Route: Sydney to Hong Kong
Carrier: Cathay Pacific
Seat:16A. This aircraft is set up in the old long haul version (the new aircraft configuration has just been launched this year). At first glance when walking down the aisle the herringbone business class seats appear to look like cattle runs and may look small and off putting. Once you get settled into the seat they are actually a lot more comfortable and spacious than they appear from the aisle, providing both comfort and privacy. This flight was an early morning departure, so the bed wasn’t really needed (I wasn’t tired so didn’t get back to sleep) but it was great to be able to stretch out and lounge while watching some movies and eating all the meals. The only real gripe is that the airbag in the seat belt makes it hard to have the seat belt firmly fastened while lying on your side. This wasn’t too much of an issue and I didn’t really feel like sleeping anyway, but might be annoying if you like to sleep on your side. If you were slightly wider at the waist, you might find it a tighter squeeze (and after all the food you are served it may be a squeeze getting out). The aisle access is great as there is no-one between you and the bathroom should you need it. As you face into the aisle its pretty uncomfortable to look out the window, especially during take off and landing where it all just feels a little strange.
Aircraft:Airbus A330-300 (B-LAC). This version of the A330 has the old long haul business class seats and the shell seats in the economy section and will over the next few years be overhauled with the new Business product. The teal green interiors look a little dated but other than that its a pretty clean looking aircraft. The 1-1-1 layout in Business is great as it means every seat has access to the aisle, and makes service much easier for the crew. On this flight the Business cabin was full yet the economy cabin was almost empty (I had to do the walk down the back to see what it was like for everyone else). I think Cathay have 3 flights a day Sydney to Hong Kong, and it looks as if many economy passengers didn’t want the early wake up call.
Terminal:Checking in was a simple affair at 6am with no queue in the business lane. We were provided with invitations to both the Qantas Business lounge in Sydney and the lounge at Hong Kong for our transfer. The express cards didn’t really speed up security as there were more people at the express lane than the regular lane (only 3 of 13 security check points open at this hour). The duty free store ‘maze’ as some call it wasn’t too hard to navigate, and is hardly the hindrance that I’ve read about and it wasn’t to long before we were eating breakfast in the Qantas International Business Lounge.
Departure:A few minutes before the scheduled boarding time the board read ‘go to gate’ so we left the lounge and wandered down to the end of one of Sydney airports concourses. On arrival at the gate the Cathay Pacific attendant advised that boarding would be delayed until about 730am (around departure time). He suggested we go back to the lounge, although as there was barely anyone in the gate area we waited at the gate for boarding to commence which gave me some time to take some photos of the waiting United and Japan Airlines aircraft. We boarded shortly afterwards and given the very light loads the doors were closed and we were taxiing towards botany bay in no time. Taking off to the west was really smooth despite some strong winds forecast. It remained smooth until the first meal service commenced and then for the remainder of the flight the seat belt sign was on more than off as we bounced over northern Australia, Indonesia and around the Philippines. The YouTube video below is taken of the take off roll and climb over Sydney, which provides a good view of the Sydney Kingsford Smith International Terminal.
IFE: Cathay’s IFE in business class consists of what looks like about a 15″ monitor that folds out from the seat wall and pretty much also acts as a privacy divider between you and the aisle. There is a great selection of new and older movies, TV shows, games and CD’s available that will pass the time easily. Complete in each seat is a pair of noise canceling headsets that block out the background engine hum. Although I found the looping flight moving map a little frustrating and out dated, the time to destination on the controller is a great feature as it means you can are how far there is to go without exiting from the show you are watching. If music is more your thing you can create a playlist from the selection of CD’s. Unlike other carriers like Qantas, this system seems to remember your selections throughout the flight so if you have a good playlist set up you don’t have to keep looking for it. It would be great if you could create a tv show playlist too as with the current setup you have to select every show once at a time which is frustrating if you are wanting to watch a whole series. Unfortunately the tv screen doesn’t tilt down so if you have the seat in fully flat bed mode it’s a little glary.
Meal: Being an early morning departure out of Sydney the first round of food service was naturally breakfast with starters of juice (apple or orange), strawberry and banana smoothie, plated fruit, yoghurt and a selection of cereals. Now for me that “starter” would have been enough food for breakfast and probably 3 times what I’d normally have anyway but as the name suggests that was just the starter for a long flight of eating. The main course had the following options: Leek and Camembert frittata with chicken sausage, roasted chat potatoes and cherry tomato ragout or, French toast with cinnamon butter, ricotta with orange and raisins, blueberry compote or, Congee with shredded port and preserved Szechuen vegetables. Given I didn’t really understand what the third one was, and am not a fan of French toast, I went for option 1, the Frittata. If you don’t understand what the menu items are (or are uncivilised like me) then never fear, when serving the crew present you with all the options so you can actually see them before you make your final selection – a great idea! Finally there was a bread basket with various rolls and croissants.
The frittata was delicious and the chicken sausage when covered in the ragout was really nice (never really sure about chickens being sausaged – but was good). The main meal was interrupted by turbulence (thus the juice and tea spilt in the photo above) but none the less the crew only took their seats when they really needed to and thus the meal wasn’t that delayed. After a few hours to digest that mammoth breakfast, it was time for the lunch service which started with a glass of Champagne Deutz, Brut Classic (I don’t know if that’s a good one or not, but it was tasty for this connoisseur) and some warm mixed nuts. The starter for lunch was Iberico ham with smoked paprika marinated chick peas, roasted peppers and bocconcini and a mixed salad with sesame soy dressing – in other words – deliciously yummy!
If you thought that was enough food for a 9 hour flight, you are very mistaken, and although by this stage I was full and ready to pop, I leaped straight into the Cheese (Cobram Cheddar, South Cape Blue, Tasmanian Heritage Washed Rind) and Fruit selections and finally the Chocolate mousse tart. Once the box of pralines came around I had to call it quits as I could literally not eat another mouthful of food. I finished off the desert courses with the signature cocktail – cloud nine which is a mixture of vodka, cointreau and Sprite before reclining a little to let the awesome mean digest as we approached Hong Kong for landing.
Crew:The crew were amazingly attentive and really looked after me from boarding until we departed the plane in Hong Kong. During the first round the crew had a passenger manifest to address me by name, however after that round they seemed to just remember for each subsequent meal course. We were also each individually welcomed by the cabin manager after the menus were distributed. Hot towels were provided before and after each meal to freshen up and the response time to the call button was outstanding, each time arriving with a smile – Not that I pressed it much, although after turbulence spilt my tea and more importantly, champagne, a quick clean up was in order. Although the flight was constantly interrupted by turbulence that seemed to coincide with every meal service, the crew remained on the game and ensured everyone got their meals and freshened those spilt drinks. The cabin manager came and apologised for the inconvenience of the turbulence, describing it as an unexpected free roller coaster ride which was pretty funny. I always say that the crew can make or break a flight – today’s they helped to make.
Overall:The service and food provided were amazing and can’t be faulted. My only other experience with international business has been with Qantas on a 747 and the Cathay service really put Qantas to shame. I feel this review really became a food review as the amount of food provided was amazing for 9 hours (I would rarely eat that much food in a standard day at work). The seat and IFE were good, although the drawbacks being the airbag in the seat belt (although if we ran off the runway I’m sure I’d soon appreciate that) and the IFE being turned on just after take off and off when coming in on approach rather than being gate to gate. Overall an excellent flight – hopefully the first of many.