BACKGROUND Cathay Pacific flies non-stop four times daily between London Heathrow Terminal 3 and Hong Kong International Airport, using a mix of B747-400 aircraft (CX250, CX252, CX256) and B777-300 (CX254).
FIRST IMPRESSIONS I had checked in for the CX252 departure the previous day and selected a seat on the Upper Deck of the B747-400. I arrived early at T3, around 1015 and walked to Zone B where the business class check-in was free. I left a bag and then went up the escalators to security. I could have used fast track but there was a long queue, so instead I walked though on the main line and was through security in a little over five minutes. Airside, T3 was packed, with barely a seat to be had in the main area, and progress was difficult through tax-free to the corridor through to the lounges.
THE LOUNGE Depending on tier level with Cathay Pacific or Oneworld, passengers flying business would use either the business or the first class lounge, both of which have been upgraded (and moved from their original position earlier this year).
For a full review of the lounge, click here.
BOARDING I left the lounge early despite a warning from the receptionist that the gate wasn’t ready for business and first class passengers. She was right, it wasn’t ready for anyone. It’s a long walk to Gate 22 at the end of a corridor which has a crossing corridor for arriving flights. Since a flight had just arrived, the doors at the end were frequently closed so these passengers could enter the terminal from the air bridge, and the queue was long, but there was no going back now. Eventually we got to the gate area, which was too small to seat the number of passengers on a B747-400. Announcements apologised for the delay which was variously because of the late arrival of the aircraft, or because a tug had broken down delaying its arrival on the stand. Thankfully, business and first were called onto the plane and I was quickly upstairs and into my seat. My jacket was taken and I was offered a drink (water, orange or champagne). The delays continued and we did not push back until 1305 with take-off taking place at 1335.
Upstairs it is a 1-1 configuration (A and K) starting with row 80. The seats in row 81 (A and K) are a fair bet because there is no forward toilet so you won’t be disturbed. I was in row 84 and noticed that there was no row 85 – so the seating went from 84 to 86. I asked the flight attendant why that was but she didn’t know. The last row of the first section before the emergency exit is therefore 87A and 87K. These are fine because of the high walls of the seats. The rows then start at 88 as you’d expect, running back to 92A and 91K.
This business class seat is a controversial one. To see the various debates, both for and against, click here to go to our forum thread on the subject.
The lack of conversation/ eye contact with fellow passengers is a plus for me rather than a minus, since I’m either asleep or working, and always travelling alone, but it’s true that if you are travelling with a companion the seat is quite socially isolating, and true also that when you walk down the aisle people do seem to be in their own pods, or coffins as some have unkindly put it. That said, the seat is comfortable, and despite some quirks works well.
The first of the quirks comes on take-off, when you have to fasten your waist seat belt and then reach over the shoulder facing forward to attach a shoulder belt to your waist belt for take-off, something that Virgin and Air New Zealand have somehow managed to avoid. The table lifts up and folds out from the side wall but wasn’t particularly strong and bounced up and down when I was typing on my laptop, it also sloped down towards the back of the aircraft, but since the aircraft itself might have been flying slightly “nose-up” it may have been vertical with regards to the ground.
There is a power point for laptops/phones up by your shoulder, so it’s very easy to use, and the screen swings out from the side wall. In between the plug and screen is the handset control which doubles as a phone.
The seat has a small ottoman though it’s not large enough for a companion to sit on for long, and there are two small magazine pockets against the opposite wall. IFE is with the StudioCX system, which has a large choice of films, and as you’d expect, is strong on Cantonese films, so whenever I haven’t flown Cathay for a while it’s good to catch up on the latest epic and/or police thriller.
FOOD AND WINE Around 1400, 25 minutes after take-off, the flight attendants came around with a choice of drinks and some cashew nuts, and our order was taken for lunch.
Starters: Chicken confit terrine with puy lentil salad, mixed feta cheese and sherry vinaigrette.
Main courses: Braised pork cheek with mustard mashed potatoes, savoy cabbage and roasted shallots; stir-fried General Tso’s chicken with steamed rice and mixed vegetables, lamb rogan josh with vegetable jalfrezi and basmati almond rice and spinach and ricotta tortellini with lemon cream, sauce and balsamic tomatoes. Cheeses: Butler’s Secret, Cropwell Bishop Stilton, Camembert, fresh seasonal fruit, raspberry chocolate brownie torte with raspberry compote.
Wine list: The Champagne was Billecart-Salmon Brut, the whites: a burgundy from P. Ferraud & Fils Vire-Clesse 2008, and a Waimea Estates Spinyback Sauvignon Blanc 2009. The reds were Robert Skalli Cote du Rhone Villages 2007 and a Rockbare McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008. There were also a couple of signature cocktails: Oriental Breeze: a sour plum tea and cranberry juice-based non-alcoholic drink with honey and fresh lemon juice and a hint of rose water or Cloud Nine; vodka, Cointreau and sprite with a refreshing touch of lemon flavour. For those who got peckish during the flight, the snacks were assorted finger sandwiches, Melton Mowbray pork pie with cheddar cheese and Branston pickle, roasted duck with noodle in soup and ice cream.
Of the four daily flights Cathay has, this is probably my least favourite time since it feels like a day flight, but when you arrive it’s the next morning. I didn’t get much sleep, but I got a lot of work done. At one point I realised an expensive pen had slipped out of my pocket down the side of the seat, but after 20 minutes I managed to retrieve it, with the flight attendant holding a small torch to help. I was also impressed that they conveyed my request to learn about the result of the Singapore Grand Prix night race which took place while we were flying, and then came to tell me the result, reading it from an official print out.
Breakfast: Orange and grapefruit juice, mango and passion fruit smoothies, fresh seasonal fruit, fruit yoghurt and Bircher muesli. Main courses: Goats cheese and herb frittata with directors [sic] sausage, Lyonnaise potatoes, sautéed mushrooms and Roma tomato. Tomato and basil crepes with back bacon and chunky tomato coulis, chicken and mushroom congee. Bread basket: assorted breakfast bread served with preserves, honey and butter.
ARRIVAL We arrived only a few minutes late and were quickly on the stand. From there we took the shuttle train to immigration. I was quickly through and my bag was waiting on the carousel.
VERDICT Cathay’s business class is excellent. The service was very thoughtful and personal, the food delicious, the wine choice not bad and the in-flight entertainment in the top league. I like these business class seats for both working and sleeping. Well worth trying, don’t be put off by the negative press about them.
PRICE A mid-week return in October, from Cathay's website, starts at £3,889.