After having attended a week's long, tedious, and boring software training for my company, I was in an ever anxious mode to head back home. I cannot recall the last time I had a training session that seemed to last forever inspite of it only being for four days. During the training, I kept on staring at my watch constantly as if someone who was counting down the last few hours of his jail serving time.
So Friday March 17 finally came in and I am going to rely upon Cathay Pacific once more to provide the comfort of my 12 hour journey back home. It was a crisp cold and windy day in the British capital and after being shuttled by my cousin's car, I arrived curbside at Heathrow's terminal 3 approximately 3:30 pm.
Having been through this airport numerously and being fully aware of the drill regarding the crowd, security lines, walking distance to the gate, I wasted no time and headed straight into the indoor terminal facility as the cold windy condition outside also became an extra motivation to head inside as quickly as possible. Upon entering through the doors facing the check-in dividers separating Zone D from Zone C, I continued to march and drag my luggage before finally reaching Zone B where the CX counters are located.
Terminal 3 as always was chaotic and there was a moderate amount of passengers queueing at the economy class line. First Counter was relatively empty and the gentlemen who had just checked-in left shortly as I was approaching the desk. Therefore, no wait was required and I was immediately greeted and assisted by the agent behind the counter.
After submitting my ticket to her, she began punching in the details into the computer and carefully weighed my single checked in luggage before wrapping the luggage tag sticker around the handle of my baggage. She was very quick with the procedure and had my boarding pass and lounge invitation pass printed out and handed to me in no delays. Of course this being Heathrow, she had to inform me that gate location for CX250 had not been announced and it would be my responsibility to check the monitors regularly before an indication of "Go to Gate X" would appear close to boarding time. A frustating process that I have endured repeatedly at this airport and had my head shaking once again in disgust. Anyhow she wished me a pleasant flight as I began to retrieve my carryon from the floor and made my way out of the counter zone.
Knowing how disfunctional this airport (in particular this terminal) can be, I decided to head up through escalators parallel to the the check-in counter stations. I am not going to undergo the prospect of wasting precious time walking back towards the entrance area and take one of the elevators. Exactly one month ago when I last departed from this terminal, the elevator was not in operation and as a result, I had to walk back to the check-in zone area to utilize the escalators. So as one can see, I was not about to take the risk this time around.
So having avoided one potential delay in not having to walk back towards the entrance and face a potentially broken elevator that would force me to walk back the other way, I was left bracing for another delay. And before you know it one way or the other, it has already become a reality. Up through the escalator from the ground floor to floor number one, I quickly ran into a stream of travellers forming a long queue at the Fast Track Security Clearence which was nothing "Fast" during this time frame. As I was left scratching my head and wondering what on earth is taking place, the only thing left for me to do of course, was to line up behind and join the rest of the gang. All in all I did not uncover the mystery responsible for the the long backup. Nonetheless, it took nearly an hour to clear before reaching the security checkpoint. Heathrow mess at it's best.
As I finally made my way out of the stifling queue post security, I can only breathe a brief sigh of relief and headed towards the first class lounge to wind the remainder of the time leading up to the flight. It was my first ever visit to the 1.5 year old lounge that opened in the final quarter of 2004. So there was something new for me this time around.
Upon entrance, I was welcomed by a representative who took my lounge pass and showed my way inside. And as I made my way through, I immediately noticed a much better environment - A well deserved upgrade from the AA Admiral's club that CX previously utilized as the designated lounge for its premium passengers. As for my take on this matter, I was more than pleased that CX has decided to fit a lounge of its own at this airport base.
Decorated with black tiles, black furnitures, bamboo painting along the wall, etc were the atmospheric norm of this lounge which BTW was fairly light and quiet when I settled inside. Food and beverage selections were also much more varied and extensive than the ones provided at the AA lounge. However having had a descent buffet lunch earlier during the day with my cousin, I was not particularly hungry at the time. So at the end, I managed to settle myself down with a bowl of noodles and a glass of soda while browsing through some of the magazines I had brought along with me. Also being fully aware of the amount of meals CX normally caters onboard (especially F), I was in no panic mode to starve.
Though I did find the the interior design of the lounge to be quite impressive and interesting, I did find the indoor facility to be overheated and thus did not make the room temperature comfortable at all. I understand that the temperature outside was a chilly 0C but the way the heater was cranked up to this level was quite pathetic. I also was not pleased that there were no windows overlooking the outdoor ramp or anywhere else outside.
