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Flight check: Cathay Pacific's new First Class

23 Oct 2008

CHECK IN: Check-in is available online up to 48 hours beforehand for most Cathay flights, and from 24 hours to 90 minutes before your flight, you can also use the Airport Express check-in counters at either Hongkong or Kowloon station. I dropped my bags at the latter and then had a few hours spare for a meal in Kowloon before going to the airport. If you are flying with Cathay Pacific, take a carriage towards the rear of the train as this positions you to the left side of the airport, which is convenient both for the Cathay check-in desks and your departure gates.

There was no queue at either check-in or security, so I took an immediate left turn into the Pier First Class lounge. (Business Class passengers have to go down a level and then back up again, an arrangement not dissimilar to that at Heathrow Terminal 5.)

THE LOUNGE: The First Class lounge is similar to the Business Class lounge, but in place of the noodle bar, there is a restaurant with a choice of hot and cold buffet food, and instead of going to the Long Bar, you ask for drinks and they are brought to you. Since the Business Class lounge is on the same level, if you want to use any of the extensive facilities of the Business Class Pier, simply walk through the open door and then return to the First Class lounge to relax. I worked on my laptop, used the free Wi-Fi and watched out for the status of my flight, since unless there is a gate change or delay updates are not called. At around 1120, I walked down to the gate and boarded immediately.

THE SEAT: This Boeing B747-400 has the new Economy, Business and First Class seating on board. (For a review of the new Business Class seating, click on seatplans on the home page and search for the review of Cathay Pacific new Business Class.) The First Class cabin has been reduced from 12 to just nine seats, and the space has been devoted to passengers.

The first impression is that the suites are huge – the main seat is more like a banquette since there is another half-size seat cushion next to you, over which a large armrest can be pulled down from the back of the seat.There is a good-sized ottoman (with seatbelt) for a dining companion, and the table is large enough for two. Each suite has its own wardrobe built into the area next to the ottoman, where the duvet and pillows are ready for use, and there is room to hang your clothes once you have changed into the free Shanghai Tang sleeper suit. Despite the size of the seats, the cabin feels roomy – there are no overhead lockers, with passengers placing their luggage in the units by their feet or handing it to cabin staff who effortlessly find space even for large bags.

Seat stats are as follows: Configuration: 1 – 1 – 1 / 1 – 1 (A – D – K / A – K)?Width: 23cm.?Seat length: 206cm.?Recline: 180 degrees.?IFE screen size: 17 inches.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Unlike in some First Class cabins at the nose, there are no general-use closets at the front, so 1A and 1K are good seats, as are 2A and 2K. I was in 2K, and had four windows and a flower in a holder between two of them. There was very little noise from the galley behind, but if there is, the last row will get it so I’d stick to rows one and two.

THE FLIGHT: The offer of water, orange juice and Krug Grande Cuvée champagne was a pleasant welcome to First Class, and throughout the flight, the service was unbeatable. There was a delay to departure and I couldn’t help noticing that, despite having already told us to turn off all electrical devices, the cabin crew still ignored the fact that the passenger behind me was happily chatting on the phone even as we taxied out onto the runway and the safety video was finishing. First Class obviously buys these privileges – don’t try it in economy.
For some reason the laptop power wasn’t working, which would have been a real problem if this had been a day flight. I was told this was because it hadn’t been fitted on this aircraft, which seems strange because it was working in the new Business C lass cabin on the B747-400 on the way over.

FOOD AND DRINK: Once airborne, we were into the meal service. This started with an appetiser of caviar and Balik salmon “Tsar Nicolaj” with Krug Grande Cuvée, then roasted red pepper soup to start (delicious). Main courses were grilled beef tenderloin with rosemary red-wine sauce, swede mash, asparagus and baby carrots or Chinese favourite wok-fried seafood with gingko nut and asparagus in fish sauce served with steamed jasmine rice, and stir-fried pak choy with ginger and chilli. I passed on dessert but succumbed to the cheese: Bavarian Blue, Gruyère, Arenenberger and French Brie.

The wines throughout were of a standard you’d expect: Bouchard Père and Fils Meursault Les Clous 2005, Helen’s Hill Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2006, Château Lynch-Bages 5ème Cru Classé Pauillac 1998, Corton Grand Cru Louis Max 1996 to name half the list. Despite the StudioCX AVOD entertainment system and the promise of unlimited fine wines and snacks throughout the 13-hour flight back, the fully-flat seat was waiting, so the cabin crew prepared my bed, reclining the seat backwards (in fact it’s the cushion seat which moves forwards, making room for the recline). There is plenty of room in the double-size First Class toilets to change into the sleeper suit, and more than half of the passengers did this. Once in bed, sleep came quickly.

There is excellent cushioning, probably partly because the beds are still relatively new, and ample room for even a large plutocrat or restless banker. The cabin was so dark I didn’t need the eye mask, and there was a lack of clutter around the seat, with the Bose noise-cancelling headphones fitting neatly into a compartment by the armrest. I woke a couple of hours before landing and had the breakfast with orange juice and smoothies, fresh coffee, cereal and dim sum. We had set off 50 minutes late and arrived at 0555, leaving the aircraft at 0605, ahead of the scheduled time. It was quiet in Heathrow’s Terminal 3 on Saturday morning, and I was quickly through IRIS immigration, leaving me only a 90-minute wait for the third-worst taxi driver I have ever had.

VERDICT: If it weren’t for the lack of laptop power and a question mark over the prolonged use of mobile phones, this would be faultless. The new First Class suites are incredibly comfortable, well thought out, easy to use and perfect for sleeping. They may not have doors like the First Class in Emirates and Jet Airways, but they feel very private, and the service is world-beating.
PRICE: Return First Class fares from Hongkong to London in early December starts from HK$67,753 (US$8,738) on CX251 departing Hongkong at 1155pm and on CX252 departing London at 11.30am.

CONTACT: www.cathaypacific.com.

Tom Otley

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