In this review:
- 5 minute ads behind paywall
- 4 meals in a lounge
- 0 over-the-wing photo
Check in & The Deck
I arrived 90 minutes before my Madrid flight’s departure and walked towards the left side of the entrance, where premium check-in was located. Sadly I am yet to fly Cathay Pacific First Class, so resorting to the Business Class section while peeking at the individual counters of First Class check-in section would do. My conflicting sense of superiority and inferiority clearly signalled what was to come in this flight: Business Class is just getting down to business, not to be pampered like a royalty here in Cathay.
As usual for everything Cathay Pacific, there was a line in premium lane. Sometimes when I fly, Cathay would have longer lines in priority than non-priority, which is absolutely bonkers to think about. The combination of attractive OneWorld benefits, huge number of well-to-do Hong Kongers and mainlanders, and a gigantic population base all contributed to 50 meter-long priority queues 20 minutes before boarding commencing. However, that was still no excuse, as it looked like Cathay was handing out elite status like a registered child molester giving candies out at a run-down suburban Detroit playground. After waiting the longest time I had ever experienced to check in for a business class flight, which was about 8 minutes, I was welcomed with a smile to present my passport. The agent casually printed out the boarding pass after scanning it, and waved me away. No introduction to the priority or the plethora of lounges available, but I understand since there was still a line behind me.
I swiftly made my way down the airy and busy terminal, looking for the best lounge a business class passenger could get: The Deck. This newly opened lounge was a result of the newest generation of renovation done at the airport, and it was actually not my first time visiting as I pass by Hong Kong quite often. Thus, I will include a lot of photos taken during a previous trip when I accessed the lounge just after opening with my OneWorld Emerald status. Hold on tight: it is gonna be good.
The reception sits right across from this beautiful piece of human shin bone exhibit, so I was welcomed by an eerily fluid artistic masterpiece. The lounge is not too big, about the size of a local Aldi supermarket, and for those Americans reading, it would be about a quarter of a football field, or the size of a normal small-town McDonald’s down your block. A variety of seating options are up for picks, even though the lounge was a tiny bit crowded due to the large number of European departures late at night.
I especially love the efficient use of space here in the Deck. The area is divided into a handful of smaller zones, each similar enough to let you feel that you are not intruding some other lounge, but different enough that your brain automatically picks up what kind of zone it is. There is a large room full of work stations for businessmen, a chill area with sofas and large lamps for relaxed family time, a dining area next to the noodle bar for food munchies, and an open terrace under the terminal’s high ceiling for couples and romantics. They are all subtly linked but super airy and well-lit in the most soothing colour. Designed by the great interior designer from London, Ilse Crawford, this lounge is definitely one of the most aesthetically pleasing business class lounges out there, as homey as the Qatar Al Safwa lounge is grandiose.
I took a seat at the open deck: since the lounge is named after it, so I am obligated to sit there or be harassed by numerous readers complaining about my blatant act of cowardice. (who am I kidding I have no readers.) The area was more of a patio than anything else, but the large number of people sitting at the gates downstairs made it very noisy during departure times. I leaned out to examine which 20 babies were crying at the pits of hell, yet I checked myself before projectile vomiting all my white wine onto the people literally a level below me. Oh yeah, the wine they provided, a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand called Hipi, was phenomenal so I probably drank way too much.
As you may see, the Deck’s deck might not be the best place if you want peace and quiet. Turning my attention to the famous noodle bar, I was still impressed the hundredth time whenever I was offered to take a look at the steaming hot dim sum vibrating under the heating vapour.
No free lunch in the world can compete with Cathay Pacific’s offering in their uniquely Cantonese “street stand in the lounge”. In the multiple times I passed by, I have basically tried every single offering they provide on the rotating menu. Order in Mandarin, English, or Cantonese, grab a buzzer, wait for a handful of minutes, and indulge yourself! Not going to list all the delicious specialties on display here, as any Asian-foodholic should be able to spot the classics without any problem.
Even though there is already a noodle bar, the Deck still features a relatively comprehensive buffet spread for those who do not have mood for Asian food. Salads, cold cuts, cheeses, hot spaghetti, curry, soups, cakes, jellies and many more freshly crafted options were on display constantly, and the above picture only shows the cold section. Absolutely on point for a business class lounge, and there is nothing that I would complain about, and I am a person who could stress-eat 5% of my body weight in one hour!
What I love the most is a small cart sitting at a corner, with almost stock-footage-like fresh waters on top. Just, just look at it! It looks like some fake plastic decoration bottle! The crystal green, vibrant red and energizing yellow bursts out the picture, and I had to try them all, even though it was just slightly flavored water! Never seen food offerings that can also serve as decorations! No wonder every single time as I depart from Hong Kong, I would have to hold my overhanging belly filled to the brink with Cathay Pacific’s lounge delicacies.
