Being a Hung Hom resident regularly puts me in a convenient taxi ride distance to Kowloon Station for me to utilize the in-town check-in service and board the Airport Express for the journey to HKIA. I was not; however, in a situation to direct myself in that routing this time around as having attended my friend's birthday party anniversary at his home in Shatin during the early evening hours, my only option of getting to the airport in a direct route other than hailing a taxi (which BTW cost 300 HKD each way) was to take a direct passenger bus - a 75 minute journey costing only 20 HKD. At the end, I decided to have the bus transport my ride to CLK.
So after having partied hard laughing, eating, and karaokeing earlier with my group of buddies, the time has come for me to excuse myself earlier from the fun and head downstairs through the lift. Waiting patiently at curbside of my friend's flat was the taxi I had called earlier to arrange for the pickup.
After a quick cab hop to the bus terminus at Newtown Plaza (the transportation hub for the Shatin area), I immediately queued and waited a good 10 minutes at a reasonably queued line before the driver swtich-opened the doors for bus A41. Of course with this being an airport destination bus, luggage storage facilities (albeit unenclosed) were provided on the center section on the lower level of the upper deck bus. Rightlyfully so as everyone who boarded had luggages and bags were seemingly destined for the airport. So having settled inside the double decker, the bus made its way out of the terminus and we were on our way.
The 1 + hour journey had us passing through Shing Mun Tunnel, through Tsuen Wan, through Tsing Yi, and through the northern section of Lantau Island before entering the curbside location of the departure level. Time approximately 9:30 pm by the time I disembarked from the very first stop located near the first sliding door of the terminal entrance and made my way indoors. With no time wasted, I continued to drag my one luggage as well as my one carryon towards area B, where on the very front left side from I where I was approaching from, the CX first class counters are situated.
Though CLK was busy during this time in the evening, there wasn't much of a queue at the F desk. A quick 5 minute wait passed by and my turn to be assisted and checked in was in progress. Smooth, painless, and efficient check-in procedure had several agents behind the podium working together to scan my passport, print my boarding/lounge passes, and tag my luggage with no delays.
After handing back my passport along with my lounge pass, one of the lady briefly explained that flight 251 would be departing from Gate 3 as circled with a pen on my red boarding pass, which she continued on with the description and naviagation of where it is located. Of course everyone who flies in and out of this airport frequently knows where such and such is located. Nonetheless, I did not mind the redundancy and took it as a sign of caring on behalf of the staff.
Due to the nature of the gate location, it was obvious for me to head over to the Wing and chow down the remainder of the time leading up to the flight there. I was not about to take the distance on the far end of the terminal to access the Pier and have to endure almost the same amount of distance on the way back to the south concourse even though I had the choice of gaining access to either one. Possesing a HK Identity Card had me sailing through Immigration without any significant hold up and a breeze through security that followed landed me airside with still over two hours remaing prior to the flight departure. Instead of heading down the escalators into level 6 upon security clearance where the boarding gates are located, I kept foot on the 7th level departure platform and headed left towards the first class section entrance of the Wing.
A fairly serne and quiet Wing atmosphere by the time I entered inside. Of course there were a significant amount of passengers who have settled down into their comfort but in a rather silent mode With several unfinished personal issues to handle, I elected to spend a brief moment to catch up on some of my email messages on my laptop and found a seat at an empty desk located on the side of a glass protection overlooking the southern concourse area. Afterall, the facility environment is generously equipped with a wireless system.
