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Flight check: Cathay Pacific

16 Oct 2008

Check in: I checked in online the day before my flight and accepted a pre-assigned window seat (84A) upstairs on the Boeing B747-400 aircraft. For most international flights with Cathay, online check in is available up to 48 hours before departure. I also registered to received “notiFLY Messaging”, which would offer me “useful reminders about my flight via SMS and email” including whether the “flight is on schedule, delayed more than 30 minutes, diverted or cancelled”.

The next morning, a Sunday, I arrived at Terminal 3 to drop off my bags. There was a queue of about five people at the Business Class check-in in Zone B, although as First Class was empty we were soon processed. There was only a three-minute queue at fast-track security and once through immigration, I walked the length of the terminal following the signs to “Gate A Lounge” on the first floor, where the Cathay Business and First Class lounges are located. The lounges are very similar, and the Business Class lounge on the left is unchanged since I last visited .

Wifi is provided by T-Mobile but is not free. While in the lounge I received my notiFLY message: “CX252 / 12 Oct will depart LHR at 12:35. Weather forecast of Arrival City: HKG-Rain:23-26C. Thank you for choosing Cathay Pacific.”

Boarding: I left the lounge before the boarding call, and walked to Gate 7, where boarding had already begun. There were two queues for the two air bridges and, perhaps because I was unexpectedly early, there was no one waiting to greet me on the aircraft, so I turned right, walked through the business class cabin on the main deck and straight up the stairs. The staff quickly took my jacket and offered water, orange juice or champagne.

The layout: Cathay has new products in all three classes on these flights. The Business Class is in a herringbone format slanting inwards and forwards so that the window is behind you. At first sight, it is a more cramped version of the same seat you might find on a Virgin Atlantic flight upstairs, and certainly feels narrower. The seating configuration on the main deck rows 11 to 17 in Business is A, D – GK, and A – K on the upper deck. The rows upstairs begin with 80K and then 81A and K. These seats are good ones to choose since they have only the crew toilet in front, so you won’t be disturbed by passengers. After row 87 there is the emergency over-wing exit, then four more seats on the K side. Seat 91K isn’t too bad either, because although it’s in the last row before the (two) toilets, there is a coat locker between, so there’s no real disturbance.

The seat: There is a large TV screen with a noticeably higher quality of resolution than many and good noise-cancelling headphones, which have a hanging place just behind the seat when it is in an upright position. A normal English plug fits straight in and recharged my computer. The worktable comes out from the side panel but was sloped downwards and didn’t feel particularly strong – it also bounced noticeably whenever there was turbulence, causing the hard drive of the laptop to engage its preset protection, something that normally happens only if it is set down hard on a table.

I’ve read reports that, because the side storage compartments on the upper deck are not in use, the beds upstairs have more length to them than those downstairs. It’s certainly true that this is a very long bed, and also that the initial feeling of being cramped by the seat lessens the moment it goes into a reclined position, and disappears completely in full recline (your feet are then raised by the footrest so that there is an unbroken line right the way to the small ottoman seat). It’s an astonishing transformation, since in the take-off position it is difficult even to read a newspaper, yet in full recline after I had finished working I had enough room to sleep and have my laptop computer next to my head, saving the hassle of removing it from the charger and putting it away. The seat cushions are comfortable and there is effective mood lighting throughout the cabin – this was particularly noticeable towards the end of the flight when a pale green was the choice for dawn with a pink shade across the roof, presumably to help us grow accustomed to a sunrise seven hours before our bodies were ready for it.

The new entertainment system is effective, but not best in class, with an old flight map familiar from the past decade rather than the new versions. But there is a large choice of entertainment, including Hollywood and Asian films, always a bonus for fans of Chinese cinema flying with Cathay, and the system is fully Audio and Video on Demand.

Food and drink: This was a daytime flight, so the main meal was a full-blown three courses. Starters included bresaola with rucola and grana padana, and seasonal salad served with lemon and tarragon vinaigrette, while mains included pan-fried cod with creamy roast pepper sauce, potato mash, roast fennel, sautéed spinach and baby carrots; braised beef with turnips, steamed rice and stir-fried vegetables; and stuffed field mushroom with lime risotto, tomato provençale and asparagus. There was a choice of desserts, cheeses (stilton, Somerset camembert, manchego) or fresh seasonal fruit. For breakfast about two hours before arrival, the choice was poached eggs Florentine with streaky bacon, pork sausage, rosti potato and grilled roma tomato; cheery egg crêpe with kassler ham; or assorted Chinese dim sum with stir-fried noodles and vegetables served with chilli sauce. Incredibly, between these two meals the few times I went up to the back to use the toilet, there were people having snacks and sandwiches, as well as helping themselves to crisps and chocolate.

Arrival: We landed half an hour ahead of schedule at 0635, having made up time in the night.

Verdict: Forget the reports, this Business Class is superb and one of the most comfortable Business Class flat-beds. If you feel claustrophobic on first using the seat, simply recline it a little and it becomes a lot more friendly. The service is top-class, as you’d expect from Cathay, the food and drink is exceptional, and the experience of using Hongkong International as a hub is trouble-free. Highly recommended.

Contact: www.cathaypacific.com.

Tom Otley

For a seatplan of Cathay Pacific’s B747 (new product) as well as seatplans and details of the best seats on major airlines worldwide, visit www.seatplans.com.

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