Anyways as the clock on my watch had struct 5:10 pm, time leading up for boarding was obviously trickling down. Therefore with that in mind and the heater becoming less and less comfortable, I gathered my belongings, exited the lounge and headed towards my flight. As I made my way out the lounge the number of people manouvering airside at T3 became increasingly larger. As a matter of fact, I had to zigzag my way through several travelers as it was apparent that many were taking their sweet time either chatting with their partners, daydreaming, or wondering.
Once the vicinity surrounding the gate became visible, it appeared as if boarding for CX250 had already gone underway. Several people forming a line had already began moving foward. With that in mind, I assumed that F passengers had already been given the go to board. Assumption indeed was accurate and confirmed when I spotted a man in the queue clutching a F class red boarding pass similar to the one I am holding. Therefore without any further delays, I joined the rest of the queueing bunch, submitted my boarding pass to the gate agent, and made my way inside the aerobridge.
Friday March 17, 2006
CX 250: First Class, Seat 2K
Load: 67% in F
Departs: London Heathrow (LHR)
Arrives: Hong Kong (HKG)
Scheduled Departure Time: 6:05 pm
Actual Departure Time: 6:25 pm
Scheduled Arrival Time: 2:05 pm March 18, 2006
Actual Arrival Time: 2:27 pm March 18, 2006
As I marched through the aerobridge and set foot into the cabin, I was immediately greeted by one purser who introduced herself, took my boarding pass stub, escorted me to the F cabin up front. and into my seat 2K which BTW was the same seat I had on the outbound sector last week. She was very cheerful and upbeat and while I was about store my carryons at the compartment above my seat, she also offered to take and hang my jacket and asked if I was in the mood for a pre-takeoff Krug Champagne. A welcomed offer I gladly accepted.
Upon storing my carryons and belongings away, I took a quick short hop to my left to the bar area located in front of seats 3D and 3G to have a better view of the newspapers that were stocked. As always, there were several choices of both Chinese and English papers stocked on the second shelve opening from the top and I manage to grab a copy of the Apple Daily and catch the latest scope of events taking place back home before returning to my seat.
As promised earlier, my tall glass of Krug was brought back along with a mini plate of pre-takeoff appetizer. The apettizer (aka Amuse Bouche) this time around was a plate filled with several slices of medallion-shaped lobster. Taste overall was slightly better than the crawfish I received last week but was nothing spectacular nor was it something much to brag about.
Meanwhile as I was comfortably seated and began drinking gradually from the edge of my champagne glass, several other FAs were wondering around the cabin and distributing hot towels, menu, the ever so familiar Elemis Kit, along with the basic eyeshades and slippers. The Elemis Kit was the same Lip Rescue, Skin Survival Cream, Moisture Mint Shaving Gel, Colgate Toothpaste, etc contained on my CX251 segment last week and came along with a free massage coupon redeemable at an Elemis Spa. And last but not least, the black Shanghai Tang Pajamas were also handed out.
Moments afterwards, a voice from the PA emerged with the Captain welcoming us onboard to provide several details regarding the flight operation. The body text of the announcement began with an apology of a brief delay that would be taking place. It was apparent when I was told by one of the FA that several economy class passengers checked-in rather late and extra time had been allocated for them to board.
Continuing foward with the speech, the captain also gave a brief overview of our flight and projected a flight time of approximately 12 hours. Meanwhile as the announcements proceeded over the PA, the ISM appeared to the left of my seat to greet and thank me for being a loyal flyer with the company as was evident in my possesion of the MPO Gold Membership. The elderly gentlement sitting behind me at 3K also received a similar greeting as he held a silver tier level.
Unlike the loads of my outbound sector last week that witnessed a full F cabin, only eight out of the 12 F class seats today were taken. Business class on the other hand was fully booked while economy was fairly open according to the facts provided by the ISM after curiosity led me to ask. I was also kindly informed after inquiring politely that B-HOP is the 744 registration assigned to operate our flight.
With everyone having buckled down into their respecitve seats, doors closed at approximately 6:15 pm followed by the pushback phase shortly afterwards. As this time of day happens to be one of the peak departure periods for flights heading to the Orient, we had to patiently along the taxiway towards the runway before the signal to takeoff was cleared and granted. Our turn finally came as B-HOP thundered down to make a powerful rotation and airborned approximately 20 minutes behind schedule. Dark skies were already the main scene outdoors while the last remaining glimpses of daylight continued to trickle away as I peeped outside through my window on the right.