I boarded last onto my flight, as I was basically rolling around like an obese meatball at that point, full of steamed smaller meatballs. I turned left towards the dedicated jet bridge for business class passengers, and was welcomed by the cabin manager who showed me my seat. The assigned window seat for yours truly is 17K, third last row to the starboard side, which was relatively towards the aft as the big business class front cabin has 8 rows of 1-2-1 configuration. (fun fact: even though the rows go from 11 to 19, there are only 8 rows because row 13 is skipped, even though in Hong Kong 14 is the unlucky number.) However, the flight was lightly loaded in business class, with about 35% occupancy compared to economy cabin’s 80%. It was a relatively low season for European travel, and Spain is not exactly the biggest economy powerhouse. As a result, even with Iberia helping Cathay Pacific providing further feeding traffic at Madrid, it was common in early spring to see relatively small planes. Cathay Pacific also alternates between the stretched A350-1000 and the smaller A350-900 on this route.
As I sat down, the friendly flight attendant asked multiple times if I wanted to hang my coat in the cloak room instead of on my seat, and I declined multiple times since I might need it later during the flight if it was getting too cold and I felt too lazy to ask for additional blankets. Luckily, it never came to this point.
Their reverse herring bone seat is the absolute best I have ever had, period. This new design has a ton of room even for me, a 6-feet tall chubby dude who jiggle around like a duckling with ADHD. This is thanks to the many new features this seat equips compared to the standard versions such as on Hainan Airlines 787. The console to the right lies above the seat surface, giving it about 10cm/3 inches more room on the window side, similar to what Hong Kong Airlines did with their window seats on the staggered configuration.
On the aisle direction, a tiny part of the underside can swivel up to provide another 10cm/3 inches of added surface width, which was a first encountering for me. The result is an incredibly spacious reverse herringbone footwell that can rival some of the non-staggered seats like in LATAM’s 787. Underneath the right side support was a new storage cubby that was not seen in other similar kinds, which was roomy enough to fit a small bag that usually would go underneath an economy chair, or a few large chinchillas with all the nuts they need. Lots of room, storage and comfort, with good design and solid quality, this hard product is excellent on Cathay Pacific’s A350. I am convinced that the seat is as good this style of configuration as it can get. However, the motors powering the seat seems to be quite full of jitters, as it sometimes required me to stop holding on the button just to push again for it to work.
The power socket and the noise-cancelling headphone are in a side cubby above the table surface, lined with red paint. The quality of the headphone is definitely on the better side of the spectrum, so it was no problem using it for sleeping. This small door has to remain closed during take off and landing, but cables can run through the lower seams so it would be usable during those times. Beside this little door is the control panel, where the seat adjustments, reading light, and handheld console are located. Light can be adjusted in almost all directions, which is a significant advantage to a lot of the fix-positioned rivals. The display on the handheld is as good as it gets, with extremely high graphic fidelity and instant response to touch.
What I like the most about the newest systems is that you can control the larger screen with the small handheld device. With 77 inches of seat pitch, even the swing-open screen was a bit far off from my fingertips, so zooming and pinching on my little side-arm was especially convenient as I love exploring the countries that would be underneath me during the flight. Additionally, these two screens can function separately, so I could keep an eye on the moving map while watching one of the boring TV shows, while munching on my delicious meal, while listening to a Japanese song from the wide selection in the entertainment system, while having my daily why-am-I-still-so-single panic attack episode. Technology is great, right?
The in-flight entertainment is excellent as one would expect from this world class airline. Dozens of movies and TV shows from Hollywood to Bollywood, Japanese to German, thriller to artistic, populated the pages. A lot of new fresh selections as well as obscure film festival candidates all were up for pickings, so it is hard for one to be starved of content. (one huge gripe: with movies they play 5 minutes of ads which is rather ridiculous in my opinion.) All translations are accurate, succinct and complete, in the a few languages that I could understand, unlike Hainan’s hilarious games.
On the table top sat a few items waiting for me: a menu, a bottle of Evian, an amenity bag, and the breakfast slip. The amenity bag was full, if you consider a bare minimum in a small bag “full”. Jurlique branded hand cream, dental kit, a good pair of anti-slipping socks, ear plugs, an eye shade, and that was about it. Pretty disappointing to be honest, even though the amenity bag proudly displays Cathay’s partnership with Seventy Eight percent. I was asked by the flight attendant what pre-departure drink I would like, and what choice do I have other than Cathay Delight? It is my favorite airline special beverage, and I got my glass cup of green goodness within a minute.
“Enjoy our signature beverage.” The flight attendant presented my drink with a smile, as if she was thanking me for being a knowledgeable customer.
I flipped open the menu. Wait what? Is this another page of magazine that fell out of the seat pocket? No, it is a new design that takes advantage of the newspaper format, as fewer and fewer people are willing to take a large bundle of dead trees with ink splattered atop in lieu of browsing the digital computer installed at every seat with hundreds of games, movies, TV shows and a moving map. The first two pages feature the menu, then comes the beverage selection, while the last two pages have a bunch of food related news and information as we have entered the marvellous age of post-capitalism, where nothing other than food can get one’s attention.
