Aircraft: Airbus 340-300, B-HXN
Departure time: 1005
Departure gate: 25
Sector: HKG KUL
With a departure time of 10:05, the airport was positively humming with suits (figuratively, not literally) and the Cathay Pacific counters were handling quite a few passengers as we approached the First Class counters to check in for our flight to KL.
Luckily, a podium was available so we didn’t have to wait, and our passports were checked, ticket coupons stamped and slipped into our boarding pass jackets, and we were given our lounge invitations to the Cathay Pacific First Class lounge. Information about our flight, including the aircraft, gate number, departure time, and weather and currency converter for Malaysia were displayed on the screen at the check-in podium… very cute and informative.
My husband and I headed straight for South Immigration, after having obtained an oversize cabin bag label for our carry-on. The agent at the entrance to immigration ripped part of the tag off and AVESCO security officers checked our boarding passes before we proceeded into the passport control checkpoint area. Queuing for visitors was about six or seven deep, but counters handling Hong Kong Permanent Identity Card Holders and Hong Kong Residents were wide open, allowing us to pass through the checkpoint swiftly.
After clearing immigration and refusing to be tempted by the individually wrapped lollies on the counter, we played labyrinth as we negotiated our way through the twisting lanes to the security screening checkpoint, set up by those strappy-poley thingibobbies. They were pretty narrow, so my pull-trolley nearly overturned a couple of times before reaching the X-ray machine.
Security officers had plans for practically every contingency. Spare change, keys, and mobile phones were placed in a tray with a number sellotaped to the bottom. You would then be given an A4 lamination with the same number printed clearly on it, to hold as you passed through the metal detector. The paper would then be presented in exchange for the belongings in the corresponding tray. There were special trays for food to pass through X-ray, and designated areas for passengers who set off the detector to be metal-wanded.
A departure gate of 25 equals the Wing, so we turned left after the checkpoint for the First Class lounge. Like the departure hall, the lounge was pretty full of passengers on internal Asian flights, and the restaurant (The Haven) was being stretched to the seams. The food on offer were three hot dishes:
Ramen noodles with chicken and mushrooms (stir-fried)
A wide selection of bread was available – toast, pastries, croissants… pitchers of fresh chilled juices like watermelon and orange were placed at the buffet counter along with some cold cuts. Plates of fried eggs could be ordered through waiters, accompanied by a tomato, ham or bacon.
After eating a very filling and delicious breakfast, we whiled away the rest of our time out in the lounge area, flicking through a wide selection of newspapers and magazines available, or in my case, gazing out the large windows of the terminal at the activity on the apron. Being early morning, the apron was stuffed full of Cathay Pacific aircraft, having arrived on long-haul flights last night or just this morning…
Gate 1 (Under maintenance)
Gate 2 B-HOR due out for Tokyo
Gate 3 B-HXI due out for Denpasar
Gate 23 B-HUF, gate 25 B-HXN, gate 27 B-HUD
B-HXK was parked out at a remote stand. I think this was the flight that had landed the previous night from Osaka Kansai with smoke in the cabin.
I noted that Cathay had upgraded the first class lounge section of the Wing, with the installation of four or five flat-screen computers with broadband Internet access, located along the telephone benches (adjacent to the Pebble interactive display screens).
We made our way to gate 25 shortly after 9.30, the lounge attendants and the Cathay staff wishing us a pleasant goodbye as we left. As we approached the gate, an awful pre-recorded Voice informed us that CX723 had changed to gate 25 from gate 25. Advice to HKIA: get a new Voice, and stop making nonsense announcements.
Boarding had just commenced and our boarding passes were processed and handed back to us. The double-bridge system meant that queuing for business class was minimal, and economy class was being boarded by row number, with both announcements and a large flip-sign placed on the counter with big numbers saying which rows were being boarded.
Cathay has affixed a Hong Kong dragon logo above its Oneworld symbol to the right of the boarding door.
We were greeted at the door by a Senior Purser who directed us to our seats 11AC. All of CX’s Airbus 340-300s are configured with First and Business class, but on the HK/KL route the airline only sells Business class tickets. So some passengers, usually Marco Polo Club members, are pre-seated in First Class to receive a Business-First type service. Even though it is not advertised as such, that’s what it is, as the curtains are drawn during the flight and there are separate crew members serving that section. Normally I would try and book seats in the First Class section because the service and legroom is better, but… B-HXN was one of the seven A340s configured with the new First and Business class cabins. Since I usually travel First Class on long-haul with Cathay anyway, I decided to book 11AC for our 3 hour flight to KL, as I wanted to try out the new Business Class seat.
