This is a review of Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A350-900, with 280 seats configured in three classes: 214 economy seats, 28 premium economy and 38 business. It is a new aircraft, and in addition is a return to Gatwick for Cathay after a gap of nearly 20 years. The four-times weekly service started in September 2016. Flight times can be found on the news piece
And there’s a video walk through here
I arrived at London Gatwick’s South terminal at 1000 for my 1235 departure on CX344 to Hong Kong, a flight of just under 11 hours (10 hours and 50 minutes).
Cathay has a check-in area in Zone F, and there was a dedicated queue for business class passengers as well as premium tier in Oneworld. A lady apologised for the length of time it would take to check in since this was a new operation for the team, but in fact it only took a couple of minutes to process the passengers in front of me and myself.
I was given an invitation card both for the No 1 Gatwick Lounge and also one for the Arrivals Lounge at Hong Kong. I also had a sticker placed on my boarding card for Premium Gatwick, which is the fast track at the airport. I then went up the escalators for departures.
Security was very quick, and after walking through World Duty Free I was into the main shopping area of the airport. This is on two levels, with shops on both. The lounges and the restaurants are on the top level – though there are also yet more shops up there. To read a review see No 1 Gatwick South Terminal.
When I saw the screen change for the flight I came out of the lounge and took the escalators down and walked to Gate 17. It’s about a five-minute walk. When I got there boarding had already started, and that meant that although I was quickly through having my boarding card checked via the premium line, I then queued with all the other passengers in the gate area to get onto the flight. Once on board I was shown to my seat.
This is a new business class seat for the A350, and you can see a lot of photos of it on our Flickr page Cathay Pacific A350-900 at the end of this article (unless you are on an iPad).
There are two cabins – a larger front cabin of 30 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration and a rear smaller one of 1-2-1 with just eight seats. There is a seatmap on Cathay’s website: Cathay Pacific A350-900 seat map.
I was in the front row of the front cabin in 14D (there are no rows 1-13), but I was moved to 20G because the arm rest which goes up and down for take-off and landing was broken.
These are new seats in all classes, with the premium economy and business seats designed by Studio F.A. Porsche. The seat will be immediately recognisable to those used to flying Cathay’s business class – it is 1-2-1 in configuration, forward-facing but at an angle, with surrounds giving a fair degree of privacy without completely cutting you off from other seats (important for the centre seats where couples may be flying.
There have been significant improvements to the seat from even the new one on Cathay’s B777-300ER. Firstly, the storage has been increased. In addition to the existing side cabinet for smaller items with a netted pocket inside the cabinet door there is a newly created under-ottoman space for storing shoes and small bags.
There is also a new side storage which is good for keeping a large laptop. It meant I could work until a few minutes before take-off and then put it away on sleep mode without having to get out of my seat and go into the overhead locker. Lastly, there is a side arm that goes up and down, and when up, there is space under it for a bottle of water.
That said, there are teething problems with this. It wasn’t just that first seat with a broken arm rest. Having moved to 20G which is the front row in the rear business class cabin, another passenger had found his arm rest was stuck down and could not be raised. The seat is controlled by some simple-to-use settings with pre-sets but also a toggle switch allowing for smaller adjustments for the seat back, leg rest, and seat pan.
There’s a thick padded seatbelt, which in the front seats has an airbag in it, but this can get stuck in the side of the seat as it comes up and down and I had to stand up to let the flight attendant sort out getting the seat back into a position for a meal. In addition, the tray table comes out of the side area, but is quite small, slopes and vibrates when you work on it.
The seat has an 18.5-inch personal television, as well as a new 4.3-inch video handset and you can have the map on one and watch a film on the other. The headphones are excellent, and the quiet aircraft and top notch IFE system along with large screen makes it a great environment for catching up on entertainment.
I noticed that if left idle the main screen goes to sleep after a while which is a good idea, since people fall asleep yet the bright light from it can fill the cabin. The system has three live television channels: BBC, CNN, and Euronews which I watched and worked well. The system has an e-Reader with a large collection of international and Hong Kong magazine titles from the personal TV.
You can also use the new Panasonic ex3 platform to put on a Do Not Disturb or Wakeup Call function, though I’ve never had a problem with attendants deliberately waking me up, though they often do it inadvertently by dropping things or chatting loudly through the night (not on Cathay, I hasten to add).
A comparison of the current business class seat on the B777-300ER and the new one shows that the seat pitch is 45 inches on the new A350 seat compared with 42 inches on the B777-300ER, width is slightly less (20.2 inches compared with 21 inches), the IFE screen is larger (18.5inches compared with 15.4 inches) and the bed length the same – 75 inches.
