Singapore-Hong Kong is among the world’s 20 busiest air routes by flight frequency, with an average of 41 flights per day, according to the Busiest Routes 2018 report conducted by air travel intelligence company OAG. Both Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines operate multiple daily flights between the two cities, with Hong Kong’s home carrier operating more than 60 flights per week.
I was on flight CX716 from Singapore to Hong Kong travelling in the economy class cabin and while this is certainly not the preferred class of travel for business travellers, there are a few things that make Cathay’s service on this route interesting.
For starters, one of the highlights of flying with Cathay out of Changi Airport is that, unlike Singapore Airlines, it departs from the new Terminal 4 building. Officially opened at the end of October 2017, the new terminal features automated systems and biometric technology for check-in, bag-drop, immigration and boarding procedures. I was keen to see how its self-service option “FAST” – which stands for Fast and Seamless Travel – manages to improve the overall travel experience.
Secondly, CX716 is among the flights that features Cathay’s newest aircraft, the Airbus A350-1000. Cathay, which took delivery of in June last year, was the second airline to fly this new iteration of the A350, which is notably longer and features a higher capacity than its predecessor, the A350-900, which also operates flight CX716 on select days.
Business Traveller Asia-Pacific was on the delivery flight of the A350-1000 back in June and conducted a first look of the business class cabin.
This flight provided the opportunity to see what the new aircraft has to offer in the economy cabin.
It’s important to note beforehand that Terminal 4 is not interconnected with the other three terminals. If you plan to go to T4 by MRT train, you can take the green East West Line and transfer at Tanah Merah Station onto the train bound for Changi Airport first. The Changi Airport MRT station is accessible by foot from T2. From there you can proceed to Arrival Hall Door 1 at T2 to take the complimentary 24-hour Airport Shuttle Bus service to T4. The journey takes about 10 minutes.
My flight was scheduled to depart at 1800, and I arrived at T4 at around 1630. Upon arrival at the departure hall, there were a number of automated check-in kiosks where you could print your boarding pass and bag tags.
Only a few airlines operate out of T4 and therefore have access to these self-check-in kiosks, among them Cathay Pacific, Cebu Pacific Air and the four AirAsia Group airlines, namely AirAsia X, AirAsia Zest, Indonesia AirAsia and Thai AirAsia. Fortunately, most of the kiosks were available when I arrived and I didn’t need to queue up for long.
Overall, it’s easy to operate these automated kiosks by following the instructions on the screen. The first step was to select my airline, which was Cathay Pacific. Then I was asked to retrieve my booking by scanning my passport or boarding pass, or entering the information manually.
I chose to scan my passport, and a few seconds later my passport and travel details were shown on the screen. If everything looks good, you can print your boarding pass. Travellers are then prompted with a security notice reminding them not to store any prohibited items in their checked or cabin luggage, and asked how many baggage tags they’d like to print off. These then have to be attached to your luggage yourself before heading to the automated baggage-drop area.
The automated bag-drop machines are located just behind the check-in kiosks. Passengers are required to scan their boarding pass first, and then their passport. Flight details, number of bags allowed and weight allowance are then all shown on screen.
I was prompted by the machine to grab a plastic tray first, then put my bag in it and place them together on the conveyor belt – there are also members of staff nearby ready to offer assistance or instructions in case you have difficulties. Once it was done, the current bag weight was shown on the screen and I simply needed to confirm the itinerary and other information before being issued with my baggage receipt.
In T4, the immigration procedures can be completed using the Automated Immigration Gates (AIG). Native Singaporeans, permanent residents, Long-Term Pass holders, and travellers who have previously arrived in Singapore and enrolled their fingerprints with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) of Singapore have access to the automated gates. Of course, there are also manned counters with immigration officers.
I was required to scan my boarding pass and passport to pass the first set of gates, and then scan my fingerprint for the second set. Overall the process took around 30 to 40 seconds.
T4’s security screening process features Computed Tomography (CT) technology, the most prominent benefit of which is that travellers are not required to remove electronic devices from their bags, including laptops, tablets and smartphones, or metallic items such as keys and coins. However, liquids, aerosols and gels less than 100ml must be presented separately. A self-explanatory picture is displayed at the bottom of the tray, so you understand immediately what to remove from your bag.
While economy class passengers aren’t provided lounge access, it’s worth noting that Cathay Pacific does have its own lounge at T4 located on the Mezzanine Level. Diamond, Gold and Silver members of Cathay’s Marco Polo Club frequent flyer programme can access the lounge even if they’re flying in economy.
Our boarding gate was G20. With only 21 gates in T4, it was clear that I needed to walk all the way to the end. But as T4 is the smallest of all the terminals at Changi Airport, normally this takes little more than 10-15 minutes to go from security screening to the gate.
Boarding was also automated. To pass the Automated Boarding Gate, I had to scan my boarding pass before having my photo taken, which was then cross-referenced against a database using facial-recognition technology. As with the other automated procedures, this was similarly fast and staff are no longer required to check passengers’ passports and boarding passes one by one.
My flight was operated by the three-class Airbus A350-1000, which features a 3-3-3 economy class configuration with 256 seats split across two cabins. These are new seat products launched on the A350-1000, each of which is outfitted with a USB port and a set of headphones that allows passengers to enjoy the in-flight entertainment system on the 11.1-inch HD screens. I was in seat 64G, an aisle seat in the sixth row of the second economy class cabin, which allowed me to access the aisle easily while also not being too far from the lavatory.
Which seat to choose?
For those looking for a more spacious legroom, bulkhead seats 40A-C, 40H-K, 59A, 59C, 59H, and 59K are good choices. Seats 60A and 60K are also prime spots, as despite being window seats located in the second row of the cabin they have no seats in front of them, giving you even more space to stretch your legs.
The flight took off at around 1822, a bit later than the scheduled 1800 departure time. The flight time between Singapore and Hong Kong is just under four hours, so in order to kill some time I decided to watch a movie. The in-flight entertainment system offers a wide array of local and international films, TV series and music, which was good enough to keep me occupied.
I was surprised to see that there were some very new movies available. I chose to watch Searching, which only came out in Hong Kong in mid-October. I also recall that on my previous flight to Singapore, also with Cathay Pacific, most passengers, including me, were watching the film Crazy Rich Asians, perhaps because most of the story takes place in our destination.
Snacks and drinks were served not long after the flight took off. Each passenger was given a small pack of peanuts and a drink, which can be refilled upon request.
Dinner was served later with two choices. One was chicken rice and the other was the seafood noodles, both of which are served with a small bottle of water, a selection of fruit and some veggie side dishes. I chose the chicken rice, which was tender and included a good balance of meat, rice and vegetables.
The flight finally arrived at Hong Kong International Airport at 2146, a little earlier than the scheduled 2155 arrival time.
Overall, it’s a nice flight, with in-flight entertainment system offering an extensive selection of options if you’re not planning on working on the flight. Staff are friendly and provide good service, though otherwise there wasn’t a lot to make the flight itself stand out significantly.
- Price A return economy class fare in mid-February starts at HK$2,167 (US$276) including tax and surcharges
- Configuration 3-3-3
- Seat width 18 inches
- Seat pitch 32 inches
- Seat recline 6 inches
- Departure 1800
- Flight duration 3 hours 55 minutes
- Contact cathaypacific.com