Friday, July 23, 2004
Cathay Pacific Airways flight CX 831
Departs: New York JFK Terminal 7 @ 3:50 p.m.
Arrives: Hong Kong @ 8:10 p.m. (next day)
First Class Seat 1K
This flight was taken as part of my 2004 Oneworld Explorer First Class Around the World ticket. When I booked this trip in December, CX was operating one daily flight from JFK to AND OLD: Hong Kong - Kai Tak International (HKG / VHHH) (closed), China - Hong Kong">HKG via Vancouver (CX 889) using a 747-400. In March, CX announced that they would be starting a non-stop JFK-AND OLD: Hong Kong - Kai Tak International (HKG / VHHH) (closed), China - Hong Kong">HKG flight on July 1 and I immediately decided that I wanted on that flight. When I first attempted to get on this flight, CX was not offering any seats in “A” class for these flights, but I was able to waitlist for it. Approximately one week later, the waitlist cleared and I was on the flight. From my own research on ITN.net, it appears that CX is offering one “A” class seat on this flight. I am not sure if and when they open additional inventory.
Pre Flight Fun
This flight was actually part of a larger vacation / mileage run and I had arrived at JFK at 8:30 a.m. that morning from Santiago de Chile on LAN flight LA 530. With over seven hours between flights, I was not eager to wait in the airport that long. Fortunately for me, my grandmother lives in nearby Bayside, Queens, so I decided to pay her a visit, drop an extra bag that I had been carrying through South America and have a shower. All of that went fine and, by 12:30 p.m., I was ready to head back to JFK.
I arrived at JFK’s Terminal 7 in a rickety old “gypsy cab” at a few minutes past 1:00 p.m. Terminal 7 is shared primarily by British Airways and United Airlines, but America West, Qantas, Icelandair and Cathay Pacific also call it home at JFK. When facing the terminal, British Airways’, Qantas’ and Cathay Pacific’s premium check-in facility is located at the far left and one should use the far left entrance. Although British Airways operates a special enclosed check-in facility for its First Class passengers, this was not available to Cathay Pacific passengers and just two check-in desks were open in the area outside British Airways’ facility. Although having one First Class and one Business Class counter could create a backlog, there was no line at the time I checked-in. Check-in, which was done by British Airways staff, was handled efficiently and quickly (LAN actually issued the boarding pass for me in Santiago, but it was replaced with one on Cathay stock) and I was soon on my way to security. Although I have heard horror stories about BA’s JFK staff, I did not experience it. The woman who checked me in was more than pleasant and even escorted me through the back office as a short-cut to the security lines.
Security was quick and a non-issue. Cathay Pacific passengers use the British Airways Terraces lounge at JFK, which has a separate First Class section. After clearing security, the lounge is accessed by making a sharp left and heading up a small escalator. Although British Airways also operates the Concorde Room for its First Class passengers (which can be accessed directly from a special security channel adjacent to its special check-in area), Cathay Pacific passengers are not granted access. The First Class lounge was nicely appointed, but did not offer anything in the way of snacks beyond bags of chips (crisps), pretzels, cookies and apples and oranges. I must say that this was disappointing. I know it is not Cathay’s lounge and that British Airways does not put its own First Class passengers there, but I am sure that Cathay could get British Airways to provide something more substantial in this lounge.
The aircraft that would be my flight arrived early at 1:50 p.m. and was parked at Gate 3. Boarding began at 3:20 p.m., which seemed late to me, but we got off the gate on time. After an unusually long walk down the jetway, I boarded the A340-600 at the L-2 door and was directed to the left and the First Class cabin.
