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Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Sat Jun 04, 2016 8:26 pm

Asia’s World City via Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific Business Class

Hong Kong is one of my favourite cities, and so I was excited to return this April for a 6 night break from the UK, staying at a firm favourite of mine, the InterContinental Grand Stanford. I would be sampling two new airlines on this trip - Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific, along with a few sectors on the well-trodden British Airways.

All pictures are unedited, shot using a Canon PowerShot S120.

British Airways Galleries Club South, LHR T5

A fairly leisurely start and a 9am taxi had us arriving at Heathrow Terminal 5 around two hours before our morning BA flight to Stockholm, from where we would pick up our main itinerary on QR (booked through CX) of ARN-DOH-HKG. At the time of booking, CX were operating the DOH-HKG sector, but this route was withdrawn in the interim period between booking and travelling, meaning we got switched to a QR service. The timing of our itinerary also changed a few times before travelling, finally settling on a two hour later departure from ARN, and a two hour later departure from DOH, which actually suited us better giving us longer to get to ARN to start the trip on the same day.

Terminal 5 was fairly quiet this morning, with no queue in Zone H at Club check-in where our bags were tagged with orange oneworld Priority tags and sent on their way. BA have recently erected some low level barriers around Zone H and stationed staff members at two entry points into the enclosure which has the happy effect of keeping the area somewhat more orderly than before. It’s still not a patch on the old Zone R at T1 though, that was active for an all too short 4 years from 2004. The newish North Fast Track was virtually empty, and we were entering Galleries Club South a little under 30 minutes after leaving home - pretty impressive, and something of a new record for me!

The lounge was averagely busy for a Monday morning, and I passed the time with a light breakfast of yogurt, fruit, a banana and some coffee. I’ve included here some photos from a visit to the lounge the week before, as well as from this visit, as they showcase the new carpets and furniture in the lounge. The refurbishment has made a significant difference to the ambience and comfort of the lounge, although the continued sorry state of the washrooms and showers, and minimal gloopy catering by BaxterStorey still leaves a fair amount to be desired. The new furniture is arranged in more logical and private groups with many more power and USB points, although people are still packed in fairly tightly.
Looking down into the Concorde Dining area in the Concorde Room (to the left)

Boarding today was conveniently at Gate A19 just below the South lounge complex. Priority Boarding was enforced, with Club Europe and oneworld Emerald members invited first, followed by oneworld Sapphire, and then oneworld Ruby. As my boarding pass was passed under the barcode reader, I complimented the ground staff member who had made the clear boarding announcements, as far more common is a general ‘Fast Track’ boarding announcement with all premium cabin and status passengers bundled together, somewhat defeating the point of priority boarding.

LHR-ARN British Airways Euro Traveller, A321

The positioning flights to get to and from ARN were booked as Avios redemptions, the outbound in Euro Traveller and the return in Club Europe - always the best way round to do it to end the trip in as much style as CE will allow, saving some Avios along the way and in our case avoiding the dreaded CE brunch service on departures between 09:30 and 11:59.

Our flight to Stockholm this morning was aboard G-EUXK, an A321 delivered new to BA in 2007, and my third flight on this particular aircraft. I had selected probably the two best seats in ET for those travelling with someone - 8BC, a pair of seats just ahead of Doors 2. Whilst legroom is the standard 30” and nowhere near the comfort of the exit row behind, the lack of a middle seat means the row is a little more private, particularly on the BC side of the aircraft where there is no jump seat adjacent to B (unlike across the aisle next to the E seat). I found the B seat to be slightly claustrophobic due to the lack of a window adjacent to Door 2L, but this was a small price to pay for not having to share a group of three seats with a stranger on this completely full aircraft.

The flight crew announced a flight time of 2 hours, cruising at 35,000 feet, and we were soon on our way to Sweden. I declined the packaged sandwich offered on this sector, passing the time reading Business Traveller with a tea. The latest BA shorthaul Pinnacle seat product is perfectly comfortable for flights of this length, although legroom is a little tight. The overall cabin ambiance is nice, with copious use of brown leather with smart stitching detail, the BA speedmarque embossed into each headrest, and mood lighting throughout. The high level seatback pocket gives more knee room than in other types of seat, but means the BA magazines (High Life and Business Life, along with High Life Shop) get torn easily as they are forced in and out of the pocket on their side repeatedly by each set of passengers.

We landed slightly ahead of schedule, and being near the front of the aircraft didn’t have much of a wait at immigration with just a handful of people in front. T2 at ARN is an odd terminal to say the least. It has all the ambience of a warehouse, and feels as if it’s been put together on a tight budget with little regard for architectural interest or passenger experience, with copious use of ugly industrial materials and multiple level changes along narrow gantries between the gate and baggage reclaim hall. Our bags appeared on the belt I estimate somewhat towards the middle of the offload, around 10 minutes into proceedings - not exactly priority, but then BA don’t officially offer priority baggage on shorthaul flights, despite the tags. Out through customs, we opted to walk the ten minutes or so to T5 for our next flight, figuring by the time we got down to the platform, waited for a train and ascended back up into T5 it would be just as quick (and healthier) to walk.

Aviator Stockholm Arlanda Lounge

I hadn’t been able to check in online on the QR website for the outbound sectors - no surprise given this was a CX booking. There were two desks open for Business Class passengers in the bank of QR desks, and no queue. The agent tagged our bags all the way through to HKG as J priority, and issued slightly ostentatious ‘Business Class’ hand baggage tags, something which I always find unnecessary. On checking our boarding passes I noticed that our seats for the DOH-HKG sector had changed and we were no longer sitting together. On querying this with the agent, we were told they would contact Doha and request a seat move back together - more on that later.

Through a very fast Fast Track security (segregated with two dedicated lanes), we found the Aviator lounge after passport control immediately on the right after ascending to the gate level. We weren’t given the warmest of welcomes at the lounge as our BPs didn’t have a lounge invitation printed on them (something I didn’t know QR did). After I pointed out the embossed ‘Business Class’ lettering across the BPs, the agent tapped at her computer keyboard for a few seconds before granting us access.

As third party lounges go, the Aviator lounge isn’t bad by any means, but also isn’t the best out there. A fairly small rectangle, the lounge features a magazine rack next to reception, a long bar/buffet against the left hand wall, high level seating with power points running through the centre, followed by a small number of dining tables and easy chairs to the right hand side and sofas at the end of the lounge. A small children’s play area around the corner at the end completes the lounge. Scandinavian in design, the space is fairly attractive in a minimalist way, and features ample natural light thanks to the mezzanine aspect out through the side glass walls of the terminal building. The shared male/female washrooms within the lounge were stark and not particularly clean, in contrast to the rest of the lounge.

The lounge was not busy at all, which made the space quite peaceful to while away the couple of hours to departure catching up on the news on the fast wifi. In fact, I’m not sure where the rest of the premium passengers on our aircraft were, as there were only a handful of QR J passengers in the lounge. Sadly the buffet offering was fairly unappetising, featuring a small selection of salad, meat, cheese, bread, nuts, crisps and biscuits. I made do with an apple juice and some of the crisps and nuts.

On arrival at our gate there was no queue to get into the gate room, although a priority lane was set up in the event things became busier. Shortly after we entered the gate room boarding was announced with Business Class and oneworld Emerald/Sapphire members called together.

ARN-DOH Qatar Airways Business Class, B787

One airbridge was connected to Door 2L of A7-BCN, a two year old 787-8. QR have made the most of the options offered by Boeing, and created a great entrance to their 787, with an expansive ‘hall’ between Doors 2, and impressive detailing of the low level partitions shielding the seating. There are 5 rows of Business Class between Doors 1 and 2, with one row (only featuring centre EF seats) between the two J washrooms ahead of the two Economy Class cabins. The Business Class cabin feels incredibly spacious, a feeling enhanced by creative use of mood lighting, the lack of overhead bins above the centre seats, the large 787 windows, and the open hall by Doors 2. The cabin exudes sophistication and luxury - first impressions were overwhelmingly favourable.

On my seat on arrival was a blanket and pillow, with a water bottle and QR-branded headphones in the side arm pocket. Armani amenity kits were pre-placed by the side of each occupied seat, the male/female versions already having been selected based on the passenger manifest - pretty impressive! A menu and wine list were stored in the magazine pocket. Shortly after boarding the CSM stopped by to welcome each of the 13 J passengers individually, which was followed up by the crew introducing themselves to each passenger, jackets being hung, newspapers offered along with a choice of drink. My glass of Billecart-Salmon (Drappier rosé was also available) was delivered along with a hot towel (cold was also available), the latter of which came on a small plate.

