Good Advice Tried and Tested

Cathay Pacific B777-300ER business class

23/11/2013

First impressions

This is the review of the return flight from Hong Kong to London Heathrow Terminal 3. To read the outward flight, click here.

I arrived at Hong Kong International Airport at 1300 for the 1505 departure on CX253. I had already checked in online the previous day (Cathay allows this up to 48 hours beforehand). I normally fly overnight back to the UK, setting off late at night and arriving (UK time) early next morning, but this day flight was the only one available – with a flight time of 12 hours and 30 minutes.  I took the Airport Express out to the airport and dropped my bags in Zone C of Terminal 1 at Chek Lap Kok where there was no queue, then went through security in a matter of minutes.

The lounge:

The gate was down on the boarding pass as 49 which is about as far as a gate can be from security and immigration. It did mean, however, I could visit the new Cathay lounge which opened at the airport only a few weeks before.

The new lounge, The Bridge, joins five other Cathay lounges such as The Wing, The Cabin, The Pier, G16 and The Arrival. (It is mentioned on the lounge invitation as well, in case anyone has missed the news reports). To see a full report on The Bridge from the editor of the Asia-Pacific Edition of Business Traveller, including full photography, click here.

The lounge is open to Marco Polo diamond, silver and gold members, as well as Oneworld emerald and sapphire members. You reach it by either taking the shuttle train, or walking to the end of the pier. You then see a sign overhead sign “The Bridge” while to the left on the upper level you can see the new Plaza Premium Lounge (click here for that news piece from our Asia Pacific edition).

An escalator takes you down from level six to level five, and you are at reception for the lounge. (There are normally several Cathay staff standing behind it in their distinctive red uniforms - this is a photograph from the opening a few weeks earlier.)

Cathay Pacific The Bridge lounge

To quote from Our Asia Pacific news piece

“The Bridge is a 2,567sqm lounge with a seating capacity for 364 and offers a residential design consisting of Japanese bronze, Italian copper, wood and warm-colour carpets. 

Designed by London-based architectural firm Foster + Partners, the space is separated into two wings, each extending from either side of the 14-metre Carrara marble reception counter set against a luminous wall made of Venetian glass tiles by Fabbian of Italy – a signature of the airline's lounges. The bamboo-shape shadow pattern adds to it an Asian touch.” (much more here).

I was very impressed by the lounge, which was a relief, because earlier in the year  (March 2013) I’d been unimpressded by the First Class area of The Wing which I felt was style above substance.

The Bridge doesn’t fall into that trap, though it’s got plenty of modern sculpture and tricky lighting. There’s still that strange backlighting on the food areas which looks impressive until you actually have to focus (more like squint) at the bowls of salad sitting on the luminescent marble effect, but that’s a minor quibble, this lounge is spacious and seems even more so during the day, as all of the seating areas look out onto the apron and towards air bridges and the aircraft.

Cathay Pacific The Bridge lounge

The lounge also has finally accepted that every single passenger wants to charge their devices, and shouldn’t have to rip up carpets or unplug lamps to do so, and there are sockets by most of the seats. Wifi is free, and there is both food, drink and seating whether you turn right on entering the lounge or turn left - the Bridge is separated into what is effectively two different lounges of similar size, though both are open to both business and first passengers.

If you like drinking or want a full meal, I’d go right (The North) since the Bakery restaurant seemed to have a slightly larger selection of food, and the Latest version of Cathay’s famous Long Bar had a great selection of drinks. 

Cathay Pacific The Bridge lounge

Again, these photos are from when it first opened - it's far more friendly with drinks and snacks on the bar - and passengers sitting at it.

I went to the left (The South) right to the end, and found a coffee bar where there cakes, biscuits and a full selection of freshly made tea and coffee, which was just what I wanted after a light snack of dim sum in the Bistro restaurant.

The service in the lounge was excellent (the lounge is managed by Plaza Premium, so congratulations to them for some really hard-working and friendly employees).

Flights are generally not called from the lounge, but some were called, perhaps because there was a change in the Gate.

At around 1430 I walked to Gate 49, which took around five minutes. Once there I joined the premium queue (the one on he left here, the one on the right headed off towards Gate 50 before curving back).

Hong Kong International Airport Gate 49

We boarded quickly after that. Once our boarding passes had been checked we had a choice of two air bridges, one for first and business and one for economy. Since there was  a queue on the premium bridge I ducked into the economy one, and cut ahead of many passengers, entering between the two business class cabins.

The seat:

This was the four-class B777-300ER (economy, premium economy, business and first) in contrast to the three class (economy, premium economy and business) aircraft I had flown out on a few days earlier. To see that seatplan, click here, and to read that outward review, click here

As can be seen from the seatplan, available here

The business class is in two cabins, a very small one of only two rows (11 and 12) and then the main cabin 15-26). I was in seat 26A

The seats are in A-D-G-K.

Cathay Pacific international business class

To see previous reviews, and detailed descriptions of Cathay flights, click here.

Note that although we give a brief description of the seat in subsequent reviews, to avoid repetition we try and focus on the service elements.

All seats are angled slightly, so window seats face a window. The middle seats (D-G) are angled inwards, but have been cleverly designed so you are not forced into making eye contact with your neighbour. I had sat in a centre seat on the way out, so to read about that, see the previous review.

The seat has a real sense of space to it, both in terms of how wide it is and also the general privacy and airiness of the design. Since the seat is angled sideways, there is a triangular bit of seat cushion to one side between the seat and the armrest. This armrest is lowered for take-off and landing, but is really a psychological thing since the seat is so wide would have to be very wide yourself to manage to rest your elbow on it.

