Tried & Tested

Cathay Pacific B747-400 First Class

15 Oct 2008 by Tom Otley

Check-in I checked in online
the day before my flight and accepted a pre-assigned window seat (84A)
upstairs on the B747-400 aircraft. For most international flights with
Cathay, online check-in is available up to 48 hours before departure. I
also registered to received “notiFLY Messaging”, which would offer me
“useful reminders about my flight via SMS and email” including whether
the “flight is on schedule, delayed more than 30 minutes, diverted or
cancelled”.

The next morning, a Sunday, I arrived at Terminal 3
to drop off my bags. There was a queue of about five people at the
business class check-in in Zone B, although as first class was empty we
were soon processed. There was only a three-minute queue at fast-track
security and once through immigration I walked the length of the
terminal following the signs to “Gate A Lounge” on the first floor,
where the Cathay business and first class lounges are located. The
lounges are very similar, and the business class lounge on the left is
unchanged since I last visited (to read the previous review click here).

Wifi
is provided by T-Mobile but is not free. While in the lounge I received
my notiFLY message: “CX252 / 12 Oct will depart LHR at 12:35. Weather
forecast of Arrival City: HKG-Rain:23-26C. Thank you for choosing
Cathay Pacific.”

Boarding
I left the lounge before the boarding call, and walked to Gate 7, where
boarding had already begun. There were two queues for the two air
bridges and, perhaps because I was unexpectedly early, there was no one
waiting to greet me on the aircraft, so I turned right, walked through
the business class cabin on the main deck and straight up the stairs.
The staff quickly took my jacket and offered water, orange juice or
champagne.

The layout Cathay has new products in all three
classes on these flights. The business class is in a herringbone format
slanting inwards and forwards so that the window is behind you. At
first sight it is a more cramped version of the same seat you might
find on a Virgin Atlantic flight upstairs, and certainly feels
narrower. The seating configuration on the main deck rows 11-17 in
business is A,D – GK, and A – K on the upper deck. The rows
upstairs begin with 80K and then 81 A and K. These seats are good ones
to choose since they have only the crew toilet in front, so you won’t
be disturbed by passengers. After row 87 there is the emergency
over-wing exit, then four more seats on the K side. Seat 91K isn’t too
bad either, because although it’s in the last row before the (two)
toilets, there is a coat locker between, so there’s no real disturbance.

The seat
There is a large TV screen with a noticeably higher quality of
resolution than many and good noise-cancelling headphones, which have a
hanging place just behind the seat when it is in an upright position. A
normal English plug fits straight in and recharged my computer. The
worktable comes out from the side panel but was sloped downwards and
didn’t feel particularly strong – it also bounced noticeably whenever
there was turbulence, causing the hard drive of the laptop to engage
its preset protection, something that normally happens only if it is
set down hard on a  table.

I’ve read reports that, because the
side storage compartments on the upper deck are not in use, the beds
upstairs have more length to them than those downstairs. It’s certainly
true that this is a very long bed, and also that the initial feeling of
being cramped by the seat lessens the moment it goes into a reclined
position, and disappears completely in full recline (your feet are then
raised by the footrest so that there is an unbroken line right the way
to the small ottoman seat). It’s an astonishing transformation, since
in the take-off position it is difficult even to read a newspaper, yet
in full recline after I had finished working I had enough room to sleep
and have my laptop computer next to my head, saving the hassle of
removing it from the charger and putting it away. The seat cushions are
comfortable and there is effective mood lighting throughout the cabin –
this was particularly noticeable towards the end of the flight when a
pale green was the choice for dawn with a pink shade across the roof,
presumably to help us grow accustomed to a sunrise seven hours before
our bodies were ready for it.

The new entertainment system is
effective, but not best in class, with an old flight map familiar from
the past decade rather than the new versions. But there is a large
choice of entertainment, including Hollywood and Asian films, always a
bonus for fans of Chinese cinema flying with Cathay, and the system is
fully Audio and Video on Demand.

Food and drink
This was a daytime flight, so the main meal was a full-blown three
courses. Starters included bresaola with rucola and grana padana, and
seasonal salad served with lemon and tarragon vinaigrette, while mains
included pan-fried cod with creamy roast pepper sauce, potato mash,
roast fennel, sautéed spinach and baby carrots; braised beef with
turnips, steamed rice and stir-fried vegetables; and stuffed field
mushroom with lime risotto, tomato provençale and asparagus. There was
a choice of desserts, cheeses (stilton, Somerset camembert, manchego)
or fresh seasonal fruit. For breakfast about two hours before arrival,
the choice was poached eggs Florentine with streaky bacon, pork
sausage, rosti potato and grilled roma tomato; cheery egg crêpe with
kassler ham; or assorted Chinese dim sum with stir-fried noodles and
vegetables served with chilli sauce. Incredibly, between these two
meals the few times I went up to the back to use the toilet, there were
people having snacks and sandwiches, as well as helping themselves to
crisps and chocolate.

Arrival We landed half an hour ahead of schedule at 0635, having made up time in the night.

Verdict Forget
the reports, this business class is superb and one of the most
comfortable business class flat-beds. If you feel claustrophobic on
first using the seat, simply recline it a little and it becomes a lot
more friendly. The service is top-class, as you’d expect from Cathay,
the food and drink is exceptional, and the experience of using Hong
Kong International as a hub is trouble-free. Highly recommended.

Contact cathaypacific.com.

Tom Otley

Have your say The introduction of Cathay’s new business class product has solicited a large number of letters to our sister publication Business Traveller Asia-Pacific. We have posted these comments on the businesstraveller.com forum, which can be viewed here.

Seatplan for Cathay Pacific’s B747-400 (new product). For hundreds of seatplans and details of the best seats on major airlines worldwide, visit seatplans.com.


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