Date: 25 January 2002
Scheduled Departure Time: 2105
Actual Departure Time: 2100
Flight time as advised by captain: 9h 50m
Cathay Pacific flights to Auckland are normally operated by Airbus A340s, but due to the high demand for this route near the start of the new school year in New Zealand, Cathay upped the capacity to a 747-400 on this date (B-HUE).
I arrived at HKIA's gorgeous glass terminal just before six, and it was a short walk down a gentle ramp to the CX First Class check-in. There are six concierge-style desks for passengers, and attendants wheel your check-in baggage away to an adjacent 'normal' counter for tagging. This system is extremely efficient, with the attendant attaching priority tags to each bag, detaching a perforated tag which is given to the check-in agent, the number entered into the computer system. The destination tag with the same number is then printed out on a machine next to the 'normal' desk, the attendant matches the number on the printed tag with the number on the priority tag and presto, everything's complete.
Check-in was swift and efficient. The check-in agent addressed me by name when inquiring if I had packed any banned substances in my luggage. The check-in desks for First Class have a television monitor facing the passenger, another for the agent facing the other way. The monitor facing the passenger originally says 'WELCOME' but as details are entered into the computer by the agent, the screen changes to "Dear: (Passenger name eg Ms Daley)" and then gives weather/temperature for destination (Auckland) and also a currency conversion!
I am advised today's flight will depart from gate 3 and I am given a lounge invitation. Cathay Pacific now have two separate lounge complexes at HKIA, and the agent informs me that as the flight will be leaving from a CX Preferred Gate, I should use The Wing, the closer lounge. (The Pier is generally for flights leaving from gates 33 - 71 as it is situated opposite gates 62 - 64).
I proceed directly to South Immigration. Security agents check my boarding pass and wave me through. Passengers with oversized hand luggage are required to get a tag at check-in, otherwise they are not allowed through.
There is quite a queue for Visitors but as I hold a Hong Kong Permanent Identity Card, I was able to use the specially designated channel, which had only one other person. The immigration officers were efficient and managed a smile – a big improvement in facilities have improved their service attitude from the old yucky facilities of Kai Tak!
I was expecting a mess at security, especially after September 11, but there were four or five lanes open and the lines moved quickly. Those movable cloth strap thingywhatsits were set up so passengers were forced into single-file queues, which made everything much more orderly. I passed through the security checkpoint with no problem, and I was quite reassured to notice that the security agents were looking at the screen, occasionally freezing images, rather than socialising as at some other worldwide airports.
After clearing security, I turned left to access the First Class entrance to The Wing. Business Class passengers have to go down one level, walk to the Business class entrance opposite gate 2 and take the lift back up (First and Business class lounges are interconnected on level 7) which seems to me decidedly inconvenient but in terms of space is necessary.
The CX agent on reception greeted me with a smile, took my boarding card and invited me to go through. An attendant asked if I wished to check my bag for storage, an offer which I refused.
I found myself a comfy sofa and armchair combination on the outer wall, facing preferred gates 1 – 4 and the southern runway. Almost as soon as I sat down, an attendant materialised and asked if I would like a drink. My request for orange juice was delivered promptly, and it was a very nice surprise to find it was the fresh-squeezed variety.
(I’ll just take a moment to explain the lounge system. The agents are the CX representatives, in CX uniform. They handle enquiries, problems etc. The attendants are not employed by CX, they are employed by the Peninsula Group which is contracted to supply catering to the lounge).
I got some reading material from the storage spaces near reception: a variety of magazines and papers available, in different languages as well. No New Zealand Herald, however.
Music is played over the lounge speakers as the lounge is ‘open’. There is a half-body length wall running the length of the lounge complex, so you can lean over and take a look at people’s heads downstairs. I used to hate it, as whenever gate 1 boarded the complex gets flooded with noise, but now I enjoy being immersed in the airport ambience.
My orange juice was soon finished and whisked away by another black-and-white dressed attendant, who asked if I would like another drink. I said yes, and this drink materialised soon afterwards, along with some hot BBQ pork buns, which were delicious and an excellent nibble.