A quick check of my email concluded and had me heading towards the enclosed buffet area (aka Haven) where upon entrance, I was seated to one of the two remaining unoccupied tables by a black suited waiter. Atmosphere inside the dining facility was definately more of a frenzy than it was at the open computer stations but in a formal frenzy tone. Selections of roast beef, grilled fish fillets, salmon, fried noodles, a variety of other hot dishes, fruits, a line of desert and plenty of other choices were laid out on the buffet station. Of course in addition to the visible choices seen by the naked eye, passengers also have the option of ordering other items from the waiter just as one would normally do in a regular sit down restaurant (i.e. requesting a bowl of noodle from the Noodle Bar of the Business Class Lounge downstairs) However having ate and drank significantly at my friend's party just a few hours ago, I wasn't about to become greedy and fill up my appetite. Afterall, with more meals to follow onboard the aircraft, I certainly did not want to spoil the experience. And unless a fitness facility is equipped onboard the cabin, overfilling the tummy was definately not a wise choice for one who is about to endure a 13+ hour flight. As a result of such consideration being taken into account, two slices of melon along with two pieces of fish was all that I consumed to snack my way into the rest of the evening hour. Time was indeed winding down and as it became an issue, I decided to spend the last few minutes inside the cabana to wash my hands and faces before finally headind down the stairs and out into the boarding gate level (aka level six) where following short walk, I set foot into the vicinity of Gate 3.
Apparently boarding calls has yet to be announced for my flight though several agents were chatting behind the gate desk and many of the seats in the waiting area had already been filled. But nonetheless, the electronic display board at the gate indicates CX251 boarding soon so I decided to stay put in the area.
At around 11:05 pm, the lady behind the gate podium desk finally began talking on the speakers to initiate the boarding procedure. As is the case with other gates at CLK, there are dual aerobridges being mounted into the aircraft and Gate 3 for CX251 was no exception. One bridge connecting to door L-1 for First & Business Class passengers and the other, connecting to door L-2 for Economy class travellers. With priority boarding as always for first class passengers and with my hands beginning to become weary of holding my relatively heavy carryon, I wasted no time and marched into the queue behind two other passengers and became the third to submit the boarding pass at the gate entrance.
Saturday March 11, 2006
CX 251: First Class, Seat 2K
Load: 100% in F
Departs: Hong Kong (HKG)
Arrives: London Heathrow (LHR)
Scheduled Departure Time: 23:55 pm
Actual Departure Time: 23:53 pm
Scheduled Arrival Time: 5:05 am March 12, 2006
Actual Arrival Time: 4:35 am March 12, 2006
A quick 90 degree turn along the passage of the aerobridge brought me through the foot steps of L-1 and was warmly approached and escorted by a FA who introduced herself and addressed me by name. Taking the honour of escorting me along the green/blue carpet walkway into my seat, 2K, she also volunteered to hang my wind jacket and to the horrors of my sight, attempt to uplift my heavy carryon (no kidding) into the overhead compartment storage. I assume due to the appearance of the bag which without having felt nor handled it, would be quite difficult to distinguish between light and heavy. Regardless, I definately did not want such a fine young lady to strain a muscle or in any other manner, injure herself and so I insisted in taking such matters into my own hand. But despite having stored it above by myself, I can sense that she still wanted to lend a helping hand.
With her still in sight besides me after I sat myself into 2K, she politely asked if was interested with any drinks for the pre-takeoff routine. Champange seems to be on my hot list for my recent strings of pretake-off spirits on my first class flights over the past two months and I wasn't about to change my preferences any time soon. And believe it or not, I opted for the Krug. Yes the same Krug I opted for a pre-takeoff champange on my SQ flight to LHR exactly one month ago from this date. Having said that however, it was the only champagne listed for our menu. SQ on the other hand offered the Krug or Dom as choices for Champagne pre-takeoffs.
As I waited for her to return with my glass of champagne, everyone else in the F cabin had also settled into their seating positions with all F seats occupied and taken. Another F class longhaul flight packed in the front cabin. Meanwhile the other FAs were manovering back and forth and distributing hot towels, along with a pair of slippers, eyeshades, the ever familiar Shanghai Tang pajamas which I already have three inside my wardrobe collection from the three previous F flight I took last year and of course the Elemis Kit was also handed out at the same time. As for the kit itself, I have to agree with StarG on this matter as the Lip Rescue, Skin Survival Cream, Moisture Mint Shaving Gel contained for the kit is not as displayable nor presentable as the Bulgari kit containing stuff such shavers and colognes to name a few that I received from SQ last month which, BTW, is still fresh in my memory. Other basic kits such as toothbrush, earplugs, etc were also available and distributed.
