Cathay Pacific Middle-Seat Business Class, 777-300
Background: Cathay Pacific has only three Boeing 747-400 passenger jets remaining in their fleet, and their retirement is imminent. My trip to Asia this year was likely my last before their 747s are withdrawn, so it was a priority to get on one somehow during this trip. After a lot of research I found that their HKG
route was almost exclusively operated by the 747. In fact 87 of the last 90 flights on the route were 747s. I redeemed AAdvantage miles for my Cathay Pacific 747 flight, Business Class on the upper deck, HKG
. Spoiler alert...Cathay Pacific in their infinite wisdom decided not
to operate the 747 for my flight, and substituted a regionally-configured 777-300 instead. Even though a 777-300 was a new aircraft for me, it was by far the most disappointing aircraft change I'd ever experienced. I almost decided to skip a trip report, but later changed my mind since it was at least my first-ever 777-300. In any case, this report details my flight to Japan, the main destination of my trip, aboard my first-ever 777-300 with Cathay Pacific in their regional Business Class. Please enjoy the report, and I look forward to your comments.
Cathay Pacific CX542
Monday, August 31, 2015
Departure: 16:25 (actual 16:56)
Arrival: 21:35 (actual 22:01)
Actual Block Time: 4h5
Actual Flight Time: 3h30
Seat: 11E Business Class
For my hotel in Hong Kong, I had chosen the W Hong Kong in Kowloon. I had always wanted to stay at the W, and I finally decided to do so in Hong Kong because the hotel has a fleet of Tesla Model S electric cars! Instead of riding the Hong Kong Airport Express train, I had reserved a Tesla for my trip to the airport. My Tesla departed the W at 14:00.
W Hong Kong Tesla transfer to the airport!
I always love riding in the Tesla, especially my first ride in the cool right-hand drive version, but today's trip wasn't all that exciting, due in no small part to Hong Kong's strict laws against speeding and numerous speed cameras the entire way to the airport.
I arrived to HKG
to find Cathay Pacific's check-in area. I found only economy check-in and bag drop areas. With no lines, I approached a counter to check-in with an agent. I attempted to verify my 747 upper deck seat assignment when the agent told me the one bit of news that I absolutely did not want to hear: "There is no upper deck today!" Cathay Pacific had changed the aircraft! 87 of the last 90 flights from HKG
had been operated by Cathay's 747, and that was the sole reason for my trip today. I simply could not believe that I had such bad luck to get an aircraft swap on a route that was so reliably operated by the 747. With all the flights I had arranged for my trip this year, I would have most certainly not chosen this particular flight if not for the 747. I would have picked one of a number of alternates I had had in mind instead. Extremely disappointed, I asked what the aircraft for today's flight was. The agent said a 777. She also said it was 100% full and I had been assigned a middle seat! So not only did I lose the 747 upper deck, I was now stuck on a regional 777 with 2-3-2 Business Class in one of the few middle seats. What luck.
I found a short, fast line for security and then exit immigration. I checked my gate to verify that the aircraft wasn't a 747, somehow hoping to see the Queen of the Skies parked at my gate after all. It wasn't meant to be, and I found B-HNK, a Boeing 777-300 parked at my gate. At least it is a new aircraft type for me. But that fact really didn't make up for losing the rare Cathay Pacific 747. B-HNK was built in 1999 and has been with CX
her whole life.
At the gate in HKG
I spotted a Transaero 747-400, the first time I'd seen one of those - and very happy to see it since Transaero is about to declare bankruptcy. Fortunately I did not see any Cathay 747-400s. That would have only heightened my disappointment in missing out on my CX
Transaero 747-400, EI
I spent the rest of my time in the lounge before returning for boarding. Boarding was set for 15:45 for our 16:25 departure. Everyone queued up, but instead of starting boarding at 15:45, agents instead moved throughout the line doing another passport check. Boarding didn't begin until 15:55. Dual jetways were in use so I boarded through L1. I had seat 11E, the middle seat in the first row on the plane. The first row has only the center section of 3 seats. Subsequent rows have 2-3-2 seating.
