(You can find more photos from these flights and others at my photoblog at http://www.fjiii.com/.)
With two consecutive long weekends this September in Japan (its Silver Week, celebrating in part the Autumnal Equinox), I took the opportunity to finally visit a friend's new-born in Vancouver - an incredibly adorable akachan, and then to join my folks in Hong Kong for a family dinner on the Mid-Autumn Festival (which for some reason is close to but isn't exactly on the day of the Autumnal Equinox ...).
This report will be on the two return flights : CX 889 from Vancouver to Hong Kong (YVR-HKG), and then the on-ward flight CX 542 three days later to Haneda in Tokyo (HKG-HND), i.e. the two boarding passes on the left in the above photo.
Thanks in advance for reading !
Wierdos like me who take pleasure in reading boarding passes will notice the BN1's in each of the above. That's the Boarding Number which basically tracks the order of (on-line or otherwise) check-in of the passengers. Besides being used for identifying passengers, it is more importantly also used as a tie-break when Cathay gives operational upgrades to members in the same elite tier - the lower the BN, the higher the priority. And so there is often a rush for a low BN at T-48 when OLCI becomes available.
Personally I think this is not a fair system - why upgrade a passenger who had the free time / the quickest fingers / the fastest internet connection 48 hours prior to departure ? A fairer approach in my mind would be to use the date of their last operational upgrade, i.e. upgrade first those members who were upgraded least recently. Surely not a difficult extra field to track.
In any case, BN1's were not useful for me on this trip since I was already in FCL, but I do like to "collect" them. I'll never have the most BIS miles of FFers, but I might well have the lowest average BN. My current average on Cathay Pacific flights is around 3 or 4, depending on whether you take a straight average or if you weight each flight by distance flown. The longer the flight, the more important getting a low BN would be.
Akachan 赤ちゃん - a Japanese word meaning "baby", literally a red person
Before we start, a couple photos of the adorable akachan whom I had come all the way to visit !
Flight 1 - CX 889
Vancouver to Hong Kong (YVR-HKG)
Operating Aircraft : B-KPC
Aircraft Type : Boeing 777-300 ER
Miles : 6,381
Seat : 1A
There are two evening Cathay Pacific flights from Vancouver, (a) CX 888 departing 10:50 pm that continues onto New York having started its journey in Hong Kong, and (b) the one I was taking - CX 889 that departs at 02:05 am to Hong Kong after having originated in New York. (The times are slightly changed in winter when daylight saving kicks in.) Passengers on either flight are allowed to check-in when the counters and lounge open, which is about 3 hours before the departure time of (a).
Interestingly, the two sister flights of CX 888/9 are not operated back to back. When CX 888 lands in JFK, it turns around as CX 841 which is a non-stop flight back to Hong Kong. Similarly, CX 889 begins as CX 840 that flies into JFK non-stop from Hong Kong.
Check-in was smooth and took less perhaps around forty-five seconds. I noticed that unlike the afternoon CX 837 flight to HKG, no YVR priority sticker was affixed onto my boarding pass - but none was needed anyway as security was very blissfully quiet, just one person ahead of me in the line.
The lounge is accessed via an elevator immediately after security and one floor up. The lounge has the usual CX out-port stylings and sports both a JCL and an FCL section. I believe the FCL section has the distinction of being the only CX lounge with champagne (half-) bottles that you can take to your seat. Even in Hong Kong, you'd only be poured some in a glass.
Very friendly staff; the service staff were a great bunch to chat with. I actually look forward to chatting with them each time I fly (Elizabeth, Ella, and Lovisa are some old-timers with lots of stories) - this may well be because of the aforementioned champagne bottles though.
Boarding was on-time and done in order of those needing assistance and traveling with children (none on this flight boarding at YVR), and then first and business class passengers. I am not sure which group comes next as I was already on my way to door 1L.
Sidenote - apparently no shop in the YVR international terminal sells cameras or camera equipment !!? I was looking for a compact flash card for my DLSR (the photos show here are from my phone) but was told by the a Duty Free staff member that no shop in the terminal sells camera items. I did find a bookstore that carried micro SD cards but those did not help me.