The Business Class cabin was configured in a 2-2-2 layout, with two rows in the cabin forward of doors 2L and 2R, and three rows behind, with the galley in between. The seats were upholstered in muted fabrics of green and blue, set in a wood cocoon. Fibre-optic reading lights were situated between the seats, along with a second meal table that popped out from under the 10.4 inch PTV set into the seat or bulkhead in front. A small glass case of bamboo shoots were fixed on the bulkheads on the two window sides, with a curvy mood-lighting shade mounted on the centre bulkhead, although this was not switched on for this flight.
A nifty little coat-hook was mounted next to the PTV, which I hung my sweater on as the cabin was slightly stuffy. This was not an excuse for the crew to do less work however, for when a flight attendant appeared with orange juice, water and champagne on a tray, she immediately offered to hang the sweater up for me.
The drinks were followed by a round of hot towels. The 12-seat forward cabin had 11 pax, and the First Class cabin of 8 was completely full.
Shortly after bridge 25-2 withdrew, another flight attendant appeared with blankets wrapped in plastic. The wool blankets were in two shades of brown, and the flight attendant opened the plastic package before handing the blanket to passengers. A pillow, cotton on one side and silk on the other, was already on the seats when we boarded. There were two shades of silk – a dark red and another lighter shade of scarlet, and were not only innovative but very comfortable.
Inflight Services Manager Margaret made the standard announcements welcoming everyone on board as bridge 25-1 retracted, and the aircraft began its pushback for taxi to 07R for take-off. The safety video began playing on the PTV screen with audio piped over the PA system.
As we neared our entry to 07R, Captain Barry Fitzgerald came over the speaker to welcome us on board, giving us plenty of information about our flight path and estimated arrival in Kuala Lumpur… ”I won’t make the mistake of thinking a captive audience is an appreciative one” was how he concluded his little recital, something which I’m sure caused many in the cabin to breathe a sigh of relief.
The four CFM engines powered up as B-HXN began its takeoff roll, lifting off into cloudy Hong Kong skies at around half past ten with a flight time of three hours and ten minutes to KL.
After the seatbelt sign was snapped off and back on as an indication to crew to commence their duties, they came around and took drinks orders. Menus with a special cover to celebrate the newest CX promotion of “Best Chinese Food in the Air” had been given out prior to departure.
ISM Margaret came through the cabin and passed out the arrival cards for Malaysia, and to welcome each of us on board personally, addressing us by name.
The drinks were served in attractive tumblers, of which there were two colours: a sea-blue and a muted purple-gray; and were accompanied by a cold prawn savoury.
Shortly after the drinks were passed out, the crew began preparing the cabin for the lunch service, with the laying of muted blue cotton tablecloths.
served with Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing
Smoked Salmon Pastrami with Grilled Zucchini, Cheese and Tomato
Braised Spring Chicken with Preserved Turnip*
Stir Fried Pak Choy
Lamb Chop with Herb Crust, Tomato and Red Onion Stew
Garlic flavoured Mashed Potatoes
Fresh Seasonal Vegetables
Noodles with Braised Beef Brisket in Soup
served with Chilli sauce
Cheese Selection with Crackers
Fresh Seasonal Fruits
Chocolate Mascarpone Cream Cake
served with Raspberry Sauce
Selected Bread and Rolls served with Butter
Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Balsamic is available on request
Tea and Coffee
* A special creation by Mr Kinsen Kam of “Yung Kee”
Meals on this flight are Halal.
The salad and appetiser were preplated on the wooden tray, which also had a cotton underlay of the same colour as the tablecloth. The salad bowl and plate had a dark granite colouring, which matched the pebble-like salt and pepper shakers from Noritake (available from CX’s inflight shop for US$120 ) The raspberry dressing was in a separate plastic container.
The cutlery was bound in the napkin with a red ribbon and peg. The plastic knife was very stylish, with the bit of the knife you cut with in clear plastic, and the length which you hold in ‘frosted’ plastic with Cathay Pacific printed along it. If the airline has to use plastic knives, at the very least they’ve made them look rather elegant. The bread knife was the same, but smaller, with a pat of butter in a blue ceramic dish.