The A340-600 is the newest aircraft in Cathay Pacific’s fleet, having been with the fleet since 2002. As with all longhaul Cathay aircraft, it features the New Business Class lie-flat (albeit on an angle) seats and eight First Class “suites” arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. With a large storage locker between the window seats and the wall. On the surface, there is little to distinguish the First Class cabin on the A340-600 from that on the A330 and A340-300. However, there are differences. The predominant color in the aircraft is green and green features prominently in the First Class cabin. As with the A330 and A340-300, there are no center overhead bins in First Class on the A340-600, but owing to the length of the cabin, there is plenty of overhead bin space. When reclined, there is green padding on what becomes the headboard, which is not present on Cathay’s smaller longhaul Airbus models. In the center section, there were more lights than on the smaller Airbus aircraft, which reminded me of being in a limo. The A340-600 also features StudioCX, Cathay’s on-demand audio and video entertainment system.
From the moment of boarding, it was obvious that the cabin crew was quite harried. Owing to the fact that, unlike the 747-400, the First Class galley is located in front of the cabin, everyone could see their efforts to find and store everything. I’ve been on Cathay flights that were catered late, but never has that affected cabin service. We were not catered late, but it was obvious that everything was not where it was expected to be and the passengers were aware of the confusion. Despite this, we were offered a pre-flight drink choice of water, orange juice or champagne, which, as usual on Cathay longhaul flights, was served with a small hors d’ouerve, which, today, was a seared scallop. Quite fresh and good.
Worse than the state confusion in the First Class galley was the state of cleanliness in the cabin. By most standards, including American Airlines’, the cabin was quite clean, but it was not up to Cathay’s usual standards. There were crumbs on my seat and in the grove between the side storage lockers and the windows. Also, there was no indication that the headphones, which are permanently attached, were sterilized. The bathroom seemed clean, but with the other lapses in cleaning, I cannot say I was confident that it had been properly cleaned.
Despite the late boarding and the heavy rain that was failing, we pushed from the gate on time and began a slow taxi to Runway 22R. After a wait of approximately fifteen minutes, it was our turn on the runway, following a Delta Air Lines 767-300. On take-off, it is obvious that the A340-600, despite its larger size, has far more power than the A340-300. Despite being nearly fully loaded with passengers and carrying enough fuel for a fifteen hour flight, we were airborne in forty-two seconds, rotating just after we passed the intersection with Runway 31L. What followed was a slow and somewhat turbulent climb over the Rockaways and the southern coastline of Long Island.
Once at our initial cruising altitude, our two First Class flight attendants came around with menus and took drink orders. Readers of my previous reports may remember that I have a fondness for the Cathay Delight, a kiwi and coconut juice concoction that is served with a sprig of mint. As I enjoyed mine accompanied with a dish or warm cashews, I perused the Dinner menu. Here is a transcript:
Welcome aboard Cathay Pacific’s First Class. We are delighted to offer you a variety of tasty seasonal dishes and a fine selection of wines and beverages to compliment your meal. Our flight attendants look forward to making your flight as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.
A Touch of the Mediterranean
On this flight, we are delighted to offer you extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Try it with our bread, as an alternative salad dressing or perhaps just drizzled over your entrée to give it that final touch. Enjoy!
NEW YORK – HONG KONG
“A La Carte Menu”
Create you own menu from our “a la carte menu”, which gives you the choice to eat what, and when, you like. Our cabin crew will be happy to assist you in taking your order at any time during the flight.
