Cathay Dragon, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Hong Kong to Shanghai Pudong

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INTRODUCTION
Originally, we were supposed to continue to Shanghai on Sunday, the day after we arrived in Hong Kong. But then Typhoon Ampil had other ideas, our flight to Shanghai was cancelled and instead, we ended up staying in Hong Kong until Tuesday afternoon. Still, it was a pleasant stay and I managed to get quite a bit of work done.

In Hong Kong I stayed at the Novotel Citygate, which is only about ten minutes away from the airport by shuttle. It’s also a great location if you want to explore Lantau island or visit the Tian Tan Buddah. The station for the cable car that takes you up to the Buddah is only about ten minutes away from the hotel.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The Novotel provides a regular, complimentary shuttle service between the airport and the hotel. Busses leave the hotel every twenty minutes, starting on the hour. The journey time to the airport is ten minutes, and the driver will drop you off at departures on the upper level.

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CHECK-IN
Cathay Dragon checks in at terminal 1, which is where most of the airlines serving Hong Kong seem to be located. The counters for Cathay Dragon are conveniently located on row H, which is at the far end of the terminal building, opposite the entrance to security.

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There is a separate queue for Business Class and OneWorld card holders. The check-in agent tags my suitcase to Shanghai and issues an invitation to the Cathay Pacific lounge together with the boarding pass.

Luckily, since my last visit, Hong Kong has introduced biometric passport scanners, which significantly speed up the process of leaving the city, even if they do work rather slowly.

THE LOUNGE
I was not aware of the fact that Cathay Dragon is an ‘associated’ member of the OneWorld alliance through its affiliation with Cathay Pacific. Which means that I can access the lovely Cathay Pacific lounges and I can even take along the valiant M. as a guest.

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I’ve never been to this particular lounge though, and I’m wondering if it’s only here provisionally. It’s located at the west end of the ‘T’ of Hong Kong’s terminal. It’s a nice lounge, but it’s definitely not as large as their lounge on the east wing.

The lounge is situated further along from the gorgeous QANTAS lounge in Hong Kong. Although to access the lounge you will need to go down one level first.

The lounge is nicely laid out and has good facilities, including showers, a dining area and a quiet zone, and good wifi. More importantly though, the food selection is very good. Apart from a fairly wide selection of hot and cold dishes, there is also the much loved noodle station, where you can have a variety of different Hong Kong style noodle dishes made to order.

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BOARDING
The flight to Shanghai will depart from gate 504, which is in the satellite to the west of the terminal facility. Because you have to head downstairs to get across, I was kind of expecting that we would need to take an underground train or something of the sort. But in actual fact there’s just a normal bus that runs frequently across the apron between the main building and the satellite.

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I can’t really say I had much time to explore the satellite, because no sooner had we arrived, we realised that our flight was already in the final stages of boarding.

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THE CABIN
Today’s flight is operated by an Airbus A 320 in the new Cathay Dragon livery. The first thing I notice upon entering the aircraft, is that it has new overhead bins that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before on this type of aircraft: the bins fold down instead of up and the opening and closing device is a button with a small light in it. The bins also seems to be smaller, because I happened to see quite a few passengers struggling to stuff their belongings into the bins.

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Other than that though, the cabin is nice. It’s clean and even in Economy Class the seat pitch is good and comfortable enough for the flight of two hours and ten minutes to Shanghai. Pillows and blankets are also available.

Cathay Dragon does not use overhead screen, but wifi and video streaming is available. Although I’m not even sure if that’s such a good thing. Because the two guys in front of me have decided to watch some god awful Chinese history/fantasy/action film together, which looks like a heap of crap to me and sounds so too, judging by the hideous and copious amounts of yelling and flying through the air sound effects that I’m sure everybody, and I really mean everybody in the aircraft can hear…

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Oh yes, and don’t worry about your seat assignment. Cathay Dragon has a rather strange system, whereby they leave out certain numbers of rows. I was seated by the window on 39K, which is right behind the wing.

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THE CREW
There are six crew on the flight today, which seem a tad exaggerated but kind of helps to highlight the difference between the European carriers for example, who usually just fly around with the minimum crew complement, and the Asian airlines, where salaries are low enough for this not to be such an issue. Admittedly, none of the crew seem overly friendly. But they’re efficient and they get the job done.

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THE MEAL
Once we’re airborne, the service begins. In all honesty, I wasn’t really expecting to be given anything. Which is probably why I’m even more surprised when the trolley stops at my aisle and they ask me if I’d prefer the fish with potatoes or the pork with rice. I decide to try the fishy.

The meal service is pretty old school and consists of a tray with:

  • a bowl with pasta salad,
  • a cup of still water,
  • a pre packaged bun with butter,
  • a cup of Hägen Dasz strawberry ice cream,
  • the hot meal.

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The hot meal is not very good, even by Economy Class standards. The fish is rather gross and the potatoes are all soggy from the sauce. The veg is bland and tasteless. And the ice cream is just too sweet. But that’s not the airline’s fault.

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During the meal service, the crew make three drink runs though, which is much appreciated. The trays are removed fairly quickly once the meal service has been completed.

The rest of the flight passes quickly, while the valiant M. tries to teach me geology 101. It’s riveting, I’m telling you…! In all fairness though, it really does put the average eighty or so years a human spends on earth into perspective, when you compare that to the millions of years it took to produce something as magnificent as the Alps, for example. It also makes me hopeful that earth will continue to exist, even long after the human race has vanished from the face of the earth.

