Passengers on some Cathay Pacific Airways flights will face narrower economy class seats from as early as this month as Hong Kong’s biggest carrier squeezes in more people to boost profits.
The redesigned seats on Boeing 777 aircraft will feature bigger TV screens and in-flight Wi-fi will be installed on the planes.
The carrier will add an extra row of seats to its 777s to create a 10-abreast cabin. Around six planes will have the extra seats before the end of the summer while refitting of its fleet of 65 Boeing 777s will be completed by the end of next year.
“This new configuration enables us to increase capacity offered to our passengers at this critical time when Hong Kong International Airport remains slot constrained,” an internal Cathay document said.
“The new seats feature the latest ergonomic designs and brings us up to the standard of premium carriers in the industry.”
New seats will include 11.6-inch entertainment screens and more movie and TV content, storage for smartphones and tablets plus plug sockets, with USB charging also provided.
Existing seats and armrests will be narrowed slightly and space reclaimed from both aisles to enable the denser layout. The seats are thinner but more padded for comfort.
Compared with some rivals, the airline will still be able to claim it has the widest seats in economy class, at 17.2 inches, down from 18.1 inches, and 32 inches of legroom.
Cathay Pacific is in the midst of a business restructuring as competitors lure away customers. The airline lost HK$1.25 billion last year, worse than the HK$575 million loss recorded in 2016.
Cost controls including job cuts and an improving cargo business have shown some signs that the airline could return to profit in 2018, boosted by increasing revenue on flights by adding additional seats at minimal cost.
“Raising seat density will help reduce Cathay Pacific’s unit cost and enable the airline to boost the number of passengers it can carry with the same number of aircraft and moderate incremental operating costs,” Corrine Png of transport research firm Crucial Perspective said.
“By the time this retrofit programme is completed, we estimate that Cathay could potentially boost its annual profit by HK$700 million.”
Around a dozen 777s, being maintained in Xiamen, will be fitted with an average of 10 per cent more seats in economy class this year, moving to a 3-4-3 seat layout from 3-3-3.
More than 30 planes are set to have the work carried out by April next year with all 65 planes carrying more economy class seats rolled out by the end of 2019.
Most premium airlines flying Boeing 777s have flown with denser economy cabins for some time including Emirates, Qatar Airways and Air France.
The loss of one inch of seat width would “not significantly affect” passenger comfort, Png said.
For long-haul flights, Cathay’s 777 planes have business, premium economy and economy cabins but some also include first class seating. Planes without first class will be the first to fly with more economy class seats and will be able to carry 368 passengers. Planes with first class, seating 294 passengers, will get new seats from late July. For Boeing 777s flying only in Asia, 40 extra economy seats will be added to fit up to 438 travellers from late May.
Cathay Pacific flies with 129 passenger planes mainly to long-haul destinations. Sister airline Cathay Dragon operates mainly in Asia with a fleet of 47 aircraft.