A pillow was waiting on each seat. I settled in to my first-ever seat on Cathay Pacific, my first-ever 777-300, and my first-ever Business Class middle seat. I have to start by saying that middle seats are unacceptable in Business Class. Business Class isn't cheap, and to be charged high prices for a middle seat just isn't okay. And with load at 100%, I would have people on both sides. I found decent bulkhead legroom, but pretty similar to domestic F - the bare minimum which would be acceptable for international J. The seat was comfortable but not too wide. It was really a similar seat to domestic F, but with the addition of a legrest. Individual IFE screens were mounted to the bulkhead. The screens had high resolution, but were not privacy screens, so I could see both of my seatmates' screens as well. There were no overhead air vents, and it was a bit warm in the cabin. But the worst part of the seat, aside from the fact it was a middle seat, was that there was absolutely no view outside. Instead of the full 2-3-2 seating, the first row has only the center section of 3 seats. To the left was the restroom (at least the restroom door faced the galley and not the seats), and to the right was a closet. And forward of us were the doors. So here was another first for me: no view outside!
Nice view of Door L1:
And my view from 11E:
Hot towels and pre-departure beverages were offered: either orange juice, water, champagne, or Cathay Delight smoothies. Since I'd already had a Cathay Delight in the lounge, I went with a champagne.
The captain announced a flight time of 3h38, with turbulence expected during the flight. He sounded Australian, and made the announcement only in English. Other announcements ended up being English first, then Chinese and then Japanese. Interesting that English was first, and that the captain's announcements were only in English.
I noticed the inflight magazine and duty free catalog were individually wrapped in plastic at each seat. Are they re-wrapped for each flight? The door was closed at 16:22. Blankets were offered, but it was a bit warm already so I declined. The safety video was shown; it was dual-language, English first then Chinese. The captain announced a delay; we now expect pushback a half hour late, at 16:55. Menus and Japanese immigration/customs forms were given out, and then another round of beverages due to the delay. The IFE was enabled on the ground, so I took advantage of the ground delay to check out what was on offer. StudioCX has a lot of content and a good screen. I'd been wanting to watch A Most Wanted Man
with Philip Seymour Hoffman again, but hadn't found it on any previous flights. I was happy to find it available in the StudioCX. I selected the movie but then had to endure a straight 5 minutes of advertisements before it would play.
Second PDB due to ground delay:
We pushed back at 16:56 and began to taxi at 17:02. We had a very long taxi only to end up as #10 for departure. The taxi was very strange because I couldn't see outside. I could only feel slight motion and bumps, and could hardly tell we were moving. It was amazing how much sight (or lack thereof) affects the feeling of motion. The captain apologized for the delay. We finally tookoff at 17:26. It was a takeoff from a stop. The takeoff was pretty quiet; sitting front-and-center was the furthest possible seat from the engines. 777s have huge powerful engines, but the takeoff was pretty underwhelming. There was not much pushback in the seat, and I could only feel bumps on the runway. Again amazed how no view outside reduced the feeling of motion on the takeoff. We had a very long takeoff roll, and I could hardly even tell when we lifted off. That made 2-for-2 underwhelming 777 takeoffs. I'd really like to get one where I can experience the power of the huge engines.
Curtains were closed and finally it started to cool off in the cabin. The ground delay and taxi had been getting really warm. The warm temperature combined with feeling motion with no view outside, and now some turbulence, were all making me feel a bit sick. I never get motion sickness on a flight, so I was really glad that the air conditioning had started up! I decided to recline and try to get comfortable. I found out that as the seatback reclined, the seatbottom also slides forward. The legrest can also be brought up, but the more I reclined, the more my feet hit the bulkhead. This seat, while comfortable, was really not up to par for a Business Class seat.
Finally the turbulence subsided enough for the seatbelt sign to be turned off, and I immediately took a restroom break. Right after, the seatbelt sign was back on. But the rest of the passengers who wanted to use the restroom decided to ignore it, and flight attendants didn't seem to mind that.
Service was back-to-front, and it began with being greeted by name. Beverages and nuts were offered. I had to go with a water, hoping to feel better later to be able to order a Chinese beer.
