During semester break in september of this year I decided that I needed a holiday before another hectic 4 months of study in my penultimate year of my degree. Being currently based in Hong Kong, rather than Australia, my options were pretty limitless. I decided to visit one place i'd been meaning to return to, and one place new.
Ever since last visiting Japan I had been meaning to come back. 3 years of putting it off and I finally decided that it was high time I get back to the land of the rising sun to indulge in ramen, confusing public transport and some off-beat japanese culture. Taiwan has also been on my perennial 'must visit' list, so a trip to taipei was in order.
Having slowly my loyalty away from Qantas and towards Marco Polo, I decided it was high time to start building status on Cathay. My routing was to be HKG-HND-HKG-TPE-HKG. Though Cathay have numerous fifth freedom flights from TPE to Tokyo, it was just as expensive to fly back to HKG, and then to TPE. And more time in the air too
I have the benefit of living right outside a bus stop that goes straight to HKIA. Much cheaper than the overpriced airport express, but if you're used to Hong Kong buses then you know they can be a bit... psychotic. My bus driver was obviously channelling Michael Schumacher on this day.
I've also produced this trip report in High Definition video on youtube. Click on through to check it out!
Checkin was quickly carried out at the Cathay Pacific dedicated First desks. Unlike some airlines, like Qantas, Singapore, and Malaysian, Cathay doesn't cordon off a separate area for first class checkin. The desks are next to the business class and marco polo desks, though are easily distinguishable by their cool laptop screen like kiosks.
The checkin agent was friendly, and my bags where whisked away by a porter to be tagged somewhere else. Cathay don't give priority immigration cards out for first passengers, which wasn't a problem for me as my HKID and HKIA Frequent Traveller Card allow me to use pretty much any lane I like (I just pick the shortest one, and whip out the appropriate card).
With the First Class section of the Wing being closed off for renovations, the only First lounge options for Cathay travellers are either The Pier, or the Qantas First Lounge. Having been to the Qantas lounge previously (and not being entirely blown away), I decided to spend my time in the Pier, which was conveniently located near my gate anyway!
Unlike the Wing, the Pier is underneath the main concourse level, meaning having to take escalators down. The semi-underground nature of the Pier means that the tarmac views aren't great. Very little natural light gets into the pier and makes the whole lounge seem a little bit... depressing. I can imagine it might not be so bad at night time when its dark outside, but during the day when you go into a very dark lounge... eh.
A deserted front desk... perfect for sneaky photos
Greyed out windows
Empty business centre
The Pier has seldom used private rooms for those extra long lounge layovers when you just can't bear having to make eye contact with other first class lounge users (which when you consider the DYKWIA attitude of some of them, it's kinda often). Whilst not as comfortable or as appointed as the Cabanas in the old Wing First lounge, the small rooms have a comfy lounge chair with touchscreen controls controlling the TV, the lighting, and the heat. My favorite was this little button that said 'service', that when you pressed, someone showed up quickly after at the door with more champagne. Lovely.
'The Haven' Buffet
Food is dealt with in the lounge by a Peninsula catered buffet called the Haven. It's a bit strange, and I don't know how much I loved it. After my excellent visit to the Qantas First Lounge in Sydney, i'm convinced that Flagship first lounges with sit-down full service restaurants are just the bomb. Whilst catered by the eponymous old Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, the food is pretty standard. The desserts however, were excellent. The spread is pretty good, but when the Cathay Business lounges get a noodle bar, with freshly prepared dan dan mian, and wonton mian, why is first class still stuck with a 'help yo'self' buffet? Grumble. Maybe that'll change with the new Wing first lounge. At least they sit you down, take a drink order, and the tables are nicely set (in other words, too much cutlery).
Not so busy...
And Cathay management said 'let them have cake'.
Noodles and dim sum. Snooze.
AH, now the champagne. Cathay serves bog standard Moet & Chandon NV in their first lounges, very much like Asiana and Malaysian, and I have no idea why. There isn't anything particularly wrong with it, I wouldn't go to call it unpleasant (hey if someone offered me a free glass, it'd be gone in a second!), it's just not very... interesting. It confuses me that when Cathay are an airline who are extremely conscious about their wine selection (see further on for their bloody fantastic on board wines...), that they serve Moet in First lounges. I suspect its something to do with pleasing the brand conscious mainland travellers, but who knows. Even more perplexing is that they serve the comparitively excellent Piper Heidsieck in the business lounges, a much more rewarding drink.
I found myself wondering over to the business lounge to get me a glass of the better stuff. She left me in charge of the bottle. She never saw it again.
The Boarding & Takeoff
Boarding was called and I was on my way to the gate. Along the way I came across this hot-off-the-press China Southern A380. So fresh, you could pretty much smell that new-plane-smell from the terminal.
Thar she is.
Final Call...? Already...?
A flash of my boarding pass and I was on my way down my own private little aisle. I probably skipped down the jetbridge, I was a bit excited. Upon entering the door, the CSM (who was doing some paper work over the time) came over and introduced herself to me, and showed me to my seat.
'Would you like me to take your jacket?' she asked. Our relationship was definately moving quite quickly. She was extremely friendly, and I picked up on her japanese accent pretty quickly. We chatted about living in Hong Kong, things to do in Tokyo, and some other banter. It was nice, and definitely appreciated.
A pre flight snack and drink was furnished, and boy... that champagne. More on thar later.
Taxi'ing out to the runway took a long time, and there was a pretty large queue of aircraft waiting to depart in front of us, including this Air Canada Boeing and a MH 737 headed to Kota Kinabalu.
