Date: 30 December 2001
Scheduled Departure Time: 0900
I know those of you who've read my other trip reports probably think Cathay Pacific is the only airline I travel, but I promise that my next trip report won't be on Cathay.
Anyway, this flight is into HKG, rather than ex-HKG, so there are a few different details. I hope you won't get too bored.
Cathay Pacific operate check-in from island A at Sydney Airport, with clearly marked one-line queuing for first, business and economy class passengers, as well as a designated Internet check-in collection counter and a service desk.
There was nobody in the First Class queue and the business and economy lines were fairly quiet also.
The agent processed the necessary documentation quickly and gave me my boarding pass with seat 1K. When I gave my preferred seat at reservation I was under the impression this flight was going to be operated by a 747-400 and the check-in agent did not mention any aircraft change.
Knowing the poor catering available in the Qantas Club lounge, I headed off to the food court to partake of a hot breakfast at one of the restaurants. Today's departure gate was 36, visible from the food court, and I was rather surprised to see an A330 in Cathay colours nose into the gate shortly after seven.
I headed back to check-in island A where all was still pretty much quiet and sought out a CX agent at the service desk. I was very impressed when she addressed me by name and asked me what she could do for me even before I spoke! I mentioned the aircraft change and asked if I could change my seat as 1K is right behind the toilet door and is very disruptive on the Airbus.
Apparently the other 6 passengers in First hadn't checked in yet and I was switched easily to 2A. My boarding pass was reprinted and I headed off to departures. Cathay Pacific had not yet come to an agreement with Qantas for sharing its fast track lane at this time and I had to wait in a long queue with my completed departure card.
Security screening is uneventful, with all bar one of the four checkpoints open.
After expanding and renovating the international terminal for the Olympics, Sydney has transformed what used to be a dreary, small airport into a bright, well-lit facility with adequate space. They have been extremely innovative, cramming gates in wherever possible and replacing the previous stairs to the gate with fixed link ramps (split level at Sydney for arrivals and departures). However, because the ramps had to be squashed into existing spaces, they are all different which does make for a bit of geometrical asymmetry, but nevertheless makes Sydney Airport very unique.
The Qantas Club has recently been shifted to somewhere else in Sydney Airport as part of an upgrade by Qantas of facilities but at the time the Club was still situated opposite gate 24. Business class down one level, first class on departures level, but with one reception. Escalators take business class passengers down.
My lounge invitation was collected and I was directed to the left for the First Class lounge. This is a very small, long room with a TV, two computers and a fax machine. Ceiling-to-floor glass windows stretch the length of one wall, offering a view over gates 31, 33, 35, part of the domestic terminal and one runway. Wooden blinds are deployed however, but I pulled one of them up and seated myself next to the window.
Pickings on offer were slim, with a few muffins, spreads, biscuits and pastries spread gloomily on a sideboard. Drinks were a little better - the usual beverages. The toilets were spacious and clean.
At eight thirty a call came from reception that CX110 had commenced boarding at gate 36. Gathering up my things, I headed out of the lounge and over to gate 36, which is right at the end of the other wing of the Y shaped terminal, where the bottom of the Y is where you emerge after security.
The colour scheme for 36 on the wall is green. An Air Canada 767-300 is at 34 (orangey yellow) operating a Qantas service to Christchurch. Gate 37 is blue.
A small sign on the counter invites First, Business, Marco Polo Club and Oneworld premium passengers to bypass the line and board immediately. An agent is on hand to direct such passengers past the checkpoint.
I surrender my boarding pass and it is chopped off by the machine, cutting off the first letter of my last name, and the stub is handed back to me.
Gates 36 and 37 share one fixed link ramp, with departures for 37 sloping down on the left and departures for 36 sloping down on the right. In the centre is arrivals for both 36 and 37 sloping down from the aircraft level to Arrivals.
At the end of the ramp, passengers turn right for 36, and then left again onto the aerobridge.
Both senior pursers are on hand to greet passengers as they board and I had her my boarding pass. She escorts me immediately to my seat and discreetly disappears.