Appetizers were served next: Poached Angel prawns, mixed seasonal salad with sesame soy dressing, and maten tea noodles
. The appetizer was good, but I was surprised that the noodles were cold.
Entrees were brought out on a trolley, with all the options available to be seen. Nice presentation. I chose the Stir-fried chicken, cashew nut, jade melon, deep-fried garlic, medlar seeds and steamed jasmine rice
. I'm happy to report that I now felt better, and I asked for a Chinese or Hong Kong beer. The option satisfying this request was a Tsingtao. There was a bit of turbulence during dinner. The chicken was cooked nicely and had pretty good flavor.
Cheese and fruit were offered, again from the trolley. Port wine was offered to those choosing the cheese. I picked the fruit.
Finally ice cream was offered - vanilla, strawberry, or Belgian chocolate. I chose the chocolate, and decided I'd ask for another beer. This time I picked a Victoria Bitter. I hadn't had that beer before. It was brewed in Australia.
I should mention that every time a flight attendant interacted with me, it was by name. Very nice. After dinner, hot towels were given out and then the lights were shut off. I relaxed and watched A Most Wanted Man
The bulkhead row was really not very good. I really didn't like having zero view outside. There wasn't enough space to recline and stretch out. And there was a lot of traffic in the aisles, with passengers going to the restroom and cabin crew coming and going from the galley. Speaking of cabin crew, there were at least four dedicated to the J cabin, two on each aisle. Probably for that reason, service had really been very good.
The movie finished at 21:15 with about 45 minutes to go. It was time to listen to music. The captain announced an expected landing at 22:00, and sincerely apologized for the delay in Hong Kong. The temperature at HND
was 23 degrees. Flight attendants went around with pre-arrival water, yes please. And we began descent.
At 21:41 the captain requested that the cabin be prepared for arrival. Lights were turned back on. Landing was at 21:56 - and it was a pretty unexpected landing since I couldn't see outside! I couldn't see it coming. We were at the gate at 22:01. I hung back to be the last J passenger onboard to get a cabin shot.
Cathay Pacific 777-300 J Cabin after arrival:
I left the plane to find a bus. That was a surprise, we were at a remote stand. With the lack of windows, I couldn't even tell we weren't at a jetway gate! It was interesting to listen to the other passengers on the bus. They were very dissatisfied with the aircraft change. Some passengers had been booked in F, but downgraded to J. And J passengers who considered the 777-300 J product to be as bad as Economy. Just terrible. I had unintentionally been the last one on the bus, which made me the first one off when we got to the terminal. But many people were running inside for some reason. Turned out that the immigration line moved quite slowly; I guess the runners had wanted to be at the front of the line. The line took about 10 minutes for me, but by then it appeared to be closer to an hour long. After immigration, checked bags were already arriving.
After customs I got cash from an ATM and headed to the airport express bus counter. I was taking a bus to Shibuya. The bus ended up being operated by Keikyu Limousine Bus. It was a pretty quick ride, and not too crowded.
I have mixed feelings on this flight. Inflight service had been great. It was pretty nice to be greeted by name 100% of the time, and the food had been good. The hard product, on the other hand, didn't live up to the soft product. The IFE was good, but the seat wasn't. I highly recommend not
sitting at the bulkhead because I really didn't like having no view outside. Overall though the biggest problem was the downgrade from international J seats on the 747 upper deck. It's hard to explain, because (middle seat notwithstanding) the regional J seat would typically be fine for a 3h flight like this. But to be planning on an international-style seat on the upper deck, only to lose it at the last minute, was a big letdown. I would have flown other routes to try different airlines/aircraft had I known the 747 wouldn't be operating my flight. The other J passengers seemed to agree, and it would have truly been a disappointment to be an F passenger downgraded to regional J. If a 747 was suddenly not available, another F/int'l J equipped bird should have been used. Anything else just results in disappointment among F/J passengers. In the end, I would certainly be willing to fly CX
again in the future, but for this flight in particular, I would have preferred to get on some different carriers than CX
's regional 773.