Well well, I wanted to plan a week-long vacation to attend the Paris Air show...and my work would not let me take that week off. Then I decided to push it back a couple of weeks to attend my friend's graduation at Cambridge. Wouldn't allow that either...they wanted me to take advantage of the 4th of July vacation so that my trip would only require me to be gone 3 days instead of 5.
With that, I decided to go to Hong Kong with a friend!
Deciding who to book my ticket with was not easy. Nothing was cheap anymore and the options were as follows:
UA LAX/BUR-SFO-NRT-HKG and return
NW LAX-NRT-HKG-NRT-PDX-(5 hour layover)-LAX
UA was the cheapest but I'm not into Star and anyway I really didn't want to stop in San Francisco and Tokyo.
Northwest was good because of the 742 but on the way back it was 2 stops and I didn't fancy spending 5 hours at Portland, only to get on an AS 734.
JL was appealing, especially considering the free night at the Kansai Airport hotel (allowing me to pick up immigration stamps from Japan and Hong Kong) but the fact that the ticket was not changeable or refundable except in the event of death was a bit too restrictive.
That brings me to the most expensive option, to fly what has been voted the world's most popular airline, get closer to completing my 744 RB211 tour of the world and rack up some oneworld points. Sounded like a good plan to me. I paid $1260 for my return ticket in Economy. Approxtimately $170 more than United, but the hotel would be cheaper as I'd arrive on Sunday morning as opposed to Saturday night, so I decided to go for it.
2nd July 2005
B-HOO del 26-09-88
Well, the day actually started on Thursday at about 2:05 am. I set my alarm for 2:05am in order to check-in online on Cathay's website and get a good seat. I got up, turned on my computer, logged in and then....damnit, realised that I needed my passport number and expiration date, which I didn't have!!!
Went back to bed and woke up again at 6:00am, called my mother to get my passport number etc and then checked-in online and got seat 55K, a bulkhead window, the first aisle of the rear Economy cabin.
I then called my colleague and told him to get seat 55E, the middle seat next to my window. Yes you heard me right....I meant to tell him 55J but instead told him 55E. He went ahead and picked 55E, not realising that it wasn't the middle seat next to the window and so that was the end of our sitting next to each other on the flight.
Cathay's online check-in doesn't get you a boarding pass; rather, it allows you to checkin at the "Online Checkin" desk at the airport, which is what I did approximately 40 hours later, at about 11pm on Friday night, the 1st of July.
Bradley was a mess at that hour, but luckily the Cathay Online Checkin line was empty. The check-in agent was kind enough to inform me that the aircraft operating the route that evening would be B-HOO. B-HOO is Cathay's oldest 744 and I believe the first 744 to be equipped with the RB211, my favourite aero engine. Quite frankly, I was relieved that B-HKD did not make it to Los Angeles that night, as I really wanted to fly on an RB211 744.
Photo © Andrew Hunt - AirTeamImages
Photo © Manas Barooah
Here is a photo of me at the top level of the terminal showing my boarding pass:
Security, customs, blah blah blah...at about 1:15, Cathay started boarding. There were all of 4 empty seats on the flight and unfortunately 55J was not one of them. There was a Vietnamese lady sitting in 55J and an Indian gentleman in 55H, heading to Ho Chi Minh City and Bombay respectively...both on CX.
Row 55 is a bit of an anomaly. On the sides of the airplane, row 55 is the bulkhead but in the middle row 54 is the bulkhead and 55 is behind it. There is not a whole lot of legroom in row 55. You can't slide your feet underneath the seat in front of you like in a regular seat, but on the plus side, you have more than 32" of pitch between you and the wall. You can get up and access the aisle without the people sitting in J and K getting up...but they will have to unstretch their feet.
Anyway, as soon as I sat down, I had a look at the pouch in front of me. Cathay provides each passenger a fresh copy of the in-flight magazine (which I found quite entertaining...though I was upset that they didn't have a fleet information section), the safety card, duty free (sorry...free duty) guide as well as a vomit bag wrapped in a plastic cover which I thought was a nice touch. On a side note, the only Chinese word I picked up during my stay in Hong Kong was the word for vomit. Apparently it is Tooo in Mandarin and Tau in Cantonese. Also means spit?
Here's a shot of the wall in front and the aforementioned plastic bag:
Also in the wall pocket in front of me was a Cathay pouch identical to the pouch that I received on Qantas...only that CX's did not have any eyeshades in it. Rather, there was a piece of paper to say "Eyeshades available upon request." Not sure why they can't bother to put them in to begin with.