CAVIAR AND BALIK SALMON DELIGHT
Balik Salmon “Tsar Nicolaj”
served with Warm New Potatoes and Crème Fraiche
Roasted Duck with Vegetable Salad
served with Vinaigrette
Wild Mushroom Lasagne
Lamb Chop with Leek in Gravy
Steamed Rice and Stir-fried Broccoli
Grilled Lobster with Garlic Herb Butter
Potatoes, Baby Fennel, Zucchini and Mellow Squash
Soy-Marinated Chicken Braised with Abalone in Broad Bean Sauce
Warm Apple Tart
New York Cheesecake
Vanilla Ice Cream with Hot Chocolate Sauce
Assorted Bread and Rolls
Tea and Coffee
Pralines and Cookies
APERTIFS & COCKTAILS
Martini Extra Dry
Harveys Bristol Cream Sweet Sherry
La Ina Dry Sherry
Gordons Dry Gin
Stolichnaya Russian Vodka
Chivas Regal 12 Years Old
Johnnie Walker Blue Label
Glenmorangie Pure Malt Whiskey
Gentleman Jack Bourbon
Crown Royal Canadian Whiskey
Bailey’s Irish Cream
Krug Grande Cuvee Champagne
Francisan Oakville Estate Chardonnay 2001
Vincent Girardin Meursault, Vieilles Vignes 2001
Gevery Chambertin La Justice 1995
St. Supery Meritage Napa Valley Red 1998
Chateau Branaire-Ducru 1996, 4ème Cru Classe
Ramos Pinto Quinta da Ervamoira 10 Year Old Tawny Port
CX SIGNATURE DRINKS
When my order was taken, I decided to keep it simple. I elected to partake in the caviar and salmon course and then to just have the noodles with the barbequed duck that was part of the Refreshment menu. As I waited for the caviar and salmon to make its appearance, Rose, the In-Flight Services Manager (“ISM”), came by to thank me for my loyalty to Oneworld and to offer her assistance in any way she could. This was very much appreciated and is nice touch that I always receive on Cathay.
When my table was initially set, I noticed that my silverware was dirty. It was promptly replaced with appropriate apologies.
The caviar and salmon cart appeared about an hour into the flight and started down the left aisle before coming up the right aisle. Service down each aisle was from back to front. I was given two nice slices of salmon and a good spoonful of caviar with the traditional accompaniments of shopped egg whites and yolks, minced onion, crème fraiche and diced chives. Unlike how it is usually served, I was not offered toast points, but just warm new potatoes. Quite good, as always. I was not really hungry, so I skipped a formal main course and just had the noodle soup, which was good and was served in the usual red lacquer soup bowl. Unfortunately, there was no Chinese style soup spoon as the flight attendants could not find any. I was offered the usual Chili Sauce to go with the soup. For dessert, I requested the vanilla ice cream, which ended-up being served with a berry sauce as opposed to hot chocolate sauce.
As I ate, slept and relaxed, the green, red and white A340-600 progressed on its 8000 mile trek to Hong Kong. After our initial climb-out over the southern Long Island coast, we tracked nearly due north over central Connecticut, passing over New Haven and Hartford, and then into Massachusetts. The CX 831 then tracked over the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the northeast corner of Vermont. Once into Canada, we continued our northerly trek over Quebec, the Hudson Strait and Baffin Island before passing to the west of Greenland. Continuing ever northward, we passed over Canada’s Ellesmere Island before entering the Arctic Ocean. Although a polar flight, we did not pass directly over the North Pole, but, when looking overhead at the Earth, just to the right of it over the Nansen Cordillera. After nearly eight hours aloft, we began heading south over the Kara Sea and into Siberia. Tracking on a southeasterly heading across the vast expanse of Russia, the CX 831 overflew Noril’sk and Bratsk, before crossing the extreme western end of Lake Baykal. Entering Mongolia, we took up a more southerly heading, passing to the west of Ulaanbaatar before overlfying the Gobi Desert. Now well into China, our A340-600 crossed the Chinese heartland flying over the provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou and Guanxi before entering the airspace over Guangdong Province.
I awoke from my nap with six hours and fifty three minutes left to go. Although I was still tired from my flight from Santiago the previous night, I forced myself to stay awake so as to arrive tired for our evening arrival in Hong Kong. Fortunately, StudioCX was more than able to keep me occupied. I was not really in the mood to watch a movie, so I alternated between listening to CDs such as Guns n’ Roses Greatest Hits, R.E.M.’s 1990s greatest hits and the Rolling Stones 40 Licks and short subject programming such as some Globe Trekker episodes and Everybody Loves Raymond (hey, I’m an AA flyer at heart!).
