I haven’t written a trip report in almost ten years, but with quite a bit of down time over the holidays I decided to do another one, this time for a business trip I made from the UK down to Australia on Cathay Pacific in December 2019.
I’ll let the photos do most of the talking and will mostly provide my take on some of what CX got right and wrong. Just a disclaimer – I only had a positive view of the airline coming into this as in fact it was my first time flying them. Over the years I’ve generally been loyal to United, BA and otherwise generally the Star Alliance carriers. On this occasion the routing and pricing of the CX itinerary was just too good and hence I flew this airline. A nice side benefit of this trip was that it earned me BA Silver / Oneworld Sapphire for a whole 21 months which will make my economy flying in 2020 and 2021 much more comfortable. CX256 (B77-300ER)
LHR – HKG
30 November 2019
I flew out to Australia on a Saturday evening so that I could be in Sydney on Monday morning. I always look forward to Saturday night long haul flights as once you’re at the airport, it’s a chance to just sit back relax and enjoy the travel. Even better if you get to do it in great comfort, enjoying a few movies, catching up on reading, and having a few glasses of nice champagne, wine or spirits.
I arrived at LHR T3 about 3 hours before departure. I went to Cathay’s premium check in desks to check my luggage and collect my boarding passes. The ground staff could not be less bothered with giving me a personalised experience. One of them even walked away as I approached, and the other spent her time chatting with her next door colleague rather than give me any personalised attention. Oh well, the procedure was still efficient enough and I was off to security. These staff are definitely from CX’s ground handling company and they just don’t care, which isn’t great given they’re most passengers’ first human interaction with the airline’s service product.
Once past screening, I first headed to the Qantas lounge, which was mostly deserted. The furnishings are done to a very high standard like you’d see in a brand new 5* hotel. The food and drink offer is above average. They’ve spent a lot of effort on their bar and seemed to have a good selection of gins and a bartender who knew his stuff. I didn’t stay too long as I was going to make the CX lounge my main event.
I picked one of the green velvet pod seats, set up my laptop and ordered a couple of food and drink items. Around 8pm on a Saturday and the lounge was quite empty despite two upcoming CX 777 departures.
Now, my second critique of CX – the much lauded noodle and dumpling bar contrary to how it may look, serves mostly 3rd party factory manufactured food that is simply steamed or reheated on site. I was looking for something truly vegetarian or pescatarian and sadly even the prawn dumplings contained “traces of pork” according to the factory packaging. Thanks to the staff for letting me see the labelling. In the end I took my chances and had the Har Gow along with some egg noodles, a glass of champagne and a nicely made Manhattan.
CX 256 had started to board so I headed to the gate, which was utter chaos. Somehow managed to squirrel through the crowds and made it onto the aircraft.
I had the 21A bulkhead seat in the aft business cabin of the aircraft. 777s are a delight to fly but Cathay’s are starting to show their age, mainly due to the lack of LED lighting and a general yellowing of the interior plastic panelling. The CX business seat however is excellent with absolutely tons of room around the hips, shoulders and feet. My only small complaint with this bulkhead seat is that the protrusion where the monitor resides comes out rather too far and restricts the feeling of open space at the eye level.
I settled in for over 12 hours in this seat and cabin. We were off bang on time and had a very short taxi and wait for the runway.
I was extremely hungry as I had skipped a proper lunch after a pretty big workout that morning, and only nibbled in the lounge, so I ate quite a lot of food during the first onboard meal service. The pea soup to start was tasty. The main of Chinese Cod however was a total let down as it was not very flavourful, the fish was dry and the portion was tiny and didn’t look much better than a microwave meal from Waitrose flipped over onto a plate. Cathay – you’re better than this! Also, the cabin service was totally robotic. The crew made very little contact with passengers after taking the initial orders, didn’t proactively refill water and wine and took items off my tray table without even asking if I was finished with them. Another comment about the food – the wine was cheap and unmemorable, and the champagne not cold enough. I feel like an airline like Cathay should stock one decent white Burgundy and one decent red Bordeaux as they’re sure to please most of their passengers between these two. The wine critique applies to all the other legs, and I barely had any thereafter.
I made my bed, finished watching “Vice” (very good) and then went to sleep. Caught about 7 hours before my nose and throat felt dry and woke me up, and shortly after they had started lighting the cabin to begin serving breakfast. The Bamford branded bedding packs which were consistently provided across all my flights were excellent, with both the mattress pad and duvet covered in crisp, clean sheets. High praise to Cathay for their new bedding.
Breakfast was delicious – especially the egg white omelette.
During our descent we passed over Shenzhen and SZX airport, and before long we were down on the ground in HKG.
I had a short layover and it was a bit muggy inside the terminal, so I chose “The Bridge” lounge rather than the better but further “The Pier” lounge, which I would sample on the return journey.
Nice views of the apron between the 4x and 6x gates.
