Cathay Pacific Airways was an early adopter of real Premium Economy. And even if they didn’t invent it, Cathay gained a rep—well-deserved, in my opinion—for perfecting the cabin and the experience, establishing a standard of comfort and excellence for all other airlines to emulate. I loved Cathay’s PE when I first flew it in 2015.

However, a recent round trip JFK to Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific’s Premium Economy cabin did not live up to that lofty first flying delight. Compared to those initial PE flights on Cathay, service has declined, and the seats and other cabin elements are feeling a bit weary and worn.

On the plus side, we had the pleasure of getting to know four different cabin crews, since Cathay 889/888 crews change at Vancouver in both directions.  Flight attendants on all four legs were universally warm, happy, and cheerful in PE and in coach. They served excellent Deutz California Champagne as we boarded—much appreciated!

But overall they were noticeably less attentive than on my first PE flights on Cathay.  After efficient meal and beverage services, flight attendants disappeared for long stretches, coming by only occasionally with water and snacks. I went back to the mid-plane galley in coach behind the PE cabin many times looking for FAs to provide water, bananas, and so on.  They were always there, very friendly and tending to economy passengers’ needs.

This happened consistently on all four flight legs.  It made flying in Premium Economy feel a great deal less classy and differentiated than in 2015, again as if Cathay no longer was committed to it.

Other small but noticeable issues accumulated:

  • On the plane to Hong Kong from New York, the port side lav in economy was broken and out of service. The simple door locking mechanism was not repaired in Vancouver despite a 2.5 hour layover.
  • Food on all four flights was predictably mediocre, but I didn’t expect much, so I was not that disappointed. Still, my memory of the first flights in Cathay’s PE cabin was enjoying better cuisine than on the recent flights.
  • For instance, the chili prawns for dinner were tasteless, like cardboard. I remember eating the bread roll and butter so that my stomach would stop growling.
  • Another example: Breakfast of dim sum was boring but edible on the return flight. I had the omelet going to Hong Kong and wouldn’t do that again. It was greasy and too cheesy. (The existential question: Why are airline meals always so awful?)
  • The entire IFE was tired and felt out of date. Limited number of movies, too. Complaining about both the small number of movies and the poor quality of the IFE feels like the joke Woody Allen told at the beginning of the opening monologue in his movie, Annie Hall.
  • Touch screens on the IFEs on all flights were worn out and resisted reaction no matter how hard they were pressed.
  • No soap dispenser in PE lavatory on the HKG/JFK flight legs, not even after I pointed that out to the cabin crew. Jeez, they had 19 hours to replace it!
  • Poor sound clarity (muddy) on CX-provided headphones, especially compared to my Bose headphones. Again, felt old and decrepit.
  • PE cabin was too hot there and back. This persisted despite my twice asking crew to cool it down on both the outbound and return flights.  Perhaps cocooning the small PE cabin between the tightly-cordoned, huge Business Class compartment and the tightly-curtained, large Economy Class section challenges temperature equalization.  If so, I don’t recall Premium Economy feeling like a sauna in 2015.
  • PE seats going over had leg rests and two buttons on arm rest to operate. But returning, the 777 had old single button type with no leg rests, thus nothing to support our legs for 19 hours. Cabin crew explained that Cathay was slowly installing the leg rests in PE cabins.

Leaving the aircraft (“deplaning”), the Cathay cabin crews at both ends engaged in the stylized Kabuki ritual of thanking us for our business and hoping to see us again. And the crews were swell, all right: all cheer and bright young smiles.

In summary, however, Premium Economy service wasn’t what it was in 2015 going to Hong Kong and flying back from Bangkok. They were all over us on those flights, and the mood in PE was elegant.  Somehow they made is feel special.

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Nearly empty Business Class on CX888 YVR/JFK, yet we never saw any of the 14 cabin crew after supper.

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Nearly empty Premium Economy on CX888 YVR/JFK, yet we never saw any of the 14 flight attendants again after a quick supper service.

By contrast, I keep thinking back to the shortest of our recent four Cathay flight legs, which was five hours between Vancouver and JFK, a leg that was almost empty in Business and very thin in both Premium Economy and Coach (see photos of business and premium economy above). Fourteen flight attendants boarded in Vancouver for that handful of passengers.

Fourteen!  That’s a lot of in-flight folks. That big cabin crew was eager, energetic, and attentive right through the supper right after takeoff and then disappeared entirely for the rest of the five hours to JFK.  It was like a graveyard in the PE cabin after the meal.

Overall, based on these recent flights, Cathay Pacific service in Premium Economy feels substandard compared to its previous level of excellence..

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