I do apologize for the poor picture quality because I am a lazy bastard who is too impatient to focus. However, the menu is quite comprehensive, with 6 dinner main dish choices, yet that comes at a price of lacking multiple courses. Many people seem to really want as much sleep as possible on this 14.5 hour flight, so most of them do not mind. Another thing to note is that most of the items between the dinner selections and the snack options are duplicates, meaning that all 3 snack options: roast vegetable salad, E Fu Noddles, and beef burger already comprise 50% of dinner main course choices. That is a big waste of paper! ;P
Cathay Pacific also has one of the most thoughtful breakfast selection cards. The card basically tells the flight attendant everything they would need in order to prepare you for your breakfast. Even though this flight is longer than most of the trans-Pacific ones, there is still the option of an express breakfast, as if there are people who would not feel hungry on this red-eye flight after eating 2 courses 12 hours before landing. The flight attendant did not provide me a pen so I had to ask the purser for hers, and she gladly gave me the pen as a gift. Strangely, I forgot to write my seat number, and they still managed to figure out who ordered the breakfast asking for 3 drinks. Supernatural, right? Maybe because my fat tummy was showing? I also love the option to disregard everything in case the passenger is sleeping, as it is a nice touch since it was always an option that I would love to pick on some short transcontinental red-eyes. Even though this is unlike LATAM’s card which gives you a hundred options to choose from, the devil is in the details and Cathay sure made it right.
We departed after a short delay and began our cruise west at 52 minutes past midnight, and this being one of Cathay Pacific’s longest flight definitely helped me get into the mood. Technically this is my first time flying long haul business class with them, and I was eager to be pampered with all kinds of amenities. Except there was no pajama, mattress pad, or dining on demand with this route. And for it being a flight that takes off around midnight and lands at the wee hours in Madrid, there was really not much of a view from the window either. So I turned on a few movies and waited for my meal, even though the wifi was functional and only cost a dozen dollars for 100MB: I have no friends to chat with.
I follow the hollow words of “order the food where the airline comes from”, and got myself the Cantonese style halibut. It was flaky and beautiful, just like all my acquaintances. Service was succinct and efficient, especially since there was only realistically 2 courses, unlike many other airline’s drawn out, cumbersome procedure, if you do not want to look at it as a form of being cheap. My drinks were constantly refilled, along with a big smile.
I got a great sleep thanks to the ample room provided by the seat, and snoozed for a solid 6 hours after the meal was finished about 2 hours since take-off. I was a bit peckish and decided to order a burger. A flight attendant popped up beside my seat within seconds, and took my order while nodding vehemently. The burger showed up in front of me in 20 minutes, with a side of fries and another order of drinks, which I picked coffee. Freshly made coffee was excellent, and the burger was almost as good as one made at a gourmet stand on the ground, yet the fries were a bit soggy and soft. However, I finished fries without hesitation as every fry is a good fry, regardless of its quality. Finally, 2 hours before landing, I was served breakfast. While most of the passengers were awake by then, a lot of them got the express option so had to watch me eat and hear my clumsy hands hitting the plates.
Dim sum was on point, though the portion was way too small. The porridge was very salty compared to what it was supposed to be, but the umami flavor was exploding with every single slurp. All in all, the catering is very good, but not flawless like Qatar since there was always a little bit of problem with every dish that hinders it from being juuuust perfect.
After the meal, the purser came around to thank each passenger for choosing Cathay Pacific, and asked if there was anything to improve. I told her everything was good (aka, not perfect), exactly where Cathay Pacific stands. 😉 We landed at Madrid with little fanfare right before sunrise. I apologize for not having any pretty over-the-wing photos available as this entire jaunt was done in pitch darkness. We deplaned at the second set of doors, and waved goodbye to the purser. The chilly air filled my lungs, as I proceeded to the metro station to catch an early Renfe commuter to downtown Madrid.
The 14.5 hour flight did not feel that long at all, and this realization is a great positive that I can attribute to Cathay Pacific: they make long flights feel shorter. If it was a bit less polished than this, then I would feel every second of the journey; if it was any more extravagant, then I would claim that 14 hours was barely enough. Yet I feel…fine, for this entire business class experience, and that is okay. Lounge was outstanding, seat was great, food was pretty good, service was minimalistic yet extremely polished. I paid 42500 Alaska Airlines miles, which is worth about 700USD to me, for this flight, and what else could I possibly demand without sounding like an obnoxious brat? This is the Cathay style, and I, along with many loyalists, have become acquainted with it. Do not over-demand, and you shall receive total satisfaction.
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Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class Grading
- Ground Services: 180
- Hard Product: 185
- Soft Product: 165
- Food and Beverage: 160
- Value: 150
- TOTAL: 840 【GREAT】