Qatar offer an à la carte dining option in Business Class on all longhaul flights, which is a great touch. Orders were taken before pushback (including for a post-takeoff drink), so now would be a good time to share the menu, which was printed on beautifully embossed card. I was slightly disappointed that the selection wasn’t more extensive, but on reflection this is a perfectly adequate menu for a flight of under 6 hours. In fact, just as I was perusing the menu, the captain announced a flight time of 5h25m, cruising at 41,000 feet.

The QR safety video features the Barcelona FC team, and is not the most professional of safety videos I’ve ever seen. I can imagine it becomes quite tiresome for QR regulars, particularly as the whole thing plays twice - first in English, then Arabic. Shortly after the virtually silent takeoff, my pineapple punch was served with (cold) nuts, and I took some time to look around the B/E Super Diamond seat. Each seat has a large touchscreen TV (accompanied by a handheld touchscreen controller), large extending table with storage shelf below, more storage to the side of the seat, and a drawer in the back of the seat in front. The armrest raises and lowers to provide more width for sleeping, and features an integral compartment. A higher level shelf adjacent to the seat provides yet more storage, next to the magazine pocket - this seat is not short of storage by any stretch. The seat controller is located in a convenient position and offers ample options including massage functions. I didn’t try the seat in fully flat bed mode, but the seat was for the most part comfortable in a range of relaxing modes, but not quite as adjustable as I would have liked. Towards the end of the flight, the lack of padding (or perhaps just hard padding) to the base of the seat was evident. Overall, however, this is an impressive hard product that offers every passenger aisle access, and reasonable privacy.

The Business Class cabin features two washrooms either side of Row 6 (a place where you definitely don’t want to be seated!), both with windows and attractively fitted out with a grey vanity area featuring Rituals amenities, dental and shaving kits. The washrooms were kept virtually spotlessly clean throughout the flight. Just in front of Row 6 is a magazine rack built into the partition, opposite which the crew laid out a small selection of drinks and snacks later in the flight.
View from the loo

I had opted to dine as soon as possible after takeoff, and around 45 minutes into the flight my table was laid, including with a glass of water and an individual bread basket. In J, QR don’t use trolleys or trays for the meal service - everything is hand delivered to each seat, and everything is individually laid at the table (including the napkin over the lap) - more akin to first class than business (and much more up my street!). My roasted butternut squash soup, lemon and herb crème fraîche with cheese twist was pretty rich and a little too creamy for my liking, but inoffensive nonetheless.

The soup was followed by a starter of smoked salmon with pea and potato salad, confit tomatoes and lemon dressing - punchy flavours, although a little too much dressing.

My main course of Arabic spiced chicken with machboos sauce, machboos rice with fried onions and raita was creatively presented but blander than I was expecting.

A lime and coconut panna cotta, mango and passion fruit coulis delivered a solid end to the formal meal service, even if it was more mousse than panna cotta.

I rounded off the meal with the refreshing seasonal fresh fruits (beautifully presented on a black plate) and sencha green tea.

As tables were tidied away, the crew distributed Valrhona chocolates along with a hot towel.

I was very impressed with the care and attention to detail with which the meal service was conducted - plates were delivered and cleared promptly with almost military precision, reflecting the overall professionalism of the crew. Some crew members were warmer than others in attitude (indeed one lady in particular was very detached and clinical in her interactions), although I expect this is more a reflection of different cultures than anything else.

I settled down for the remaining few hours of the flight and watched Spectre - underwhelming after the triumph of Skyfall a few years ago, but still enjoyable (particularly accompanied by the gourmet ice cream and a hot chocolate). The IFE was slightly buggy, in that the ‘time to go’ marker was blocked by the video progress bar on screen, the ‘Destination’ didn’t show as Doha, and some interactions required multiple presses to create a response (despite the simple design of the Oryx system). Image quality was good but not HD, although sound was excellent (despite the slightly restricting headphones), particularly notable when listening to some music towards the end of the flight. A large screen at the front of the cabin displayed the moving map and safety information throughout the flight, which could become annoying if in Row 1. A number of unoccupied seats’ TV screens remained on during the flight, and I requested the crew turn them off as I found the light distracting as the cabin darkened into the night - I’m not sure why the screens didn’t turn off automatically after a period of inactivity.

QR don’t offer pyjamas on daytime flights, but amenity kits were available on this sector. Presented in an Armani branded bag, the male kit featured Armani after shave balm, Armani fragrance, Rituals lipsalve, earplugs, socks and eyeshade. The female kit offered Armani body lotion, Armani fragrance, a hairbrush, and the same lipsalve/earplugs/socks/eyeshade as the male kit. The eyeshade was disappointingly low quality, although the Armani products smelled gorgeous.

The seatbelt sign was turned on with around 30 minutes to go to Doha, and soon we were on the ground and disembarking through 2L (with just the single airbridge used for the 787), but not before the cabin crew had come round to each passenger and thanked them for flying with QR.

We had parked at a fairly remote gate at the new Hamad International Airport, and with the transit train under testing, we walked the 10 minutes or so to transfers along multiple moving walkways with the train tantalisingly whizzing up and down the concourse adjacent to us (albeit empty with seats still covered in protective plastic). I asked at the Business Class transit desk about our seats for the DOH-HKG sector, but there was nothing the lady could do as the flight had closed for seat assignments and was completely full in J - it didn’t look like Stockholm had contacted Doha. We made our way through the empty transfers security - a complete farce involving a security officer asking me what something was in my carry on bag by pointing at the x-ray image and expecting me to identify it! I said honestly that I couldn’t identify it from that image and that I would have to open the bag, but he seemed disinterested and I ended up just walking away with no search being undertaken. It’s times like these when you are thankful that the DfT mandate that all international passengers are re-screened at UK airports before an onward flight!

Overall I was very impressed with my first Qatar Airways flight. Hard product-wise, the latest B/E Super Diamond J seat from QR (found on their A380, A350 and 787) is pretty good, but has its flaws - it’s not as spacious as some seats (like the Zodiac Cirrus product on AA/CX), and does feel rather hard after a while. The Business Class soft product, on the other hand, is excellent - near international first class standards on many airlines. The only things missing from a first class point of view were being shown to my seat, addressed by surname (rather than ‘sir’), and the provision of PJs (on all flights, not just night flights) and slippers. The catering was very good, and the hand-delivered nature of the service excellent. On balance, easily my best business class flight to date.

Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Lounge, DOH

QR operate four departure lounges at DOH - fairly ordinary ‘First Class’ and ‘Business Class’ lounges for status passengers travelling in Y, and their flagship ‘Al Mourjan’ and ‘Al Safwa’ lounges for passengers ticketed in J and F respectively. We didn’t bother trying out the generic lounge, and headed straight for the Al Mourjan lounge, the entrance to which is up an impressive escalator in the middle of the terminal’s shopping area, guarded at the bottom by a couple of agents. The welcome at the reception desk at the top of the escalator was less than warm as the agents seemed distracted by a number of other passengers, but that aside the reception area is nice with a couple of seating areas flanking the long desk, with entrances to the lounge at either end.

The Al Mourjan lounge is expansive and impressive, but ultimately lacks the warmth and comfort of other lounges. On walking into the lounge from reception, passengers are greeted by a large water feature, staircase and chandelier, above which the main dining room is located on a mezzanine level. We didn’t get a chance to dine in the lounge this evening as there was limited time until our next flight, but I’d like to try this out on my next visit. I’m not sure whether it offers waiter service, but if so this would be impressive for a business class lounge. At one point the lounge was even serving Krug, although I believe this has sadly stopped with the opening of the Al Safwa lounge.

Under the dining room at the end of the lounge is a long line of seating with blue designer chairs (repeated at intervals throughout the lounge). They don't look particularly comfy - perhaps more design than substance, an observation certainly echoed in the seating I tried later on. Almost every seat in the lounge has a tablet to check flight details etc. Other images of the lounge I’ve seen have shown bottled water placed at each seat, but on my visit this wasn’t the case - I’m not sure whether this has been discontinued (like the Krug) since the Al Safwa lounge opened and F passengers stopped using the Al Mourjan lounge.