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ARRIVAL
But enough of geology and philosophy. By the time we turn on to the final approach, it’s already dark in Shanghai. The approach is fairly stable, right up until the end when we suddenly start to roll and yaw. But Mr. Pilot keeps it together and eventually we land about twenty minutes behind schedule.

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Immigration doesn’t take too long, even though it looks as though we just arrived behind a full flight from Japan. By the time I exit immigration, the suitcases have already been removed from the belt and deposited at the collection area for premium passengers.

In Shanghai I’ll be staying in the Fudan area of the city. The journey from the airport will take about 45 minutes to complete in good traffic and will cost about RMB160.

 

Cathay Pacific, First Class – Boeing 777-300: Frankfurt to Hong Kong

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Date: 20 December 2016.
Departure: 13:00.
Arrival: 06:24.
Flight time: 10 hours, 30 minutes.
Seat: 1K, window on the starboard side.

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INTRODUCTION

I awake just before seven in the morning. I open the curtains to take a look outside. It was late when I arrived yesterday evening, so I could not really see anything much. It is a lovely day today, but immediately I am taken aback by just how incredibly ugly Frankfurt airport is. Apart from the fact that the whole facility was designed with everything but the passenger’s convenience in mind, the buildings are quite simply ugly, badly maintained and dilapidated. Paris Charles de Gaulle may not be up there in the top ten of the world’s most convenient airports either, but at least that place has style.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Mode: Shuttle bus.
Journey time:
Five to seven minutes, depending on traffic.
Price:
Complimentary shuttle, provided by Fraport.
Frequency: Every five minutes.

I am staying at the Hilton Frankfurt airport, which is perched above the long distance railway station. To access Terminal 2, take the escalator down from the hotel lobby. At the bottom turn left into the covered footbridge that connects the station to Terminal 1. There are a few cafes on the footbridge. When I arrived yesterday evening, they had already closed and there were mice running around all over the bar and tables. So you may want to get your coffee somewhere else unless you fancy a mouse poo macchiato…

At the end of the footbridge, turn left and take the stairs down to the ground floor. The stop for the shuttle bus to Terminal 2 is on your right.

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CHECK-IN

Terminal: 2.
Sector: E.
Airport check-in: Check-in counters are open from 09:30 to 12:10. There is:

  • one counter for First Class passengers,
  • one counter for Business Class passengers,
  • one counter for Premium Economy passengers, and
  • three for standard Economy Class passengers.

Web check-in: Online check-in open 48 hours before departure.
Self-service check-in:
There are red self-service check-in machines available and Cathay Pacific staff are on hand in case something should go wrong.

I have already checked in using the Cathay Pacific app, but I decide to pass by the First Class check-in desk anyway. The lady there is very friendly and chatty. She reissues my boarding pass in paper, together with an invitation to the lounge in Frankfurt, a small map of Terminal 2 for me to find my way around, as well as an invitation to the arrivals lounge in Hong Kong.

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LOUNGE

Location: Before the security checkpoint for gates E2 to E9.
Type of Lounge:
Cathay Pacific First and Business Class lounge.
Access:
By invitation. The entrance is right opposite the security checkpoint.
Toilets:
Available in the lounge.
Showers:
There are three showers in the lounge that appear to be permanently attended.
Food & Beverages: There is a selection of hot and cold snacks. When I arrive at the lounge just after ten, they are just clearing away the breakfast dishes and replacing them with the lunchtime snacks. There is no noodle bar in this lounge, but noodle soups can be ordered from the staff.

To add a bit of seasonal atmosphere, there is also a plate with Christstollen and next to that a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

Connectivity: Complimentary wifi is available, no password required.
Newspapers & Magazines:
There is a good selection of international magazines and newspapers.

Comment: The lounge is fairly large. There is no dedicated First Class section. Other than that, there are dedicated workspaces if you need a bit of privacy as well as computer workstations.

BOARDING

Priority Boarding: There is a priority lane for security. Boarding is first for families with children and then for First and Business Class passengers.

Number of Airbridges: There are two airbridges, First and Business Class passengers use the L1.

CABIN & SEAT

Configuration: 1 + 1 + 1.
Capacity:

  • First Class, 6 seats.
  • Business Class, 53 seats.
  • Premium Economy, 34 seats.
  • Economy Class, 182 seats.

Seat Layout: The seat feels very private, despite the fact that it is not a suite type seat. First of all, the window seats are all angled to face towards the window, so you do not have to look at the other passengers. In addition, the shell of the seat is quite high and deep.

Pitch: 81 inches.
Width: 36 inches.
AC Power:
110 V AC power port available at every seat.
Audio and Video:

  • On demand.
  • Touch screen enabled.
  • Bose earphones.

I cannot really say anything much about the inflight entertainment, because I did not use it.

Connectivity: Cathay Pacific does not provide wifi on the B777-300ER.
Toilets: There are two toilets for the First Class cabin, although one is in fact the crew toilet, which is used when the actual First Class toilet is occupied. The cosmetics in the toilet are by Aesop, the same as in the vanity kit. The actual First Class toilet is large enough for a grown man to be able to change comfortably enough. It also has a proper sink and the faucet is turned on and off manually, instead of automatically.

Comment: The cabin is very elegant and spacious. This is partly due to the fact that there are no overhead bins and there are only three seats abreast. Even so, there is more than enough storage space and every passenger has their own small closet, with enough space for a jacket, trousers and shirt.