We have a YVR-based cabin crew tonite : John was the In-flight Service Manager (his back features in the escalator photograph above, the gentleman on the lower right), and taking care of the first class cabin was William and a lady whose name escapes me. Joanne, an FCL cabin crew member four days ago on my incoming flight to YVR was working in J tonite but she somehow knew I was on board today and also dropped by my seat to greet me - very impressive !!
I was shown to my seat, assisted with stowing my carry-ons and the pillow was removed from its storage case for me. A pre-departure beverage (Krug, juice, or water) was offered, followed shortly by a hot towel, as well as the amenity kit and pyjamas.
Another sidenote - while the men's kit from Zegna has not changed either in its design or contents for two years now, the female one has been updated earlier this year with a different design from Trussardi and comes in red, brown and beige. When I asked, William was happy to let me take the female kit, and even brought out the two colors stocked on this flight to let me choose. (The pre-existing Zegna design and the older Trussardi design, and contents can be found here at this link.)
FCL was full tonite (three having boarded in JFK, and three including myself joining at YVR) and prior to take-off, our preference to eat first vs. sleep first was taken. Everyone appeared to have elected to sleep right after take-off; as the plane leveled, both cabin crew members and the ISM came out to distribute bottled water and get the beds quickly made.
About four hours later, I woke and one call button press and no more than two seconds later, William came and offered to get me a new bottled water and make me something to eat. I was not too hungry yet and so opted to have the breakfast first - an omlette with all the fixings shown on the menu you see above, and a dash of caviar (which is not expressly noted on the menu but why not) to be served with a glass on mimosa.
One more sidenote - in my experience, I've found for lunch or dinner, the steak is generally a poor bet on Cathay, and would go for the Chinese option without even needing to see what it was. But for breakfast, the Western option for me is nicer than the Chinese dim sum selection. (Their dim sum tends to have very thick skins on the dumplings and all pieces taste pretty average.)
And with breakfast, CX's mimosas are a must for me - sure, it may be a waste of Krug but Cathay mixes it would a very pulpy orange juice that makes the drink bubbly and textured at the same time. Love it ! I sometimes ask for this too as my PDB.
Luckily the kids were still asleep and not having the meal with me !
The turbulence hit out of the blue and was pretty insane. The cabin crew was asked to take their seat as well. A few minutes later when they resumed service, William came by immediately to check on me. He must have apologized five times while clearing my entire table. He offered to remake breakfast and suggested the Chinese option that was quicker to prepare.
I agreed and in lieu of the mimosa, I asked for another bottled water as the turbulence hasn't died down completely.
As expected, the dim sum offering was average and a dab of the hot sauce was necessary to give the it some kick. While I was having my second breakfast, Joanne also came up from the J cabin to see if I was okay with the turbulence. She too apologized profusely, which is just ridiculous as none of this was any of the crew's fault.
I remarked that very fortunately, it was not meal time in JCL or YCL when the turbulence hit, and I wondered the commotion that would probably entail if it was. Never mind having spare meals loaded to re-distribute to the passengers, I'm not even sure if there would be enough tissue paper on board to wipe up the mess.
After another four hours or so of sleep, I was up again, as were the kids and most of the other passengers in FCL. William made up my bed and prepared the supper dishes for me. Still not too hungry, I decided to have only for the caviar and salmon, and the Chinese dish of chicken and abalone in oyster sauce. Both were delicious and the main course went down very nicely with the pot of hot jasmine tea.
We were by now just over an hour from Hong Kong - damn these tail winds. Our other FCL flight attendant was back from her rest too. It's a shame I didn't get to interact with her at all on this flight. She worked the first shift when I was asleep, but still I would've liked if she came by to say hi or to introduce herself. However, it is entirely possible she did at the beginning of the flight and that I just don't recall.
That may be the one small thing that very slightly tarnished the FCL experience today, but regardless, it was an thoroughly superb and deightful flight. I had everything I wanted, when I wanted it.
