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Cathay's business class seating is longer than many others, and reasonably comfortable, albeit slightly claustrophobic.

They have large video monitors, but show a very poor quality picture.

 
 
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Cathay Pacific Business Class review

Part 3 : The Sleeper Seat and Inflight Entertainment System
 

This not very helpful promo image shows one of Cathay's new business class seats, in its lie-flat configuration.  But you need to imagine an airplane bulkhead at the rear of the seat to get a more accurate impression of the seat.

Part 3 of 4 parts on Cathay Pacific's Business class.  Please also visit :

1.  General info about Cathay and pre-boarding experience
2.  Boarding and the cabin
3.  The seat and entertainment system
4.  Food, drink, miscellaneous

 

 

Cathay's lie-flat business class seat extends to give you plenty of length when you are stretched out, but the high partitions on both sides make for a slightly cramped width and if you have claustrophobic tendencies you'd not enjoy the 'tunnel' experience you get.

A massive weakness in their business class is their appallingly poor quality video screens.

As long as you don't want to watch video on your potentially very long flight, Cathay's business class is an excellent option for you to consider.

This review is based on two business class flights with Cathay Pacific in November 2010, flying from San Francisco to Hong Kong and then from Hong Kong to Vancouver, both times on 747-400 planes.  I have also taken short-haul flights within Asia in coach class on Cathay Pacific.

The Seat/Bed

Seats are arranged in a herringbone fashion, and all seats are angled facing in to the middle of the aisle.  The good news part of this arrangement is that all seats are therefore aisle seats, and there is never a situation where you'll get 'trapped' in your seat and unable to easily get out and to a toilet.

The bad news part of this arrangement is that the windows were either behind us on one side, or blocked by the seating on the other side, and so there was no ability to look out the window during the flight.

Another dual good news/bad news issue was the privacy given to each seat.  The good news is that the seats were reasonably private, with the sides of each seat going up sufficiently high, and extending sufficiently far forward, as to mean that there were no sight-lines causing you to be staring directly at other passengers (or, in turn, being directly stared at).  But there are two drawbacks to this.

The first drawback is that if you're traveling with a spouse or companion, you will have no chance of interacting with them.  There is a squab at the far front of each seat which looks like it could be used not just for putting your feet up on, but also for a friend to sit on so you could talk, face to face, but apparently that is not what they are designed for, and they have signs on them telling you that they can't be used as a seat.

The second drawback is that the seating environment becomes a little bit claustrophobic.  You are sort of at the back of a small tunnel, with your personal space and field of view constrained by high walls running forward from the back of your seat on both sides.  This was not an extreme experience, but there was just a slight twinge of 'the walls crushing in on one' present.

The seat felt more narrow than it truly was.  It measured 21.5" at its narrowest part, which is average to good in terms of seat width, but perhaps because of the vertical 'walls' up both sides, and the inability to spill at all over the sides, the width ended up feeling more constraining than it truly was.

However, I was conscious of much of the time having either or both elbows or shoulders hard up again the walls of the seat partition.  This was not an issue when the seat was fully reclined, because the area at the top/head of the seat expanded out some, but when the seat was in a more upright state, it was a minor point of discomfort.

I didn't measure the seat's length, because it was happily plenty long enough to stretch out in when reclined into a horizontal sleeper bed (I am 6' 0" tall).  The seats might be 6'6" long, according to one source.  This is a good length for a business class sleeper bed seat, and better than many (eg BA with its diminutive 6'1" length).

Nice warm duvets (also sufficiently long) and comfortable pillows were provided to each seat.  The underlying firmness/comfort of the seat cushion seemed fine, too, and for sleeping purposes it was one of the better seats I've flown in.

Taking off and climbing was a slightly strange experience due to feeling the acceleration forces neither straight forward nor straight back, but rather on an angle.  This was not really a problem, just an unusual experience.

The seat belts had supplemental shoulder belts that we were required to wear at take-off and landing, and the lap belt part had a built in airbag, although it was hard to see how either the shoulder belt or the airbag would have been much help in an emergency, due to their respective positions and angles.

The seats were well lit, with three different lighting systems, all separately controlled.  There was a traditional overhead light, a goosenecked light, and also side lights on the partition walls.