Minutes following the takeoff as we gradually thrusted into extra layers of higher elevation, another purser reappeared and began taking meal and beverage orders from the front to the back for the upcoming dinner service. Meanwhile many other passengers inside the F cabin including myself decided to shut the windows down as the dark skies outside did not present any spectacular views (at least on my behalf). As a matter of fact, not only did the the man sitting across from me at 2A slammed the windows down,he also wrapped the eyeshades around his head and snoozed off immediately although he chose not to recline the seat for the time being. The aircraft had just barely gotten off the ground but apparently someone wasted no time to maximize his opportunity to sleep.
Two hours into the flight evaporated away quickly and with lights still brighting the interior cabin, several passengers took the opportunity to head over to the lavatories to refreshen and/or change into their Pjs. I on the other hand decided to stay put and began reading some of the headlines and stories printed on the Apple Daily I had taken earlier from the newspaper stocking at the bar while at the same time, I also began punching my fingers onto the remotes of Studio CX to browse through the movie and program options. Meanwhile the crews themselves had already begun the first stages of the dinner service.
Caviar and Balik Salmon Delight
Caviar and Balik Salmon "Tsar Nicolaj"
Served with Warm New Poratoes and Creme Fraiche
Sweet Corn Chowder Soup
with Roasted Beetroot, Peppers, and Tomato with Raspberry Dressing
Braised Lamb Horopito
with Wilted Spinach and Puglia Pasta
Steamed Halibut with Soya Ginger and Spring Onion Sauce
Steamed Rice and Pak Choy
with Apricot and Pistachio Cous Cous
Mushroom filled Capelleti
with Olive, Tomato Tapenade and Cream Sauce
Sticky Walnut and Date Pudding with Custard Sauce
Rhubarb Tart with Fruit Coulis
Vanilla Ice Cream with Raspberries and Strawberries
Assorted Bread and Rolls
Tea and Coffee
Pralines and Cookies
With a stock of dishes and hardwares, one of the FAs approached over to my seat with a warm welcoming smile and began setting up the table in front of me.
As was the scene last week, a champage glass, a water glass, an egg shaped salt shaker, a butter plate and a warm jesture card signed by several of the crew members wishing me a pleasant flight were placed from right to left along the top horizontal edge of my white cloth covered table. Toothpicks wrapped in a green paper along with a bread/toast white plate set on the left hand side would follow. And much to my dismay the plastic cultery were also taken out and placed.
So with the tables having been organized properly for the meal service, the first item to be plated was CX's ever popular signature starter - the Salmon Caviar. Now the scene this time around was a definite welcome and huge relief when one of the FAs wheeled out the trolley containing the various elements and accompaniments. For some unkown reason, the trolley service for the caviar was nonexistence on CX251 last week and I was pleased to discover that was more or less a one time incident rather than it being an elimination of the touching service. Nonetheless I was happy to see this elegant service being presented for this sector as I carefully watched her place spoonful of caviars, two slices of salmon, three pieces of half-cut potatoes, toast, and cream into the white plate. As for the dish itself, I was quite satisfied and found it to be appetizing as always.
Upon completion of the Caviar dining, a bowl of yellow corn chowder soup would be brought over followed by a plate of raspberry dressing salad. The taste and quality of the soup and salad was okay and acceptable to my appetite but just like the pre-takeoff lobster starter itself, I would not go the lenght of the distance to rave much about them. Afterall I have had better soup and salad onboard other flights (CX or others) than the ones served today.
Next item on the menu to appear was the plate of Steamed halibut accompanied by white rice and vegetable main course along with a glass of Puligny Montrachet Les Grandes Marches white wine I had ordered earlier. Took my sweet time in consuming the dish while watching "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" starring Nia Vardalos through my 10.4" PTV. In regards to the course itself, it was much better than the Beef Tenderloin I had on my outbound flight last week and was definately above average in terms of taste and presentation quality. Again it was not to the point where I can start raving extensively but at the same token, it was satisfying enough that ranting was also unnecessary.
Even though taste quality can be inconsistent at times, there definately is no complaint on the issue regarding the portions served for a CX meal. The caviar, soup, salad, and halibut quickly filled up my stomach that I decided to skip the cheese and cracker offerings and opted straight to the desert selections.
