn’t know how to fix them. It wasn’t fun being inside a pitch dark bathroom. I was really disappointed with the overall experience flying with them.

  18. I would hardly call IAD a “government market” That’s only one part of the mix of business. There are plenty of of other businesses located all over that area. For example Marriott, Hilton, and Choice hotels all have their headquarters offices nearby. There are lots of people living in the DC area who with substantial wealth unrelated to government. These folks travel far and wide on premium fares

  19. Wow IAD is a good market to try to have a ns to HKG but CX should have done more research first. The 359 is a good aircraft for that ROUTE just need MORE incentives to attract more pax to fill more seats. Way more people in DC need better air service to ASIA Better airline options since Korean is the only other Asian airline out of IAD.

  20. FYI, Cathay seems to have upgraded this route back up again to the A350-1000. I flew biz class from HKG to IAD on June 18, 2019 and we seemed to be one of the first trips to use this plane again since last Oct/Nov. Hopefully it will stick?

  21. It seems Cathay is also cutting back back frequency? I have been flying this route (connecting to BKK and MNL) frequently and had my 7April return moved (arbitrarily) back one day to the 6th. Reason given was “schedule change”. Also, Cathay can not compete with the lower fares on Air China, ANA and Korean on Asian routes. I love that Cathay started this route but I worry that it won’t have longevity.

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