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SERVICE & CREW

As I step aboard the plane, I am greeted by a chirpy young lady. She shows me to my seat on 1K and hangs my jacket for me. She introduces herself and in short sequence three other members of the crew stop to say hello, welcome me aboard and introduce themselves. The purser tells me we will have a fairly quick flight today at only ten hours and thirty minutes. Once I am settled, I am brought, in short sequence, my pyjamas, a vanity kit, earphones, the menu and a welcome drink and an amuse bouche.

Pyjamas: The pyjamas are very comfortable, but they are cut very wide. I am a fairly big guy. But I was given an L and it was still quite big on me.

Vanity kit: The kit is by Australian brand Aesop, and there are different kits for men and women. It contains:

  • mouthwash,
  • toothbrush,
  • Colgate toothpaste,
  • a comb,
  • earplugs,
  • a cloth to clean spectacles with.

THE MEAL

Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice.
Towel before the meal:
Hot towel served on the ground.
Pre-meal drink:
Cathay Delight, it is one of the airline’s non-alcoholic signature drinks – made with kiwi, mint and coconut milk.
Choice: There is a selection of Western and Chinese dishes that can be mixed. There is also a vegetarian option
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Lunch
Amuse bouche:
Seared tuna on sweet potato mash, served chilled and with a cracker.
First course:
Caviar and Champagne with trimmings.
Second course: Minted pea and Edamame soup.
Third course: Poached Maine lobster with baby corn, asparagus, capers, dried tomatoes and romaine salad, with a French dressing.
Main course:
Braised Cod, ginger, scallion, mushroom and oyster sauce, steamed jasmine rice, stir-fried pak choy and carrot.
Cheese:
Gorgonzola, Taleggio, Manchego, and Caciotta with crackers, bread, grapes and dried fruit.
Dessert:
Chocolate soufflé with chocolate sauce and dulce de leche ice cream.
Beverages:

  • Krug with the caviar,
  • Evian,
  • Earl Grey tea with dessert.

Breadbasket: A selection of rolls and garlic bread.
Hot towel after the meal:
Yes, not scented.

Comment: Okay, so… Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa you can definitely go home. Qatar, if you don’t mind, I’ll just put you on the back burner for the time being. Because I think I have a new favourite First Class airline. And yes, the meal is definitely what tips the scale. It is quite simply outstanding. First of all, unlike many other airlines, Cathay Pacific will actually give you a whole tin of caviar and not just a sad, small spoon full like Lufthansa does. But apart from that, the size of the portions is very good and the tastes and flavours are simply amazing, especially considering that we are at 37’000 feet! The Chinese main course is fragrant and spicy.

But without a doubt, the undisputed highlight of the meal is the dessert. Oh. My. God. This is divine. It is soft, warm and gooey on the inside, but firm on the outside (yeah okay, so I write a bit of food porn too. Is that going to be a problem…?). This soufflé is so good, it really needs a weapons licence.

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INFLIGHT SNACK

Surprisingly, four hours out of Hong Kong I am feeling hungry again. I order the wonton noodle soup, which is served with a glass of still water and a Coke Zero. Even for just a snack, the crew set the table properly, with a napkin and tablecloth. The soup is nice and warm and has this smoky taste. The wontons are delicious.

THE SECOND SERVICE

Hot towel before the meal: No.
Pre-meal drink:
Mixed berries smoothie.
Choice:
There are two Western (one sweet and one savoury) dishes and one Chinese hot dish to choose from for breakfast.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Breakfast.
First course:
Fresh seasonal fruit.
Main course:
Banana pancake with Mascarpone and maple syrup.
Breadbasket:
A selection of bread, buns or fresh toast, served with butter, honey and jam.
Hot towel after the meal:
Yes, lightly scented.

Comment: The breakfast service starts about ninety minutes out of Hong Kong. The plate of fruit is simple enough and serves its purpose perfectly. But then comes the main dish and my jaw literally drops – it is huge! There are three banana pancakes on the plate that are plump and fluffy. They are sweet and syrupy from the maple syrup drizzled over them and in the middle of the plate there is a huge, inviting dollop of mascarpone cream. Divine! Throughout the breakfast service the crew come to check that I have everything I need and top up my drinks. The meal concludes with a hot towel. By this time we only have another fifty minutes to go to Hong Kong.

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ARRIVAL

Terminal: 1.
We land at 06:25, nearly thirty minutes ahead of schedule. The airport is only just coming to life. I disembark the aircraft and head downstairs to catch the automated people mover to bring me to the head of the terminal. The queues at immigration are already starting to form but are still fairly modest by Hong Kong’s standards.

In Hong Kong I will be staying at the Novotel Citygate, which I chose because I will only be here the one night and my next flight will already be leaving at 9 o’clock in the morning.

CONCLUSION

Well, what can I say and where to begin? As far as I am concerned, Cathay Pacific really clinched the spot as the best First Class experience I have ever had, coming in ahead of Qatar Airways and Asiana Airlines. I am sure if you want to look at the details of the flight there are probably areas that might be improved, but the overall package is really quite overwhelming. The crew are incredibly friendly, chatty and attentive but without being obtrusive. The hardware is great too. The seat is comfortable and provides a lot of space and privacy, giving the entire cabin a very cosy and exclusive feel. But without a doubt the food is really the selling point here for me. Apart from the fact that you certainly do not go hungry on Cathay Pacific, the quality of the dishes and the composition of the meal are outstanding. I shall have to do this again!