Three choices of desert were offered to cap the dinner service for this sector and decided to go with the Vanilla ice cream. A single scoop of the ice cream accompanied by strawberries and raspberries was more than enough as I was quite filled up for the time being. By this point of the flight, the full dinner service has been completed.
The crews were quick to clear and store the tables away following the meal service and afterwards, I reached for my ST and headed towards the lavatories to change into my Pajama night outfit with approximately 8.5 hours remaining on our flight time. After returning to my seat and having requested and received a duvet from one of the FAs still patrolling the F cabin area, I decided to recline my seat into a flat position. Foot rest being gradually lifted into a level of consistency with the flat position, I laid down and covered myself neck high with the duvet. The unsteadiness of the foot rest continued to persist as was the case last week although I tried very hard not to let that bother me too much.
However due to the nature of my body clock, I encountered difficulties falling asleep and managed only 3 hours while the remaining attempt to sleep only resulted hopelessly with eyes being in a "close, open, close, open..." type of ritual. Obviously the lack of sleep would not bode well for coping with the jetlag. The scheduled early afternoon arrival in HKG will force me to remain awake for at least another eight hours after arrival.
Anyhow with 4.5 hours remaining in the scheduled flight time as I was struggling to sleep regularly, I decide to re-convert my seat to an upright seating position and op for a midflight snack to help wind down the time. With my eyes were wondering around the cabin, I managed to spot a female purser sorting out the materials at the bar to the left. Thus as soon as she walked away from the area, I immediately waved to catch her attention and lure her towards my direction.
Chicken Caesar Ciabatta
with Egg Mayonnaise
Wonton and Pak Choy in Noodle Soup
A request for a bowl of wonton noodle soup along with a glass of water was quickly acknowledged. Five mintues afterwards, a red bowl containing several pieces of wontons floating in the soup along with the strings of noodle and chopped 白菜 (Pak Choy) was placed on the centre top of a red tray accompanied by a dipping plate of 辣椒油 (Lat Chiu Yau - aka Chilli Oil), an egg shaped salt shaker, a pair of chop stick, and a white soup shaped spoon were brought back to my table.
As I slowly dug the chopsticks into my bowl, I switched on the menus of StudioCX and settled for a news broadcast from TVB. Interior cabin lights at the moment remained dimmed as most of the other passengers were still sleeping. As a result, I relied upon the Personal lights popping out from the side of my headrest to provide the needed illumination for me to continue my consumption of the snack.
After the snack was completed and cleared away, I converted my seat back into a plat position once again and tried desperately to fall back asleep. Attempt once again was a total failure as I more or less became a night owl laying down hopelessly. Nonetheless as time continued to fade away, I decided to retrieve my bags and head back into the lavatory to change back into my normal clothes.
Manouvering closer and closer to our final destination, many of the sleeping passengers finally awoke. Noticing how comfortably they slept throughout the night, I have to admit that I became slightly jealous. While at the same time, I began hearing clanking sound of plates as an ever clear signal that the crews were busy preparing for the breakfast service to come.
With the seat having been converted back to an upright position, one FA came over to brighten the start of the day with a warm good morning reception. As she was taking my order, I had a brief friendly chit chat with her. I managed to tell my side of the story regarding my lack of ability to get a descent amount of sleeping hour during the middle of the flight.
With an unsatisfied expression colouring her face, she wondered and asked if it had any connection to the cabin temperature, lighting, or seat positioning. My response as I had stated earlier, was the inability of my body clock to comply and adapt to the time more than anything else. Anyhow she remained apologetic and hoped that things will turn out on a better note the next time around. The apology was of course unnecessary.
Fresh Seasonal Fruit
Natural, Fruit or Low Fat Fruit Flavoured
Muesli , Corn Flakes, or Rice Crispies
Eggs - Freshly Scrambled, Fried or Boiled
with Minced Beef
Poached Smoked Haddock
Pork and Leek Sausage and Bacon
Vine Tomato and Flat Cup Mushrooms
Assorted Bread, Roll and Fresh Toast
Served with Preserve, Honey and Butter
Tea and Coffee
In order for us to serve you better, all meal orders have to be finalised at least 45 minutes prior to landing.
