Hong Kong-Taipei was the busiest commercial international flight route in the world in 2017, flown a total of 29,494 times by airlines. It also remains the single busiest route for Cathay Pacific, with some 1.82 million passengers booked on the route in 2017.
Since so many people fly between Hong Kong and Taipei, the majority of them in economy class, I thought it was well worth subjecting this route to a review.
I was on flight CX400, one of Cathay Pacific’s more than one hundred weekly services on the route. This service uses an Airbus A330-300 with a 2-4-2 economy class configuration and anywhere between 191 and 293 seats in economy class, depending on which of the three configurations Cathay is flying.
I used the In-Town Check-In service at Hong Kong MTR station, which I recommend as it is usually less busy than checking in at the airport. The check-in attendant was polite and ensured I got my requested window seat, albeit one nearly right at the back of the plane meaning I’d be among the last to disembark.
Hong Kong International Airport has installed new self-service gates before entering security where you scan your travel document, enter a first set of gates, scan your boarding pass, and then exit a second set of gates. Easier said than done. The woman in front struggled to scan both her passport and boarding pass, as did I. A staff member had to help both of us, rather defeating the point of the machine.
There was almost no queue at security and I wasn’t even patted down despite setting off the metal detector. Hong Kong residents can clear immigration in seconds by inserting their Hong Kong identification card into a machine, stepping through a gate, scanning their thumbprint, then exiting through a second gate. Visitors will have to wait longer, but the queue wasn’t too long.
I was hungry when I arrived at the airport and, having no lounge access with my economy ticket, was keen to check out Terminal 1’s newly refurbished dining area. The new dining options are limited to Asian cuisine and, while the selection looked fine, nothing took my fancy and I gravitated towards the ever-popular McDonald’s. One tip: the queues here can be long so go to McCafe instead (which seldom has much of a queue) and make sure you buy at least one item from the McCafe menu, then you can buy anything you want from the main McDonald’s menu, circumventing the queue.
I managed to grab a fairly comfortable stool seat overlooking the main concourse, a pleasant enough place to sit and finish my coffee while watching other passengers file to their gates.
You need to walk 5-10 minutes to gate 36, but the people movers make this fairly effortless. There are a couple of places you can stop off at to fill your water bottle along the way. Boarding was smooth at gate 36. The flight was a little busy and as my seat was almost right at the back of the aircraft, I had to wait for some people to get out of the way before I could reach my seat. The 2-4-2 configuration meant boarding was faster than on a 3-3-3 or 3-4-3 Boeing 777-300 though, as you have fewer people moving about to allow window and middle-seat passengers into their seats.
The 2-4-2 configuration means those lucky enough to get in one of the two-seater aisles avoid having a person on both sides of them. I was in seat 73A by the window, and for this relatively short flight, all but those with the weakest bladders should choose a window seat. These give you a fair bit of personal space to your left or right, and the seats are wide enough that you won’t be elbowing your neighbour all the time. Legroom is sufficient and comfortable enough for this short flight.
Which seat to choose?
It’s better to sit towards the front of the aircraft for quicker disembarking. Sitting near the back, I had to wait a while for the meal service to reach us as well, so you’ll get served quicker towards the front. If you’re travelling as a couple or with a friend then the twin-seat pairings offer a good deal of privacy.
We departed a little later than the 1305 scheduled departure time, but the pilots easily made up the time in flight. It seems Cathay Pacific incorporates this expected delay into its given flight time – a common practice among airlines these days. It’s a little annoying but forgivable on a route as short as this. Upon takeoff, we were afforded what could have been an impressive view of the new Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge had it not been such a smoggy day, and the bridge soon dissolved into the haze. We hit mild turbulence one or two minutes after take off, but otherwise it was a smooth departure.
The in-flight entertainment had a good selection, but with a flight time of not much over an hour, I didn’t choose to watch anything. I picked up the Financial Times, New York Times and South China Morning Post which along with other Chinese newspapers are all available before you board free of charge. These were enough to keep me occupied throughout the flight.
The cleanliness of the aircraft was generally okay, but there were crumbs and some small hairs left in the stowage area beneath my monitor, and the seat back in front of me had some slight but not unnoticeable staining.
At 1355, the one-choice meal service came: curry chicken rice. The service was hurried but polite – “Hello, chicken rice, thank you; hello, chicken rice, thank you; hello, chicken rice, thank you” – the cabin crew obviously under pressure to get an A330-load of passengers fed before the imminent descent to Taipei.
I asked my seatmate how she found her meal. She said she liked that it was served hot, adding that the lunchboxes are often only warm. Indeed it was piping hot, though my meal had just one slice of carrot and one piece of potato to seven pieces of chicken. A healthier meat-vegetable ratio would have been appreciated, though Hong Kong food is often stingy on the veg. It tasted fine and did the job of filling me up, but was not memorable and it would have been nice to have one other meal option, even if it were only a sandwich. We also got a bottle of water, which was small, but staff provided additional water upon request.
Annoyingly for such a short flight, the chap in front decided to fully recline after the meal service, making it a bit tricky to read my broadsheet New York Times.
The landing gear came out at 1443 and we made a smooth descent to Taipei Taoyuan International Airport.
A comfortable product for this short flight, with little to fault. The food offering could be better, but if you’re that picky, just get something at the airport beforehand or bring something on board. It would have been nice to be offered a hot drink or other soft drink too, though.
- Price A return economy class fare in mid-February starts at HK$1,160 (US$148) including tax and fees.
- Configuration 2-4-2
- Seat width 18.1 inches
- Seat pitch 32 inches
- Seat recline 6 inches
- Departure 1305
- Flight duration 1 hour 50 minutes