Malaysia Airlines, Business Class – A 330-300: Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane

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INTRODUCTION
I am feeling surprisingly fresh, all things considered. I woke up at 05:30 on 26 December to catch my flight from Zürich to Paris. And save for two hours’ sleep on the flight from Paris to Kuala Lumpur, I’ve been awake the whole time.

I step off the A 380 that brought me in from Paris and make my way to Malaysia’s satellite lounge.

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LOUNGE
Location:
One floor up from the public area, above the metro station that connects the satellite with the main building.
Type of Lounge:
Malaysia Airlines First Class lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets, showers, separate dining area, workstations.
Internet: Available for free, password required.

There is a common reception area for the Malaysia Airlines lounges in Kuala Lumpur. The Business Class lounge is to the left of the counter, while the First Class lounge is to the right. Even though my onward connection to Brisbane will be only in Business Class, the lounge dragon still grants me access to the First Class lounge once she has checked the PNR for my trip.

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The lounge itself is pretty empty and it seems to me that the place has been renovated or refurbished recently. The toilets look much newer than the last time I was here. Then again, appearances can be misleading…I decide to have a shower to freshen up before the next flight. At close inspection however, the showers look badly maintained and not particularly clean. What can I say? I am a doctor’s son, so perhaps I may be a tad picky when it comes to hygiene. So eventually I decide to give the showers a miss.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Kind of…

I leave the lounge roughly forty-five minutes before departure because I still have to go through security to enter the holding area of my gate. When I arrive at C16, from where my flight will be leaving, the place is a complete mess. A beautiful Iraqi Airways Boeing 777-300 has just pulled up at the gate next to ours. As the passengers of that flight disembark, they are blocking the way for passengers queuing for security for gates C16 and C17.

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Eventually, by the time I manage to get into the holding area, boarding for my flight has already started. There is no separate queue for security. There is however, a separate exit to the aircraft for Business Class.

CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2 + 2
Seat: The first thing that strikes me about the overall cabin is that it is very dirty. There are even stains of food on the wall paneling and there are crumbs of food all over the place. The seat’s hard shell back  is quite low. Consequently, it does not offer much in terms of privacy. But at least there is a divider on every pair of seats. Storage space is also somewhat limited.
Pitch: 60 inches.
Width:
20 inches.
Facilities:
USB port and power supply (115 volt).
Length as a bed: 75.2 inches.
Audio and Video:
Touch screen audio video on demand.

As I enter the cabin and reach my seat, there is hardly any room to sit. The space is taken up by a large pillow, a thick blanket and a thin mattress on every seat.

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SERVICE
What a nightmare. I really think it is safe to say that I have never experienced such an awful crew in all my life, on any airline. During the boarding process, assisting passengers with their luggage and helping them stow all the blankets, pillows etc. does not seem part of the crew’s job description and they generally have an attitude of could not care less.

There is a large group of Indian businessmen on the flight today and they are, admittedly, behaving rather badly. Nonetheless, the crew are so apparently pissed off with them that they first start ignoring the passengers, then start being rude to them, move on to yelling at them and eventually end up doing all of the above at the same time.

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After take-off the vanity kits are distributed. The content is more or less the same as in the First Class kit I received on the previous flight.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Guava juice.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, scented.
Pre-meal drink:
Water.
Choice:
There are three choices for the main course, but no menus are distributed, so I have not idea what was on offer. I just had the chicken.
Type of meal:
Good question…
Meal:

  • Satay – mixed chicken and beef with accompaniments
  • Starter – something (tuna?) with raw peppers and celery.
  • Main course – Chicken Indian style.
  • Dessert – fruit.

The meal service is a chaotic mess. One flight attendant approaches passengers and asks them if they have already made a choice, which seems just a bit dumb given that no menus were distributed on the flight. When passengers ask what the choices are, the cabin crew roll their eyes and mumble something about ‘chicken, salmon….’. Ah, so much better.

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At least the service does not take too long to complete. The trays are cleared away, the cabin lights are dimmed and most of the passengers go off to sleep. And so do the crew. There is one guy among the crew on this flight who spends most of his time sitting in one of the Business Class seats reading the paper. At some point he passes through the cabin, presumably to keep up appearances, sees my empty tray and instructs one of the other cabin crew to pick it up and remove it, rather than simply doing it himself. Another crew member is sleeping on the jump seat, with his legs sprawling across the aisle. I have to climb over him to get to the toilet.

SECOND SERVICE
The second service is hardly worth mentioning. It consists of two rather small and bland canapés – one with cream cheese and the other with a strange combination of marinated spicy chicken, tomato sauce and pineapple.

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ARRIVAL
By the time we start our descent into Brisbane it is already getting dark outside. Our approach sees us approaching the airport from the west and then executing a left-hand 270 degrees turn to land in a southerly direction.

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The international terminal is deserted when we arrive. Malaysia Airlines hands out express cards for immigration and customs to their Business Class passengers. But the airport is so quiet this evening that the express lane for customs has already closed down.

GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
Taxi.
Departs from: Taxi rank in front of the terminal building.
Frequency:
Journey time: 25 Minutes.
Fare: AUD47.- to New Farm.