One last sidenote on the debate of whether the A or K side has less foot traffic in the FCL cabin on Cathay's 77W aircraft : the prevailing wisdom seems to be that the K aisle is quieter because (a) FAs consciously avoid that aisle as four seats open to it as opposed just two on the A side, and (b) the ISM who the FAs periodically report to is seated on the A side.
Sitting 1K on the outbound CX 888, and now 1A on this CX 889, I would like to add two data points to the contrary. Having counted the FA traffic on both aisles while I was awake, the K side garners 75-80% of the FA traffic on each flight. On both flights I think this is due to the fact that the galley - where all the items are stored and where the FAs gather, is on the K side. The A side was both quieter (not as close to the galley) and saw less foot traffic.
Speaking of things to track, did you know that three minutes is how long the IFE waits before beginning to shut off due to inactivity ? And the small graphic on that screen that shows the origin, destination, and a little plane with a flight path connecting the two ? The little plane appears on and off at an interval of five seconds.
And to my tremendous satisfaction, CX has fixed a "bug" in their IFE software - when they initially upgraded to the most recent generation (the green home screens, as opposed to the older blue home screens), you could no longer cycle through the photos of the four FA models by pressing the home button. Instead you had to go into the full menu, and then get back out, at which point the system would once more pick a random FA to show. Now, CX has added the functionality back. Pressing the home button will once again allow you to invoke ther system to pick again a random photo of the FAs. I am not sure you would find these tidbits useful but just in case !
Arrival into Hong Kong was slightly early. As is usual in Hong Kong, we were met with two gangways at the gate and FCL passengers were first to disembark on door 1. The FCL tags on suitcases were also respected (as they almost always are at HKG) with first class bags first off the belt.
Again, not sure about the JCL bags as I was already outta there !
Siu Sai Wan 小西灣 - my home in Hong Kong
Before continuing on CX 542 flight onto Tokyo, I spent three days in Hong Kong with my family at our home in Siu Sai Wan. At the right tip of the red GPS jogging trail in the below screen shot, Siu Sai Wan is located on the east end of the north side of Hong Kong island and used to house an intelligence gathering center for the British Armed Forces in the mid-1900s. It now been completely converted to a residential district (or at least it appears so).
If you take the blue Island line of the MTR that goes along the island's north side, this is still a little bit further east than its Chai Wan terminus. Facing the Tathong Channel, it enjoys an unobstructed view of the sunrise into Hong Kong, and some very clean air !
Flight 2 - CX 542
Hong Kong - Tokyo Haneda (HKG-HND)
Operating Aircraft : B-HKT
Aircraft Type : Boeing 747-400
Miles : 1,803
Seat : 2A
How about a quiz before we begin this segment ?
On Cathay Pacific flights to Japan, in-flight announcements are made in all of English, Cantonese and Japanese. However, one short announcement is made in Japanese only. Do you know what announcement that is ? The answer is at the end.
Typhoon Usagi, the name from the Japanese word meaning rabbit, was on its way to Hong Kong and scheduled to hit the day after my flight (i.e. while I am writing this trip report).
The Champagne Bar at the entrance of the FCL section of the Wing - stocked today with Moet, Veuve Cliquot and a Peninsula-branded bottle.
The main seating area of the FCL section of Wing.
The Haven Bar just outside the Haven restaurant in the FCL section of the Wing.
The Haven Restaraunt in the FCL section of Wing.
The Atrium in the JCL section of Wing. Prior to the re-opening of the FCL lounge in February this year, this section was reserved for FCL passengers and offered a continental breakfast spread along the long bar until 11 am, which was replaced by a selection of hot food afterwards.
The reception in the JCL section of Wing. (The FCL reception is just before the Champagne Bar.)
The main seating area in the JCL section of Wing.
Cathay Pacific's famed frequent flyer refectory - the Noodle Bar in the JCL section of Wing.
The Coffee Loft in the JCL section of Wing.
While I was deciding what to eat, I remembered someone suggesting that I instead visit the older G16 lounge which receives almost no love from passengers - he said it would be much less crowded and that it also served some very nice breakfast including a much more authentically Hong Kong style of noodles. And he was completely right.
