First impressions I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 for my 1820 departure on CX250 some 90 minutes before departure. I quickly found Zone B and was directed to the online check-in counter. I had already visited the website and selected a seat upstairs on the Boeing 747-400 so that I could get some sleep (the upstairs is generally quieter, although the downside is that if the flight is less than full, often upstairs can be fully occupied while the larger downstairs section is only half full). After passing through security I found the lounge without much trouble, despite its odd location (Gate A) on the other side of the main airside area from nearly all the other lounges, which are near Gates B to J. Cathay has four flights daily from London to Hong Kong, with weekday departures at 1245, 1820, 1950 and 2235.
The lounge This feels like a mini-version of the one in Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok (see opposite), with clean lines, a good selection of hot and cold food and drink, and a room containing computers with internet access. Perhaps because of the design of the lounge – and despite it being upstairs from the main concourse – mobile phone reception is poor, which means everyone talks much louder than necessary until finally giving up and going out into the corridor. I asked the receptionist why this was, and he hazarded a guess at it being the amount of marble used in the lounge. He may be right.
Boarding The flight was called and it was a 10-minute walk to the gate. Once on board we were told the flight time (11 hours and 6 minutes, which is an astonishingly accurate prediction given the distance of several thousand miles) and then invited to relax. Upstairs on the Boeing, in a window seat, there is a convenient storage space against the fuselage for small items, and sufficient storage overhead. It took around 30 minutes from the push-back from the stand before we were airborne.
The seat The flight was on a 747-400 for which Cathay has two seating configurations. Premium has 345 passengers in a three-class configuration: first class with 12 passengers, business with 39 on the main deck and 26 upstairs, and economy with 268. Cathay's seat, though very comfortable, is angled lie-flat rather than fully flat like those of BA, Virgin Atlantic and (from the end of October) Air New Zealand on this route. It is in a 2-3-2 layout and feels roomy. The seat is 190.5cm long, with a headrest that can be adjusted six ways, and lumbar support four ways. Pillows are now reversible and much larger. There's a personal reading light with adjustable direction and brightness, and a personal water-bottle holder.
The flight Although this was an early evening flight, I was keen to get as much sleep as possible given the time difference with Asia-Pacific, so I ate only lightly from the selection and resisted the alcohol offerings. What made sleep more difficult was the entertainment – several dozen film and TV choices on the Studio CX system – which kept me occupied for four hours. When it was time to sleep it was easy to drift off, with the lights dimmed, the cabin quiet and the seat comfortable. I woke an hour before we were due to land, and had a refreshing breakfast of fruit, cereal and cappuccino, as well as fresh toast (a cooked option was available, as was a Chinese breakfast).
Arrival We arrived on time into Chek Lap Kok, cleared immigration after an uncharacteristically long wait of around 15 minutes (but I was in the slowest queue), and the bags were ready and waiting when we reached the reclaim area.
Verdict An excellent service, though with flat bed competition on this route from Virgin, BA and ANZ, the choice comes down to one of price and the desirability of the flat bed.
Price A return fare in business class from Heathrow to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific costs from £3,511.