Cathay Pacific was named, for a record 4th time, World’s Best Airline in the 2014 Skytrax Airline of the Year awards, and has for some time been one of my preferred airlines. As a result, I was very excited when in August 2015 The City Lane was invited to participate in a week-long media famil hosted by Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong Tourism Board and the Macau Government Tourist Office (I was ever so slightly more excited when Paul was unable to get the time off work and I got to go instead – sorry Paul). Prior to the famil we were provided with some suggested guidelines regarding the content which were very flexible and permitted us to customise the content to suit the interest of you, our readers, while promoting both the destinations and the sponsors of the trip.
Over the next 5 weeks we will be featuring a series of posts on The City Lane based on my experiences in Hong Kong and Macau. The first, this very post, is all about the check-in and in-flight Cathay Pacific experience.
Pre-Flight: Checking In
The Cathay Pacific experience begins right at airport check-in, where in an era where a number of airlines are moving towards automated check-in and luggage drop you are met with friendly, helpful staff (no matter which class you are flying). At Australian airports check-in for Cathay Pacific opens about 3.5 hours before departure so if you are hoping to get to the airport extra early in order to take advantage of lounge access you should time your arrival accordingly.
Priority check-in lanes are available for passengers in Premium Economy, Business and First Class (or if you have appropriate status on Cathay’s Marco Polo frequent flyer program), and for those who are fortunate enough to be able to check in via the First Class lane the staff at check-in will have already started to fill in your departure card for you. Cathay Pacific is a member of the oneworld alliance, so if you have sufficient status on a frequent flyer program of another oneworld airline (e.g. Qantas) then your priority boarding and lounge access privileges will apply when flying on Cathay Pacific.
Cathay Pacific have one of the more generous upgrade policies for elite frequent flyers, I have Platinum status on the Qantas Frequent Flyer program (equivalent to oneworld Emerald) and I would say that if I am flying Economy or Premium Economy I would get an upgrade at check-in or at the gate around half of the time. On this occasion I was booked on Premium Economy for my outbound flight to Hong Kong and was upgraded to Business Class – a great start to my week-long adventure.
The check-in process in Hong Kong is even more streamlined and efficient. Like many modern cities (and unlike Melbourne!), Hong Kong has an Airport Express train that runs from Central on Hong Kong Island to Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) in 24 minutes with trains leaving at 10 minute intervals from 6am to around 11:30pm. There is also a station in Kowloon for those staying on the other side of the harbour. Where Hong Kong gets one up on most other cities is that for selected airlines (including Cathay Pacific) you can in fact check into your flight and drop luggage at the station in the city and then take just your carry on baggage on the train. You can also check in up to 24 hours in advance of your flight providing added convenience if for example you have a night time flight but don’t want to lug your bags around with you all day. A round trip costs HKD$180 (about AUD$32) and I would definitely recommend this approach as it is both cheaper and more convenient than a taxi – there is also a complimentary shuttle bus that services most of the major hotels.
Once at the airport the usual Cathay Pacific standard of customer service was once again evident, and, as is common at an airline’s home port, this was enhanced by the presence of a dedicated First Class check-in area which made for a very fast and completely seamless transition entering the airport to lining up for security scanning.
There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to the Cathay Pacific lounge experience in both Melbourne and Hong Kong, so much in fact that it warrants its own dedicated article, which you can read here.
In-Flight – Comfort & Service
Having enjoyed my time in both lounges it was then time to get on board the flight itself. Cathay Pacific’s Business and Premium Economy classes are their flagship products – on this trip I was fortunate enough to get an upgrade on the outbound leg and ended up flying Business Class both ways but I have flown Premium Economy numerous times in the past so will provide comment on differences where relevant.
The Cathay Pacific Business Class cabin is set up in a 1-2-1 formation which creates a generous amount of personal space and the relatively small number of seats split into two distinct sections which helps to enhance the feeling of seclusion/privacy. The configuration in Premium Economy is 2-3-2 although there are actually fewer seats compared to Business Class so that you still feel a significant decrease in proximity to others compared to Economy Class.
All seats have a shielded headrest and the centre seats are angled towards each other which is a great innovation compared to business class fitouts on other airlines where the centre seats are parallel to each other – the Cathay set-up meant that I literally didn’t see my neighbour at all for the duration of the flight.
The seat itself acts like your own personal cabin within the main cabin with multiple areas where you can store personal items, a 15-inch flip-out screen for viewing the entertainment system and a footrest at the end which is a subtle but important feature which is sorely missing on other airlines as it ensures that when the seat is fully extended into a bed then the end has support rather than being left in mid-air which can result in an unwanted ‘dip’. Speaking of the bed, when fully extended it is completely flat and has a usable area measuring around 1.9m x 0.7m, which means that most people will be able to sleep comfortably in any position they wish and I certainly enjoyed a pleasant and lengthy snooze on my way back to Melbourne.
In-flight entertainment is delivered via the StudioCX system which offers a wide variety of on-demand movies, television shows and audio programs all of which rotate on a monthly basis to ensure that the content remains fresh and current. The range of programs available is on par with other airlines and covered all of the major genres and styles – I would expect that there would be more than enough content to keep any traveller fully occupied for the length of his/her flight.