However, I felt even more hungry afterwards, so I wandered over to the restaurant ‘The Haven’ where a buffet dinner was being served.
Cathay Pacific deserve top marks for putting a full-service restaurant into their lounge, especially compared to some Australian and American carriers, where catering seems to mean rice snacks and biscuits. The tables and chairs are wooden, with real cutlery (except for the knife, which is plastic) and a water feature running down one side. The Haven is shielded from the rest of the lounge by an opaque wall.
I take a seat at a table for two, and an attendant asks for my drink order – I opt for a Sprite. There is also hot soup available for order from the attendants – today’s is pea soup, which I completely detest, so I didn’t order a bowl.
There is a chef on-hand to carve a roast: tonight was rack of lamb. There are three hot dishes:
Veal in mango sauce
Black cod in watercress sauce
Rice, potatoes and hot mixed vegetables
Other sides like sushi, cold cuts, and bread are also available.
Dessert includes assorted pastries, cakes, chocolates, and Haagen Dazs ice cream available on request.
Everything is delicious and I am soon stuffed. The hot dishes are continually topped up by chefs from the kitchen.
All food is completely free to all lounge guests. First Class passengers and their guests only can access The Haven, although for Business Class passengers there is the Noodle Bar, offering hot snacks like BBQ pork buns and bowls of freshly prepared noodles (not the instant kind, but actually prepared by staff on-hand) and cold snacks like sandwiches and cakes. There is a wide variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
It is worth noting that The Pier also features The Haven, and in the Business Class section, the Juice Bar. Internet access is poor in The Wing, with four desktops available in the Business Class Reading Room, although LAN is available. The Pier is much better technology-wise, featuring sixty workstations, all equipped with a personal desktop and phone. The Wing has “Pebbles” available for entertainment – it picks up local TV channels and is really quite amusing to play with, if nothing else.
I while away the rest of the time with my magazines and watching the boarding of CX111 to Sydney at Gate 1. B-HOX, Spirit of Hong Kong, was flying this route today and it was very entertaining watching the boarding process from start to finish. As an addict of the BBC’s Airport programme, I was especially fascinated by a ‘lost passport’ case. The doors had in fact closed when the passport was found, the passenger allowed on, and B-HOX departing at 1952 for a scheduled time of 1920.
No boarding announcements are made in The Wing, although I periodically checked the inset monitors and also Gate 3, visible in the distance.
Boarding commenced for the flight around 2040. I walked over to the Business Class section to take the lift to level 6. The CX agent ‘on guard’ at the First – Business lounge intersection wished me a pleasant flight as I passed.
The lift put me opposite gate 2, and it was a short walk to gate 3 where boarding was now in full swing. A A340-300, B-HXM was parked at 2 ready for an 0015 departure to Amsterdam as CX271 (new Business class aircraft), and a Airbus A330-300 B-HLD at gate 4 would shortly be filling up for a 2120 departure to Manila.
All gates at HKIA use a double bridge system. Economy class passengers board through the right hand fixed link bridge, connecting to the second movable bridge, first and business class passengers through the left connecting to the first movable bridge. A family with a baby and pushchair asked one of the agents if they could use the F/J entrance as there was a very long queue for Y, and the agent swiftly escorted them to the F/J entrance and processed them personally. I was very impressed.
The check-in agent ran my boarding pass through the machine, handed it back to me with a “Thank you Ms Daley” and gestured to the waiting bridge. The bridge slopes downward, then a 90 degree left turn into the movable bridge, sloping downwards again to door 1L. A Senior Purser (purple uniform) was waiting, as was the Inflight Services Manager, a tall Indian lady for this sector.
The Senior Purser took my boarding stub and escorted me to my seat, a left window. Cathay’s 747-400s are configured in First Class as 1AK, 2AK, 3ADGK, 4ADGK. A slide-out table is between 2A and K for the crew to use during meal services, and a space underneath was filled with newspapers for passengers to select. Crew did run a newspaper service after drinks and canapés were done.
The Senior Purser introduced herself as Share, from Thailand, and took my drink order for orange juice. This came with a hot scallop, which was tasty. Hot towels followed.