There are bus and train services that frequently run from the airport into the city and to Gold Coast and Surfer’s Paradise. But according to Google Maps the journey by public transport to where I am going will take more than an hour. So I think I shall take a taxi, if that is all the same with you.

CONCLUSION

Good heavens, what on earth was that? I mean Malaysia Airlines. As I already mentioned in my previous post, their First Class product on the A 380 is a lot more like a Business Class experience on other Asian carriers, although the hardware on the A 380 is excellent. But this last flight from Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane in Business Class was a complete and utter nightmare. I am aware of the fact that the carrier has been brought under government control in a bid to stabilise the company before moving ahead with privatisation. But to be perfectly honest, as far as I can tell privatisation has definitely put the carrier in a downward spiral it may not recover from. Especially on the last flight it became apparent that the staff’s motivation has reached rock bottom. Paired with the fact that their hard product in Business Class is no longer competitive with the likes of Thai, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific or Emirates, it seems hardly unlikely that Malaysia Airlines will rise from the ashes the way the Malaysian government is intending. Pity.

Cathay Pacific Airways, Business Class – B 777-300ER: Hong Kong to Frankfurt

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INTRODUCTION

I just disembarked from a Cathay Pacific Airways B 777-300ER, arriving from Singapore. I now have another two hours to kill before my next flight to Frankfurt.

TRANSIT / SECURITY CHECK IN HONG KONG

Location: Security check-point adjacent to the exit of gate 27
Wait: Five minutes
Fast track: none

Yes, let me see. I think I left off with my last post just as I disembarked the aircraft via gate 27 in Hong Kong. As luck will have it, the exit of gate 27 is right next door to the security check-point and having disembarked as one of the first passengers off the flight from Singapore, the queue is manageable.

There is no passport check for me, as I am only in Hong Kong in transit. Behind security is an escalator and a lift leading one floor up to the departures level. As my flight will be leaving from gate 31, I figure I might as well give the Bridge lounge a try. I’ve never visited this one and I’ve got time to kill anyway.

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LOUNGE

Location: The Bridge, access is via the escalators leading one floor down; the lounge is at the end of the pier where it divides into the shape of a Y
Type of Lounge: Cathay Pacific Airways lounge
Facilities: Washrooms, showers, public computers (Apple), The Bakery dining area, long bar
Internet: Free, unlimited WiFi; there are signs with the password throughout the lounge

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Now this is a seriously cool lounge. As far as I’m concerned, this must be the best lounge Cathay Pacific operates in Hong Kong. It’s very elegantly appointed and also very quiet at this time of the day – it’s just gone 22h20.

The whole place feels very warm and homely. There is a long bar made of marble along the windows and staffed with two bar tenders. There is also a dining area titled ‘The Bakery’, serving a rather huge selection of hot and cold dishes.

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BOARDING

Priority Boarding: Separate queue for First and Business Class passengers, separate airbridge to the L1 door for First and Business Class passengers

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It looks like it’s going to be a full flight tonight. I take my seat on 20A and wait for the Cathay Pacific crew to start their magic.

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CABIN

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: Fully flat horizontal seat, the window seats point outwards, towards the windows and are very private, the seats on the middle row of two point towards each other
Pitch: 34 inches
Width: 19 inches
Facilities: USB and electricity outlets, reading lamp, night lamp, overhead lamp, stowage for shoes, ample stowage area
Audio and Video: Private screens, video on demand; earphones

SERVICE

I settle into my seat and that’s when I realise I’m dead tired, so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. The cabin crew could be Martians and I probably would not turn a hair. One of them approaches me with a tray of welcome drinks. I decide to have one last Cathay delight. After all, my next flight with them is not scheduled until August.

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Before we push back the crew give each passenger a half-litre bottle of Evian.

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Once we’re airborne and the seatbelt sign is finally turned off, I visit the toilet and change into my tracksuit pants. With the light still fully on, and without waiting for the vanity kit with the earplugs to arrive, I extend my seat into a bed and quickly fall asleep – for the next seven hours. And I’m completely dead to the world. I don’t notice the flight attendant placing the menu at my seat, or the other one who closed the blinds, or the one who folded my trousers. I may not have noticed their service at the time, but I am grateful to them just the same.

FIRST MEAL SERVICE

Hot Towels Before the Meal: Yes, scented
Pre-meal drinks: Cathay Delight – made with kiwi, coconut juice and a hind of mint, served with a ramekin of warm almonds
Choice:
Delivery: Individual tray
Appearance: Wooden chopsticks
Type of Meal: Snack
Menu: Separate menu and wine list
Meal:

  • Grilled duck breast in a noodle soup, served with spicy Guilin style chilli paste

I wake up with still another five hours to go to Frankfurt, so I decide to order a snack to tie me over. With that I have glass of Diet Coke with ice. The soup is excellent and very spicy. It hits the spot nicely.

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SECOND MEAL SERVICE

Hot Towels Before the Meal: Yes, scented
Choice: Dim Sum, American style breakfast or continental breakfast
Delivery: Tray service from trolley
Appearance: Metal cutlery, crockery and glassware
Type of Meal: Breakfast, hot meal
Menu: Separate menu and wine list
Meal:

  • Apple juice, Orange juice or a Mango and Passion Fruit smoothy (my choice)
  • Tea or coffee (my choice)
  • A plate of fresh fruit
  • A selection of cereals, Müsli or Yoghurt (Blackberry)
  • Omelette with bacon, sausage, grilled tomato, frittata
  • Bread selection with butter and jam.