The First Class Purser appears a few moments later, offers to take my coat, and asks me if I would like a drink. Music is being piped over cabin speakers for boarding.
The A330-300 first class cabin is configured in two rows 1-2-1. A picture is placed on the centre bulkhead (same type of picture as in the 747 cabin) - HLP's is some sort of vague cloud and mountain scene. On the wall behind 2D/G (centre seats) is the CX brushwing and a nice touch is the Christmas wreath hung above it.
The seats are exactly the same as on the 747-400 except there is no personal video player; rather this is built into the StudioCX entertainment system. The handset is also slightly different, with a retractable cord rather than the telephone-type cord on the 747. The handset doubles as a phone, but I don't think this was working. Bulkhead mounted telephones are available.
I believe there was also an Empower connection port for laptop computers.
The major difference between the Airbus First Class cabin on Cathay and the 747-400 is the creation of two black locker storage spaces running both sides of the aircraft in the First class cabin. I found out later this is where the duvets are stored, as there is simply no other space. It was a bit cumbersome, as the flight purser often had to step in front of the PTV to access the locker, and she kept apologising every time she had to do this! (which was only twice!!!)
Anyway, the First Class Purser returned with my orange juice and a silver-coloured coaster, along with a tissue napkin. Her name was Mary Ann, and a quick guess on my part suggested she originated from the Philippines.
The Senior Purser in this cabin today was Me Anne, and I also guessed she was from the Philippines. Now that Cathay have taken out the country of origin from the flight attendants' nametags, I have to rely on my own deductive wit and sometimes the flight purser's introduction of himself/herself to find out where they are from!
At the time, Sydney had been plagued by smoke and haze from nearby bush fires, and visibility was smoky and poor.
Me Anne came by again after the trickle of passengers had lessened with a silver drawstring bag containing slippers and eyeshades, an amenity kit with Erno Lazlo creams and lotions, and a sleepsuit.
Prior to takeoff, a hot towel service ran.
Passengers are offered three sizes of slippers and sleepsuits (small, medium, large). In the side pocket, next to the safety card, is a booklet about the first class seat, with a comprehensively labelled diagram showing what each part of the seat does. I studied it with interest as I learnt a few new things - such as the side armrest which can be pushed down so passengers can get out even when their tray table is deployed, the PTV mounted on a retractable arm and a small storage compartment located under the armrest on my window side. At the back, a list of channels on Studio CX are given as well as instructions on how to use the remote to browse the menus on the PTV, select choices, stop, fast forward, pause, play, rewind etc. This booklet was printed in both English and Chinese.
Also in the side pocket was a plastic, sealed package with a perforated rip-off top containing a copy of the inflight magazine Discovery, the inflight shopping guide, a UNICEF change for good envelope and an airsick bag.
Pushback was more or less on time and we were soon rumbling our way towards an active runway for take off. The captain remarked on the poor visibility and introduced the first officer (Buckett) and routing and flight times. The safety video was shown, piped in to our individual screens.
B-HLP lifted off from Sydney into a cloud of haze at 9.17 am, bound for a 8 hour 52 minute flight to Hong Kong.
After the aircraft passed through 10,000 feet and the obligatory ding-ding sounded through the seatbelt sign, the crew began their duties. Inflight Service Manager Sally Wong (Malaysian Chinese) came by and introduced herself, said that the inflight entertainment would be starting soon, and if there were any problems to contact her. She was very friendly and addressed me by name, and I was pleased to note that there was no manifest in her hand!
I settled in for the long-haul journey, reclining my seat back slightly and bringing up the legrest to a comfortable position.
Me Anne came by with the menus shortly after. My menu cover had a nice photograph of crayfish and noodles (very elegantly presented) on a white background. Inside, the menu is mostly white with a few strategic splashes of dark red here and there to brighten it up (I know I make it sound something very arty and contemporary e.g. egg thrown on canvas but it's actually very neat and presentable).
The introduction on the inside cover:
With expert input from our chefs, we have done our utmost to create this menu for you, using the very best of products in season and calling on a broad palette of cooking styles from all over the world. Cathay Pacific is delighted to have you on board and hopes that you enjoy your meal as much as we have enjoyed creating it for you. Bon appetit!
