I love writing about long-haul premium economy. Mostly because the judgement comes down to one straightforward question: does the product feel like economy with a bit of extra, or more like business class lite? Seats in the first category do enough to take the pain out of the coach class space crunch. Which, to be fair, is what premium economy was designed to do. But seats in that second category delight in their own right, enough that you might even go out of your way to fly them.

We put Cathay Pacific’s long-haul premium economy to that test over the course of two flights on their Airbus A350 subfleet. Those planes are capable of handling some seriously lengthy routes. In our case, between a flight from New York to Hong Kong and then a connection on to Sydney, we spent over 25 hours onboard.

What did we think after all that time putting the seat and service to the test? Read on to find out. Plus we have plenty of video, including a nose-cam and tail-cam treat at the end.

Cathay’s premium economy experience started differentiating itself as soon as we got to the airport, thanks to a dedicated check-in line.

At JFK Cathay operates out of Terminal 8, which hosts American Airlines and its oneworld partners.

The terminal has a lineup of American Airlines logos from past to present. Do you have a favorite?

We spent a while walking around taking in views of the ramp. In the background of the picture below you can see the Cathay Pacific A350-1000 operating our flight.

Here’s a view up close.

Meet the seat

Cathay Pacific was excited to start receiving A350-1000 deliveries back in 2018, and the airline is clearly still enthusiastic about the plane. There are some specific design features that expand the -1000’s capability beyond what the airline’s A350-900s can handle.

Credit: Cathay Pacific and Bay Leung

Cathay has some 777-9s on order too but they won’t be joining the fleet for a year or two.

The premium economy cabin has space for 32 passengers, in the form of four rows of seats 2-4-2-across. On the A350-900 premium economy passengers have to walk back to the bathrooms in economy. But on the -1000 the cabin has it’s own dedicated lav.

There’s one fewer passenger per row here than in regular economy, and that additional space is divided up among the remaining eight seats. It’s enough to allow for noticeably more elbow room, with wider armrests in between the seats.

The A350-1000 only started joining the fleet five years ago, and so the cabin finishes still look fresh.

These seats boast a 12-inch screen, a couple inches larger than the screens on the 777 fleet. The seat back also has a tablet stand, coat hook, and large literature pocket.

The crew came around with welcome drinks in real glassware – a Business Class Lite touch.

On pushback we got a look at some of the American Airlines fleet.

Check out our video below for highlights from taxi and takeoff, including a look down Concorde’s favorite runway (31L/13R), a view of JFK from above, a panorama of the Manhattan skyline, and a few minutes of skimming the tops of the clouds on our way to cruise altitude.

Time to dine

After takeoff the crew started with a round of drinks before the lunch service got started. It all tasted great and the real dishware was a plus, though the paper cups and simplicity of the food itself felt closer to regular economy.

The cabin lighting set a cozy mood for the middle of the flight.

It was probably a coincidence, but the ceiling colors here matched what was going on outside.

Passing the time

In addition to those big, bright, high-res screens I mentioned earlier, every premium economy passenger got a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. The inflight entertainment library had plenty of options to pass the time with.

Next to the seat was a remote control (though the screen was also a touchscreen) and a few buttons to control the different parts of the seat.

And that brings me to the single best part of Cathay’s long-haul premium economy seat: the recline. This seat goes noticeably further back than most other airlines’ premium economy seats do, an advertised nine inches compared with the 6-8 inch average on most other airlines. For some additional sleep comfort there’s a leg rest and footrest that swing up from below.

I envy the people who can get a full night’s sleep sitting mostly upright. I’m not one of them. But this was enough recline for me to sleep comfortably and uninterrupted for half of a 14-hour flight. I woke up feeling great. The A350’s quiet cabin and the stability of being right over the wing box helped too.

This picture is from the website but gives you an idea what we mean. Picture credit: Cathay Pacific

To be fair, recline like this is a double-edged sword. If the person in front of you reclines all the way, it eats a lot into your personal space. Personally I’m happy to accept the tradeoff since you can always recline your own seat to reclaim the space you lost.

The amenity kit came with a toothbrush and toothpaste, sleep mask, and pair of socks.

While I loved the seat overall, there were a few hiccups. One of the USB outlets didn’t work and the tablet rest below the screen (a cool idea) didn’t work either — surprising for seats on a relatively new plane.

Midway through the flight there was a second meal service.

There was more of the entree to start but hungry me dug in before snapping a photo, oops

There’s also a dine-on-demand menu for in between the main meal services. Cup noodles really hit the spot towards the end of a long flight.

I was excited to try a can of Betsy, Cathay’s custom-brewed beer. It’s designed to taste its best at 35,000 feet, and named to honor the first plane — a Douglas DC-3s — in its fleet.

Wrapping up the flight

On the way back down to ground level we got some beautiful views of the mountains by Hong Kong International Airport. Cathay’s A350s come with both nose and tail cams, and we put both to good use during the approach and landing:

The verdict

It’s a long flight between New York and Hong Kong, but the time honestly did fly by in Cathay’s A350 premium economy. The service earned some Business Class Lite points, with real ceramic dishware and sparkling wine with real glassware during boarding. The food itself was a bit closer to economy class quality but still tasted great, with bonus points for Betsy. The entertainment system was excellent, with a solid library delivered on an impressively large screen. And the sleep experience was amazing, about as good as recliner seats can get.

The routing from New York to Sydney via Hong Kong involved 25 flight hours. I had the option of other shorter itineraries, but in the end going the extra distance to fly Cathay’s premium economy felt totally worth it.

And recently Cathay unveiled its next-gen premium economy seat soon to arrive on its 777-300ER fleet, so there’s more to look forward to.

Image Credit: Cathay Pacific

Have you flown Cathay Pacific’s long-haul premium economy before? If so we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

SENIOR CORRESPONDENT - NEW YORK, NY. Manu is an avid air traveler, private pilot, and a dedicated AvGeek. He enjoys writing about aviation from a millennial's perspective, and co-manages AirlineReporter's social media and video projects. His day job is as a doctor in NYC.

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