Cathay Pacific's A350 comes to NZ, land of the big bottomed Y class passenger
Cathay Pacific’s A350 comes to NZ, land of the big bottomed Y class passenger

The contest between the inbuilt comfort levels of the Airbus A350 and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners was extended further last week when a Cathay Pacific A350-900 visited Auckland.

The aircraft will operate on the Auckland – Hong Kong route from now until December when it will be joined by a Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to provide a double daily Cathay Pacific service during the summer. Thanks to a codeshare agreement with Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific has been able to offer up to three flights between the two cities.

At this stage Cathay Pacific flies its 777s with the classic and relatively spacious nine across economy cabin which it has unfortunately decided to replace with the crammed tight seat 10 across format favoured by less benevolently disposed brands including Air NZ for its 777s.

And the A350, while not quite as wide in cross section as a 777, comes with a nine across economy seat that is not only generous in its spaciousness, but notably superior in that regard to the tight nine across format most Dreamliner operators, including Air New Zealand, fly in their Boeing 787s.

Which means that alliance partners notwithstanding, the economy cabin in a Cathay Pacific flight in either an A350 or a 777 is going to be roomier than its counterpart in an Air NZ 787-9 or 777.

For the time being. Those who fly with Air NZ also might have noticed that New Zealanders come mostly in large sizes, which adds an important element to making an informed choice between two very, very good high quality airlines on the long Auckland-Hong Kong route.

But consider this dilemma. If as it has often said, Cathay Pacific is to start making 777 economy cabins about as tolerable as being under an All Black scrum a few metres from the goal posts they are defending, then it will soon end up with a fleet of A350s that will be superior in economy long haul flights to its higher density 777s and future 777-Xs.

Cathay Pacific will very soon have regular flights to London with both 777-300ERs and the new tech A350-900s (and in time the larger A350-1000s) and from where most passengers sit, the Airbus will be far preferable to the Boeing when rated by seat size, as well as some other criteria.

That will cause ructions, if not a ruck, in the saleability of the respective different Cathay Pacific economy cabins.

The obvious resolution to the dilemma, if we attempt to think like cold hearted bean counters, is to render the A350s every bit as miserable as the 10 across 777s, and indeed even more miserable, by fitting them with 10 across Y class seats as well.

A ten across A350 cabin will be much worse than a nine across 787 cabin, or a ten across 777 product. It could result in seats so narrow it would make being inside a high density 737 look positively merciful. (We don’t know, to the last millimetre, how narrow that might be until we know just what the compromise between aisle widths and seat cushion widths will be.)

Cathay Pacific hasn’t as yet replied to a number of inquiries as to whether it will make all its economy class passengers suffer as much as those in a tight fit 787 regardless as to whether they are in the latest Boeing or Airbus design, or continue to run A350s that will always be more attractive in economy class, as they are now, than any tighter fit 777.

Meanwhile, enjoy if you can the ‘golden age’ of roomy A350s versus super efficient but passenger unfriendly higher density 777s and 787s. It mightn’t last all that long.

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