Here's a shot of the QF and CX pouches as well as a shot of me wearing the QF eyeshades:
The cockpit crew of this flight were English (well, the pilot and copilot were anyway) and they pushed us back around 2am. The RB211 started churning and after a fairly long takeoff roll, we lifted off from Runway 25R and turned to a northwesterly heading and started our journey across the Pacific.
The first order of business was dinner. Fortunately, they chose to come around with the drinks and food only once so that we could get to bed ASAP. Cathay apparently makes it a habit of giving passengers a choice between three dishes and on that night's flight, the options were lamb stew, stir-fried seafood and fusilli carbonara.
Hope this shot of the menu is not too small:
I had the lamb stew and it wasn't too fantastic. Here are a couple shots of the tray and the food:
The F/As on board were almost all women (i think there was one man) and their style of service was certainly professional...but not at all charismatic, nor even friendly.
Dinner was edible but nothing fantastic. As soon as they came around to collect the trays, I tried to go to sleep. It was slightly difficult as I wasn't able to stretch my legs out (at 1.74, I'm not very tall and I think that if I was any taller, I couldn't have survived in those seats). I put my legs on my camera bag and snoozed. I had brought some ear plugs from the manufacturing cell at work but forgot them at home, so I just put on the acoustic headphones that I got from my Concorde flight and that was just fine.
Got up a couple of times and went to the lav. There aren't that many in the economy section. There are 2 at the #3 door (at row 44) and then 4 at the very back, with nothing in the middle. One thing that is nice is that the F/As actually come around every so often and clean the toilets and the counters with some spray, which is certainly appreciated.
Here is a shot of us towards the end of my nap:
Eventually we were about 3 hours out from Hong Kong when they started to serve breakfast. The choice was between a scrambled eggs, pork sausage and potato meal or abalone clam and chicken congee. I had the eggs and they weren't that great. In fact I would have really preferred just a bowl of cereal instead. When I flew Qantas in March, a continental breakfast was an option and I could have used it onboard Cathay.
Here's a shot of the breakfast:
Worth mentioning at this stage is that the Cathay trays are not just random pieces of plastic, they are actually quite nicely designed with imitation bamboo handles etc...quite a nice touch.
Here is a shot of the view from my window (55K) around the time that we were having breakfast:
I entertained myself with CX's Studio CX entertainment system at that point. I thought I remembered that Million Dollar Baby was going to be playing, so I tried to find it. I thought I recognized Hillary Swank, but after about 10 minutes realised that I was watching Miss Congeniality instead. So I changed the channel to something else which I thought could have been it, but actually wasn't. Eventually I settled on the Man Utd vs Newcastle rerun:
There was a fair amount of turbulence during the flight. When we were having breakfast, the F/As told us that they could not serve coffee while the Fas-ten (pronounce the T) seat belt sign was on. Makes sense...but as soon as the sign was switched off they came round with it.
Upon approach to Hong Kong, I began to enjoy my window seat more. As we were landing, we passed over all these little hilly islands in the sea with ships scattered between them all. It was a beautiful sight and I'm sorry to say that I didn't get a picture of it!
Landing was fairly smooth and the thrust reversers came on (although I didn't hear them). I think we arrived on 07L and taxiied to the north side of the complex and parked at the gate. After having been in the air almost 14 hours, we arrived at about 07:00, almost 40 minutes ahead of schedule.
After disembarking, we boarded some sort of tram and went through immigration, etc and then I took the shuttle to my hotel.
Overall, I wasn't particularly impressed with Cathay. Service was definitely good, but the F/As were neither friendly nor charming. The meals were alright, at least for airplane food. I would have liked them to have passed out a little snack pack with water and perhaps a couple of other goodies before we were to sleep, similar to what I received on Qantas.
In addition, the in-flight entertainment (Studio CX), while fairly good in terms of having lots of channels and games, did not have a detachable remote control. So if I wanted to play a game, I'd have to control what I was doing from the armrest!
Lastly, I felt as though the seat did not recline nearly as much as my QF seat did (more on that in my return report).
In summary, I did not experience anything which would lead me to think that Cathay Pacific is indeed the world's best airline. I much preferred my 4 flights on Qantas back in March! Perhaps they're significantly better in F and C.
Perhaps I had set my expectations too high. Cathay has some fantastic ingredients to their product - the entertainment is good, the F/As are efficient, they provide three meal choices, the inflight magazine is always brandnew, there are snacks and sandwiches available between meals.
Anyway, I'm still glad that I flew on CX and I'll hopefully be writing my return report at some point today. At the moment it's 05:37 here and I think the jet lag is taking its effect. Hopefully there aren't too many typos in the report.
For the sake of reference, here are the two reports that I wrote after my QF journeys in March:
Qantas LAX-AKL-BNE-SYD in Econ w/Pix
Qantas SYD-LAX in Econ w/Pix
Thanks for reading!