I also decided to peruse the Refreshment menu, which is reproduced here:
Noodles in Soup with Barbecued Duck
Warm Reuben Sandwich
Assorted Tea Sandwiches
“Joe Shanghai” Crab Dumplings
served with Dark Vinegar with Ginger
Hot Pot Rice with Chicken and Chinese Sausage
Wintermelon, Shrimp and Black Mushroom Soup
Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream
Tea and Coffee
I ordered the “Joe Shangahi” dumplings, which were quite good, but with only three small dumplings to an order, not very filling, so I followed it up with the Reuben sandwich, which was excellent.
Somewhere over Mongolia, my breakfast order was taken. Here is a transcript:
Fresh Seasonal Fruits
Natural or Low Fat Fruit Yoghurt
Raisin Bran, Corn Flakes or Muesli
Eggs ~ Freshly Scrambled, Fried or Boiled
Mini Glutinous Rice in Lotus Leaf and Assorted Dim Sum
Abalone and Chinese Mushroom Congee
Grilled Pork Sausage and Back Bacon, Imperial Fried Noodles,
Fried Potatoes, Grilled Tomato and Broiled Mushrooms
Assorted Bread, Rolls and Fresh Toast
served with Preserves, Honey and Butter
Tea and Coffee
Light cream cheese for Bagel is available.
In order for us to serve you better, all meal orders have to be
Finalized at least 45 minutes prior to landing.
Now, I am sure there is some logic as to why breakfast is the second main meal service on this flight, but I cannot find it. We left in the late afternoon and arrived in the early evening local time. While our arrival coincided with breakfast time in New York, we should have been served a meal appropriate to the local time. To that end, I decided to order a snack type of meal from the Refreshment menu. Unfortunately, they were out of the snack items I wanted, so I ended-up settling for the dim sum, which although breakfast food in Hong Kong, strikes my western tastes as more of a lunch/dinner item. I also selected the fruit appetizer. Both were good.
The last hour of the flight passed quickly and, over Guangzhou, the flight crew reduced the power output of the A340-600’s four Rolls-Royce engines and we began our descent into Hong Kong. Our arrival route took us from Guangzhou over the Pearl River Delta between Macau and Hong Kong and out over the South China Sea were we tracked in a racetrack pattern before aligning with Chep Lap Kok’s Runway 07L, landing at 7:08 p.m. local time, over an hour ahead of schedule.
Due to aggressive braking, we were able to exit Runway 07L at the Alpha 7 turn-off, allowing us to avoid having to backtrack along the Alpha taxiway. It took approximately ten minutes to reach our parking stand at Gate 1, which is pretty much the closest gate to Immigration and the Arrivals Hall. There was no line at Immigration and, with no checked luggage; I was out of the Arrivals Hall and whisking toward Kowloon within ten minutes of disembarking from the aircraft.
All in all, I would give this flight mixed reviews. Compared to the menu on the CX 873 from San Francisco, I found the menu on this flight to not be very impressive both in terms of variety and creativity. The aircraft was not cleaned to the standards I have come to expect on Cathay and the initial confusion and extra slow meal service was not appreciated. Also, breakfast is just not the appropriate meal to serve before an early evening arrival. The Hong Kong-JFK flight (CX 830) does not offer breakfast prior to its 2:05 p.m. scheduled arrival, so it makes no sense to serve it prior to an 8:10 p.m. scheduled arrival time. That said, while obviously a long flight, the shorter overall travel time was noticeable and I arrived in much better shape than usual. I was in my hotel (the Sheraton Towers) by 8:00 p.m. and was able relax for an hour before going to sleep. I was able to sleep through the night and woke-up on Sunday with no sense of jet lag. For that reason, this is now my preferred flight to Hong Kong. With a little bit of tweaking on the part of Cathay Pacific, it can really be a great flight.