Throughout the centre of the lounge runs a slightly raised seating area featuring pockets of different types of seating in groups - either side of the central area are two more flanks of seating. Halfway along the lounge to the side is a quiet seating area, whilst at the opposite end of the lounge to the entrance is a more relaxed cafe-style dining area with staffed bar and buffet. Off to the sides of the lounge are washrooms, showers, sleeping areas, children’s play areas and smoking areas. A number of self-service drinks stations (hot and cold) are dotted around the lounge, which compliment the staffed bars and dining areas at either end of the lounge. There was no proactive service in the lounge, although this is not expected in a business class facility. I think it’s a hallmark of QR’s generally high levels of service that I even considered it!

I freshened up in a shower room, which bizarrely was located through the cafe area and rather poorly signed. After navigating down a number of narrow but highly specified corridors, I arrived at the reception desk for the showers and sleeping area, and was escorted through to the male side and a large shower room. I was handed a pack of amenities including a dental kit, earbuds and loofah, which joined the Rituals amenities already in the room. Like the rest of the lounge, the shower room was elegantly designed and had everything one needed, although the basin tap was in an awkward position for shaving, and the room was rather hot (even before the shower was on).

Overall, the Al Mourjan Business Lounge is undoubtedly a solid offering. Whilst the design isn’t to my taste, it’s certainly modern and has all the facilities a business class passenger could want. I didn’t explore the lounge to its fullest extent on this visit, but from what I did experience I was left feeling underwhelmed by the apparent focus on design at the expense of comfort. Lower ceilings and more intimate seating areas with comfortable armchairs and sofas would go a long way to improve the space.

Leaving the lounge the way we had entered, it was a five minute walk through the impressive wood-panelled Hamad International Airport to Gate D1. Interestingly the gate had another security area before the airbridge, although the space was unmanned and we just walked straight through - I guess this secondary screening area is used for flights to the US. The pleasant gate agent happily informed us that they had spoken to a passenger who had kindly agreed to move so that we had seats together (1AB), and so with a reissued boarding pass in hand, we made our way into the gate room. This was pretty impressive service recovery from QR - I’m not sure whether it was a function of Stockholm calling earlier (if indeed they did call at all) or (more likely) the transfers agent contacting the gate, but regardless it was a much appreciated start to the final leg to Hong Kong.

DOH-HKG Qatar Airways Business Class, A330

Boarding was announced with J and status passengers invited first, and two airbridges in operation with Door 1L used for J passengers only. Our aircraft this evening was A7-ACD, an A330-200 delivered new to Qatar Airways in 2003. QR’s A330s have three types of J seating - B/E Diamond flat beds (the same as AA in J on their transcontinental A321 fleet), B/E MiniPod flat beds (basically the same as on QR’s 777 fleet), or B/E MiniPod angled seats (the latter of which are similar to EK’s J seating on their 777 fleet, and which are being rapidly phased out by QR). Our aircraft tonight featured two cabins of B/E MiniPod flat beds, arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration with three rows in the first cabin, and one row behind Doors 2 ahead of two Y cabins.

Given the 2-2-2 configuration, not all passengers have aisle access (although the seat pitch is an ample 78”) and the lack of privacy between seats was notable - particularly being seated in 1B as I was, exposed to the middle seats and the galley. Our original seat selections in Row 2 would have been a better choice. At my seat on arrival was a pillow and blanket, with headphones in the side pocket and a water bottle placed precariously next to the tiny manual privacy divider. Our CSD stopped by to welcome each passenger individually, as did the crew (a nice touch, although sometimes this can be a little awkward), shortly followed by jackets being hung and drinks being offered. My water was delivered with a hot towel (as with the first sector, cold was also available). Shortly before pushback the same Armani amenity kits as those on our previous flight were handed out, along with stylish grey QR-branded pyjamas and tonight’s menu and wine list. Just as the flight crew were announcing a precise flight time to HKG of 7h6m cruising at 41,000ft, our cabin crew did the rounds with newspapers and the aircraft crawled back from the stand.

Shortly after takeoff I changed into the PJs in one of the two J washrooms (one at the first set of doors, one at the second). Predictably the washrooms were smaller and lacking in windows when compared to the 787, but they were no less clean and featured the same Rituals amenities, dental and shaving kits. I managed around 4.5 hours’ sleep on the ageing seat, which certainly felt more angled than flat (something with which the seat controller icon would agree with me about!). For relaxing these seats are more than comfortable, but for sleeping they no longer match up to more current products either in comfort or privacy. The good quality pillow and blanket and comfortable PJs could not make up for the poor seat.

I had asked to be woken by the crew around one hour before landing for breakfast. The crew on this sector were much warmer and friendlier than on the previous sector, delivering a polished service with care and professionalism. Perusing the menu, I was pleased to find a decent selection of not just breakfast items, but all-day options too - reflective of the à la carte service offered by QR. Given the flight had departed DOH at 03:00 local time, most people had chosen to sleep straight after takeoff as I had done, but despite a busy breakfast service the meal was perfectly paced, commencing with a hot towel.</div>



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Topic Author
Posts: 273
Joined: Wed Aug 08, 2007 3:49 am

RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Sat Jun 04, 2016 8:29 pm

My table was laid with an individual basket of breakfast breads and glass of water, which was soon joined by my choice of the seasonal fresh fruits (beautifully presented once again), and the bircher muesli, rolled oats bound with yogurt, fruits, almonds and cinnamon. The bircher muesli was lovely and light, whilst the fruit was as refreshing as always. My breakfast was accompanied by a freshly squeezed orange juice and a white Americano. Re-reading the menu just now whilst typing this I can’t help but wish I’d tried a few of the light options as well, but the flight timing (as well as my body clock) was not really conducive to it.

Arriving back at my seat after changing out of my PJs, another hot towel was offered along with a top up of water and a mint. I passed the 20 minutes or so until landing browsing the Oryx entertainment system - a clearly older version than we had enjoyed on the 787 previously. The pop-up touchscreens were fairly slow to respond to commands, and the interface very dated. Sound and picture quality were both decent, however.[/url]

QR undoubtedly offer a distinctly premium business class experience. As with the ARN-DOH sector, the soft product on this flight was excellent - near first class standards. That being said, no amount of Armani fragrance or individual bread baskets will make up for a dated hard product. With the B/E Super Diamond seats fleet-wide (or perhaps the yet to be announced ‘super business class suite’ QR are rumoured to be launching soon), QR will be an incredibly attractive proposition for oneworld travellers.

We landed into a slightly hazy Hong Kong around 20 minutes ahead of schedule mid-afternoon, taxiing to a gate fairly remote from the main part of the terminal building. Two airbridges were used once again for disembarkation. For a world class airport that consistently achieves high passenger satisfaction scores, it’s surprising that HKG doesn’t offer any form of priority lanes at immigration or security, although this wasn’t needed today as queues were light. In the baggage reclaim hall, a QR agent was removing premium-tagged bags from the belt and standing them ready for their owners - a nice touch, but potentially confusing. I got to our bags on the belt before the agent did, and before long we were headed out to the efficient Airport Express for the 20 minute ride to Kowloon station and a taxi to the InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong.
Topic Author
Posts: 273
Joined: Wed Aug 08, 2007 3:49 am

RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Sat Jun 04, 2016 8:31 pm

InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong

The ICGS is located on the waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) on Kowloon, a 15 minute walk from the Star Ferry piers, and under 10 minutes walk from the closest MTR station (East TST, from which you can walk underground to the main TST station). Whilst not the closest hotel to the buzzing parts of Kowloon, I like the fact that the property is slightly removed from the hustle and bustle, whilst still affording great views across Victoria Harbour to Hong Kong Island.

We were warmly welcomed on arrival, our bags taken and escorted to the reception desk. The lobby is spacious with a dual level bar to one side, and although slightly dated, is still impressive. Whilst there was a small queue at the main desk, a separate Ambassador desk was available and empty, meaning we were checked in promptly. The receptionist offered check-in in the Club InterContinental lounge, but we wanted to get straight to the room so I declined on this occasion. I was handed a couple of complimentary drinks vouchers (not really needed with club lounge access, but a nice touch nevertheless), and we were given directions to our room on the 17th floor, one below the top floor. I should probably mention at this point the totally bizarre Ambassador gift that I was given on check-in - a blow-up travel pillow! I have never used one of these, and can’t imagine the average ICGS guest would have much use for one either.

Since my last stay, the majority of the rooms at the ICGS have been refurbished - these are now called ‘Premier’ and ‘Club’ rooms, whilst non-refurbished rooms are branded ‘Deluxe’. I had booked a Premier Side Harbour View room originally on the Club InterContinental rate, from which we would have been upgraded to a Premier Full Harbour View Room thanks to my Ambassador status. However, a few weeks before departure I re-checked the rates for the hotel again and noticed that a Club InterContinental Side Harbour View Room was showing as slightly cheaper than my current booking. A quick email to the hotel had us confirmed on this room and rate, from which we were upgraded to a Club InterContinental Special View Room (a full harbour view, on the top floors).