Meanwhile as I was storing the kits away, the ISM appeared from the back to acknowledge such presence, gave a warm greeting to all the MPO members including Gold status holder in myself, and let everyone know if they ever need something, he would be more than pleased to assist and was very caring, sincere, and polite. Following the ISM's introduction to all passengers, my tall glass of Krug was brought to my eyesight along with a plate of crawfish appetizer which unfortunatelly was rather dry and was not very 'appetizing' to my taste.
Anyways as I was comfortably seated foward with a sip after sip on my champange glass, we received a welcomed greeting on the PA from the captain who projected our flight time to be 12 hours and 45 minutes with an estimated ahead of schedule touchdown into London. As he continued on the PA to provide more details regarding the flight operation and path, the FAs continued to walk within the spaces of the cabin and began distributing the menus to every seat as well as taking orders for the meal service from the front to the back.
As the clankings and clinks of seat belts being buckled together were a definite sound to my ears, the captain came on the PA once more to inform push back would occur earlier as apparently everyone has boarded the aircraft in a timely manner. Doors were indeed shut afterwards and our 744 gently pulled away from Gate 3. Taxiing out was indeed rather slow but understandable with an array of other flights heading out to Europe at the same time. As I looked out through the window on the right from my seat, I was able to catch a glimpse of several other aircrafts including two other CX 744s on their taxi way out.
After a patient wait, the green light was finally given for a clear take off at the holding point of 07R. In position, the sheers of the Rolls Royce engine screamed into cycle and our 744 powered into an acceleration mode down the three quarter lenghts of the runway before gently rotating its front nose into the dark night sky.
Seat belt signs remained on as we gradually made a U turn towards a westernly direction while gaining additional liftings in elevation as I watched the movement carefully on the airshow. Flight would continue to move westernly before banking into a northwestern direction crossing above several southern Chinese cities.
Soaring above the city of Guilin at the time, seat belt lights were finally dimmed out and I made a dash towards the lavatories situated behind Seat 4A to dress myself into the Shanghai Tang outfit in preparation for the night mood, which BTW was the same black with the green trimming ones I got on my last CX F flight from HKG to YVR back in August. Meanwhile upon return to my seat, the crews around the F cabin, with their sets of skillful hands and feet, were preoccupied organizing the routine for the supper service.
Caviar and Balik Salmon Delight
Caviar and Balik Salmon “Tsar Nicolaj”
Served with Warm New Potatoes and Crème Fraiche
Mushroom Cream Soup
Served with Mini Garlic Baguette
Grilled Beef Tenderloin
with Natural Gravy and Forest Mushroom, Roasted Celerac Cream Puree and Baby Carrots with Parsley
Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Tomato Basil Sauce
Hong Kong Favourites
Braised Beef Ribs with Peanuts on Lotus Leaf
Noodle in Soup with Barbecued Pork
Pan-fried shredded Chicken Pancakes with Ham and Spring Onions
Braised Assorted Vegetables with Gingko Nuts in Abalone Sauce
Stir-fried E-fu Noodles with Vegetables
Bread and Butter Pudding
Pistachio Nut Ice Cream
Assorted Bread and Rolls
Pralines and Cookies
Wild Mushroom Ragout
with Asparagus on Toasted Ciabatta with Tomato Pesto
with Ham and Cheese
Haagen Daz Ice cream
Wheeling out a cart full of dining wares, glasses, and chinas, one of the pursers began setting up my table in front of me that began with the cover sheet of a white piece of cloth. Two water glasses on the far right corner along with a white-egg shaped salt shaker and a mini butter dipping plate already filled with butter lined up the top outer edge of the table followed by a bread and butter plate laid out on the left hand side. Very elegant up to this point and undoubtly so. However the situation and appearance took a step backward when the culteries were taken out and placed - they were still utilizing the plastic ones and I for one did not find such and such to be a pleasing sight. Why has CX continued to bring out the plastics on its UK flights when government regulations have permitted metal utensils to be brough back and used in the cabin remains a mind boggling mystery. Many other carriers have brought them back more than 5 months ago and on my SQ flight to LHR last month, complete sets of metal culteries were in full use for each F class passengers including myself. I know some will react and ask "So what? What is the big deal between a metal and plastic utensil?" Well to answer that question, if I were dining out in some fast food establishment or were taking part in an economy class meal, I can care less if plastic forks and spoons were the main tools. But being in a F cabin and expecting a F class type of atmosphere just does not cut it when plastic culteries become the substitution for the metal ones. IMO, the plastic forks and knifes just do not fit the setting that depicts a F class ambiance.