Shortly before doors-closed, crew came around with slippers, eyeshades, amenity kits and pyjamas. There are three crew assigned to 747-400 First Class: Senior Purser Share, and First Class Pursers Maricelle and Kaori on this sector.
Safety video was shown, and during taxi, Cinema on Demand request forms were handed out. These would be exchanged for mini-tapes after take-off. Crew cleared the newspapers, glasses, towel trays and canapé plates. Cabin secured for takeoff.
It was a long taxi tonight from gate 3 as we would be departing from 25R (southern runway towards Tung Chung and the Tsing Ma bridge).
After passing through 10000 feet, the crew began their duties, and shortly came round with menus. There was a beautiful photograph of food on the front: there are four different photograph covers.
*** Caviar and Balik Delight ***
Balik Salmon ‘Tsar Nicolaj’ served with Warm New Potatoes and Crème Fraiche
“A LA CARTE MENU”
Create your 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.
*** Light Option ***
- Oxtail Cream Soup
- Cantonese Six Treasures Herbal Broth with Pork (with recipe on separate insert)
- Mixed Salad with Mozarella served with Balsamic Vinegar Dressing
*** Main Courses ***
- Sauteed Seabass Fillet with Leek and Mustard Sauce, served with Boiled Potatoes with Parsley, Fresh Seasonal Vegetables
- Rigatoni with Spicy Grilled Tomato Sauce (vegetarian option)
*** Snack Selection ***
- Asparagus and Artichoke Quiche with Salad served with Creamy Italian Dressing
- Roast Beef on Sour Dough Baguette
Movenpick Ice Cream
- Braised Duck Breast with Black Mushrooms and Chestnut served with Steamed Rice and Stir-fried Pak Choy
- Rice Noodles with Duck and Barbecued Pork in Fresh Chicken Broth
- Noodles with Shanghai Wonton in Fresh Chicken Broth
- Shredded Pork and Century Egg Congee accompanied by Spring Onion Pancake
- Braised Lo-hon Mixed Vegetables served with Steamed Rice and Shanghai Pak Choy
*** Dessert ***
Sweet Green Bean Soup
Tea and Coffee
Pralines and Cookies
Condiments of Guilin chilli sauce and soya sauce are available to accompany your choice. Olive oil is available on request.
A very comprehensive menu. First Class Purser Kaori returned shortly to take orders. Addressing me by name, she asked what I would like for dinner.
Being rather full from The Haven, I chose the Shanghai Wonton Noodle Soup, electing to skip the appetisers. Passengers are more than welcome to have both the salad and soup, and even to choose two main dishes, one from the Chinese Favourites section and one from the Western section. I also placed an order for apple juice.
The tray table is located in the side armrest, and is huge. Crew come around shortly with linen tablecloths, bread plate and butter knife, butter, cutlery, chopsticks, a ceramic spoon, salt-and-pepper, toothpick and dental floss, and crystal glassware, all laid out elegantly on the table.
The bread basket is proffered by First Class Purser Maricelle. There is a wide range of breads: poppyseed, sourdough, garlic and some others. The garlic bread is a roll-type served in tinfoil, and was very tasty. The bread basket was offered twice.
The salmon cart is wheeled around shortly, although my noodles also arrive fairly quickly, while everyone else is having the soup and salad. Meals are served direct from the galley.
As I begin to tuck into my snack, Inflight Services Manager Chelvi appears, and starting from 1A, works her way down the cabin. She wishes me a pleasant meal and doesn’t seemed particularly inclined to chat to any passengers, although this could be because of the meal service. I found her more aloof and distant than most ISMs on Cathay – they normally introduce themselves either before or shortly after take-off, and wish you a pleasant flight, any problems see me etc.
The wontons are quite flavourful, although I prefer the Hong Kong version, and the noodles are very nice. The broth was hot and flavourful.
I decide against any movies – the time is just coming on to 2230HK and shut-eye is desirable. I slip out of the seat using the very innovative aisle armrest – it can be pushed right down so passengers can get out even if the tray table is deployed to make use of the bathroom. It is well stocked with numerous lotions and potions, toothbrushes, and a flower next to the mirror.