Then I took a quick shower. The shower controls were quite fiddly and it took me a while to bring the temperature down to a tolerable level. Glad I didn’t scald myself. Lovely old lady who was looking after the shower suites, hats off to these people and how hard they work to prep these shower suites between uses. CX111 (A350-900)
HKG – SYD
1 December 2019
I headed to the gate as soon as boarding was called. It was a short walk from “The Bridge” down to Gate 67. Boarding the A350 was refreshing after having just flown the 777. The cabin is noticeably narrower, and the seat perhaps slightly smaller, but the overall cabin ambience is just incredible. Seat 12K (bulkhead bassinet) feels very private, cocooned and roomy, I really liked it.
Flying to Australia from Europe ain’t easy – after that first 12 hours of flying and 4-5 hours of ground experience, I was settling in for another 10 hours of flying, plus another couple of hours to go through customs and travel to my hotel. All said and done that’s 28 hours door to door. Phew!
Instead of an aperitif I had the Betsy craft beer which is brewed especially for Cathay Pacific. It’s a decent small batch brew, perhaps a bit too bitter without the floral and sweet notes to balance it out. But it’s fairly low in alcohol and drinks nicely on the plane.
There was a night and day difference in the quality of the service on this flight versus the previous one. The crew were younger, peppier and service was very attentive. For me, a white bean soup was followed by a fish ball noodle soup. The starter soup was again nice, the main was somewhat disappointing. Also double soup didn’t make much sense, but my choices as a pescatarian were otherwise quite limited.
I had the Milk Tea Tapioca pudding, which is a signature CX dessert. It was interesting but lacked the creaminess you’d expect from something that looks like a panna cotta or a crème caramel.
Another banging breakfast was served before landing. Cathay seems to have figured out this course at the expense of the lunch/dinner service ☹
Circling over Sydney coming in to land, view of the Olympic Park, Wentworth Point and Rhodes.
My week in Sydney was extremely busy and flew by. It was impossible to avoid or ignore the smoke from the bush fires burning in NSW. Quite a difficult situation they’re dealing with, and one that I worry may become a chronic issue due to the phase of climate change that we’re now entering.
Barangaroo CX138 (B777-300ER)
SYD – HKG
8 December 2019
Not much to say about this flight that hasn’t been said earlier. Boarding was fairly disorderly with everybody boarding from the first set of portside doors, which was an annoyance given how late the departure was. Dinner service was yet again an unappetising looking, undersized main course of seafood in XO sauce. I was still so hungry after eating it that I asked for the cheese course just to fill my stomach. Dessert was an apricot crumble, once again not totally satisfying. I had a glass of Ruby Port with dessert.
Breakfast was served pre-landing, bit early for such a service given it was pre-5am on the ground in HK, But I was up anyway as the smell of coffee and the sound of cutlery clanking always wakes me up, so I had it.
We landed in HK extremely early which meant a 30 minute wait outside “The Pier” before it opened. “The Pier” is an awesome lounge, perhaps the best business class lounge there is. It was fun to be the first guest welcomed into the facility at the start of the day.
The tea bar with Jing teas was really nice. I had a pot of the Pu Erh tea.
The shower contains no less than 8 different Aesop toiletries! You could come out smelling like a Greek God if you so chose.
A small, somewhat unconvential breakfast which I enjoyed after my shower. By this point I had figured it out – Cathay has put their best food in the lounges, so the way to do this airline is to eat something nice on the ground and use the plane time for rest, work and movies.
Got to watch B-KQM get towed in beore 6am and pushed back before 9am, I got to watch all of it. The 777-300 is such a beautiful aircraft, perhaps the prettiest save the 747.CX257 (B777-300ER)
HKG – LHR
9 December 2019
Headed to the gate after boarding was called. But got tempted into a bit of duty-free chocolate shopping, which meant that by the time I reached the gate they were desperately calling out for the last straggling passengers to board the plane. I buckled in for a nearly 13h flight and 14+ hours on the plane.
Breakfast was served, again of a high standard.
After breakfast I peered out the window and caught beautiful views of the mountain of Sichuan, Gansu and Xinjiang provinces. It was fascinating to look down on places too remote for me to ever have a chance to visit. It was mid-day when we overflew and it was crisp, cold, sunny and cloudless below. While I was hanging out in the forward galley, the American captain who looked about my age was coming out of the cockpit to retreat to the crew rest area, and him and I enjoyed a brief chat. I’m a grown man but I still feel a sense of awe talking to the pilot of a widebody aircraft, especially when up in the air!
Prior to landing I had the “warm salad” of stem broccoli, spinach, peas, almonds and preserved lemon which was a knockout dish, like WOW! It was so light, refreshing and nourishing, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It helped reverse some of the negative feelings that I had built up towards Cathay’s main meal service over the course of the other legs. This dish is incredible, if you get the chance to try it you must! (sadly I didn’t photograph it, was too busy devouring it)
And that’s it.. 21,150 miles of flying later I was back where I had started.
Thanks for reading!