I have noticed many comments, on a.net and Skytrax, about deteriorating service onboard CX, so I was very curious about what to expect. I am used to KLM service (long-haul) and was generally satisfied with that. My last trip was on a KLM 772, so this was a nice opportunity to compare these competing aircraft from a pax point of view. On this trip I was accompanied by my lovely wife.
Planned departure time: 13:15
Actual push back time: 13:15 (yep right on time, excellent)
Seat: 45K (the missus was in 45H)
B-HXE in full splendor at gate E19
At check in I asked a lady from CX ground staff if the flight was full. According to her it was, and she also told me that almost all CX flights to/from AMS are packed. They went from 5 weekly to daily, but still it's always packed. I wonder if CX will be considering putting the 77W on this flight. She did not know that of course. At check in I inquired about a window seat. Alas, none were available. However, when she saw our Marco Polo cards she unblocked seats 45 H and K for us, which are reserved for overbooked Business seats. So we got our window seats anyway. Overall, check-in was a breeze, ground crew very friendly and helpful.
Anyway, at the gate it was obvious that the flight was indeed full. Again I was happy to have registered for the Marco Polo club, as it seemed that no-one else was. We were first in line for the Marco Polo/Business class boarding line and as such, the first pax to enter the aircraft (another first time!). First impression: aircraft not as cramped as some lead you to believe compared to the 772. Seats clean, pitch OK (I'm not very tall and the pitch is 1 or 2 inches more than KLM. Seat 45 H and K are in front of the restrooms, which means no-one sitting behind us. This was a big plus. Seatguru lists these as poor seats, but the pitch and recline were fine, so no complaints. Only drawback is the odour coming from the restroom after some-one made "number two".
As mentioned, push-back was right on time. Alas, we were to taxi to the "polder-baan". Anyone familiar with AMS knows this means a long taxi. (about 25 minutes). Meanwhile our Australian sounding captain informed us that the flight would take a little over 11 hours, which is shorter than planned, so we would arrive a bit earlier. Good news of course!! Finally, after arriving at 36L we took off. take-off felt powerful, and not at all like a popular a.net myth that the a343 can only take-off by the curvature of the earth.
Rotation at 36L:
After a bit of a bumpy climb-out we finally leveled out at FL330. Later we would climb to FL370, only to descend to FL330 later on (due to turbulence).
Question: Why are FL's over China different? I always saw FL335, FL345, iso FL330, etc over China. Different rules?
Anyway, we had a very pleasant flight. As mentioned the seats were fine, everybody got an amenity kit (socks, tooth brush and mint, also sleeping mask on request) and the f/a's were very nice and attentive. Anytime someone pushed the call button, a f/a would be there within the minute (I also tried it out myself of course). So the service was clearly a step above KLM (to be clear, I have no problem with KLM service, it's just that CX is a cut above them). The only draw back is that IFE is not AVOD, like on KLM's 777's (and a332's and soon the MD11's). I did watch a few movies and Friends, but the uncertainty about when a movie would start was a bit annoying. Thankfully I have my Nintendo DS and iPod for such moments (and a good book of course). The flight went by pretty quickly, even though, unlike my wife, I did not sleep at all. I was thrilled when I felt the first sign of final descent.
Descent into HKG, slowing down:
Descent was rapid (which gave my wife problems with her ears, poor thing ) and slightly bumpy. It was unfortunately cloudy, but soon we could see the first fishing boats and container ships, and soon the hills of Hong Kong and were about to land.
After a very nice week in Hong Kong (awesome city!!! Clean, friendly, all the good things!!!) it was much too soon to say goodbye. Definitely a place worth visiting more than once, and a very nice introduction for me to Asia. At 20:30 it was time to head back to HKG airport. Now we finally got to appreciate how nice the airport is!! We are spoilt here with AMS, but HKG is a fantastic airport, so open and airy, it's amazing. Lots of shops, although we bought nothing, just coming from Kowloon, but still very nice!!! Check-in was again a breeze, this time we got seats 64H and K. My wife and I had agreed that I got the window seat to HKG and she to AMS. So I took 64H. This time not over the wing, but behind it, which resulted in some nice views during the flight. But more on that later.