I navigated my way through the StudioCX Cinema on Demand feature, which was very easy with clear on-screen instructions on how to start the movie. There was a wide selection of movies, documentaries and television programmes – I went for a Jackie Chan flick “Mr Nice Guy”, which was basically your typical wherever-Jackie-goes-the-bad-guys-follow-thus-ensuing-fight-scenes-at-every-opportunity, except the movie was set in Australia. The noise-cancelling headsets were excellent and are stowed in the centre armrest such that it is not necessary to plug them in. To give you an idea of how noise-cancelling the headsets were, I had to lift them every time a flight attendant asked me a question about the meal. The handset was easy to use and was mounted on a retractable cord in the armrest.
After the appetiser plates were whisked away, including an offer from the flight attendant for a drinks top-up, a bread basket service began. The right-hand aisle was served first, and the basket somehow got lost in between the right-hand aisle and the left, because we never got any bread. There was something piercing my subconscious at the time as being not quite right when we were offered the main course, but I was too engrossed in watching the movie to actually pinpoint it down. By the time I had, I had finished my dessert, so there was no point in pursuing the matter. However, this is the first time it has happened to me, so I guess the flight attendant was having a bit of a ditzy day (more on this to come).
The mains were presented on a flat-top trolley for selection, with the flight attendant addressing me by name and asking me what my preference was. She identified each entrée and even lifted the lid off the bowl of noodles for me to take a look. I ended up choosing the lamb, and she used silver tongs to grip the ceramic dish and place it on my tray. I was offered more water and a top-up of my orange juice.
The lamb was very tasty, very hot, and very edible.
Flight attendants were quick to clear up the remains of the main course and the trolley came around with the cheese and the fruits. Now, the menu says “cheese orfruit” but the flight attendants were happy to offer both options to passengers if they wished. I went only for the watermelon, which was very sweet and yummy. Other fruits available were rock melon, honeydew melon and grapes.
After the remnants of the fruits and cheese were cleared, flight attendants started the second phase of the dessert: the cake and a tea and coffee service. The cake was presented on the trolley, pre-sliced but not yet plated. The flight attendant would do this for you on the spot, along with your preference of tea or coffee. The cake was more of a mousse underneath but was still a very nice way to round off a good meal, as was the mug of lemon tea that I requested.
We were now about an hour and a bit out of KL and I went to the bathroom to have a peek. I think I can safely say that the bathrooms are the most hideous part of the New Business Class product on Cathay Pacific. In fact, I think I can safely say that they are hideous, full stop. Imagine eggshell-blue walls, and a myriad of different coloured microscopic blue tiles on the floor. In my opinion, this Art Deco type washroom doesn’t fit in with the overall elegance of the New Business Class CX have managed to create. However, the bathroom was well stocked with creams and soaps, and there was a full-length mirror down one side.
Now back for a snooze and to really explore the seat! I pushed the seat recline button continuously as the seat began electronically adjusting itself. I found that there were certain stages to the seat’s recline i.e. it would pause itself every so often in a position – I assumed this was CX’s way of telling the passenger that this would be a recommended seat position. After a while, the seat recline button also began adjusting the legrest, which was handy as I didn’t need to fumble with two buttons at once.
I tried the seat in the flat mode out first. As mentioned before, it is at an angle and isn’t really designed with comfort in mind. Yes, it is a stretch-flat bed but it isn’t purely horizontal, it’s at an incline. Sleeping on your back, it is not a comfortable position to be in. On your side, it’s better, but still not as comfortable as the sunbed position recommended in the Guide to the New Business Class Seat in the seat pocket and is the stage just before reaching stretch-flat mode. This is obviously CX’s answer to keep passengers in First… although there is an incline, you won’t slide off, as there is a sort of rest at the foot of the seat which you can press against. Still, had the rest not been there, some people might slip off, so that gives you an indication of what the seat really is like. However, I wasn’t really expecting the airlines to go for a full 180 degree recline, and BA have done so at the expense of reducing the seat width. I much prefer the CX/SQ way of doing it: creating something close to a flat recline but keeping the seat width the same and having all seats facing forward.