There is wifi on board. I didn’t test it on this flight on a Sunday (there are limits) but I will try it on the return flight. There was a choice of magazines in a rack in the galley. The amenity bag is from 78 per cent and contained Jurlique products.
You can see a seat map Cathay Pacific A350-900 seatmap.
The rear cabin backs straight onto premium economy, though there a full wall between and curtains across. I’d go for the front cabin since the back on gets the noise from the galley – this aircraft is very quiet and you can hear people chatting very clearly in the galley, both in row 20 and 21. Service also seems to be from the front of the main cabin moving backwards, so you can end up waiting for that first drink or your meal in the rear cabin.
In general, the window seats have great views – particularly the large windows – I’d go for one of these if you have the choice. If you’re a couple probably the centre seats are best, though you have to lean forward to see one another. If you want privacy in these seats after take-off leave the door open on the side cabinet – you’re supposed to in any case if you have items charging using the power points that are in this cabinet. As well as the plug there’s USB charging as well.
This was only the second service of the flight (I had been at the inaugural a few days earlier), and I had the impression the flight attendants were finding their feet but were confident and soon caught up, though there was a fair amount of dropped items in the galley.
Not everything is perfect on the aircraft – the washroom doors and awkward to use, and even when locked I found the light didn’t always come on when in there. In addition, there was standing water in the wash basin, which was odd because the A350 I’d flown with Ethiopian Airlines to and from Addis Ababa a few weeks before had the same problem on both flights. It’s because the unmarked control to the left of the tap is actually to close or open the plughole but it’s difficult to work. The flight attendants put post-it notes on the flush button and hand soap.
Food and drink
- Chicken and duck terrine, quince, apricot compote and beetroot tartar
- Mixed salad, carrot, tomato and peppers, wasabi and yuzu dressing
- Wok-fried butterfly prawns, chilli tomato sauce, broccoli and steamed jasmine rice
- Braised ox cheek, seasonal vegetables and parsley mash
- Braised side of pork, mixed vegetables, celeriac mash, plum and ginger chutney
- Spaghetti, spinach and cheese sauce
Cheese and fruits
- Cropwell Bishop Stilton, Mature Croxton Cheddar, Goats cheese crackers and grapes
- Chocolate mousse
- Apple crumble
Illy coffee / tea / pralines.
The two starters came together (pictured), and then I had the prawns which were also delicious. I meant to take a picture of them but I was watching a film and only remembered after I’d eaten half of it. Sorry about that.
On the menu this was listed as Billecart-Salmon brut but in fact it was Veuve Cliquot.
- Les Chapitres de Jaffelin Bourgogne Chardonnay 2014
- Yealands Estate Land Made Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2015
- Chateau Crabitey Graves 2012
- Rockbare McLaren Vale Shiraz 2014
Port: Dow LBV 2011
Selected other liquor brands that I noticed: Bombay Sapphire, Johnnie Walker Gold, Hine Cognac,
There was an Organic Wine Promotion on board. There were four listed, though only one was on board so perhaps that was what was meant by them being “rotated” every three months. The ones listed on our flight were
- Chateau Maucoil Cotes du Rhone Villages 2014
- Explorer Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014
- Vine Las Ninas Colchaua Valley 2014
- Gemtree Bloodstone Shiraz McLaren Vale 2014
Each came with detailed notes and a piece by Roy Moorfield, Wine Consultant for Cathay Pacific on the back. We had the first one on board.
While on the subject of food there are snacks (available on request)
- Traditional British pork pie, Leicester Cheddar and apple pear chutney
- Braised beef tendon and baby pak choy in noodle soup
After the meal I watched a film and then reclined the seat. The side arm went down, and also there was an extra side flap which flips up and creates and even larger bed area. Along with the low side area with storage beneath it, this all adds up to be a very large bed and a very comfortable one, allowing you to sleep on your side, move around, bend your legs while sleeping.
Again, it’s not all working, though. The seat opposite mine had a side flap that wouldn’t go back into the seat no matter how many times the lady slammed it shut. This was very noisy, but I understood her frustration, especially since her partner had an armrest stuck down.
Juices or smoothie, bircher muesli
- Cheese and red pepper frittata, streaky bacon, herbs, mushrooms and baby potatoes
- Apple pancake, apple compote and maple syrup
- Chicken and black mushroom congee
We landed just after 0630 and were disembarked at 0640. From there it was a very long walk to the transfer train but then no queue at immigration (I have a frequent visitor visa so can use the e-channel gates).
This is a superb seat – an evolution rather than revolution over the business class on the existing long haul fleet but welcome nonetheless – 1-2-1 configuration, all aisle access and lots of storage and room to sleep. Once the seats have been made stronger and more robust, this will be one of the best business classes flying.
You can read about the Arrivals Lounge and the return flight back in the below links