Add Cathay Pacific to the list of airlines offering a premium economy cabin. The first planes to have premium seats will fly the New York-Vancouver-Hong Kong route, starting in April; the line will add the option to flights from Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco as it receives reconfigured airplanes. Although Cathay hasn't released seat maps yet, the initial information indicates it will be a real premium economy service, with up to eight inches more legroom than economy, substantially wider seats, and upgraded cabin service.
That could be good news for transpacific flyers. Spending up to 18 hours in a tiny economy class seat, in my view, amounts to a violation of the Constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. That punishment is bad enough in conventional economy seats, but Cathay's newly installed economy seating is drawing lots of flak from those who have actually endured it. So much flak, in fact, that Cathay says it will re-reconfigure its economy cabins back to something more civilized.
Cathay's round-trip premium economy fare from New York to Hong Kong for a June trip is $2,731, compared with $1,470 in regular economy and $7,861in business class. Premium economy is almost double regular economy, which is a bit more of a spread than on some other lines. On EVA, for example, regular economy round-trips from Los Angeles to Taipei are $1,426 and premium economy is $1,956 for a more reasonable spread of about 37 percent.
Cathay's premium economy prices may be a bit high by competitive standards, but premium economy's relief from cattle-car crowding in regular economy is especially welcome on very long flights. If the price is still too stiff for you, you can try "Economy Plus" on United, which is much less comfortable but also costs a lot less.