And on the facing page:
Welcome aboard Cathay Pacific's First Class.
We are delighted to offer you a variety of tasty and nutritional dishes and a fine selection of wines and beverages to complement your meal.
Our flight attendants look forward to making your flight as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.
Tucked inside the menu is a little insert advertising Cathay's new service to Sapporo, and on the back, a small calligraphic picture of a Christmas tree with 'Season's greetings from everyone at Cathay Pacific'.
Fresh Orange Juice, Fresh Apple Juice or Banana Health Drink
Fresh Seasonal Fruit
Natural, Fruit or Low Fat Fruit flavoured
Muesli, Special Kelloggs or Rice Bubbles
Eggs - Freshly Scrambled, Boiled or Fried
Tomato and Leek Quiche
Stir-fried Noodles with Glutinous Rice in Lotus Leaf
Poached Egg Benedict
Grilled Breakfast Steak and Chicken Sausage, Rosti Potatoes, Button Mushrooms and Grilled Tomato
FROM THE BAKERY
Croissant, Muffin, Loaf and Roll
Served with Preserves, Honey and Butter
TEA AND COFFEE
Decaffeinated coffee and artificial sweetener are available on request.
Mary Ann came by to take orders for breakfast as well as drinks. I requested a replenishment of my orange juice and selected the fruit, sunny side up eggs, and a croissant.
She noted this all down dutifully, thanked me and moved on to the next passenger.
About 15 - 20 minutes later, Me Anne wheeled a cart through the cabin to begin laying the tables. The large burnished wood tray table was deployed and laid with a crisp linen tablecloth. Then followed a crystal glass which she filled with Mount Franklin water, my orange juice, a sterling silver knife, a plastic knife for my eggs and another plastic knife for butter, along with a bread plate. Salt and pepper shakers in egg-shaped ceramic shakers, a linen napkin, toothpick and dental floss, and two pats of butter in a shallow dish.
The fruit arrived later and consisted of grapes, blueberries, a strawberry, melon, kiwifruit, orange, apple and pineapple. The orange was very sour.
Me Anne collected up the fruit dish along with my fork, and I was impressed to note that when my eggs arrived, another fork arrived along with it.
The eggs were perfect little circle shapes as the crew cook them on a skillet inside a high ring-type object (like a circular cookie cutter), presumably to stop the eggs spilling off the skillet. Accompanying the eggs were, tongue-in-cheek surprisingly, the accompaniments in the menu.
The eggs were very nice, piping hot, as was the steak, sausages and potatoes. My croissant arrived in a linen-lined little basket along with a selection of marmalade, honey and jam which were placed on my tray table.
Again, the croissant was piping hot and flaky and very nice, especially with the strawberry jam.
The bread basket was offered again and this time I chose what looked like a soft roll. Me Anne encouraged me to take more bread but I refused politely, explaining I was very full from the delicious breakfast. The roll had some sort of sweet bean paste in the middle, which I'm not very fond of so I nibbled around the edges and washed it down with my water.
Mary Ann came to clear up on her next cabin round (either crew member will check to see if passengers require anything about every 5 - 10 minutes) and I was soon tidied up and ready to sample the Studio CX entertainment system.
The first screen is a menu offering Cinema on Demand, Audio on Demand, Interactive, Screen Suspension, Airshow and Screen Off.
Using the remote is fairly easy and I navigate my way through to Cinema on Demand, which offers me another sub-menu with First Run Movies, Classics, Laughter, Chinese Movies, Documentaries… an exhaustive list.
Selecting First Run Movies takes me to a list of about twelve or fifteen movies… Rush Hour 2 topping the list and I decided to while away the time watching Jackie Chan make a fool of himself.
The movie starts and I fish out the noise-cancelling headsets in the armrest (already plugged in so no need to fiddle with the cord), note the stickers on each earmuff which reads 'Sterilised', put them on, adjust the volume and watch the 10.4 inch screen.