Once it was out turn, the massive boeings engines spooled up and we were gracefully hurtling down the runway. I like being in the nose of a 747 during takeoff, you get to hear all the bumps and groans of the forward landing gear, but at the same time the climb feels comfortable and smooth.
Cloudy over Kowloon. See you later, Hong Kong! Seatbelt signs were soon turned off, and the Australian captain come over the PA to introduce himself. Perfect time for me to explore the seat a little more...
Whilst Cathay's first class product has been around for a while, its still a fairly fresh offering and most people having travelled in Cathay First will agree. Though Cathay's new business class seats goes somewhat to blurring the lines between business and first class hard products (hey, the seats -are- very similar), the sheer width of the Cathay seats means you can't mistake it for a business class product.
The seat is so wide that it could quite easily (though not comfortably) fit two (very slim) people side by side. This is great because it allows you to relax with your feet up much like a sofa, without the need to extend the leg rest. In fact, I found the seat most comfortable in its upright position (unless you want to sleep, obviously). The pillows attached at the top are very soft, which your head kind of just sinks into. Perfect.
Straightforward control panel
IFE Remote controlling the excellent StudioCX
Interestingly in first class, so that you can see the safety videos, the flight attendants come around and swivel out your screens whilst the video plays, and then come back and reset them in their original position.
Food & Drink
Recently Cathay have switched out their first class favorite of Non Vintage Krug Champagne for a far more interesting and less known Amour de Duetz Millesime 2003, which is a absolutely outstanding prestige cuvee from the Deutz house in Aÿ. Being from Aÿ, you expect a full bodied, pinot-noir heavy bruiser like Gosset. Instead what you get is a smooth well structured wine with a long finish. On the nose it smells a lot like dried apricots and other preserved fruits, and on the pallete it's an almost macadamia like butteryness. Just perfect, and beats the pants of Krug. Well done to Cathay for selecting such an excellent champagne. I might have made my way through a bottle.
Did I drink all of that? Whoops...
A part of Cathay's new wine push is rotating different Bordeaux red wines throughout the year. They provide a little booklet with tasting notes (and a section in the back for making your own... its a bit wanky).
They were offering Chateau Lagrange which is a full bodied Cabernet Merlot, which is quite tannic and deep. It was good, but such a heavy red wine makes me feel a little gross on flights so I stuck with more champagne after a glass.
Nice table setting
Garlic bread & other rolls... the start of what can only be described as an 'assault' of food.
A very lovely gesture from the two First japanese FA's.
My choices in the menu had been to have the western entree & appetizer, followed by the Chinese Main. The sheer amount of food was just nuts, and it was far too much for one person. The appetizer was a roasted butternut squash & crayfish soup.
Followed by glazed tiger prawns served on papaya, this wasn't really to my taste. The seafood-on-fruit concept doesn't appeal to me.
Boiled Pak Choi
Sweet and Sour Cod As good as the Chinese meal was, it wasn't anything I couldn't get at a dai pai dong back in Hong Kong for $40HKD, and it would have been just as good.
The benefits of an onboard rice cooker... proper rice!
After being raped by the 3 courses there was no way I could eat anymore. So when the uber-polite CSM came over and offered me dessert, of course I said yes. I lack self control, whatever. Dessert was a lovely raspberry swirl cheesecake with a raspberry coulis served in a chocolate cup... and I ate it all. Completely full, unable to eat any more, and I had aaaaaall the cake.
By this time it was pretty dark outside, and I decided to relax into my seat. Strangely, I found that sitting facing towards the back of the seat (pictured above) was extremely comfortable.
Funky mood lighting on this old bird.
Bathroom with a view (but not tonight).
Aesop Australian Products
Well stocked amenity drawer, with towels, tooth brushes, shaving kits.
Not long after the perenially long and protracted dinner service did we make our descent into Tokyo. It was a smooth touchdown at Haneda, followed by docking at a remote stand (groan). This meant that, whilst all the lovely first class pax were allowed to disembark first, we then had to wait on a bus for 10 minutes whilst all the other passengers leisurely filed into the bus before we left for the terminal. Not a very first class experience, but then again the amount of money that Japanese airport authorities charge for gate slots is insane.
After a smooth ride through customs, it was off to the Haneda train station, catching a Keikyu train into Ginza-itchome!
Japan, as always, was a blast. I didn't have as much time as i'd like, but I caught up with a friend in tokyo, managed to eat some wonderful food. I spent the weekend walking through harajuku and omotesando, and just generally taking it easy. On my last night, I got into a game of poker with a bunch of drunk salarymen at an izakaya, I won, and one of them started stripping off and gave me his tie. It was a solid night.
JAL Sakura First Lounge Haneda
On my way back to Hong Kong, I got to spend a bit of time in the JAL First Lounge in Haneda. I haven't been able to find any other trip report that features this lounge, so it might be a first! Check out my video below for my impressions!
All in all, another fantastic trip with Cathay. Cathay manages to do everything almost perfect, the on-the-ground experience, the inflight service, the lounges, are all extremely polished and refined. The first product is great, and though the new Cathay business seats are getting closer and closer in similarity to their first offering, I think the flight attendants make the first experience a little more special. Also, the amount of food offered is insane. The seat itself, whilst not a entirely semi-private suite like SIA or Emirates or JAL's new offering, doesn't need to be because it's so spacious and comfortable that you forget any want for extra privacy.
Other Trip Reports
Thanks for reading once again, and make sure to check out my other trip reports below:
Qantas A380 Business Class - SYD-HKG (Plus Sydney First Lounge)