Moments afterwards another purser came over to have my table set up. The formality was the usual white covered setting with the egg-shaped salt shaker, a plate containing 3 bottles of Jam, a butter plate containing two medallion spiked shaped butter, a bb plate, the unwelcomed plastic forks and knifes, and a glass of orange juice filled three quarters to the top that I had asked for earlier. First to appear in front of my sight was a plate containin various fresh fruits that included cut slices of peach, honey dew, grapefruit, and pineapple just as I had requested along with a crossaint placed gently on top of the bb plate to my left.
Apparently the full dinner service along with the wonton noodle I requested for a midflight snack did not leave much room for my stomach. Thus I declined the yoghurt and cereal selections and went straight to the main courses. A plate containing scrambled eggs portioned together with bacon, slices of tomatoes, mushroom, three pieces of cut potatoes, and two pieces of sausages that I had ordered earlier was brought over promtly by one purser.
A request for a cup of tea moments afterwards was gladly accepted. Not only was it brought back quickly, a complete set that included a fully filled tea pot, a small pitcher filled with milk cream and a mug placed on top of a mini plate were gradually set up in front me. The set up would conclude with the purser pouring the first cup from the pot.
As I began to take bites into my eggs gradually while sipping gently into my warp cup of tea, I decided to lift up the shades on my right and was greeted by a lovely sunshine. A much welcomed scene after flying a good portion of the trip in darkness. By this time we were 90 minutes away from reaching HKG.
As we continued closer towards our final destination, it appears that everyone was through with breakfast. I myself had already cleaned my plate and was taking the last couple of sips from my coffee mug. With than in mind, some of the crews began clearing and storing the tables away while at the same time an annoucement from the captain informed us of our descent into CLK.
Seat belt signs soon lit up as we gradually decreased in elevation. Partly sunny skies with some haze was the modem outside as I monitored the descent. At 2:27 pm on an early Saturday afternoon local time, B-HOP touched down approximately 20 minutes behind schedule. Another long haul journey about to conclude with the final stages of the aircraft movement taxiing towards the terminal.
After a full and complete stop at the gate, I quickly stood up, stretched briefly, and reached for my carryons and belongings on the overhead compartment. As I patiently made my way out of the cabin, I was able to exchange smiles and farewells to another wonderful bunch of caring crews who at the same time was able to return the same jesture. They once again demonstrated the level of professionalism that one would expect from a first class rated crew.
Possesing a HK Identity Card, Immigration along with the baggage claim that followed afterwards were a breeze. Without any significant delays and with an octopus card already handy in my wallet, I was able to board the AE for the effective 20 minute ride back to Kowloon Station. And as I continued to reflect back on the elements of this just completed flight, I was already onboard my taxi ride from the Station towards my home in the Hung Hom area.
Still rather woozy from the lack of sleep onboard the aircraft, I was relieved that I had the remaining Saturday afternoon as well as the full Sunday tomorrow off to relax and recouperate before heading back to the office on Monday. Thank goodness I only had another six hours to try to stay awake and readjust my body clock before climbing into bed once again tonight. A much needed rest in my own bed will be a nice welcome as the upcoming work week will be a busy and a hectic one.
Overall, another great flight staffed by another wonderful set of cabin crews. Cathay Pacific once again has demonstrated the ability to provide a quality first class product at an overall high level. I was relieved that the trolley service with regards to the Caviar was still an element of the service and has not disappeared which BTW confirms that the nonexistence on last week's outbound sector was merely a rare one time occurence..
As for the food themselves with the exception the Caviar, quality of meal for this flight was average to say the least but with it being an ex-LHR catering, I was not overly surprised and did not hold an extremely high level of expectation. Portions as always were generous and plentiful.
The plastic cultery on the other hand was another sore eye sight and I would beg for them to bring the metal ones back for this route as soon as possible. Though easier said than done, I have absolutely no clue as to when. Nonetheles, it is such a shame that a great first class product has to be presented with such cheap quality utensils.
I was also pleased that CX took the initiative to erect a lounge of their own at Heathrow more than a year and a half ago. A wise move rather than dumping passengers at the grotty AA Admirals Club. The though of having to utilize the AA lounge does nothing but creep me out.
As for the lounge itself, my experience of the setting, appearance, and stockings was a welcoming sight. Though I do wish they would do a better job of controlling the room temperature as the heater was overly heated and made for an uncomfortable stay. Overall it was a nice location to chow down prior to the flight.