About ten minutes into the movie, the screen conked out (only mine, nobody else's) so I pushed the attendant call button. Mary Ann materialised from the galley and I told her the problem, she fiddled with the buttons for a while before going to find the Inflight Service Manager. Sally came to address the problem, went back to business class to muck around with the main control system and returned to find my screen back up and running.
I went through the whole cycle of navigating the menus and fast-forwarded through the opening. The only drawback to Studio CX is its fussy control system. It's not a case of just pressing one button on the remote that fast-forwards (like a VCR remote). Instead, by pressing a button, a side menu slides onto the screen with Fast Forward, Play, Pause and Rewind options. You have to cycle through these on the screen and hit enter.
I had just settled back into the movie when Mary Ann appeared and asked if I would like a duvet. Pausing the movie to answer her, the movie remained paused as she stepped in front of the PTV to get the duvets out of the side lockers, apologising as she did so. The lockers apparently require some sort of intricate balancing act between pulling two latches at once (presumably to stop curious passengers from investigating the locker's contents) but Mary Ann managed it in the end and fished out two duvets wrapped in plastic.
Ripping off the plastic, she placed the duvet over my knees, smiled, and unfolded the second duvet to place over the passenger next to me (across the aisle, 2D) who had been snoozing from takeoff. He had a light blanket provided by the crew earlier in the flight but Mary Ann proceeded to put the duvet over the blanket.
Other passengers in the cabin got their duvets as well, with Me Anne pitching in to help on the right hand side of the cabin.
About three hours into the flight, B-HLP struck a bit of turbulence. The captain's switching on of the seat belt sign was immediately followed by an announcement by crew in English and Cantonese asking passengers to return to their seats. Both video and audio systems were automatically paused for the announcement.
After enduring the rest of the movie, I got up to use the washroom. First Class passengers have a choice of two bathrooms on the A330 - one located in front of 1K and one located behind the cockpit (opposite the flight crew rest bunks between the galley and cockpit). Strictly speaking, the washroom behind the cockpit is for crew use only, but if the other toilet is occupied, crew will generally direct you to the cockpit washroom.
Mary Ann and Me Anne were having their own breakfast in the galley, chatting to each other in their own language (Filipino?) but they still smiled at me as I slipped through the galley over to the washroom.
The bathroom is stocked with the usual lotions and potions - Erno Lazlo, keeping with the amenities kit. A spray can of Evian mist is provided, as are paper napkins, face flannelettes, paper cups, airsick bags, toothbrushes and even a pack of disposable razors for men. A single flower is placed in a vase over the mirror, and collapsible coat hooks are on the back of the door.
Returning to my seat, I find that Mary Ann is in the process of distributing bottles of Evian water from a Cathay Pacific bag and has placed one on the side locker while I was gone.
Navigating the menus again, I snapped off the screen. Just before wiping itself blank, the screen helpfully informed me that if I wished to activate it again, I only needed to hit any button on my remote.
I slipped on the sleepsuit top, reclined my seat to the flat position and settled in for a quick nap. The pillow provided is a decent size and comfort, and the duvet is very warm to snuggle under.
During intermittent flashes of consciousness, I was aware of the lights having been dimmed and the window shades drawn. I was woken with the repeated dinging of the seat belt sign as B-HLP encountered patches of turbulence here and there.
Flicking to Airshow, I noted that there were approximately three and a half hours left and I gave up any hope of more sleep and slowly began bringing my seat back up, availing myself of the bottle of water placed thoughtfully on top of the side locker.
Soon after I had woken up, B-HLP struck very heavy turbulence. About two or three of the other passengers were looking very green when HLP levelled out again after about five minutes of continuous bumping and swaying.
It was heavy enough for one of the pursers to also succumb to slight airsickness.
I switched over to the Audio selection of Studio CX and browsed the Classics menu - again divided into subcategories of music groups. I chose the Beach Boys, which were the first option, and another menu popped up prompting me to pick from one of almost fifteen songs. The screen automatically suspends itself after a while if you don't touch the remote (like a computer screensaver).
Two hours out from Hong Kong, the pursers began the lunch service, with Mary Ann coming round to take orders. The menu for the lunch service was located in the same menu handed out after takeoff, but I've just split it up in this report.