Planned departure time: 00:05
Actual push back time: 00:10
Seat: 64H (the missus was in 64K)
Our flight was at gate 2. We arrived 1 1/2 hours before take-off, but B-HXA was already at the gate. At gates 3 and 4 there were 2 744's readying for departure to LHR, with half an hour between them. There was a Muslim man praying on the ground at gate 3, which undoubtedly made some people nervous!! My wife is also Muslim, but she usually prays more to herself. (I'm Catholic to be clear).
Boarding started about 40 minutes before departure, with the back rows called first. At first it seemed that the flight would be half empty, but alas, a lot of people were a bit later at the gate. The flight was absolutely packed again.
Again, the cabin looked clean and comfortable. The reason why on the flight to HKG I liked the fact that there was a wall behind us soon became a reality. A huge Dutch guy sat behind me, with his knees in the seat. This meant for me that I could hardly recline at all!! I prefer 45H/K anytime, I at least had decent recline in that seat, without complaints from somebody behind me!!
The captain (this time with a distinctly US accent) told us that due to strong headwinds the flight would be a bit longer than usual, at 13 hours. As a result we arrived at AMS 40 minutes later than planned (even though we left pretty much on time). I was not so happy with the flight time, but as I was really tired, I slept for most of the flight. Take-off was a bit more sluggish than at AMS, but I assume this is due to higher temperatures at HKG than AMS and the need for more fuel due to the headwinds. We climbed to FL275 and stayed there all the way to Russia. The first 2-3 hours were very bumpy (maybe due to the low FL?).
Cabin service was again excellent, our pre-ordered mails came quickly and was again very tasteful. The only draw-back to CX service is that they are slow to collect the meals afterwards, which is even worse for the people who receive theirs first (like us). Over Chine we had some very clear weather and excellent views of mountains and villages. Too bad it was night. We also had a nice conversation with the purser about aviation. CX has a very pleasant cabin crew!! Through the PA, they even encouraged chit-chat with them!!! After enjoying the meal and the views of Chine we went to sleep. Later on we had some other nice views.
St. Petersburg (somewhat blurred by the contrails of our aircraft):
Once over Russia, we climbed to FL340, and later on over European Russia to FL380, and stayed there until the top of descent point. Overall the flight went by quickly. I must have slept at least 8 hours, which is very unusual for me. I find it very hard to sleep on an aircraft, even long flights like this one (on my AMS-LAX-AMS trip I hardly slept for example, same goes for my frequent AMS-PBM-AMS trips).
As usual, descent into AMS was very gradual, and luckily my wife had no trouble with her ears hurting this time
Approach to AMS:
The weather was very Dutch, lots of clouds. Welcome home indeed!!! To compound our already long flight, our captain (IIRC Lance Woodworth) announced we would be landing on... the Polderbaan. This made some connecting passengers a bit nervous, as we were already 40 minutes late. To me it made no difference of course.
Touchdown AMS (excuse the quality, you can imagine touching down is a bit bumpy):
So, back again in dreary Holland, we disembarked, took one last picture of B-HXA that brought us back safely:
Thankfully, Dutch customs did not stop us, and went home.
All in all a very nice experience. If this is a deteriorated service, they must have been awesome in the past. CX is clearly above KLM (although I do disprove of KLM's 3 star ranking at skytrax). IMHO CX is 5 star worthy, though I have yet to fly MH, SQ or QR. Nice ground crew in AMS and HKG, very friendly cabin crew, prompt service, and special meals are well taken care of. Thank you CX for a great experience, thank you Hong Kong for being such an awesome city and thank YOU for reading this long TR. I hope you enjoyed it a bit and of course any comments are welcome!!!