Cathay Pacific is currently celebrating its first A350-1000 arrival in Toulouse, and just a couple of days ago they had a big delivery ceremony where they talked about a few different enhancements to their current inflight product. The first was an incredible new economy seat that seemed to be much better padded than its A350-900 counterpart, which would be rolled out onto the A330s as well (the 777s will continue to be retrofitted with the seat that is currently flying on their 3-4-3 aircraft).
One of the other things Cathay Pacific talked about was their meal service, which is something that I’ve long had beef with in regards to Cathay Pacific’s soft product (no pun intended).
I’ve spent a majority of my past longhauls on Cathay Pacific with very friendly crews, though it’s no secret that their meal service rollout can feel robotic, as everyone is served by a trolley. A select few passengers like the fact that they can eye all of the main dishes on offer and select their favourite, though a majority of people find the process impersonal and long-winded.
In 2017 Cathay Pacific trialled dine-on-demand, which they thought would help revamp this flawed meal service model. However, they quickly realised they were severely understaffed for this compared to airlines like Qatar Airways. For example, Cathay Pacific staffs a 40-seat business class cabin with four crewmembers on their 777s, whereas Qatar Airways staffs a 22-seat business class cabin with five crewmembers on their 787s. They later scrapped this idea early this year.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Business Class
How did Cathay Pacific revamp their meal service?
Last March I was sent a Cathay Pacific Insights survey asking about the Cathay Pacific business class experience, with one of the survey sections specifically tackling the Cathay Pacific business class meal service. The information from Insights members was processed and brought to Ed Higgs, who is the General Manager of Inflight Service Delivery for Cathay Pacific. Higgs said (the below catalogue of items is part of a list of items of which we were supposed to rank our top five priorities):
The change comes in response to feedback from our customers. They told us they wanted to see an improvement in food quality, better presentation, more choice and more personalisation of service.
I don’t remember exactly what I said in the survey, nor do I remember the options. However, while an improvement in food quality is always great, I specifically remember skipping over that after having a think about it. The thing is that Cathay Pacific’s food quality is above average for business class. I’ve flown on a range of business class products, and even Qatar Airways can’t get their beef perfectly cooked at times. Over the past two years every protein I’ve had on Cathay Pacific has been perfectly cooked, which isn’t exactly what you’re expecting when an airline is mass-catering for ~40 business class passengers. I remember a specific flight a few years back where this wasn’t the case, though it’s impressive how consistently well done and flavourful Cathay Pacific’s main courses can be.
Fork-tender shortrib in Cathay Pacific business class
However, if there’s one thing that’s also consistent about Cathay’s business class product, it’s that their main courses are plated horribly. They’re always served in a porcelain-style dish that allows as much creative freedom as airlines otherwise would have in economy. It’s about the same size, and it’s an incredibly confined space for the food to make any sort of an impact. That’s not the end of the world, but it gives people the impression that Cathay Pacific’s food is subpar, when it’s not.
Cathay Pacific’s new meal service will:
- be plated in galleys and will be taken to passengers individually (gone are the trolleys)
- Higgs says that “the focus will be more on the interactions cabin crew have with customers during the service and the memorable experiences that come from those” – that’s very vague and sounds corporate, though his team’s correctly identified that their biggest flaw lies in their plating, so I’m willing to see what he means by this through the new service execution
- there will be basic guidelines for plating but crew will be allowed to exercise their creativity on how the dish looks, as focus is still on efficiency; training for this includes racing against a one-minute timer to plate three main courses
On which flights will we see this new service?
Here is the rollout order for this new business class service, with Cathay Pacific rolling the service out to all mid- and longhaul routes by June 2019:
- July 2018 — Chicago
- August 2018 — London Gatwick
- September 2018 — Frankfurt, Manchester, Washington Dulles
- October 2018 — Amsterdam, Paris, Johannesburg
- November 2018 — Madrid, Brussels, Barcelona
- December 2018 — London Heathrow
- January 2019 — Boston, Newark
- February 2019 — Auckland, Sydney, Dublin, Milan, Rome
- March 2019 — Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tel Aviv
- April 2019 — New York JFK, Vancouver, Toronto
- May 2019 — Cairns, Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide (the rest of Australia, effectively)
- June 2019 — Dubai, Bahrain, Malé, Zurich
I’m glad to see that Cathay Pacific has correctly identified their main weakness, and are coming up with different ways to combat their understaffing. Since the airline isn’t in the best financial situation, it’s great to see that they’re not being try-hard and trying to relive dine-on-demand, but instead are taking a different approach to this.
I’m still skeptical to see where crew on future flights will find the extra time to plate these main courses and serve them individually, though there are other airlines that can make this work.