Is Cathay's Premium Economy worth it?
Let's talk benefits first. What's touted on the website is Priority Check-in, Priority Boarding, plus better seats than in regular economy.
It's certainly true the seats are much more comfortable than in Economy - they're wider, with more legroom and greater reclining capability. And for many people, that would probably be enough to convince them that Premium Economy is for them, and certainly it was for the couple sitting behind me. My poor old back certainly appreciated it. And if you can score the front row of Premium Economy on an A330, you've got some serious leg room. I couldn't reach the bulkhead, but just pray you don't get the Mum with screaming baby in the bassinet! The noise cancelling headphones were a real plus too. (On a 747 there's a loo in the Premium Economy section, not so on an A330. That might be important to you!)
But there are plenty of buts. For starters, there's no Priority Baggage, which means that though you might get off the plane ahead of the pack, you could still be the last man/woman/family standing at the carousel, as I was at Heathrow. That certainly took the gloss off getting off ahead of the bunch. There's not much point in having Priority check-in and Priority Boarding without Priority Baggage as well. You're paying to avoid the luck of the draw.
But even Priority Boarding doesn't work, or didn't in my case in Hong Kong. When I saw there was no separate roped-off corridor I went to the service desk and asked about it, to be told that 'management' had decided that there would be no more Priority Boarding after May 1. I showed them the website, where it was clearly still being spruiked as a selling point. I received an apology, a complaints form to fill in, but no apparent acceptance that Priority Boarding was still on offer. I was given priority boarding as a special favour. No other Premium Economy passenger was accorded the same.
Trying to complain to Cathay is like confronting the bureaucracies of Communist East Germany, China and Whitehall all rolled into one. On top of that, their complaints web page is so poorly designed that it is impossible to use. The cynic in me says that's obviously deliberate. Of course you can only complain via the complaints website. Catch22.
Now with a bee firmly ensconced in my bonnet, I ended up sending emails to various Cathay Sales teams around the world. First of all I received the standard automated reply - always infuriatingly impersonal, and guaranteed to increase feelings of frustration. I was told I'd get a proper response within 20 business days - not much good as I was flying home in just 2 weeks.
But then I did get two personalised emails - though each basically denied that any such ruling about Priority Boarding existed at HK airport. It must have been my imagination then, or some face-saving on their part. Of course I also received the stock standard company line about the importance of customer service to the airline. Yeah, yeah, yeah. (At this point, I would upload the responses, if only I knew how.)
Having Priority Check-in was a waste of time on the return trip from Heathrow, as I was there so early it was just me and the check-in staff. But when it came to getting through the gate into the Departure Lounge, First and Business had their separate queue - not so Premium Economy customers. At this point you're probably saying, get over it, stop whingeing etc etc, but if you'd paid virtually double the economy fare, how would you feel? Did I want special treatment? Absolutely.
At Hong Kong, (and, by the way, if there's a more confusing and less passenger friendly airport in the world, then I haven't seen it, and I've seen a few - OK, maybe La Guardia and LAX), there ended up being just two queues to board: First and Business, plus those few of us in Premium Economy who by that stage were saying blow it! And a few Economy passengers also joined our lineup, as they were actually urged to do by the ground staff! Another total shambles, made worse by the fact that there was then yet another security check of our cabin baggage, virtually right at the entrance to the plane. That was certainly a new one on me!
The saving grace was that out of the 28 seats in Premium Economy, only 9 were taken, though that doesn't bode well for the future of the service to Adelaide.
Having booked 4 days before the flight, I paid $3270 for this emergency return trip to the UK. I could have gone Economy on Qantas for $2400, and got there 5 hours quicker ( because of the necessity to go through Melbourne with Cathay). But I'd long wanted to try Premium Economy. I also wanted to punish Qantas for giving up on flying overseas out of Adelaide, and this was the perfect opportunity.
I return to my original question - would I go Premium with Cathay again? To be honest, I don't know. Like the curate's egg, it was good in parts, but could be so much better, a) with Priority Baggage, and b) with a little more organisation and consistency in the ground. Neither of which should cost Cathay very much, and it would surely lead to happier passengers, including this one!