In Flight Entertainment

Cathay Pacific is proud of its relatively new AVOD (Audio/Video On Demand) system that offers up to 100 movies, 350 TV programs, 888 CDs and 22 radio channels to passengers in all three cabin classes.

Video is displayed on a large monitor, measuring 8" x 13" (ie a 15" diagonal and a moderately widescreen aspect ratio).  But - and what a terrible 'but' this is.  The monitor had appalling brightness (or, more to the point, lack thereof) and very little contrast.  Much of the picture detail was lost in a murky blob of black - it looked like all the movie was shot in poor lighting in the dark of night.  There was no detail in the shadows at all, and overall, the picture quality was so incredibly bad as to make it a thankless and pleasureless task to watch their video programming.

This was not just one bad monitor, or one bad system on one plane.  It was common to all three seats, on both planes - and, yes, I did adjust the video brightness as best possible, and yes, I did ask the flight attendants if there was anything that could be done to improve the quality (they said no).  I also experimented with different lighting configurations at the seat in case that was a factor as well, but it did not seem to make any difference, with most lighting combinations resulting in some annoying reflection/glare on the screen, but watching in the dark is not the best situation and causes greater eye-strain.

One thought I had about the poor quality video was that maybe the screen has a very narrow optimum viewing angle.  It was not possible to tilt the screen up/down to align it directly in my line of vision, so maybe that might have contributed to the unacceptable picture quality.

But, whatever the reason, the bottom line is simply that the picture quality, on an apparently modern design of system, was completely unacceptable, and if you were hoping to spend your 14.5 hrs flying across the Pacific enjoying movies, you'd be terribly disappointed.

Cathay provide a generic and not very effective set of noise cancelling headphones for each passenger in business class.

Every business class seat has its own power socket.  These provide up to 100 watts of 110V power - sufficient for most (but not all) laptop power supplies, and have a multi-standard set of holes to fit plugs from most countries.

Unfortunately the seat power did not work at my seat for the return flight - it had a red status light rather than green, and no power came from it.  The crew couldn't resolve the problem, but were able to move me to my choice of several other open seats in the cabin.

An interesting feature is being able to visit Cathay's website and see what movies are scheduled, prior to taking your flight.  A good magazine with interesting movie write-ups was also available.

A very nasty 'feature' on the moving map display was it cycling not only through the various screens of different information about the flight, but also through screens of advertisements as well.  This is objectionable, and one has to wonder/fear just how much more aggressive the airlines will get at assailing us with advertising as part of their video programming.

Duty Free

Cathay have one of the most extensive duty free catalogs on their planes I've ever encountered - 165 full letter sized pages of product in total.  But prices were generally ridiculously high, although I did observe one lady buying what looked to be very expensive jewelry.

An interesting offer which was too late for me or most others to take advantage of is that you can get an across the board 10% discount off their expensive duty free prices if you order online 2 - 21 days prior to your flight.

There was one item which made sense to purchase, however.  If you plan to stay in Hong Kong, you'll probably choose to take the train from the airport to either the Kowloon or Hong Kong terminals, and Cathay sell discounted roundtrip tickets on board (HK$160 instead of HK$180).

You get a voucher that you then need to exchange for the actual ticket at the train station in the airport, but that is a simple procedure and saves you not only the US$3 in price, but also the hassle of having to work a ticket vending machine at the train station.

If you wish to pay by credit card, you'll be charged in Hong Kong dollars.  But if you wish to pay cash, you have the choice of US or HK currency.  The exchange rate, printed in the catalog, was about 7.62:1, which was close enough to the current/official exchange rate of about 7.75:1.

Part 3 of 4 parts on Cathay Pacific's Business class.  Please also visit :

1.  General info about Cathay and pre-boarding experience
2.  Boarding and the cabin
3.  The seat and entertainment system
4.  Food, drink, miscellaneous

FTC Mandatory Disclosure : I was not given a free or in any way discounted/upgraded ticket by Cathay Pacific (I used frequent flier miles from my Alaska Airlines account for this ticket). I have not been paid money to write this article.

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Originally published 25 Nov 2010, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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