Lobster in Mango Fan
Barramundi Fillet and Grilled Scallops with Lemon Myrtle Cream Sauce seved with Boiled Potatoes with Parsley, Sauteed Assorted Vegetables
Stir-fried Chicken with Chillies, Green Peppers and Fermented Black Beans served with Steamed Rice and Asparagus Spears with Sesame
Warm Salad: Honey Mustard Crusted Lamb on Seasonal Greens and Cherry Tomatoes served with Chilli Lemon Grass and Bush Lime Dressing
Selection of Fine Australia Farmhouse Cheese
Fresh Seasonal Fruits
Grand Marnier Torte
TEA AND COFFEE
PRALINES AND COOKIES
I chose the stir-fried chicken with a glass of orange juice.
Me Anne came by a few minutes later to lay the tray table with the usual stuff, done exactly as per the routine for breakfast.
After all the tables were set, she came round again with the savouries on a cart. They were hot tart type things that looked in my opinion, disgusting, so I refused the offer of savouries when she asked. She must have noticed the screwed-up expression on my face as I saw them because she offered instead to get me a bowl of honey-covered cashew nuts, which were delicious. Three other passengers apparently didn't like the look of the savouries either, because they also ended up with bowls of cashew nuts!
The appetisers were delivered and consisted of five slices of cold cooked lobster artistically arranged among slices of mango, which were rather tart. A few greens and tomatoes decorated the side.
The appetisers were cleared away quickly and then a bit of a gap as they warmed up the main courses. The chicken was delivered on a nice big plate, with the freshly steamed rice on one side.
As the name suggests, the chicken was considerably spicy but was piping hot and very yummy.
Crew again were quick to clear up dirty dishes and soon the dessert cart rolled around, Me Anne at the helm, with the cheese, fruit and a decadent chocolate-iced cake (the torte) just waiting to be sliced.
I refused the cake, I was too full, and only had a small bowl of fresh strawberries. Me Anne had given me the bowl and had turned to serve the passenger in 2D before I realised that my fork had been taken away with the main course. Rather than bother the flight attendant, I saw the cutlery was arranged on the lower level of the cart and I simply snaked my hand down and slipped a fork out. Unfortunately, it appears I would not make a very good thief because after Me Anne had dealt with 2D, she turned around, smiled at me and said "thank you"!
The strawberries weren't bad, but were a bit on the watery side.
A box of chocolates followed the dessert service. Passengers requesting tea were served with a china teapot with teacup, saucer, sugar, milk etc. as well as some little egg rolls.
With only an hour and a bit left to go it wasn't worth starting a new movie so I went walkabouts back to business class to have a little look-see at the new cabin. I must say I was quite impressed with the legroom and the design of the seat - very classy, especially the colours which make the cabin very elegant. The jury's out on the 'mood lighting': a bit iffy, I thought, but I liked the shoots of bamboo on the bulkheads. The business class bathrooms are stocked with L'Occitane, and I couldn't actually find the private dressing room, but then I wasn't really looking.
Strolling back up to First Class, I decided to stroll up to the washroom and passed through the galley, where the crew were bustling away with the tidy-up. Me Anne was just folding away the cart opposite the washroom so I gladly stood aside and waited for her to finish. I had noticed in the cabin that nobody had availed themselves of the torte, but that there were now 3 or so pieces missing. The crew certainly lucked out on today's group of First class passengers.
About 40 minutes out of Hong Kong, a video played showing the arrivals, transit and departures procedures at HKIA. It was very informative and the English soundtrack was played over the PA system.
First Officer Buckett came on just as we were about to descend, advised of the weather and arrival time, and thanked us for flying Cathay Pacific.
A round of mint-scented hot towels were given out by crew on little red plastic trays.