Anyhow after the table setup has been completed, I noticed something different this time around and was rather saddened - the disappearance of trolley service as another purser reappeared along the alley on my left and brought along a plate of starters. A wonderful personal touch of the past - gone. Have no idea when or if ever are they going to reintroduce this tangible elegance.
The starter itself on the other hand, was....ah....the ever so familiar Salmon Caviar. Spoonful of black caviars generously portioned along with two slices of rectangular cut salmon, three slices of mini toast, half cut potatoes and creme fraiche. Very delicate and mouth watering. Delicious indeed it was. In addition, a glass of Corton Grand Cru Louis Max red wine I had ordered earlier was also delivered to my table.
With caviar out of the way and plate cleared, next item to come in the sequence was a cream soup poured inside a white bowl plate with black Xs along the edges. Very salty and oily where too much amount of sodium and oil really ruined the taste of this soup. Three spoons into the mouth was all I can tolerate as I was not going to further fill my gut with this liquidy stuff.
With my soup still filling the bowl halfway to the top as I sat still pondering, one male FA apparantely read my mind accurately in regards to my disinterest with the soup and thus walked over to my seat. As he was about to utter a word or two, I immediately notified him on the spot that I was no longer going to proceed foward with the soup consumpiton and such can be cleared out of my sight. Having said that nonetheless, he remained cheerful and more than willingly removed the bowl out of my sight and returned with a fresh plate filled with Caesar Salad accompanied by the dressing and several cube size bread which, towards my appetite, was reasonably acceptable in quality and consumed about three quarters of the amont placed on the plate..
The following plate to arrive into the center of my white cloth-covered table was of course my Beef Tenderloin entree I had ordered. A generously portioned entree accompanied by gravy sauce, mushroom, and several vegetables was definately filling in quantity. But that was about all one can brag about as I found the dish to be quite dry, overcooked, under marinated and bland. Obvious to the appearance, there were significant deep dark burns along the edges and to a certain extent, carried over to the inner areas which to a certain degree, reflected the poor taste. Overall, it was a disappointing entree.
By this point of time, my tummy was filling up rather quickly and when the cheese plate was presented to my vicinity and placed on my table, I managed to settle for just one piece of cracker and paste it with a knife of blue cheese. Munch, munch, munch and my appetite was full to the brim that I had no extra room for any desert and despite the concern look on one FA's facial expression as she wanted to assure that I did not miss out on the final piece of the meal service, I declined politely. She BTW was very sweet, polite, understandable, soft spoken and moments later, would do the honour of clearing out the dining wares and cloths as well as storing my table away.