Efficiently - and very Japanese-like, at G16, you hand in a form where you mark the toppings you desire (fish balls, squid balls, wonton dumplings, shui gaw dumplings, mushrooms and vegetables) and your choice of noodles (white flat noodles, or egg noodles) and the noodles are made in front of you. The above is bowl one of two that I had - really very yummy; I definitely prefer the noodles here to those in the more well-known Noodle Bar.
G16 is a Cathay Pacific JCL lounge, so if you will be departing from HKG and have the access rights, I'd strongly suggest a visit to its noodle kitchen. And soon. G16 will be closing down to make way for an expansion of the Qantas lounge here that is scheduled to open early 2014, in the style of their recent and very successful remodeling in Singapore.
After the meal, it was time for some quiet time at a Cabana back at the Wing. Knowing these were popular, when I got there at 12:30 pm, I was prepared to have to wait but one was available right away. It's not difficult to see their immense popularity - my phone and camera recharged (the staff has socket adapters) at the desk while I did the same in the bathtub.
And what a generously-sized bathtub this was. At six feet tall, I had never "lied flat" in a bathtub until now. Perhaps not a savory analogy but it was as long as a coffin, and wider and deeper than one. Not sure what more of a bath tub one could ask !! It did take about fifteen minutes to fill up but the water was hot enough for a very relaxing soak.
Napped for an unexpected lenghty forty minutes on the sofa after the bath - it would have been great if a blanket was provided as the air flow is quite strong (presumably to keep the place dry), but I made do wearing the bathrobe and covering myself with the second of two large towels.
There is a sign in the Cabana requesting the stay be limited to 1.5 hours. I went over that slightly but no one came to knock on the door. During my stay, the staff was also happy to fetch me a bottle of water, though I did not ask if food / other drinks were allowed in the Cabanas. I think they are but you just need to get them yourselves. Overall, I had such a great and relaxing time in the Cabana, I left a tip.
There is also a free ironing service which I didn't use on this short flight to Tokyo, but did on my late night CX 888 flight earlier to Vancouver to get my clothes pressed and folded while I changed into my own pjyamas. You leave the clothes in a closet by the door that is accessible from both inside and out of the Cabana, and press a button. If I remember correctly, it took around ten minutes for the clothes to be returned.
(You can also "plainly" see which side of the should-people-dress-up-for-an-FCL-flight discussion I stand on.)
Refreshed from my bath (oh, bathsalts would have been nice !! I must remember for my next trip) and nap, I grabbed a plate to eat from the Haven Restaurant and sat down at the bar. A set with napkin and utensils is provided at the entrance of the Haven Restaurant for those like me who prefer "take-out".
I do indeed prefer sitting here than inside the Haven Restaurant - you can do much more people watching / meeting on a bar stool, and it was fascinating watching the bartenders work as well. In the photo above you can see my bartender Cag, which was very friendly and juggled the various drinks order with aplomb. He even suggested drinks for me that matched the kids' colors.
The green drink on the left was particularly delicious, it's the M3 Margarita with honeydew melon.
I left the Wing at around 3:30 pm for our 4:15 pm flight. Upon leaving, I asked the staff at the reception for the gate number of my flight, and to my surprise, it had been changed to 523. Thinking this was one of the smaller gates at the satellite terminal of HKG that I didn't expect could accomodate the scheduled 744, I asked her to check if there had also been an equipment downgrade.
She said the aircraft was still the Jumbo, but told me that 523 was not a gate at the satellite terminal, instead it was a "virtual gate" where we would be bussed to the plane !!!!!
I confirmed what the agent said at a nearby FIDS and then tried to see if I could spot the aircraft from the terminal. Finally found it parked at an outer bays on the west out from gate 25 - you can see the aircraft just behind another Cathay Pacific Jumbo, the adorably-named B-HUG, in the photo above.
The buses to the plane departed from the ground level of the terminal (of course).
I had never been down here before and it did not look too pretty. The whole area felt very closed in, very crowded and was rather noisy. There was some confusion as well because the flight before ours at gate 523 departed late (an HX flight to Shanghai, with a large contingent of late-arriving passengers) and some HND-bound passengers were incorrectly trying to board that flight.