Crew began a clear-up duty as B-HLP began to nose its way down into Hong Kong, and the seat belt signs were activated. Duvets and glasses were collected, and also a check to make sure that the seats were all in the upright position. Something I've noted about these new First class seats on Cathay is that the upright position is very deceptive. Quite often I've thought I'd had the seat upright (because pressing the button continuously from flat to upright has the seat moving no further) but there's actually a bit more way to go. It is apparently very easy for crew to identify upright position as there is a little light on the aisle side of the seat which switches on (or off) when the seat is upright.
Our assigned runway today was 25R, flying over Tsing Ma Bridge (north runway). As we swooped over the airport terminal, I caught a glimpse of an Asiana 747 at 19, and a British Airways "Animals and Trees" at 16.
B-HLP touched down in Hong Kong at 15.03, three minutes behind schedule but negligible in the scheme of things!
After an uneventful roll-off the aircraft was soon taxiing swiftly across the tarmac as the Inflight Services Manager began her handbook spiel of welcoming us to Hong Kong.
Gates 60 - 71 are now almost the sole domain of Cathay Pacific and Dragonair flights now that CX's new lounge has opened in this part of the terminal, although I believe United still uses 61 and 63 (which is strange, considering). Anyway, a preferred gate was 'no such luck' for today, because we swung into 50, right at the end of the southwest concourse and with a loooooonnnng fixed-link ramp. A Dragonair A320 was parked at 48.
A male in 2K had changed into a captain's uniform before landing - presumably to pick up a flight for Cathay. Senior Purser Me Anne was catching a flight to Manila (I was right, the Philippines!) and so was off the aircraft with the first class passengers. I said my goodbyes and thank-yous to the crew; they were brilliant.
A CX agent was waiting at the door and we followed her up the bridge, through the fixed link ramp and onto Level 5 Arrivals.
We faced around six or so travelators to get to the Automated People Mover station located at the junction of the southwest and northwest concourses. The captain commented as we began to walk that "we couldn't get any further away".
HKIA have little trolleys available for hand luggage, and these must not be taken through to immigration. Transfer points back up to Level 6 Departures are clearly designated at key junctions and airlines operate desks at certain transit points. Passengers with onward boarding passes can proceed through to Departures at any designated transit point.
The APM station is located on level one, so there are pairs of two escalators taking passengers down to the station. The APM platform is glassed in with the train doors matching with the platform doors. There are four cars, and one dedicated train for Arrivals, and another for Departures (presumably to keep the flow of passengers separated at all times).
The APM arrived shortly and it was a swift two minute ride to the main Arrivals processing hall. Seats are available at the front and end of each car.
Again taking the escalators back up to level 5 (which move very slowly), passengers are faced with a giant screen directing passengers to either left or right. All arriving flights are listed with the reclaim number.
CX110's designated reclaim today is 13. Cathay Pacific have designated reclaim belts (!) 11 - 13.
Immigration is swift and like Singapore, bowls of lollies are available on the counter.
One advantage of parking far away at HKIA is that by the time you get to the reclaim belt, the luggage has already arrived. Today was no exception as bags were already being spewed out onto the moving carousel when I cleared immigration. There are copious amounts of baggage trolleys available (press handle to release brake) with comfortable finger-grooved handholds on the main bar.
I fished my bag out from the belt and went through Customs; the agent waved me through with a bored shake of the hand. One thing I've learnt about most Asian customs is to proceed straight through without stopping unless specifically directed to do so.
Passing through the automatic doors into the Buffer Hall, there are ticket machines for the Airport Express train, currency exchange and hotel information. After doing a loop type thing to circumvent the glass shielding the buffer hall from Arrivals Hall B, I eventually emerge out of the sterile area into a field of people awaiting arrivals.
Giant screens are placed prominently above the exit with details of all flights, expected arrival time, actual arrival time, and the designated Arrivals Hall (A or B).
The Airport Express station is located opposite the Arrivals Hall and it's a short walk across the terminal to the platform where a train is idling awaiting departure (trains to central Hong Kong via Kowloon and Tsing Yi every 10 minutes). The seats are comfortable with personal television screens and plenty of storage space.
Above all, a very pleasant trip on Cathay Pacific. Top marks to the crew for an enjoyable flight.
Hope the review wasn't too long or tedious - I'll try to shorten my next few if it was.