I opted for the sunbed position (the position right before reaching full stretch-flat) which was much better and had a quick nap before the First Officer announced our descent into Kuala Lumpur. I made use of the button on the armrest which restored everything into full upright mode and noticed that behind the reading light was a green light that came on when the seat was in the upright position, so that crew could quickly identify which seats were secured for takeoff and landing.
ISM Margaret made an announcement concerning Malaysian regulations, which require the cabin to be sprayed before landing. This commenced shortly afterwards. Our local flight attendant who forgot the bread basket was one of those doing the spraying. While a male flight attendant swanned confidently down the right-hand aisle with a spray bottle in each hand, walking backwards through the cabin and spraying, our flight attendant moved in a forward direction, and used both hands to squeeze her single spray bottle, stopping every so often to shake it and squeeze again. Her second ditzy moment of the flight, as I would have thought that this way she would be walking right into what she sprayed out of the bottle, which I wouldn’t recommend! Back when New Zealand required much the same spraying before arrival, it seemed to be standard procedure to move backwards when spraying, to avoid walking directly into the spray…
Cabin crew came by with a final check of seatbelts and a quick round of hot towels, before B-HXN touched down in sunny KL pretty much on time and taxied across to C35. KLIA uses a double bridge system and disembarking was swift. There was no change of levels required to access the Aerotrain which took us across to the Main Terminal for Passport Control (which takes forever if you’re not a Malaysian citizen or hold a Malaysian passport). The only plus point was that by the time we finally cleared immigration, our bags were already waiting for us on the reclaim belt.
Summary and Scorecard
(All marks out of 10)
New Business Class Seat and Product
The seat itself is very comfortable (except for the stretch-flat mode). The sunbed position recommended in the guide for sleeping is similar to the recline of the old First Class seats on Cathay. The little features like the extra table, the water bottle holder and the reading light just helped to eliminate those minor practical hassles and were greatly appreciated. Marks were taken off for the awful bathroom decoration, although admittedly that’s a matter of taste. As a side note, the privacy screens were pretty much useless, and although no doubt some people find great amusement in sliding the screen in and out, in and out, in and out during flight… I’m not one of them.
There were a wide range of movies, TV programmes and audio channels to choose from. Airshow could be accompanied by your choice of audio channel. The StudioCX navigation bar was extremely user-friendly and the retractable handset was useful. A particular plus point were the excellent noise-cancelling headsets which were already plugged into the seat. The only minor negative was that the mounted PTV could not be moved or tilted, meaning that the best way to view the PTV would be either in full upright seat mode, or something very close to full upright position.
Ground Service and Lounge
There are really no faults in the ground service. Agents were polite, friendly and helpful from check-in to the gate, where a double-bridge system was in operation. If one was to be really nitpicky (and I am), The Wing was slightly crowded. Still, CX have taken measures to remedy that with the opening of The Pier, so one really can’t fault Cathay for not dealing with the situation. Remembering that in my case, I was entitled to use First Class facilities, perhaps another sticking point would be the inconvenience of the entrance to the Business Class lounge, which requires passengers to descend one level from security and then back up one – a necessary evil, due to space constraints.
Service and Cabin Attendants
Lower than I usually would give Cathay Pacific. The service received on this short-haul flight was very good, but not spectacular. Flight attendants always addressed passengers by name, and were generally very good in attending to us, e.g. offering us blankets personally without waiting for us to ask them, offering to hang up jackets etc. Marks were taken off for forgetting the bread basket (!) and a general sense I got that a bit of team spirit was lacking. Still, the flight attendants were well groomed and polite, and service was definitely better than other 3 hour flights I’ve had on various other airlines.
This is the one aspect of the whole flight that was absolutely faultless. Even I, a major complainer, could not find one thing wrong that Cathay had the power to change (hint, hint: plastic knives). If I could, I’d give bonus points to CX for managing to make their required plastic knives look stylish. The laying of tablecloths for the meal, and the elegant plates and bowls used blended in well with the New Business Class product, and I especially liked the glass tumblers. The lamb was hot enough without being overcooked, and the double dessert service of fruit and cake was an unexpected bonus.
This gives Cathay Pacific a score of 45 out of a possible 50 (90%), which definitely recommends the airline for travel on this route, and most probably, a host of other routes as well.