Tried & Tested

Cathay Pacific A340-600 business class

26 Jan 2005 by Tom Otley

First impressions: Chek Lap Kok Airport was not busy on arrival and there was no queue at the business class desk. I checked in and went straight through security, which only took about five minutes. Since July 1 2004, Cathay has offered two daily flights to New York from Hong Kong using the new A340-600, one non-stop and the other via Vancouver. My non-stop flight CX830 departs Hong Kong at 10.15am, arriving the same day at 2.05pm, though flight and arrival times depend on the season due to winds. The flight time is 16 hours 30 minutes, which makes it the second longest scheduled non-stop flight (after Singapore Airlines' daily New York JFK to Singapore Changi service, at 18 hours 55 minutes in a two-class Airbus A340-500).

Lounges: There is a choice of two lounges at opposite ends of the airport. The Pier is on level 5 near gates 62-66, but I chose The Wing, opposite Gate 2, as my flight was departing from Gate 3. On the ground floor you are asked whether you prefer smoking or non-smoking. Non-smokers are sent up in a very slow lift to a John Pawson-minimalist masterpiece of a lounge. The whole lounge measures 4,500sqm (3,000sqm for the business section), with 300 Italian leather chairs and, at 80ft, the longest airport bar in the world. The lounge is equipped with free wifi, plus internet-connected computers for those travelling light, and eight shower suites.

Boarding: I left the lounge before hearing any announcements to find no queue at my gate. The cabin crew served water, orange juice or a kiwi cocktail before we pulled away from the stand. Excellent Biotherm travel kits were then handed out.

The seat: There are eight seats in first, 60 in business (2-2-2) and 218 in economy (2-4-2). In business, the seat is 190.5cm in length, 52cm wide and reclines to an angle of nine degrees from the floor, into a privacy cocoon. This is not a lie-flat seat ? that is, it doesn't recline fully horizontal ? but it's reasonably comfortable for sleep.

The flight: Travellers keen to stay in touch with the office can use the Netvigator in-flight email service; unfortunately I didn't have the correct connecting wire, so couldn't use it. I did ask to borrow one but was told that the service wasn't working anyway. If you do have the correct wire and the service is working, the charges start at US$9.95 per flight, with messages costing 60 cents per KB. There was a laptop power supply, though as usual this seems to merely slow the depletion of the battery rather than power the machine.
The inflight entertainment was very good, with the Studio CX system of video on demand, which allows programmes to be stopped, started and paused at will. The BBC World Service also feeds live onto the next channel, though this depends on short wave availability and, if it was available, I missed it.
The captain told us that because of strong tailwinds we would be taking the north Pacific route rather than flying over the North Pole, and this was obviously the right decision, because it shortened our scheduled flight time by some 90 minutes. It is still a long flight, however, so I was glad that window shutters came down and there was plenty of quiet time for sleep. Throughout the flight the service was exemplary.

Arrival: We had a smooth landing at JFK and no delays into the terminal or through immigration; often it's a matter of luck as to whether another flight has landed at the same time. My luggage came through quickly.

Verdict: Excellent. This was a long flight, made bearable by the seat and service.

Prices: In the UK, return economy fares cost from £1,309 including tax. Business class is from £3,553 with tax included. Cheaper prices are available in both the Hong Kong and the US markets.

Tom Otley

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