Whilst not overly large, our room was immaculately presented and overall amongst one of the best non-suite hotel rooms I have stayed in. The entrance hall featured a large wardrobe (including bathrobes and slippers) and mini-bar to the left, with the bathroom to the right. The room featured two comfortable small double beds flanked by separate stone-topped night stands, a chaise longue (that was annoyingly handed the wrong way round to make the most of the view), a large desk with comfortable desk chair, and a long bank of drawers (including a safe), one set of which doubled as a suitcase stand. There was not space for a proper table and armchairs, but this would perhaps have been better suited to the room than the chaise longue. Set just below the wall-mounted TV on the sideboard was the Ambassador welcome fruit and mineral water, along with a gift of chocolates in an attractive InterContinental-branded box. The fruit was replenished daily, which is a nice touch given I generally only expect the fruit on arrival. Filtered water was available in abundance, with bottles placed in the bathroom and the mini-bar, as well as beside the beds on turndown service - this didn’t taste particularly nice, but good to have this in the room rather than having to go out and buy bottles in a bid to avoid the expected exorbitant mini-bar fees.

Technology-wise, the room was well equipped with fast free wifi, a Nespresso machine, a Bose bluetooth speaker, large wall-mounted flat screen TV and a very handy Alcatel 4G-enabled smartphone that was complimentary for guests to take around Hong Kong - very handy for Google Maps on the move without using roaming or going to the hassle of getting a local SIM card. A newspaper was delivered to the room daily. I used the laundry service once during the stay as I had made a rare miscalculation in the amount of clothing required during packing - I appreciated the same-day turnaround and the discount offered to Club guests.

The bathroom was adequately sized, and featured a large vanity area, as well as a powerful shower over the bath (with shower curtain rather than screen). Whilst my preference is always for walk-in showers, I really didn’t mind on this occasion as the standard of fit-out in the bathroom was so good as to distract me from this minor inconvenience. The usual Agraria amenities were in abundance.

Whilst the room was always immaculately made up each day (including on our last day in the run-up to an extended 4pm check-out), I found it slightly odd that chocolates weren’t offered with the turndown service. The bathroom towels were a little on the hard side - I suspect they are imminently due for replacement, although this should have perhaps been done a few months ago. The only other slight annoyance was that the overhead ‘mood lighting’ was quite harsh, but this was easily turned off as the controls were intuitively aligned to each type of lighting in the room.

Here are some images of the spectacular view from our room:

The Club InterContinental lounge on the first floor doesn’t offer quite the same amazing view as the front-facing rooms given there’s a flyover partly in the way, however, what it lacks in an unobstructed view the lounge more than makes up for in its elegant design, excellent amenities and refined service. The long rectangular space is sensibly separated into separate areas, with private computer workstations (including PCs and printers) straight after reception, a long section of comfortable seating at both high and low levels, a couple of private meeting/lounge rooms at the far end, and a distinctive buffet area that takes up almost as much space as the seating. Whilst there are no washrooms in the lounge, there are some located just along the hall outside. Newspapers and magazines were available aplenty, along with board games. Something I hadn't spotted on my previous visit, there is a small outside terrace just off the lounge, which I guess is used more by smokers than anyone else as the space looks over a square to the side of the property rather than enjoying a view of the harbour.

I couldn’t fault the breakfast we enjoyed each morning in the lounge. An expansive buffet of juices, smoothies, breads, pastries, meat, fish, cheese, fruit, cereal, yogurt and selected hot items was available, along with an à la carte menu set on each of the beautifully laid tables. The lounge staff delivered just the right mix of professional, friendly and efficient service, and were more than happy to take orders for anything that wasn’t on the menu and to customise dishes as required. I should note at this point that some seats are more suited to breakfast than others - a number of low tables closest to the windows really are more for later in the day despite being laid for breakfast.

The same excellent service was offered during afternoon tea, during which a buffet of delicious finger sandwiches, wraps, scones, cakes, pastries and fruit was available. A packed itinerary meant we were only able to enjoy afternoon tea in the lounge on a handful of occasions, but we certainly made the most of them!

The lounge also offers an evening cocktail service, with both hot and cold canapés available at the buffet, accompanied by copious amounts of Moët (as well as a variety of other drinks, naturally). The staff are happy to take orders from the extensive in-room dining menu within the lounge, which offers a nice alternative to the hotel’s other restaurants and something which we appreciated on our first evening. We dined at the hotel on two other occasions - once in-room and once at The Mistral, the hotel’s Italian restaurant that has recently been refurbished. Set in the basement of the property, the lack of a view is not a concern thanks to the well laid out space and clever use of lighting, and aspect over the open kitchen. My handmade egg lasagne with pork and beef ragout was delicious, as was (I am reliably informed) the handmade ravioli filled with ricotta, spinach and butter and sage sauce, both enjoyed with a side dish of spinach leaves sautéed with shallots. For dessert, the Mistral chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and whiskey vanilla sauce was simply superb, creatively presented by the waiter who poured over the hot sauce at the table to melt the chocolate surrounding the cake.

The ICGS is overall an excellent property that I look forward to staying at again on my next trip to Hong Kong. The fairly quiet but reasonably well-connected location, outstanding views from many rooms, smart modern interiors, warm service and the excellent lounge combine to create a very comfortable retreat from which to explore Hong Kong.
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Sat Jun 04, 2016 8:34 pm

Images from Hong Kong

Most days started with either a walk to the Star Ferry or a walk to TST/East TST station. Unfortunately part of The Avenue of the Stars is closed due to major construction work (which you can see in the first photo below), meaning the middle part of the walk from the ICGS is a little less scenic than usual at the moment. The part of the Avenue that is open, however, offers the usual spectacular views of Hong Kong Island. I’ll note at this point that I took well over a thousand photos on this trip, so only a handful of my favourite images will make it into this part of the report.

For our first day, we took the Star Ferry across to Hong Kong Island to explore Central and Victoria Peak, opting for the upper deck on this first trip across. Whilst the upper deck (formerly first class) offers the best view, the lower deck is great for the atmosphere (and smell!) of the engine and a different perspective, as well as for saving a few pence - we mixed it up between upper and lower deck on the numerous crossings we took. We had purchased stored value Octopus cards at HKG airport which we used to pay for all trains, buses and ferries on this trip (although the card can be used for more than that, for example in cafes and at convenience stores). Whilst HKG is a walkable city, it helps to use public transport to travel to areas further out, and of course across the harbour.

It’s a good idea to take the bus up to Victoria Peak and then the Peak Tram back down to Central - this way round, you avoid the queues for the tram on the way up and (especially sitting on the upper deck of the bus) can enjoy great views as you climb up towards the Peak. If you’ve not done it before, the official viewing platform at the Peak is worth the entrance fee, provided you ignore all the tourist tat in the building on the way up and focus on the views from the top.

However, arguably some of the best views of the Hong Kong skyline can be enjoyed for free from the circular walk around Harlech and Lugard roads. Just beyond an interesting colonial-era post box, Harlech Road starts. The first part of the walk is mainly through wooded areas with glimpses of the countryside beyond, but once you’ve rounded the corner onto Lugard Road (actually just a narrow path hugging the cliff face at this point), the skyline starts to open out to the left hand side. The walk took around an hour at a reasonably brisk pace allowing stops for photos.

That evening we took a walk down to the Star Ferry again, and were witness to some amazing low cloud over the buildings of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.

Our second day was spent seeing more of Central, again via Star Ferry. Both the zoological and botanical gardens, and Hong Kong Park are nice places to while the time away from the hustle and bustle of the streets beyond, although I’m not a fan of the small cages housing the primates and birds.

That evening we had a dinner reservation in Central, and on the way there I took one of my favourite photos of the trip - the bus station next to the Star Ferry piers at dusk, with low cloud over the skyline in the background. Something about the lighting just sets the scene off nicely.

Lantau was the focus of day three. First up, the MTR to Tung Chung and a short walk to the ferry pier for the 30 minute sailing to Tai O. Most tourists who make the trip to Tai O seem to go to the Big Buddha via cable car first, and then take the bus down to Tai O and the ferry back to Tung Chung - it’s certainly worth doing things the other way around as we did to avoid the crowds. The waiting area for the ferry was rustic to say the least, and the ferry not much more modern, complete with a disconcertingly large amount of life jackets and exit signs.