Next to the seat is a small multi-function storage ‘cupboard’ that both holds the provided noise-cancelling headphones (which are great, although if you have them I’d still pack a pair of Bose QC25s) and acts as a privacy shield when the door is open. The provided connectivity is extensive with a dedicated power point in each seat, as well as a USB port, and iPod and AV connectors so you can watch your own videos through the entertainment system.
In Premium Economy the seat is somewhat smaller at around 95cm x 50cm and less privacy due to a more open seating arrangement, however in-seat power and USB connectivity is still available and the table is sufficiently large to fit a laptop so if you are flying during the day there is actually little difference relative to Business Class from a practical perspective – however, the longer seat that extends to a fully flat bed will make a huge difference to your sleep quality on overnight flights.
Putting all of these elements together meant that (as you can see above) I was able to comfortably spread out and have access to a laptop/iPad, paper notebook and phone all at the same time which meant that during the flight over to Hong Kong I was able to knock out four posts for The City Lane as well as watching three movies – probably my most productive flight ever! Overall the Cathay Pacific Business Class fitout is extremely well thought out and is probably the best business class cabin that I have experienced.
Service was (as expected) exemplary, from a hot towel and champagne or juice before takeoff, to a personalised welcome from the cabin manager after takeoff and then the very attentive and considerate approach taken by the cabin crew to ensuring that all passengers’ needs are fully met – as a good example whereas on some airlines you will be woken up at meal times whether you like it or not, once I had extended my bed and gone to sleep on the overnight flight back to Melbourne I was not approached by the crew until I had woken up just prior to breakfast service in the morning. Frequent flyers with elite status are particularly well cared for – as an example I was asked in advance of meal service what dish I would like for my main course to ensure that what I wanted had not run out before they reached me at the back of the Business Class cabin. It goes without saying that in Premium Economy (and also when I have flown in Economy) I experienced the same high level of service that applied in Business Class. Paul has also flown Cathay Pacific in Economy and Premium Economy this year and has commented several times about how much he enjoyed the in-flight experience.
Dining & Beverages
As is standard across most flights of this length Cathay Pacific serve two meals on the way to/from Hong Kong – in this case I had breakfast and lunch on the outbound day flight and supper (which I skipped) and breakfast on the overnight flight on the way back. The menu changes seasonally and typically offers a fixed array of starters, followed by a choice of main dish and an array of desserts which are brought around on a tray. It is often too easy to eat a lot of meals within a short time period when flying international, particularly if you have eaten in the lounge before takeoff so I think is a nice touch as it means that you have an option to eat a third course rather than feeling somewhat compelled to eat whatever is in front of you.
It is also possible to (with at least 24 hours notice) order a meal that suits an array of dietary requirements including vegetarian, low calorie and low fat/cholesterol. Should you become hungry in between meals there are also a range of snacks including noodles, cookies, fruit, soups and sandwiches.
The main dishes aim to cover a wide range of preferences, always including at least one signature Chinese dish such as congee or dim sum at breakfast time, and rice or noodle-based dishes for other meals, and also a variety of Western meals such as fish, beef and pasta. Consistent with the standard of the service the presentation of the meals was excellent – below is the first lunch course that I had on the way over which consistent of a mixed salad and wood roasted salmon with fennel and radish which was a nice, light way to start the meal.
I followed this with a grilled barramundi fillet which was served with a creamy sauce, baby spinach and kipfler potatoes – the flavours were all excellent and the fish was cooked well with firm flesh that wasn’t ‘crumbly’ which was particularly impressive given that the meal would have been fully prepared beforehand and then heated up in-flight – I had no problems at all cleaning my plate. Airline food has historically received a bad rap but the level of quality has definitely improved over time and Cathay Pacific are certainly at the forefront of this trend. I also took advantage of the wine list which was understandably short but strong in terms of quality and paired my meal with a nice savoury McLaren Vale Chardonnay.
For breakfast on the way home I decided to go a more traditional Chinese route and ordered the congee which came with a couple of barbecued pork pies. The congee was done with scallops, chicken and mushrooms and was excellent – just the right level of saltiness and a good concentration of ingredients. The barbecued pork pies were a little disappointing though, I felt that they were a little on the oily side and there was a bit too much pasty/not enough meat – an improvement may be to include steamed pork buns rather than the pastry-based pies.
The menu in Premium Economy is a hybrid of the Economy and Business Class menus. The main dishes are selected from a subset of the Business Class menu with the main difference being a slightly reduced entrée and dessert selection. I have always found the food in Premium Economy to be up to the standard that I would expect.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed flying Cathay Pacific to and from Hong Kong from the convenience and efficiency of the check-in process, to the luxury of the lounges and the comfort of the in-flight experience, all of which was accompanied by exemplary customer service throughout. The self-contained nature of the seats in Business Class is a step above most airlines and if I were flying Business Class again Cathay Pacific would be right at the top of my list of preferred airlines. I can also happily report that the experienced service and process is just as good if you fly Premium Economy or Economy instead of Business, but of course comfort levels and food offerings will vary accordingly.
Cathay Pacific Australia operates over 70 non-stop flights a week from Australia to Hong Kong, including four daily flights from Sydney, three flights a day from Melbourne, daily flights from Brisbane, 10 flights a week from Perth and four flights a week in both Cairns and Adelaide. The airline offers Business, Premium Economy and Economy on all flights aboard Airbus A330s and Boeing 333s (the latter from in Sydney only). Visit the Cathay Pacific website for current details of fares to Hong Kong.