Remember the days of free peanuts and plenty of legroom were commonplace on airlines? While the economy way of traveling still lends itself to some improvements (nothing says cattle flights like seats reclining into your lap), some airlines are making improvements to premium cabins in hopes of luring travelers on long-haul flights.
Earlier this week, American Airlines announced its plans to beef up its first class cabin with quilted bed toppers, slippers and pajamas, as well as high-end toiletries in the typical shabby airplane lavatories. USA Today said "American is counting on the stepped-up luxury treatment to help it stand out in the fierce competition for premium passengers."
The competition is, indeed, fierce. As business travel picks up and more companies continue to create office space in profitable cities like Hong Kong, Beijing and Sydney, the need for more comfortable flying conditions presented itself. Take it from this traveler, who has flown to Asia four times in the past 12 months for business -- nothing is worse than disembarking an uncomfortable 15-20 hour flight and having to go straight into a boardroom to meet with colleagues. The only way to make these trips a success is to get rest, stay comfortable and arrive feeling refreshed. While more airlines are making an effort to bring the luxury lifestyle back into flying, Pack Up decided to check-in on a few airlines to see what travelers can expect if they decide to shell out the money for business or first-class cabins.
At the invitation of Cathay Pacific, I boarded one of their new Boeing 777 and settled into my business class seat for the 16 hour flight to Hong Kong, where I would meet with with designers and product managers to discuss the details of the new planes.
Cathay Pacific Airways ordered eight 777 Freighters from Boeing and four 777-300ER, an investment of about $3.3 billion, to carry travelers from the U.S. to Asia. As part of the new order, the airline also redesigned its business-class cabin in an effort to give travelers a more comfortable ride.
The new Business Class seat is a wing-back chair that cocoons passengers in their own private area, without completely surrounding them, making it easy to chat with travel companions while at the same time having the ability to induce privacy with the simple slide of a wall. The adjustable seat moves from sitting upright to a completely lie-flat position. What I found most enjoyable about the seat was its changing leg rest position, so you feel like you're almost in a recliner chair in your living room. And speaking of being in your living room...
The in-flight entertainment in the new business class cabin might be better than what you're getting from your local cable provider. There are approximately 100 free movies to watch, which range from new releases like "The Hangover 2" and "Paul" to old favorites like "Dirty Dozen" and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes". There's an entire kids library of movies that includes Disney favorites like "Cinderella" and Pixar's famous "Finding Nemo." The in-flight entertainment also has video games and a full music library that allows you to make your own playlist in flight (the perfect idea if you need some soothing sounds to lull you to sleep).
Forget about stuffing your luggage into the overhead bins. The new business class seats come with personalized storage units, including a shoe locker, a side storage locker (which also has a vanity mirror) for water, makeup and amenities cases, handbags, books and valuables. There is also a storage locker on the bottom of the seat that has a net and velcro strap, perfect for storing your laptop to ensure its safety. Briefcases can be stored under your foot rest, where you'll also find a down duvet cover and pillow.
I admit my favorite part of the business class cabin seat came in form of work space. A certified workaholic, even at 35,000-feet, one of my biggest frustrations on airlines is not having a tray table big enough to hold a laptop, and not having power outlets on the plane to charge up your batteries. The first thing I noticed when I sat down in my seat was the wall-display of power outlets, including US outlet ports. There's also an iPhone/iPod connector, a USB port for Blackberry devices, and the iPhone/iPod connector allows you to watch video from your device through the Personal TV.
The configuration of the new 777's is one seat on the window sides, and two seats in the middle. The two middle seats are great for companion travel, as they're angled toward each other and you can move your seat up to make chatting a bit easier. When you need a little privacy, you'll just slide your seat back, flip open the small storage door, which acts as a divider between you and your neighbor.
Cathay Pacific operates direct flights from New York to Hong Kong, making it an easy option for business travelers who need to get to the other side of the world and settled before walking into the boardroom.
The bottom line: flying is easier when you're more comfortable, whether it's a 2 hour or a 20 hour flight. The new business class cabin on Cathay's new 777's certainly up the comfort level, and you can't beat the views from your private window seat at 35,000-feet.
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