Tai O was completely captivating, and well worth dedicating a couple of hours to explore properly. Straying off the beaten track was highly rewarding.

We took an empty bus (more of a coach, actually) up to Ngong Ping and the Big Buddha, where the low cloud made for some very atmospheric shots. As with anywhere, taking the time to stroll away from the tourist areas is recommended - the Wisdom Path in this case.

We had hoped to hike part of the Dragon’s Back Trail on our fourth day in the city, but the weather was not so kind with low cloud quite prevalent. We didn’t get to the Dragon’s Back at all on this trip - one for next time. Wan Chai became the destination for the day, reached via ferry once more. I love the contrast between Wan Chai and Central - the markets in particular are a sight to behold (and smells to avoid). There is a lot of construction work going on adjacent to the conference centre, and the air pollution was particularly terrible in this part of the city.

Having enjoyed dry weather up to this point, our final full day in Hong Kong was rather wet, but this made for some interesting photographs as we explored Kowloon, including its famous bird and flower markets. The Walled City Park was an interesting site to visit, if just for the sense of history the place still holds (rather than the slightly less interesting but still pleasant man-made gardens). One can almost still hear the 747s roaring overhead as they make their final turn into Kai Tak.

I’ll conclude this part with some final shots from the morning of our departure day - back to Central and one final trip on the Star Ferry and a ride on one of Hong Kong’s vintage trams.
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Sat Jun 04, 2016 8:37 pm

Cathay Pacific The Wing Business Class, HKG

Arriving at HKG via taxi and the ever-efficient Airport Express, it’s hard not to be impressed by the architecture of Chek Lap Kok. CX have an expansive premium check-in area with standard desks for Business Class, and staffed podiums for First Class (although neither area is screened from the rest of the terminal). We were beckoned over to a free Business Class desk by a friendly and professional agent where our bags were tagged with CX Business Class tags, and our BPs were issued for our flight to LHR and onward to ARN. I had not been able to check-in online, although the app worked just for the CX sector and mobile BPs could be downloaded. As I have previously noted, bizarrely HKG doesn’t offer fast track immigration or security, but there wasn’t much of a queue this afternoon and we were airside within about 10 minutes of completing check-in.

We went through the immigration/security checkpoint closest to The Wing, on the left hand side of the terminal. At the same level as security is the entrance to the First Class part of the lounge, whilst Business Class passengers have to descend to gate level and walk along the concourse to access the lounge - much akin to the BA South lounges at LHR T5. Refurbishment of The Wing started in 2011 and concluded a few years later. The design is quite minimalist, with the emphasis on polished stone and tiled surfaces.

Entering the Business Class lounge via gate level, beyond the reception desk is a rectangular seating area with small buffet, next to which is a long corridor with showers radiating off it. There is also The Gallery (a quiet seating area), small drinks station and The IT Zone with iMacs on this level. The lounge area has a view out over the front of the terminal building to landside.

Up the stairs opposite reception is the main part of the lounge, open to the rest of the terminal. Along the balcony is the famous Long Bar (this space also has a small buffet counter), beyond which is the Coffee Loft (with more iMacs) and Noodle Bar to the left. The two bars and Coffee Loft are all manned with staff who will take orders on demand - a really nice touch in a business class facility, where self-service is the norm. Magazines and newspapers are available aplenty from well designed shelves built into the walls, and wifi was fast and free. TVs were also dotted around the lounge as one would expect, although these are fast becoming obsolete with more and more passengers using their own devices. I didn’t sample the catering on offer in this lounge, but the usual Asian and Western CX buffet was available with plenty of choice, and of course made-to-order noodles at The Noodle Bar. This space has a slight air of school canteen about it, which is not really to my taste.

I must admit to not being a huge fan of The Wing overall - the layout feels cramped in places, the spaces were all fairly busy on the upper level during our short visit, and the balcony location of the upper level means noise can be an issue at times. I much prefer the lower level which feels more exclusive - indeed, we whiled away the final half an hour or so of the evening in The Gallery. Despite not having a view, this ‘room’ within the lounge was a calming space to enjoy before the long flight. I also used a shower room in The Wing to freshen up before the flight. Stocked with Jurlique amenities, the rooms are nicely appointed with ample space and amenities, if a little dark.

Cathay Pacific The Cabin, HKG

Next up on the lounge tour was The Cabin, a shared First/Business Class lounge that opened in 2011 occupying a level below the gates halfway along the ‘spine’ of the terminal. This lounge comprises a fairly narrow corridor broken into two halves either side of the reception desk - turning right is The IT Zone with numerous iMacs and a small drinks station.

The left hand portion of the lounge (the larger of the two spaces) houses The Health Bar and The Deli. Once again, both of these are manned bars, supplemented by the usual buffet and drinks stations dotted around the main lounge area. Views from the lounge look out over the apron to the mountains of Lantau beyond.

The design of the lounge is similar to that of The Wing, with more of an emphasis on bold red colouring and more of a ‘trendy’ vibe. Incidentally, the red carpet is terrible for those who like to wheel their cabin bags upright! I get the feeling this lounge is geared more towards the solo traveller, as there are numerous Solus chairs and limited shared seating areas. As with The Wing, the lounge was fairly busy (and particularly warm), resulting in us not lingering long here.

Cathay Pacific The Bridge, HKG

At the time of visiting (mid-April), The Pier Business Class had not reopened following its refurbishment, although at the time of writing (late May) the lounge was due to reopen in early June. The space is going to be similar to the newly refurbished The Pier First Class, along with CX’s latest lounge design seen in a number of other new or newly refurbished lounges worldwide - I can’t wait to try it! In the meantime, we made do with what is currently the newest CX business class lounge at HKG - The Bridge, a shared F/J lounge like The Cabin. As its name suggests, The Bridge bridges the space between the two ‘piers’ of the terminal building, quite a walk from the main shopping area where The Wing and QF lounges are located (there is a train transfer for those who don’t want the exercise!).

As we descended the escalator to the reception desk, an agent came forward to take our boarding passes and welcome us to the lounge. Divided into two equally sized elegant spaces either side of reception, to the left are showers, The Bistro buffet area and Coffee Loft.

To the right is The Bakery and The Long Bar.

Each of the spaces is well divided into separate ‘rooms’, and the desire of CX to introduce more of a homely feel to their lounges is really evident - a precursor to the current lounge design seen in the likes of Bangkok and Vancouver, with more use of natural wood (in lieu of stone) and warmer colours (such as green Solus chairs instead of cool greys and bold reds).

Partly I guess due to the more remote location, The Bridge (in particular the left hand portion) was much quieter than the other two lounges, and a genuinely pleasant space to spend time in comfortable armchairs surrounded by bookshelves and a view of the apron as the sun set, disturbed only by the rather annoying incessant boarding announcements.

I enjoyed a Cathay Delight (CX’s signature non-alcoholic cocktail comprising kiwifruit, coconut juice and fresh mint) along with a light dinner of soup, dim sum and rice from the extensive and neatly presented selection in The Bakery. Plates were cleared promptly, although it was disappointing to see the same standards weren’t applied to the slightly shabby washrooms. I must admit to being quite amused at watching a steady procession of travellers failing to open the door marked ‘Washrooms’ due to the complete absence of a handle or ‘push’ sign, and the way the door was integrated into the polished white wall either side. Less than clean washrooms aside, The Bridge is currently my favourite oneworld business class lounge at HKG without a doubt.

The Qantas Hong Kong Lounge

Our final lounge on this trip to HKG was The Qantas Hong Kong Lounge, a space created a year or so ago from the former joint BA/QF First Class lounge on the balcony level to the right of check-in, the mirror image of The Wing on the other side of the terminal. Designed in Qantas’s signature Marc Newson style, the lounge features a menu from Neil Perry with service by Sofitel, and is a genuinely nice space to spend some time (when it’s not rammed for the QF departures as it was when we first stepped into the lounge during the early evening). Visiting once the QF departures had flown for the day, just two loads of principally BA passengers remained in what is a fairly large and airy space.

The layout of the lounge is fairly straightforward, with numerous seating areas broken up by a large and well-designed bar and buffet/dining area, a coffee area and quieter more secluded seating area set into the side of the lounge near the washrooms and showers. The emphasis is very much on communal spaces, so don’t expect too many private seating areas.

I enjoyed a panna cotta dessert from the extensive and good quality buffet, noting that some tables in the dining area were marked as ‘Reserved’ and fully laid with glasses, cutlery and napkins, presumably for those travelling in BA First (and potentially oneworld Emerald members?).