As we continued to pursue a northwest direction above the Mainland province of Schezuan, I decided to grab the remote and flipped on to the studio CX menu from the airshow channel to catch up on the latest entertainment offerings. After having cruised along and enjoyed the Krisworld Wisemen with its huge array of movies, music, games, etc onboard SQ last month, I was not impressed with the range of choices StudioCX has to present despite having increased to 50 movies and 100 shows lately. The new interface, having been introduced late last year, was more annoying and disturbing than the previous ones as far as speed and graphics are concerned. Graphic much clearer and responsive/execution speed much faster on SQ was obvious. I know I have harped on this issue numerously, but this is one area where CX needs major revampment if its IFE is going to compete with SQ's. Did SQ's Wisemen perhaps spolied me? 10.4 inch PTV was also much smaller than the 14 inch offered by SQ. Having said all those however, StudioCX overall is still much better than those offered on most other carriers where some does not offer AVOD at all. At the end I still managed to catch some entertaining in demand blockbusters such as "Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me" and several news clips from CNN.
Continuing to soar high above Inner Mongolia approaching north towards Chinese-Mongolian border, my eyes began dimming slightly as an ever familiar sign that my body is instructing me to catch some sleep and without further hesitation, took matters into my own hand in coverting the seat to a flat position. Meanwhile, lights inside the cabin were gradually being switched off as it was apparent that most passengers were going into their bedtime mentality. As I was carefully placing the pillows and adjusting the angles of the seat, one purser ever so aware of my situation, came over and handed me a sheet of duvet and wished me a good night's dream.
Climbing into the seat and laying down gently while covering myself to chest top with the duvet, I immediately began to notice differences in the seat in comparison to last month's experience with SQ's skysuite. The seat, though reclinable to 180 degree was on a slight sloping angle rather than it being 180 degrees parallel to the floor. SQ's skysuite on the other hand was completely 180 degrees in regards to both the flat position and parallelism to the ground. The legrest, arfter having risen it for consistency with the flat position was quite annoying. For some unkown reason as I placed my feet on top, it would not stay still and remained so during the full laydown duration. SQ's on the other hand was consistently steady. Though the unsteadiness was relatively minor, that coupled with the sloping of the flat position did not return the results of the seat to be as comfortable as SQ's skysuite nor did I find the seat to be as soft nor as cushy as SQ's. Appearance wise - colour, trims, and materials were also more elegant on SQ's skysuite. But don't get me wrong. Other than those descriptions, the seat was nonetheless a great resting tool for one to lay their bodies for such a long haul journey and not many carriers out there can match its level of comfortness. I myself managed to get a descent five hours of sleep on it. And for one who normally has trouble sleeping onboard a cabin, five hours is a lifetime.
With less than 3 hours remaining prior to landing as we were cruising above the western section of the Russian airspace nearing the Finnish Border, I woke from my five hour sleep and headed to the lavatories to wash my face, stretch out, and change back to my normal clothes. Most other passengers at the time were still comfortably snoozing including a gentlemen in 4D snoring deeply in an uninterrupted siesta.
As I came back out having refreshened and dressed back to my original clothing, the FAs were already up and running as an early bird to organize the breakfast service as the final stages of the flight began to wind down. Upon returning to my seat after having stored my Shanghai Tang into my carryon, one female FA came up to my left, brightened the start of the day with a warm "good morning" gesture & smile, and took my order.
Fresh Seasonal Fruit
Natural or Low Fat Fruit Flavored
Muesli, Corn Flakes or Rice Crispies
Eggs ~ Freshly Scrambled, Fried, or Boiled
Mini Glutinous Rice and Assorted Dim Sum
Vegetable Quiche Wedge
Grilled Back Bacon and Pan-fried Nurnberger Sausages
Home Fried Potatoes
Vine Ripened Tomato and Sautéed Fresh Mushrooms
Assorted Bread, Rolls and Fresh Toast
Served with Preserves, Honey and Butter
Tea and Coffee
In order for us to serve you better, all meal order have to be finalized at least 45 minutes prior to landing.
With all the white cloths, plates, two water cups, egg shaped salt shaker, BB plate, and plastic forks/knives (much to my dismay) laid out carefully on my table just the way it was organized during supper service, the service began with the hand over of an orange juice glass I had requested followed by a plate of fruit containing pieces of grapes, a slice of watermellon, kiwis, grapefruit and mangos.
