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Surprise! Cathay Pacific cancels Kuala Lumpur then hands over to Cathay Dragon

What?

Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur is what is perceived to be an important intra-ASEAN route – one between two supposed oneworld hubs. Yet Cathay Pacific has just taken the bold (some might say…well other adjectives) move to cancel the route altogether for CX mainline and transfer the route to their leisure subsidiary Cathay Dragon. While Malaysia Airlines only operate the route twice daily on their 737NG aircraft, Cathay has a large presence in the market with 4 daily flights (most serving as feeders for CX’s long haul market to Western Europe and North America). Most of them are operated by long haul configured A330s while the occasional regional bird makes an operational swap in – this will now be the new norm with Cathay Dragon as their entire fleet is fitted with CX’s premium economy like regional business class seat.

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While technically the airline intends to keep the same frequency between KL and HK, on top of the confirmed downgrade in hard product, we now have the possibility of some A321s or A320s plying the route since KA have a large fleet of this type while CX remains an all widebody airline. Another move that might be in the offing is an increase in frequencies so theoretically more choice for the passenger – but on a smaller plane i.e. the A320. At least from what I understand most of the A320 fleet have now also received the new interiors and are kitted out with IFE from nose to tail. So there’s that, at least.

Its really intriguing to me that two cities on the scale and relevance of Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur can’t sustain any sort of respectable service, but yields must really have been trash for CX to make such a move. I mean MH has two daily 737s on the route – that’s a sign in itself but I would have assumed an airline of Cathay’s caliber was making it work. Apparently not –  its clear as day that the only reason they did this was to lower the bottom line and operate the flight with Cathay Dragon costs (KA crew alone are much cheaper) albeit charge Cathay Pacific prices.

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For oneworld customers this doesn’t mean much in that you can earn full mileage on KA flights (can you hear me Singapore Airlines and Silk Air??) on any oneworld partner airline, nor does it matter much on interlining because I believe KA and CX share the same interline agreements with other airlines. So if you’re on an AA ticket from Dallas or New York to Kuala Lumpur, you’re life stays the same.

Where it does matter however, is on CX partner airlines. For example as it stands, I can fly Seattle-LAX-HK-KL on an Alaska Airlines ticket and earn full miles due to the airlines’ partnership agreement – however that only covers CX metal and not KA metal, so that last sector is moot for me from a mileage perspective.

This applies to all Cathay Pacific partner airlines:

  • Aer Lingus
  • Air Berlin
  • Air China
  • Air New Zeland
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Bangkok Airways
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • Gulf Air
  • Jet Airways
  • Royal Brunei
  • S7 Airlines

While not necessarily earth shattering, its not ideal either. But as I said earlier; the economics of this flight must have been way off for CX to make such a move and is a pretty damning indictment of the KUL market and the environment MH is having to survive in from their home base.

This is a route I don’t intend on flying any time soon – I’ll hop over to SIN on an SQ A350 from KUL and board that SQ A380 to HKG, thanks very much!

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