My only gripe with the lounge is the rather harsh lighting (a function of the lounge being at balcony level open to the main terminal roof and main lighting scheme), and potential opportunity for noise from the gate level below to drift up - combined, these factors result in a less intimate and exclusive feel when compared to The Bridge. The QF lounge is a great daytime lounge, whereas the The Bridge is the place to be of an evening.
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Sat Jun 04, 2016 8:40 pm

HKG-LHR Cathay Pacific Business Class, B777

Boarding tonight was from Gate 2, directly opposite The Wing. No fewer than four clear boarding lines were set up - one each for First Class/oneworld Emerald, Business Class/oneworld Sapphire, Premium Economy/oneworld Ruby and Economy Class, with two airbridges in use (1L for First/Business and 2L for Premium Economy/Economy). The lines were policed by ground agents, and before long we were being welcomed onboard B-KPX, a 5 year old 77W.

CX’s 77Ws come in 3-class and 4-class configurations, with this particular aircraft being in 4-class configuration. The Business Class cabin is split into two, with the main 12-row cabin behind Doors 2, and a mini 2-row cabin ahead of Doors 2 just behind the 2-row First Class cabin. Walking through F, I was very impressed by the amount of space each seat appeared to have, and liked the muted colours with accented red carpet.

CX use the Zodiac Cirrus seat onboard their longhaul 77W and A330 fleet, the same seat as can be found on AA’s 77W in Business Class and in First Class on their transcontinental A321s. My seat for the long flight today back to the UK was 11K, in the very private and quiet mini-cabin. I highly recommend selecting seats in the mini-cabin if you are able - seats are pre-bookable here only by Emerald and Sapphire members. On my seat on arrival was a comfortable pillow, whilst a decent quality blanket was on the footrest. In the small cupboard at the side of my seat were noise-cancelling headphones. The Cirrus seats are very well designed, with ample space and storage in the form of a side shelf, cupboard (including internal mirror on the door), pocket and under-footrest compartment. I love the way the seats are angled away from each other (and that window seats are angled towards the window), with aisle access for every passenger. Lighting is controllable via both a reading spotlight and blue floor mood light. Having experienced Zodiac Cirrus’s rival B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seat on the QR 787 on the way out to HKG, I would rate the Zodiac product higher than its B/E counterpart due to the greater privacy and general comfort (padding) of the seat, which could not be faulted.

As I was settling in, my jacket was hung and pre-departure beverages of champagne, water, orange juice and Cathay Delights were offered from a tray. I opted for a glass of the pleasant Billecart-Salmon, which was served with a hot towel and the menu for the flight. Incidentally, I was addressed by name as the cabin crew offered me the menu, which is a nice touch that I don’t expect in business class. Shortly thereafter our incredibly British-sounding captain (I’m fairly certain he was more British than Her Majesty) announced a flight time of 12h30m, and Evian water bottles were handed out (I guess principally for those who would be going to sleep straight after takeoff).

After a powerful takeoff from Runway 7R, amenity kits were handed out. The bags are functional but smart looking grey pouches with the new CX logo, and contain a toothbrush, toothpaste, mouth wash, eye mask, socks and three rather horridly potent Jurlique creams for the lips, face and hands. Straight after takeoff I changed into my freshly ICGS-laundered QR pyjamas in one of the spacious and generally clean washrooms - there are four (two large, two small) Business Class washrooms located in the Doors 2 galley, which are functional and stocked with Jurlique amenities (and really horrid hard paper hand towels). The crew made sure to keep the curtains closed to avoid light and noise entering the forward mini-cabin.

Dinner service started with a drinks run (by cart), and I opted for a refreshing Cathay Delight which was hand delivered from the galley. Let’s have a look at the menu, which features neat red stitching down the spine:

Due to the departure time of this flight (00:25), CX offer a supper service rather than a full dinner, which is perfectly acceptable on paper given most people will have eaten either in the city or in the lounge before the flight. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but took the option of eating anyway given I wanted to watch a film (the enjoyable Jurassic World on this occasion) and sleep during the middle portion of the flight, waking up in time for breakfast. The starter and dessert were presented pre-placed on the cloth-covered tray along with a napkin containing cutlery, a pre-poured glass of still water, bread plate, cheap little plastic pots of salt and pepper, and butter. Warm bread from the basket was offered, and I selected some pleasant garlic bread - probably the best part of the catering on this flight. The starter of freshly prepared savoury dips and (packaged) grissini was dreadful - oily and completely tasteless. Incidentally, no nuts were offered - perhaps this is only a feature of full dinner service rather than supper. I have no idea what CX management were thinking when they thought packaged grissini was acceptable for a business class product.

Before I’d had a chance to even attempt the starter however, the trolley was rolled out with the main courses. My chosen main of roasted lamb shoulder rack, French bean, ratatouille and mashed parsnip was quite possibly the worst meal I’ve eaten on an aircraft in business class - overcooked fatty meat, tasteless mushy vegetables, a vile gravy sauce and terribly presented to boot. Compared to QR (or even BA!) this was an uninspired item to have on the menu at best, and downright cheap at worst.

The seasonal berries and rose syrup (call that a dessert?!) was artificially flavoured and quite inedible. I’m not quite sure how you can go wrong with berries, but CX did quite spectacularly. A normal fruit plate such as that offered at breakfast would’ve been nicer. Admittedly Häagen-Dazs ice cream is offered as part of the snack selection, and had I spotted this earlier I would have requested this as part of the meal.

The conclusion of the supper service was somewhat disrupted due to some reasonably heavy turbulence as we crossed Central China, and so the advertised hot drinks and pralines were never offered, although hot towels were promptly offered once the seatbelt signs had been switched off and the captain had allowed the service to resume. I requested a hot chocolate, and this was delivered with a distinctly un-premium Cadbury chocolate.

I slept pretty well on the comfortable flat bed for around 6 hours, which is good for a night inflight. With the armrest retracted, there is a superb amount of width to the seat and almost unrestricted legroom thanks to the wide footrest. I am a big fan of the Cirrus seat.

Drinks orders were taken around 2h40m out of London, and I enjoyed a green tea with the third hot towel of the flight whilst I fired up the StudioCX system once again to watch Point Break - a film almost as terrible as the supper service I’d suffered a few hours previously! The IFE system itself is pretty good, with good sound and picture quality and an adequate selection of movies. For those who prefer reading to watching, the CX inflight magazines were pristine in a plastic wrapping - miles away from those bent High Life magazines of BA.

After changing out of my PJs, I enjoyed an orange juice, forest berry smoothie and tea with my breakfast of fresh seasonal fruit and bircher muesli (actually granola) and blueberries, both of which were pre-placed on the breakfast tray. I also selected a warm croissant from the basket, but declined the mains (once again presented together on a trolley as with the supper service). Breakfast was certainly the better of the two meals on this flight, but really nothing special. The melon part of the fruit dish was harder than the fork I was trying to eat it with.

We had a very efficient and professional crew on this flight who handled the business class service with ease and, in most cases, a smile. One of the cabin crew asked me to fill out a fairly lengthy paper survey to which I agreed, for which my reward was that I could keep the CX-branded pen.

We landed on time on Runway 27R as the sun rose over Heathrow, parking at T3 a short taxi later. Thanking the crew, we left via Door 2L ahead of the F passengers (with just the single airbridge in use despite the stand being equipped with two), and after a long walk to the temporary Flight Connections Centre just made the transfer bus to T5. 10 minutes later, we were back in the same terminal we had started our trip from a little over a week earlier, through North Flight Connections Fast Track security in under 5 minutes and heading towards BA’s Galleries Club North lounge to freshen up before another little jaunt to Stockholm.

My first Cathay Pacific experience was a real mixed bag. An excellent ground and hard product and decent crew were let down by frankly abysmal catering. Perhaps it’s HKG-based catering that’s to blame, as my last ex-HKG flight in BA First had terrible catering as well, but regardless, for Hong Kong’s flagship carrier this part of the experience fell well short of the mark. All that being said, I would absolutely fly CX again for the hard product alone, and am really interested in sampling their First Class product in the hopefully near future.

British Airways Galleries Club North, LHR T5

First stop in the Galleries Club North lounge was one of the shower rooms to freshen up after the long flight from Hong Kong. The shower rooms in the BA lounges at T5 are incredibly basic, and put me in mind of the bathroom in my university hall bedroom several years ago. They are modular in design, and almost everything (including the walls) is cheap plastic, rather than the nice elegant tiled rooms provided by the likes of QR and CX in their lounges - just compare the photos featured earlier in this report! The floors of the shower rooms have been replaced recently - gone is the blue lino, and in its place is… beige lino. Urgh.

