BACKGROUND Cathay Pacific has 20 of these two-class A330s in its fleet, with 44 seats in business and 267 in economy. The Hong Kong-Bangkok route is busy with Cathay flying five times daily. The route is also served by Thai Airways and a number of less regular services from the likes of Emirates, SriLankan, Kenyan and Ethiopian airlines.
CHECK-IN I checked in online the night before and was allocated seat 14K. Thanks to the most clueless Hong Kong cabbie I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across, I made it Hong Kong Central station only 75 minutes before the scheduled 1600 takeoff. Luckily an Airport Express train was at the platform and the electronic signs showed I had three minutes to board. Once on, I knew it would take less than 25 minutes to go from Central to the Airport stop. The Airport Express service also stops at Kowloon and Tsing Yi. After the airport, the Airport Express now goes to a further stop at AsiaWorld Expo, a major exhibition, convention and concert venue and is therefore a major boon to corporate travellers flying in and out for trade shows. Cathay Pacific now has mobile check-in and self check-in kiosks, where you can print your own boarding pass.
Cathay Pacific has a bag-drop queue, which was deserted at the time, for online check-in passengers and those using the new self check-in kiosks. However, as a Marco Polo Gold Card Holder, this isn’t necessarily always the quickest queue and I usually quickly scan the other Priority check-in queues, which can also handle online travellers, just in case this seems a better option. These are in aisles A and B of the departure hall.
As I was transferring in Bangkok, I asked about the transit procedure for my connecting flight with Etihad, but the only advice counter staff could give me was “please follow the signs”.
My flight was CX701, which heads on to Karachi after its Bangkok stop. Immigration was painless but despite light queues the security checks were longer than normal and I was pulled aside for a second random check, which was done politely enough but I did begin to eye my watch nervously.
Ironically, given my time concerns, the plane was delayed by around 20 minutes from its 1600 scheduled departure due to a number of late arriving passengers.
BOARDING Departure gate was 68 at the very far end of HKIA. I took the intra-terminal shuttle train and ruled out a lightning-quick trip to Cathay’s lounge (Cathay now has three available lounges all catering to first, business class and Marco Polo Club higher tier members). If you are unfamiliar with the HKIA layout, Cathay’s ever-helpful check-in staff will advise which lounge is closest to your departure gate and even approximately how long it will take to walk there from the lounge.
In any case, I judged the time too tight and opted for the safer option of boarding as by now the "final call" announcements had just begun to show. There were only a few people ahead of me and I was quickly processed. Cathay has priority boarding for first-class, business class and Marco Polo and Oneworld alliance frequent travellers. While I wasn’t greeted on board by name, I was offered a choice of orange juice, water or champagne. Later meal and drinks service did mention my name.
THE SEAT The plane is an A330, with business class. Charitably speaking, it was showing its age. One of the passengers in row 12 complained that the IFE system was broken. The three-seat recline buttons were so faded it was difficult to work out which functions they controlled. During the landing check, I had some trouble trying to return my seat to the correct position.
Overhead locker space was more than sufficient and the legroom was substantial. The old seats are comfortable, but I had forgotten how awkward the old-style IFE system was. I got another set of headphones during the meal service but it was practically impossible to connect them while the pullout table was in front of me, forcing me to awkwardly enlist my neighbour to hold my food while the plug went into the socket. The choices were very limited but the flight is short at around two and a half hours so it’s no great ordeal.
FOOD AND DRINK Given the short length of the flight, service was busy but never felt rushed. The meal service came about 25 minutes into the flight with a selection of drinks. The starter was a rather flat green-leaf salad with cherry tomato and a balsamic vinegar dressing. I added a piece of garlic bread and the choice of main course was appeared to be a rather generic chicken stirfry or a mushroom and cheese gnocchi. For the first time in my life, I opted for the vegetarian option and I have to say this was one of the best Cathay meals I’ve had in a very long time. Dessert was a choice of various Haagen-Dazs ice-cream flavourss, with the choice of tea or coffee and followed by the offer of chocolates, the last being too much even for me. While the business class cabin wasn’t completely packed, the flight attendants were busy throughout and were extremely attentive.
ARRIVAL The pilot’s landing announcement came half an hour before touchdown, we had managed to make up lost time despite some adverse weather. Business class passengers were disembarked first, within about five minutes of reaching the gate.
VERDICT Despite the tired hardware the flight attendants delivered a great service, combined with Cathay’s frequency and its great deals at the moment this is the obvious choice on the Hong Kong-Bangkok route.
by Kenny Coyle