As was the case onboard SQ322 last month due to the timing nature of the flight, I decided to keep my stomach light rather than maximize the full lenght of the meal offerings, so I declined any breads nor toast and instructed one of the pursers to fill my cereal bowl with Corn Flakes to half the normal amount. Afterall it was barely past 3 AM GMT and I wasn't in the mood to be stuffed up.
Out goes the bowl of cereal and and an entree plate filled with varieties of dim sum appeared in front of me just as I had ordered earlier. A lotus leaf wrapped Sticky Glutten Rice along with several pieces of Shrimp Dumpling and Pork Dumplings were neatly placed above a white plate. I have always enjoyed the arrays and styles of dim sum from my previous CX F and J flights and today was no exception. Quantity and quality were superb, juicy, filling and makes me feel right at home. Beyond this point, I was quite filled and other than a cup of coffee to cap the start of the early morning, I decided not to pursue any extra food nor seconds.
Cabin lights having been brought back to illumination for a while, an annoucement over the PA from the captain followed to inform the first phases of our descent into LHR. Meanwhile several passengers began returning to their seats from the lavatories as the crews were working hard to clear up the dishes & chinawares and storing away the tables.
With seat belt signes having been "dinged" on, the elapsed time of our flight continued to evaporate. It has been a long night over various geographic terrains and time zones. As we began inching towards our destination, the final streches of the journey would gradually descent over Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, over the North Sea while stabbing through several thick clouds before finally approaching the English Eastern Shore.
With dark morning skies outside persisting during the hour, the captain glided us to a smooth touchdown at a GMT time of 4:35 am, landing me in the same airport where I last set foot on the European Continent just a month ago as well as the very same disfunctional and disorganized airport that has annoyed me for quite some time. Yes, welcome to Heathrow!
Very light traffic during this morning hour as we taxied out of the runway and slowly made our way towards T3. Current weather was overcast with a bone-chilling ground temperature of -1C. The cold weather was definately apparent with our windows being fogged up thickly. That coupled with the dark skies outside made visibility rather poor from the view of my side window.
Upon coming to a complete full stop at the Gate, everyone including myself was in the anxious mode to unbuckle which I did before reaching for my belongings on the overhead compartment. And as I made my way out of the cabin, I bid farewell to our lovely crews whom IMO performed a fabulous work of service on this 13 hour segment. Well done!
As I now prepare myself for an upcoming four day software training session, I can definately reflect back to this flight and sum it as a great experience staffed by some of the most pleasant, attentive and dedicated cabin crew one can ask for. The flight encounter reinforces and reconfirms my belief and perception that Cathay Pacific first class product is without a doubt one of the best there is in the industry.
However, physical tangibles such as IFE's range of choices/techincal qualities, amenity kits, inconsitencies in catering quality (good caviar and good dim sum, but can't forget about the awful Beef Tenderloin and poor quality soup), and seat appearance/outlook & comfort in certain areas of the seat (angles, footrest, and cushioning) in total makes CX's overall F product, IMO, one step behind SQ F. Having said that however, I nonetheless still enjoyed a great and comfortable flight and am definately looking foward to the return trip Friday. I can't help to think that wardrobe now is fitted with four Shanghai Tangs.
I also sincerely apologize if some was not particularly happy with the fact that I used my SQ F experience last month as a yardstick to measure this flight against. It just happens to be in the norm of my nature that I enjoy comparing product to product and experience to experience. Competition is what it is all about in the service industry and is such a beauty.
Okay now having gotten off the flight early in the morning, I plan to enjoy the remaining full day of relaxation before embarking the following day for my company's software training session. Afterall, I need a respite after having utlized my pair of eyes and 10 fingers extensively for punching in this report. Time for me to crash the bed and switch myself into a brief nap.