Clean to the eye, the rooms nevertheless felt slightly sticky underfoot, and were severely lacking in amenities. Two towels, hand wash, hand lotion, shampoo, shower gel and a hairdryer is all that’s provided in the room - no face cloths or bath mats here, meaning I had to use one of the towels as a bath mat. A small range of other amenities such as dental kits are available on request. At least the amenities that are provided in the room are by Elemis, and each room has its own integrated radio, however, I could only get Radio 1 to work on this occasion. The basin is also incredibly small, and completely impractical for shaving - particularly with the glass shelf extending over it. All that being said, the shower was refreshing, there was none of the infamous suction noise from the drain, and no seepage of water from the shower onto the rest of the floor as has happened in the past in BA shower rooms.

The next 45 minutes or so were spent resting in some of the comfortable new armchairs by the window overlooking Heathrow’s northern runway. As with the Galleries Club South lounge, the North lounge has received new furniture and carpets in recent months, although the layout of the lounge (a T shape with one prong of the T longer than the other) always feels odd to me, and the lounge (perhaps due to its location closest to the larger of the two security points) always feels busier than its southern counterpart.

Starting at the base of the T, beyond the reception desks is a luggage check facility, something which only the Concorde Room and Galleries First lounges offer in the South lounge complex. Opposite the luggage check is the News Zone, followed by the Coffee House. At the junction of the T, to the right is the smaller area of the lounge, offering the Wine Gallery, grandly named Chef’s Theatre buffet, a small crowded seating area, and the Club Terrace (again, a unique feature to the North lounge).

Walking back along the T, customer service desks can be found to the right, with washrooms and showers along the left hand side opposite the Silver Bar and a number of seating areas with a mix of armchairs and sofas, all quite closely packed together.

At the far end of the lounge is another Coffee House, as well as a Work & Entertainment Zone and Kids’ Zone.

A coffee and banana later, and it was time to head to Gate A21 for boarding for the flight up to Sweden.

LHR-ARN British Airways Club Europe, A319

Priority Boarding was announced in the new order of Club Europe and oneworld Emerald first, then oneworld Sapphire very shortly afterwards whilst the priority lane was still full of CE/Emerald passengers (somewhat defeating the point).

We were warmly welcomed on board our 16-year-old A319 G-EUPK by a classic BA matronly purser and took our seats in Row 2 of this five-row CE cabin. Jackets were hung, and our captain announced a flight time of 2 hours exactly, cruising at up to 39,000ft.

Hot towels were passed around just before we commenced a rather long taxi all the way down the airfield to Runway 27R for takeoff.

Shortly after we were airborne the usual Band 3 breakfast service commenced with a choice of traditional English breakfast, vegetarian alternative (an omelette) or a continental breakfast. The vegetarian option (which I almost always go for these day on BA breakfast flights) ran out before I was offered breakfast as only two had been loaded, and so I went for the traditional option on this occasion. On the full size tray was my chosen traditional English breakfast (a foil insert into a plastic dish), fruit plate, bread plate (with a choice of warm breads and pastries offered from the basket), butter, milk, tea cup and glass. The rolled serviette contained the newly branded Club cutlery (used in both Club Europe and Club World cabins), as well as a packet containing salt, pepper, sugar and a wipe. This was a standard BA breakfast, with the main course being sinfully tasty (no doubt thanks to a week’s worth of salt). The sausage, tomato and omelette were all cooked well, although the bacon was a little fatty and the mushrooms slightly greasy - some may say the perfect English breakfast! Additional breads and pastries were offered as the meal service concluded, and later in the flight the purser came around the cabin offering orange juice and water from glasses on a tray, which was a nice touch.

The rest of the flight passed by as most European flights do, with not a lot to do other than watch the moving map, the scenery roll by outside and perhaps browse one of the inflight magazines. Annoyingly the couple in 1AC both reclined their seats fully shortly after takeoff for the duration of the flight, and whilst this is of course allowed and they are within their right to do so, it did demonstrate how narrow the pitch is from Row 2 rearwards in the new Pinnacle seats.

We landed on time into ARN and were soon picking up our bags (amongst the first out on this occasion) before heading out through customs to the departures forecourt for our first breath of fresh air in almost 24 hours.

Menzies Aurora Executive Lounge, ARN

Re-entering the terminal building, there was no queue at the single Club Europe check-in desk, and we were soon airside via a fast Fast Track security (essentially just a bypass of the queue to the head of the line, rather than a separate screening area). The third party Menzies lounge that BA use at ARN is in an odd location at the back of a pub, and has all the ambience of a shed stuffed with a mis-match of random, cheap style-less furniture. There was a mildly amusing moment at reception when I handed the receptionist our CX boarding passes from a couple of flights ago, which caused a little bit of confusion before my by now increasingly sleep-deprived brain worked out what I’d done.

The lounge is split into a larger space at the front, and two smaller ‘rooms’ at the rear, with a block of (dirty) unisex toilets separating the two spaces. The front space houses a relatively acceptable buffet of mainly cold items, with a secondary drinks station located in the room to the right at the rear of the lounge. It was to this space that we retreated to pass the 90 minutes or so before our final flight of the trip. The room next door was closed for refurbishment, with staff moving seemingly new furniture around and poking their heads above the ceiling tiles in a not particularly organised fashion.

Whilst empty plates and glasses were being cleared quite promptly, the floors were in need of a vacuum, and the rugs in particular were downright dirty. This coupled with the work going on in one corner of the lounge and the hectic interior design did not make for a particularly pleasant stay in the lounge. Thankfully the wifi was fast and I was able to distract myself catching up on emails.

ARN-LHR British Airways Club Europe, A321

At the gate it was clear this was going to be a very lightly loaded A321, and indeed it was so lightly loaded that allocated seats had to be kept until after takeoff to ensure correct weight distribution. The Priority Boarding lane was processed at the same time as general boarding, a completely useless practice although with such a light load the effect wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. This afternoon we were flying on G-EUXF, my second time on this particular aircraft, delivered new to BA in 2004. There was hardly so much as a welcome at the door, and I could tell that this was not going to be a great flight service-wise. I boarded to find my seat (1C) occupied by the purser’s handbag and book, which I had to remove myself and hand to the purser without so much as an apology. My jacket was begrudgingly hung, and hot towels were dished out as the very relaxed first officer announced a flight time of 2h10m back to Heathrow.

This afternoon’s flight was an afternoon tea service, featuring three finger sandwiches, a cake, warm scones from the basket, clotted cream and strawberry jam - and very pleasant it was too, accompanied by a quarter-bottle of the questionable Castelnau.

The male crew member did his best to provide a good service singlehandedly in the CE cabin, as the purser audibly announced she wouldn’t be helping with the service today, instead sitting for the majority of the flight on the jump seat by Door 1L, reading her book and helping herself to drinks. 1C is great for the additional legroom the bulkhead and galley offers, but with the curtain rarely being closed, it was also rather distracting (and disheartening) to see the purser completely disengage from her role as the lead cabin crew member on the aircraft. A further minor annoyance on this flight was the absence of the main divider curtain between CE and ET, meaning a steady trickle of ET passengers came through the 6-row CE cabin making use of the forward washroom.

After a rather turbulent landing on 27R, and once the seatbelt sign had been extinguished, the purser darted into the washroom and left the forward galley completely unoccupied, with her Club Europe passengers waiting for their jackets and the ground crew banging on the door outside for it to be opened. I took the lead and retrieved my jacket (and several other passengers’) before the purser reappeared and finally opened the door allowing us to disembark.

That rather frustrating but strangely entertaining final flight brings us to the end of this trip, and indeed this trip report. Thanks for reading and for the comments so far - further comments and questions are always welcomed. I hope you’ve enjoyed the virtual trip to Hong Kong as much as I enjoyed the real thing!
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Sat Jun 04, 2016 9:55 pm

Well that's a truly amazing trip report ! Very well written, incredible detail & great pictures. Enjoyed every minute. Will agree that HK is a great place to visit. Your routing out of ARN was that because J fares are that much cheaper rather than LHR ? I have some Asia flying later this year LHR-KUL & HKG on BA/CX (Not in J) but am really looking forward to that after seeing these HK pictures.