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The meal ends with one last hot towel, and shortly after that we’re already starting the descent into Frankfurt. The speed and rhythm of the breakfast service are really quite remarkable. There are no long waits in between courses, but at the same time the entire service does not seem in anyway rushed.

ARRIVAL

Terminal: 2.

We arrive in Frankfurt after a flying time of twelve hours and forty-seven minutes. It’s just coming up to 06h30 and the rain outside is a welcome change from the hot weather of the last week. My onward connection for the flight home to Basel will be leaving from the A gates of Terminal 1.

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Cathay Pacific Airways, Business Class – B 777-300ER: Singapore to Hong Kong

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INTRODUCTION

In Singapore I spend the entire week at the Singapore Air Show, as an exhibitor in the Swiss Pavilion. It’s certainly been an interesting week. Not only do I get up close and personal with Qatar’s gorgeous B 787, I also have the chance to meet the A 350 in real life for the first time. The A 350 in particular is a bit of a surprise, I must say. She is certainly much larger than I had expected and after some initial reservations about her nose, she is slowly starting to grow on me.

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But it’s also been rather tiring. I’ve been travelling for two weeks now, and I think I’m ready to go home.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Transport: Hourly shuttle from the hotel to Changi’s terminals 1 and 2.
Departs from: First floor, in front of the lobby
Frequency: Once an hour on the hour
Journey time: 15 minutes
Fare: Nil; a taxi will cost you ca. SGD15

In Singapore I’m staying at the Village Hotel in Katong. It’s a pleasant enough hotel in a lively residential area of Singapore, with many good restaurants right behind the hotel. We chose to stay here for a number of reasons: first of all, the place was recommended to us by the organisers of the event for the Swiss delegation. Secondly, because the journey from the hotel to the air show is only about 25 minutes by taxi. On the down side, it’s a bit far out of the city, by Singaporean standards, and not really close to any train station.

CHECK-IN

Location: Departures level on the second floor
Facilities: Staffed check-in counter only
Counters: Dedicated Cathay Pacific counters on row 12, separate counters for Business Class passengers, Marco Polo Members and Economy Class passengers.

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48 hours before my departure from Singapore, I receive an e-mail from Cathay Pacific, informing me that my flight to Hong Kong is now open for check-in. I also receive a reminder on my BA app that check-in is open. Even so, I’ll check-in at the counter, as my suitcases will need to be checked in anyway, and I seriously doubt if I could check-in on the Cathay Pacific website all the way to my final destination.

The young man at check-in issues my three boarding passes, together with an invitation to the Skyview lounge in Singapore and another to one of the many lounges in Hong Kong.

My suitcase is tagged with a Business Class label and checked all the way through to the final destination – home.

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LOUNGE

Location: Behind immigration turn right; the escalator to the lounge is on your left side
Type of Lounge: Skyview Contract Lounge operated by DNATA, used mainly by Cathay Pacific Airways but also Air Mauritius and a few others
Facilities: Public computers (Apple), open air smoker’s terrace with excellent views of the ramp, no showers and no toilets
Internet: Free, unlimited WiFi, no password required

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The lounge is on the mezzanine level. It’s not a particularly nice lounge. And the furniture looks grubby around the edges. Apart from that, the coffee mugs are all stained and the allegedly clean glasses are full of grease stains.

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There is quite a varied food selection. For cold dishes, there are prepacked salads, plus a selection of sandwiches with somewhat odd contents. As far as the hot dishes are concerned, there is steamed rice, boiled potatoes, steamed vegetables, beef Rendang, some vegetable stew and tuna or chicken pies.

BOARDING

Priority Boarding: Single queue for security at the gate, separate First and Business Class passengers to access the holding area, separate airbridge to the L1 door for First and Business Class passengers

The security screening is done at the entrance to the gate. There are two queues and there is no dedicated fast track for First and Business Class passengers. After the security check, one of the gate agents scans my boarding pass and then I’m cleared to board the plane.

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CABIN

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: Fully flat horizontal seat, the window seats point outwards, towards the windows and are very private, the seats on the middle row of two point towards each other
Pitch: 34 inches
Width: 19 inches
Facilities: USB and electricity outlets, reading lamp, night lamp, overhead lamp, stowage for shoes, ample stowage area
Audio and Video: Private screens, video on demand; earphones

This is a somewhat strange bird. First of all, I am surprised to find a B 777-300ER standing at the gate instead of a normal B 777-300. The aircraft has the new long-haul Business Class seat installed. However, there is no First Class, so the first row of Business class, row 11, is in fact the first row of the aircraft. Nonetheless, this bird must have had a First Class cabin installed at some point, which was later removed, as the forward toilets are larger than the standard Business Class loo and have a different kind of sink.

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SERVICE

The cabin crew are from a variety of different Asian countries and very friendly. The maître de is just brilliant. She’s a middle aged Asian woman, very attractive and with an excellent sense of humour. Every time she stops at my seat we have a little natter and a laugh about this and that. But even the other crew take their time and I have an interesting discussion with one of the ladies about the quality of the cakes they serve out of Singapore, which, according to her, are the best on the entire Cathay Pacific network. I feel inclined to believe her.

I’m getting quite good with this routine by now: a pillow has been placed at every seat, while blankets are distributed individually. This is followed by the welcome drink service and then the scented hot towels.

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Once we’re airborne, the cabin crew distribute the menus.