Returning to my seat, I find Maricelle in the process of clearing up my tray table. After enquiring if I would like dessert and getting a negative response, Maricelle whisks away my tablecloth, stows the table, and returns with a nice comfy duvet and a bottle of Evian water.
I pull on the pyjama shirt over my top and recline the seat into the full 180 degree position, settling the duvet over me. The engines provide a nice thrum to lull me to sleep fairly quickly. Many of the other 11 passengers were still having their main courses when I fell asleep.
B-HUE is cruising over the Tasman Sea when I awake, just under two hours out from Auckland.
I put my seat up and out of nowhere, Maricelle appears and enquires if I would like breakfast. Quickly scanning my menu:
*** Juices ***
Fresh Orange Juice, Fresh Grapefruit Juice or Banana Health Drink
Fresh Seasonal Fruits
*** Main Courses ***
Omelette with Mushrooms
Assorted Chinese Dim Sum
*** Accompaniments ***
Grilled Lamb Noisette, Back Bacon and Breakfast Sausage, Parmentier Potatoes, Broiled Tomato with Parsley and Fresh Mushrooms
*** From the Bakery ***
Croissant, Danish Pastry, English Muffin, Bread Roll and Wasa Cracker served with Preserves and Butter
I choose the OJ, the fruit, the lamb, bacon, sausage and potatoes and croissants. Maricelle returns to lay the table and also with my fresh orange juice. The seasonal fruits arrive in a dish shortly afterwards – after I finish with that the dish is cleared quickly and the hot food arriving with a basket with two croissants, and strawberry jam.
The food is very tasty, especially the croissants which were still piping hot. The meal was also beautifully presented, and it is also worth noting that this was prepared by the crew on the spot and not pre-prepared on the ground.
After I finish, the flight pursers are quick to clear up and I flick on the PTV (10.4 inches set in a burnished wood console opposite). Resorting to watching a couple of American sitcoms (and I cannot believe people actually consider putting money into the shows I watched, they were appalling), I decided Airshow was probably better entertainment. We were now 1 hour 15 minutes out of Auckland and crew were beginning to run a breakfast service for 6 or so passengers who had just woken up.
My request for another glass of orange juice was met with promptly, and my duvet was also taken away immediately when I indicated to Share that I no longer wanted it.
I drew up the window shades and readied my area for landing. B-HUE touched down on approach over Henderson at 1204, arriving over an hour ahead of the scheduled time 1305.
B-HUE taxied to gate 10, the furthest gate away. Details about baggage reclaim were given over the intercom. Exiting quickly, thanking the crew for their service and was on my way to immigration.
Now, I’m a New Zealander, and I use Auckland Airport frequently because I travel heaps through business and pleasure. I must say that Auckland Airport has got to be one of the most inefficient airports I have ever come across. Our flight was lucky today in that we actually got a gate, because on previous CX107s the plane has had to wait on one side for up to 35 minutes for the assigned gate to become free.
Immigration was, as usual, for this airport, appalling. The facility provided is so small that we were kept on the mezzanine level overlooking the baggage hall because of overcrowding. I honestly shudder to think what the tourists think of New Zealand – their first impression of complete and utter chaos. A third-world airport.
Customs and Quarantine was even worse, and airport staff were surly and rude, treating everyone as if they were infected with the black plague.
An excellent flight on Cathay Pacific. Crew were attentive, friendly and efficient. They added a certain style and elegance to the service that I find some carriers just completely lack. Throughout the whole process, staff addressed me by name, whether it be the check-in agent or the flight pursers. Catering was superb, as was the First Class sleeper seat. I find First Class in the 747-400 to be much more pleasanter than that on the A340 or A330. I’d love for Cathay to consider using the 747-400 more often on HKG/AKL routing. Lounge facilities in Hong Kong are second to none and the entertainment system is probably very good, except I’m not much of a movie watcher.
“Cathay Pacific… now you are really flying.” I can attest to the truth in that!