Once the HX flight finally closed, the CX gate staff who had been waiting at the side of the gate for about twenty minutes sprung into action. Within two minutes, signs were put up for FCL / JCL on the left, and YCL on the right and passport check began.
I was especially impressed with this CX staff (Kitman I think his name was) who was very patient first with the confused customers at the gate, and then with the angry and sweaty customers on the full (and mixed-class) bus that was kept at the gate while we waited for the driver to show up and to turn up the air-conditioning. As the only CX staff on the bus, several passengers on the bus decided to give him a piece of their mind during the ride but he very professionally dealt with them all - polite throughout, not once showing a frown or a long face.
I am not sure if the CX gate staff could have anything anyway to improve the situation as I believe the buses are run by the Airport Authority (?).
B-HKT up close !!
While commonplace back at Kai Tak, but this was my first time boarding a plane at an outer bay at Chep Lak Kwok, and apologies for for using the word "way" this way, but this was way more awesome than via an HSBC-branded jet bridge ! Kitman told me to hurry it up but he did let me wait for all the passengers form the bus to clear into the aircraft so I could take some unonbstructed photos from the stair bridge.
I was shown to my seat by Senior Purser Pam and greeted soon after by In-flight Service Manager Kitty. Both were incredibly friendly and apologized repeatedly for the temperature inside the cabin, and for not having the aircraft at a gate. I told them that it was absolutely not a problem, and that it was not the crew or even CX's fault that an outer bay was assigned anyway. Besides this was a much more impressive and thrilling way to board their 744s.
Then the captain came on the PA and also apologized !
Menus were distributed, but then a little disappointingly, so were hot towels which didn't make a lot of sense in the hot cabin. On a previous Cathay flight which also had temperature problems on the ground, the crew proactively came by to refill my glass of Krug and to offer cold towels.
FCL loading this afternoon was 7/9.
Take-off was about thirty minutes behind schedule partly because boarding began late, and also because two passengers were missing and unlike at a gate, a separate bus trip for them needed to be made. None of that really mattered to me, or to the couple in 1A / 1K who was enjoying every moment as well. We got to chatting, and it turns out Steve was a fellow FTer, and this flight to HND was one of the first segments of an ex-JNB AONE5 trip. (He also insisted I post photos of him and his companion on my TR and it's not difficult to see why :p)
For the dinner, the T'ang Court special - the prawns with black turffle paste - was fantastic, as was the Saint-Emilion promotional wine of the day. This was also the first time I've had the new set of pralines. I really really enjoy the chocolates served in F. They go so well with the full-bodied French wines CX offers. I think this is the third set of pralines since Cathay started offering plated chocolates about a year and a half ago - the first featured orangettes, followed by chocolate bars with nut pieces, and now chocolate bars with fruit pieces. The truffles have also become cuboid instead of spherical.
I've inquired different cabin crew on where I could purchase these but apparently they are not in stores. The catering packaging they come in indicate they are made by CX catering themselves in Hong Kong.
The arrival into HND was also about 30 minutes late but at a proper gate. This is not always the case though - on a couple of previous occasions we were parked at an outer bay. I think this is because CX 542 returns back to Hong Kong as CX 543 on the following day and so spends the night parked (away from the terminal) at Haneda. This may also be the reason why this flight is operated with a 744 instead of the more valuable 77W.
FCL bags were again the first out. HND is also very consistent in this. I understand from a friend working at CX in HKG that if there is one place where CX wants to not screw up priority bag deliveries, it is Japan. Apparently, Japanese premium passengers tend to be more vocal than most when it comes to complaining into CX. That first sounded strange to me, but then it sounded less strange.
Thank you for reading.
You can find more photos from these two flights and others at my photoblog at http://www.fjiii.com/.
And now the answer to the quiz - the announcement on Japan flights which is made only in Japanese but not in the other two languages ? It relates to the presence of Japanese flight attendants on board : "日本人乗務員もX名しておりますので、御用の際はご遠慮なくお知らせください", or "There are also X Japanese cabin attendants on board, please do not hesistate to let them know should you need any assistance".
Again, thank you for reading !