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THE MEAL

Hot Towels Before the Meal: Yes, scented
Pre-meal drinks: Perrier with ice and lemon, served with a ramekin of warm almonds
Choice: One chicken, one beef and one vegetarian option for the main course
Delivery: Tray service from trolley
Appearance: Metal cutlery, crockery and glassware
Type of Meal: Dinner, hot meal
Menu: Separate menu and wine list
Meal:

  • Smoked salmon with lemon and lime zest, avocado and crème frîche cucumber rolls and petit pois
  • Mixed salad with Japanese cucumber, radish, tomato and oriental dressing
  • Grilled smoked Angus beef filet with thyme sauce, truffle mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables
  • A selection of breads – I have garlic bread
  • A selection of cheese
  • Chocolate hazelnut mouse cake with mixed berries, or
  • Various teas and coffees, served with a praline

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Cathay does it again and serves up another delectable meal on this three hour flight from Singapore to Hong Kong. The avocado cream and the smoked salmon are an excellent combination, it’s a very simple but extraordinarily flavourful dish. The mixed salad is refreshing and crisp, and the Japanese sesame oil dressing is just lovely.

And the main course is quite stupendous. In particular, the truffle mashed potatoes are divine, with the rich, creamy texture of the mash elegantly suffused with the subtle hint of truffles. And I just love the chocolate cake…!

By the time this monumental meal is over, there are only another 54 minutes to go to Hong Kong. The lights are dimmed and the cabin slowly settles into a calm cruise.

ARRIVAL

Terminal: 1

We arrive at gate 27, which is conveniently located right next to the security check-point in the middle of Hong Kong’s vast pier. My onward connection will be leaving from gate 31. I think today I’ll try the Bridge lounge at the far end, where the pier divides into a Y.

Cathay Pacific, Business Class – B777-300: Bangkok to Singapore

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INTRODUCTION

The unrest in Thailand, and in Bangkok in particular, is having a serious and damaging impact on the nation’s economy and reputation abroad. And the longer this situation lasts, the worse it will become. But alas, for the time being at least, it would appear that both parties are unwilling to back down from their respective positions, even it is to the detriment of the people they should be serving and representing in government.

As a tourist, it makes for a very pleasant stay in Bangkok. The hotel is nearly deserted, which means a very personalised service from all the staff. And the shopping malls are always empty, while outside at the rally sites there is no getting through with supporters of the opposition cheering and clapping while politicians with ugly faces and sly smiles belt off empty promises about all the things they will and will not do that make them so much more superior to the government currently in place…

I had a great time here in Bangkok and The Peninsula is simply a stunning hotel.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Transport: BMW 7
Departs from: Right outside the lobby
Frequency: What ever you do, if you’re travelling by car allow enough time for the horrific traffic
Journey time: 60 minutes, I leave the hotel at just after 09h00.
Fare:

Originally there should have been a strike by Thai Airways today. But either they decided to call it off, given the already dire financial state the carrier is in, or they haven’t started yet. In any case, when I arrive in Suvarnabhumi it’s business as usual all round.

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CHECK-IN

Location: Departures level on the fourth floor
Facilities: Check-in counter only, no machines
Counters: Dedicated Cathay Pacific counters

Again I was able to check-in online for this flight, once I received a notification e-mail form Cathay Pacific. Nonetheless, boarding pass collection will have to be done at the airport.

A representative from The Peninsula is already expecting me as the car pulls up outside the entrance for the Cathay Pacific check-in. He collects my bags and escorts me to the Business Class check-in counters and then from there to the premium lane for security and the passport control beyond.

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LOUNGE

Location: On the G concourse, third floor. After immigration turn right and keep on walking until you reach an intersection with some kind of Thai house standing in the middle. Turn right again and take the escalators going one floor down, which are located on your left side. At the bottom of the escalator, do a u turn and keep left until you see the cardboard flight attendant waving at you.
Type of Lounge: Cathay Pacific Airways lounge
Facilities: Public computers (Apple), no toilets
Internet: Free, unlimited WiFi; the password is available at the reception desk

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The lounge is in the typical Cathay Pacific branding. The food selection is somewhat limited. I only had a light breakfast today, so I’m feeling rather peckish. Eventually I settle for the spicy Thai chicken green curry, which is indeed, very spicy and flavourful.

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Originally the lounge is quite crowded, so I take a seat in the more private area. But then a short while later the flight to Hong Kong is called and I am able to move forward to the windows. Although of course it’s impossible to take pictures out of the lounge with those pesky dots all over the windowpanes.

The only problem with the lounge is that you can actually hear all the announcements that are being made outside, so it’s not really very tranquil inside. The Japanese gentleman in the back, who evidently has a preoccupation – let’s not call it an obsession – with his sinuses obviously doesn’t help matters. Fortunately though, I have my trusty earphones with me. And suddenly the world around me becomes a much nicer place, courtesy of some guy called Dre.

BOARDING

Priority Boarding: Separate airbridge to the L1 door for First and Business Class passengers

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Boarding starts at around 12:10 and by 12:35 we’re already pushing back, ten minutes ahead of schedule. The flight is not full, there are only seventeen passengers in Business Class, so less than half full. And when I take a peek into Economy Class, that certainly doesn’t look full either.

