Corporate Update: Cathay Pacific will not follow Singapore Airlines in offering lie flat product on all flights

The Cathay Pacific Group has opted not to follow rival Singapore Airlines (SIA) in upgrading its regional business class product to lie flat. Cathay Pacific risks losing some corporate customers as SIA becomes the first airline to offer lie flat in 100% of its fleet – narrowbody and widebody – although Cathay’s commitment to continue offering lie flat in all flights over five hours should be sufficient to satisfy most of them.


Highlights:

  • Cathay Pacific is not following Singapore Airlines in introducing lie flat all aisle access business class seats across its entire fleet;
  • Cathay Pacific will continue to operate widebody aircraft with its regional business class product while SIA transitions to lie flat on all regional widebody routes;
  • Cathay is also maintaining recliner seats in narrowbody aircraft operated by Cathay Dragon as A320ceos/A321ceos are replaced by A321neos while SIA opts for lie flat seats on its future 737 MAX fleet.

As The Blue Swan Daily and CAPA – Centre for Aviation has previously analysed, SIA is preparing to become the first major airline to offer exclusively lie flat seats with all aisle access in business class. This is expected to be achieved in 2023, when SIA should have completed replacing its widebody regional fleet and retrofitting 737 MAX 8s.

SEE RELATED REPORT: Corporate Update: Singapore Airlines to offer lie flat product on all flights by 2023

SEE RELATED REPORT: SilkAir halts capacity expansion ahead of lie-flat introduction in 2020

SEE RELATED REPORT: Singapore Airlines raises the stakes, commits to 100% lie flat fleet following SilkAir merger

SIA introduced a new regional widebody business class product, featuring lie flat seats with a 1x2x1 layout, in 2018. It currently has nine 787-10s and four regional A350-900s with these seats but still operates nearly 30 aircraft (A330-300s, 777-200s and 777-300s) with angled business class seats in 2x2x2 configuration. These aircraft will be phased out over the next few years as more 787-10s and regional A350-900s are delivered.

The Asian carrier is also taking the more unusual step of introducing lie flat seats on all narrowbody aircraft. In 2018, SIA announced a new lie flat business class seat for 737s and parallel plans to fold its SilkAir subsidiary into SIA. SilkAir now offers recliner style business class seats on all aircraft (A319s, A320s, 737-800s and its temporarily grounded 737 MAX 8s). SilkAir plans to start taking delivery of 737 MAX 8 with lie flat seats in 2020 while retrofitting existing 737 MAX 8s; its A319s, A320s and 737-800s will be phased out.

Corporate customers have long been critical of SIA’s regional widebody product as it is used to operate routes of up to eight hours. Overnight flights from South Asia and to Australia are particularly dreaded by some corporate customers as SIA has included these under the regional category. SilkAir also operates overnight flights in these markets, offering a product that many premium passengers deem inadequate.

Cathay Pacific has always had a different definition of regional which has been a competitive advantage. Cathay’s regional product is limited to flights of five hours or less; Sapporo-Hong Kong is the longest Cathay flight with a regional product. Unlike SIA, Cathay Pacific only uses its long-haul fleet, featuring lie flat seats with all aisle access and premium economy, for India and Australia.

Cathays’ decision to not match SIA in introducing lie flat on regional services is therefore somewhat understandable. However, Cathay still may be impacted as some premium travellers opt for SIA to ensure a 100% lie flat experience, particularly on regional connections to long haul flights.

Cathay Pacific has recliner style business class seats on its regional A330-300s, 777-200s and 777-300s. The A330s have a 2x2x2 layout while the 777s have a 2x3x2 layout; Cathay Pacific also has long haul A330-300s and 777-300ERs, offering a full lie flat product in a 1x2x1 layout.

Regional subsidiary Cathay Dragon has recliner style business class seats on the A330 and A320/A321 narrowbody fleet. Cathay Dragon is replacing A320ceos and A321ceos with A321neos from 2020 but has opted for recliner style business class seats on the A321neo rather than follow SilkAir with a narrowbody lie flat product.

However, Cathay Dragon is not planning to start operating any narrowbody route of more than four hours. The group it is not acquiring A321neoLRs and its A321neos are only intended for short haul regional sectors. While most corporates will find this acceptable their employees may prefer to fly with SIA.