Cathay Pacific international business class

The seat reclines to meet a footrest, and if you only partially recline the seat this brings it into reach of your feet for a comfortable reading position, or one from where you can watch the IFE screen, which pops out from the angled back of the seat in front.

All the controls for the seat and the IFE are in a convenient position to one side at shoulder height along with a reading light which has two levels of brightness, and the in-seat power (UK plug) and iPod usb jacks are here as well. There is a large storage space beneath where the table appears from – though this has to be left empty for take-off and landing, and the table itself is good and firm, and did not move at all as I typed on my laptop. It also slides out from the armrest and slides back in, so you don’t have to lift it up into a vertical position to put it away and can get out of the seat by only pushing it slightly to one side, a nice touch.

There is also a side table next to this where you can store a lot of things during the flight and even a small area which I to one side of the seat near the floor with a sliding door which are good for your shoes- I wouldn’t put anything else in there because it would be too easy to forget it.

Which seat to choose?

All of the seats here have the advantage of having direct aisle access. If you are travelling as a couple, then the centre seats are for you, if travelling alone, I’d go for the window seats (A or K). Some of these have two windows to look out of, some have one (row 25 for instance). I was in the very back row with the front row of premium economy immediately behind. This is where the bassinet will be situated if there is one, and there was a small child there for take off, but although I heard the odd yell I wasn’t really disturbed, especially with the very good headphones playing music from a playlist I devised from the hundreds of CDs

The flight:

At 1500 the Captain announced we were almost ready to go, that the flight time would be 12 hours and 35 minutes, and that although it would be good weather for the route, they often encountered strong jet streams as they passed over Northern China and Russia, and we should keep our seatbelts fastened. Shortly afterwards hot towels were offered, and this continued through into the premium economy cabin, I saw, and the drinks (champagne, water or orange juice) at 1510, before pushback.

We moved away from the stand at 1520 and took off and 1535, all the while enjoying the view on the large IFE screen from the camera behind the front wheel. We were then given our menus, and I was greeted by name, with a smile, which was reassuring, since on the flight out I’d thought the service was rather anonymous. The agnes b amenity bags were then distributed, which have an attractive striped pattern on the outside, and which come in male and female versions. The male one has Jurlique lip care balm, citrus hand cream and balancing day cream, along with eye mask, earplugs, show horn and tooth brush and toothpaste (Colgate).

Drinks being served by 1610 from the front and 1615 by the back of the cabin where I was sitting, with some almonds

Lunch menu

Starters

Hot smoked creole salmon with roasted kipfler potatoes and crème fraiche

Mixed salad

Main courses

  • Stir-fried beef with assorted mushrooms in oyster sauce, steamed jasmine rice and choy sum
  • Feta and spinach stuffed chicken breast, creamy polenta, asparagus and marinated capsicum
  • Chu chee curry prawns with steamed jasmine rice and mixed vegetables
  • Eggplant and garlic agnolotti with asparagus, sun-dried tomato and saffron cream sauce.

Cheese and dessert

Bleu d’Auvergne, Red Leicester, Taleggio with cabernet paste

Fresh seasonal fruit

Blueberry and raspberry tart

The starter was tasty, though it was cold so I suppose the “hot” must have referred to the preparation.

Cathay Pacific business class starter

I was impressed that despite being at the back of the cabin, the full choice was available (I had the prawn curry which was delicious), and that the moment I’d finished the main course, my tray was taken.

The wine list was the same as on the way out

Champagne Billecart-Salmon Brut Champagne.

White:

  • Saint-Veran Pierre Andre 2011
  • Spy Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Red:

  • Chateau Hanteillan Haut Medoc Cru Bourgeois 2010;
  • Murray Street White Label Barossa Shiraz 2008

 Also on the menu, and available during the flight...

Snacks:

  • Grilled Australian prime grain fed beef burger with Swiss cheese and pickled gherkin
  • Soya duck and preserved sweet vegetable in rice stick soup
  • Ice cream

I tried to sleep and dozed for a couple of hours, then worked pretty much throughout the whole flight, able to get up every so often to get regular cups of tea – which were always then brought down to me, probably for safety reasons since the cabin was kept in darkness for those still sleeping. I’ve flown longer day flights than this – the Cathay flight to New York, for instance, but without wanting to sleep for long so I could sleep when I got home, it certainly was a chance to catch up on work. 

I listened to music from the system and watched the flight map, though again the constant interruption of that information by adverts was irritating. When watching a film there are several minutes of adverts beforehand as well. I know it’s extra revenue for the airline, but there do seem to be a lot compared with other IFE systems I’ve experienced.

Before landing another meal was served, and thi time it was served from the back, so we got served first - a nice touch.

Dinner

Starter

Fresh seasonal fruit

Main courses:

  • Braised lamb with rosemary, parsnip puree, sautéed French beans and pumpkin
  • Tea smoked duck and Kwai Fa chicken with steamed jasmine rice and choy sum
  • Wild mushroom and ricotta cheese agnolotti with cherry tomato concasse

Dessert

Fruit gateau with passion fruit cream and raspberry coulis.

We made good progress n the final approach, and landed without more than one circuit at 2005. From there we quickly disembarked via airbrige into T3 where there was no queue at security. Our bags were on carousel 9 by the time we reached them.

Verdict:

Very good, and much better than on the way out, simply because the staff were much more friendly and very efficient. The seat, the space around it the IFE and laptop power also make it a good office for the day, which is effectively what it was (well, apart from an hour or two of dozing after lunch). After a lot of recent flying I found that I'd exhausted most of the IFE options, but the music choices were enough to keep me entertained.

Tom Otley

www.cathaypacific.com