FYI ... defiantly agree Spectre whilst enjoyable is no where near Skyfall !!
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Sat Jun 04, 2016 11:36 pm

Wow, excellent report! I loved seeing all your photos from Hong Kong. I would love to visit sometime!

It looks like you had a great experience with Qatar Airways. Each time I see a report about them, I'm impressed.

Thanks for sharing!


Matthew (767747)
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Sun Jun 05, 2016 10:36 am

Excellent report, and great timing. Next month I'm doing a similar trip, BA LHR-ARN, then QR ARN-DOH-HKT in J, plus visiting HK.

Quoting Genius12 (Thread starter):
I was slightly disappointed that the selection wasn’t more extensive, but on reflection this is a perfectly adequate menu for a flight of under 6 hours.

Same. There never seems like there is enough food on initial inspection of the menu, but i've never got off a QR flight in J hungry.

Quoting Genius12 (Thread starter):
My roasted butternut squash soup, lemon and herb crème fraîche with cheese twist was pretty rich and a little too creamy for my liking, but inoffensive nonetheless.

I LOVED this soup when I had it last month FRA-DOH. Delicious! I hope its on my ARN flight in July!

Quoting Genius12 (Thread starter):
and the room was rather hot (even before the shower was on).

Same problem existed in the previous airport. Seems they still can't work out that you need decent aircon in a shower room in the desert!

Quoting Genius12 (Thread starter):
I was left feeling underwhelmed by the apparent focus on design at the expense of comfort

Completely agree! Top marks for inital impressions, but when you start to look at the (important) small details, it seriously detracts form the overall quality of the lounge. The Emerald/Sapphire lounges are awful. Don't even bother.

Quoting Genius12 (Reply 3):
If you’ve not done it before, the official viewing platform at the Peak is worth the entrance fee,

I can't agree. The viewing terrace on the opposite building (Peak Galleria) has nearly identical views, and is free. I agree that a walk down Lugard Road is the best thing to do though!

Quoting Genius12 (Thread starter):
the purser audibly announced she wouldn’t be helping with the service today

I think an email to customer services about her would be a good idea. She obviously doesn't want to be there, so should be looking for another job, not making extra work for her colleagues, and inconveniencing passengers.
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Mon Jun 06, 2016 7:23 am

Great trip report, and QR definitely looks like the standout! I really want to fly them in J, but every time I book, another Oneworld carrier has a better fare (AY, usually).
Even though I live in HKG, your photos inspired me to see my city in a positive light! Sometimes, with all the busy-ness, it's easy to forget how great this city is.
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Mon Jun 06, 2016 10:49 am

Wow, this is an amazing report. I now even look more forward to our ARN-DOH-BKK vv. trip in July in QR J.
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Mon Jun 06, 2016 1:32 pm

Absolutely superb report there - I didn't expect it to be as long as it was! I'm more in the habit of splitting my reports flight by flight.

I was really interested in your comments on QR as I'm scheduled to fly them to Auckland in April, so I'm glad to see they are as excellent as everyone keeps saying they are.

You were lucky to have such good weather in Hong Kong - I was there 3 nights in April and it rained virtually every day. I was in the InterContinental (the other one) which was great. I love Hong Kong!

Such a shame Cathay were so bad food wise. I was quite surprised by that. Great that you tried all the lounges in Hong Kong - I love the design of the Qantas lounge from when I was there last year. I haven't tried all the CX lounges, but I agree with your opinion of The Wing. I was there a couple of years back and didn't like it at all. On my last trip I was in the Pier First Class both times and it's a great lounge, so I'm looking forward to trying the new Business Class version when it's open.

Thanks for putting together the report! I know how long it takes to do, so really, well done! I'll be using some of your tips when I go to Hong Kong again next year. Also, excellent photos - you really do take good ones!   Nice work!
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Tue Jun 07, 2016 12:25 pm

Amazing report, very interesting read!

Thanks for sharing!
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Wed Jun 08, 2016 10:13 am

1.) "The waiting area for the ferry was rustic to say the least, and the ferry not much more modern, complete with a disconcertingly large amount of life jackets and exit signs."

That is the charm of taking a Hong Kong ferry around. And I would much prefer to have to many life vests than not enough.

2.) "The bathroom towels were a little on the hard side - I suspect they are imminently due for replacement, although this should have perhaps been done a few months ago."

If having "hard" towels is one of your life's greatest hardships, please consider yourself very fortunate.

3.) "I have no idea what CX management were thinking when they thought packaged grissini was acceptable for a business class product."

Same response as #2
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Fri Jun 10, 2016 6:20 am

Quoting johnclipper (Reply 13):
If having "hard" towels is one of your life's greatest hardships, please consider yourself very fortunate.

I am sick of hearing the "first world problems" argument. If I live in the developed world and pay good money to fly business class, then I expect things to be good. The OP stated that he didn't think those two aspects of the flight were up to business class standards, and they are right. Packaged grissini is distinctly economy class and on EK, the bathrooms have actual towels. CX J is not cheap and they continuously downgrade everything.

To the OP, fantastic TR with lots of detail. I enjoyed it a lot. I use CX and QR as my two primary carriers now. CX hard product is exceptional, but the service is just ok and the food is absolutely abysmal. With the recent change of catering, things have only gotten worse. It is very hard to go from QR to CX now as the difference is sizeable.

I agree that the QR A330 hard product is a let down, it doesn't make sense to me why they didn't just put the same seat as the 787/A350/380. The A330 seat does feel cramped, although the same style seat on the 777 is very very comfortable.

Thanks again for the report and look forward to the next one.
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Fri Jun 10, 2016 4:09 pm

Dear Genius12, thank you for posting this outstanding trip report. Hong Kong is one of the places I would most like to visit and your photos have gotten me even more eager to go. 5/5. Regs
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Sat Jun 11, 2016 5:20 am

Quoting jah718 (Reply 14):
I am sick of hearing the "first world problems" argument. If I live in the developed world and pay good money to fly business class, then I expect things to be good.

Exactly, and so do I. If I pay good money for J class, I don't expect to be bothered by some snot-nosed spoiled millennial disturbing my lounge and flight experiences with a selfie stick photographing every olive in a lounge bar, ever seat in the cabin or every second of a flight from taxi to deplaning. Yes, we all fly. I don't need to see EVERYTHING. It's flying, not a trip to Mars.
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Sat Jun 11, 2016 3:11 pm

Quoting theobcman (Reply 6):
Your routing out of ARN was that because J fares are that much cheaper rather than LHR ?

Thanks for your comments, theobcman! Yes, ex-EU flights are usually significantly cheaper than originating in the UK for business class. Enjoy your upcoming Asia trip.

Quoting 767747 (Reply 7):
Wow, excellent report!

Thanks, 767747! Hope you get to experience QR soon.

Quoting gabrielchew (Reply 8):
Excellent report, and great timing.

Thanks for the detailed comments, gabrielchew!

Quoting aozora (Reply 9):
Even though I live in HKG, your photos inspired me to see my city in a positive light!

I'm glad you enjoyed the report aozora - always nice to hear a local's views!

Quoting florens (Reply 10):
Wow, this is an amazing report.

Thanks, hope you enjoy your BKK trip florens.

Quoting ClassicLover (Reply 11):
Absolutely superb report there - I didn't expect it to be as long as it was! I'm more in the habit of splitting my reports flight by flight.

Thanks for your comments ClassicLover! The report was written in a series of six parts originally for FlyerTalk, but I like to contribute here from time to time too so decided to post the whole report once complete.

Quoting reffado (Reply 12):
Amazing report

Thanks reffado!

Quoting jah718 (Reply 14):
fantastic TR with lots of detail.

Thanks for your comments, jah718!

Quoting gbrazil (Reply 15):
Dear Genius12, thank you for posting this outstanding trip report.

Thanks gbrazil, glad you enjoyed it!
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RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Sat Jun 11, 2016 3:31 pm

Nice trip report...

Quoting Genius12 (Thread starter):
Compared to QR (or even BA!) this was an uninspired item to have on the menu at best, and downright cheap at worst.

I thought the same thing. I loved everything about CX, except the catering was cheeeeeeeeap, and on one longhaul flight the service order was tray w/ starter > main course > beverage service, which was strange. That said the CX seat is probably my favorite J seat out there; I found it far better than QR J even on the 359.
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Re: RE: Asia’s World City Via QR And CX Business Class

Fri Jul 01, 2016 9:10 pm

MaverickM11 wrote:
Nice trip report...

Thanks MaverickM11, glad you enjoyed the report and interesting to read your similar views on CX's catering too.

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