It’s been just one week since Cathay Pacific introduced a new-look Economy Class cabin on it’s Boeing 777 aircraft – and flight attendants at the airline have not reacted well to the change. Instead of the traditional 3-3-3 seating configuration, Cathay has decided to cram more passengers into the existing cabin with a 3-4-3 layout. The move comes as the Hong Kong-based airline works to turn its fortunes around after a series of financial setbacks.
Not that Cathay Pacific is alone in adopting the 3-4-3 layout. If you’ve flown on a Boeing 777 with a Middle East airline like Emirates or Etihad Airways, then you’ve already experienced this configuration. In fact, Cathay is just one of a small number of full-service airlines that haven’t already refitted with this denser seat layout.
But by this summer, the airline hopes to have retrofitted six of it’s Boeing 777’s with the new look Economy cabin. By the first quarter of 2019, more than 48 of its long-range 777-300ER’s should be retrofitted, along with 17 of the carrier’s regional 777-300 fleet.
The new layout will see a near 10% increase of Economy Class seats on its three-class jet – up from 268 seats to 296 seats. The seat width is set to shrink by about 1 inch to 17.2 inches – something the airline claims passengers shouldn’t really notice. Cathay does, however, point out that passengers will still benefit from 32-inches of pitch and a much-improved in-flight entertainment system.
Flight attendants who have worked on the aircraft in its first week in operation, though, are more concerned about what they see as a decline in service they can offer passengers. The Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union says the changes are being managed with the exact same number of crew onboard – leading to higher workloads and slower service delivery.
“With an increase of the aircraft capacity to carry more passengers inflight, this simply means an increased Crew-to-Pax ratio and a longer time for service,” a post on the union’s official Facebook page reads.
“Not only a greater burden on workload of Crew Members is anticipated, but more, it would be on the passenger side that they might have to wait longer until a Crew Member can attend to them in the service delivery.”
According to initial reports, delivering the main meal service is proving the trickiest task at the moment. The union has also raised concerns about insufficient space for passenger luggage in the overhead bins.
“We have to emphasise that manpower is always our priority concern. Cabin Crew are not robots and it is merely non-sense to come with the “Can-Do” spirit on such a difficulty in real operations.”
“Most importantly, we value each of our passengers, and the quality of service shall not be compromised with any deficiency originated from the design of the aircraft.”
The union is calling on flight attendants to make their voice heard and raise any concerns they have. And while there’s no chance of Cathay realistically backtracking on its retrofit programme, it looks like flight attendants could benefit from an increase in the crew complement.
One of the few remaining airlines to still have a 3-3-3 Economy configuration, British Airways recently retrofitted six of its Boeing 777 fleet based at Gatwick Airport – where it’s going head-to-head with long-haul low-cost competitor, Norwegian. The airline is expected to retrofit its much larger Heathrow-based fleet in the next few years.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.