CABIN

Configuration: 2 + 3 + 2
Seat: Angled hard shell seat
Pitch: ?
Width: ?
Facilities: USB port and electricity outlet, overhead lamp, mobile phone holder
Audio and Video: Private touch screens, video on demand (no full length films, only TV programmes); earphones

Once more Cathay Pacific seems determined to surprise and amaze me – and succeeds! I enter the aircraft and turn right, to find that this bird is already equipped with the new regional Business Class cabin. And what a beautiful cabin it is! There are 36 seats in total. The colours and patterns used in the cabin are identical to those used in the long-haul cabin. In addition, there is a bronze coloured cushion at every seat which goes very well with the dark green upholstery.

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The seat is very functional in it’s design and tries to maximise the available space for the passenger. The tray unfolds from the front seat and is rather large when it is fully extended. And I just love the iPhone holder with the wallpaper design.

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There are two toilets for Business Class passengers. The forward one is on the left side, right by the L1 door and the rear one is on the right side, just behind the R2 door. And here too it shows how much thought has been put into the design of the cabin: the door to the forward toilet opens onto the entrance of the aircraft, so away from the passenger cabin, presumably to avoid any unsightly smells or views for the passengers sitting on the first row.

SERVICE

The crew on this flight are predominantly Thai and do an excellent job – just like the rest of their colleagues I have experienced on this trip.

The service on this flight is identical to the one a few days previously from Hong Kong to Bangkok: blankets, earphones, hot towels and welcome drinks are distributed. Although this time around there is no Oriental Breeze to choose from. I decide to go with the Orange juice.

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Initially I’m on 14A. But then I am joined by a friendly, elderly, American gentleman who is trying to figure out why on earth I seem to be taking pictures of the entire cabin. So once boarding is completed I move back to the last row, 18A the only remaining window seat with an empty aisle seat next to it.

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THE MEAL

Hot Towels Before the Meal: Yes
Pre-meal drinks: Ginger Ale – no warm almonds this time
Choice: There are three non-vegetarian options – chicken, seafood or pork
Delivery: Tray service from trolley, the passengers can see all the meals that are available on the trolley
Appearance: Metal cutlery, crockery and glassware
Type of Meal: Lunch, hot meal
Menu: Separate menu and wine list
Meal:

  • Salad of duck breast with lychee
  • A selection of breads – I have the garlic bread
  • Stir-fry chicken with cucumber in sweet bean sauce, steamed jasmine rice, kailan and carrot flowers
  • Chocolate Hägen Dazs ice cream
  • Various teas and coffees

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To be honest, I don’t really think I’m in a position to make a qualified judgement about the quality and taste of the food. I’ve now been travelling for a week. This is my fourth flight and I quite frankly, I can’t stand the sight and smell of another airline meal. So I accept the tray but eventually barely touch the food.

Instead I just sit back and enjoy the view.

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ARRIVAL

Terminal: 1

In Singapore, Cathay Pacific Airways uses Terminal 1. The distance from the aircraft is relatively short, and fortunately there aren’t that many people queue for passport control. So immigration is quickly done. From there it’s just a short distance to the luggage reclaim belt, where the suitcases start arriving just as I reach the belt.

 

 

Cathay Pacific Airways, Business Class – A 330-300: Hong Kong to Bangkok

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INTRODUCTION

After three days in Hong Kong it’s now time for me to move on to my next destination, which is Bangkok, where I shall be visiting a friend who now lives in the Thai capital. I’ve enjoyed this stay in Hong Kong.

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Moreover, I can certainly recommend the Indigo Hotel. The staff are really friendly, the rooms are nice and very clean and I have the fitness centre all to myself whenever I visit.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Wanchai to the Airport Express Terminal

Transport:

  • MTR
  • Tram

Departs from:

  • MTR: Wanchai station
  • Tram: Wanchai station, the tram stop is right opposite the exit of the MTR station

Arrives at:

  • MTR: Hong Kong station
  • Tram: The closest stop is the one in front of the HSBC in Central

Frequency: no idea, but there are frequent services
Journey time:

  • MTR: about 5 minutes
  • Tram about 15 minutes

Fare:

  • MTR: HKD 4.50
  • Tram: HKD 2.50

If, like me, you’re travelling with a lot of luggage, then perhaps the tram may not be the most convenient means of transport. There is no storage space for luggage and those stairs to the upper deck are pretty tight. MTR trains have more space in theory, but tend to be rather full no matter what time of day you’re travelling.

External view of the Airport Express station
External view of the Airport Express station

Airport Express Terminal to Hong Kong Airport

Transport: Train
Departs from: Hong Kong station on the island and Kowloon station on the mainland
Arrives: Terminal 1 (left exit from the train) and Terminal 2 (right exit from the train)
Frequency: Varies on the time of day
Journey time: 24 minutes from Hong Kong
Fare: HKD 180 for a return

I leave the hotel just after 08:30 in the morning. My flight to Bangkok will not be leaving until 12:00 but I figure, if I’m going to kill time, then I think I’d rather be at the airport people and plane watching. I decide to take a taxi to the Airport Express Terminal in Hong Kong for the simple reason that I have too much stuff with me.

CHECK-IN & BAGGAGE DROP

Location: Airport Express Terminal in Hong Kong
Facilities:

  • Web check-in available up to 48 hours before departure
  • Check-in counters
  • Self-service machines

Counters: Dedicated Cathay Pacific counters

I receive an e-mail from Cathay Pacific informing me that check-in is open 48 hours before departure. The web check-in works nicely, but for some reason the website cannot send me my boarding pass by text message. But that doesn’t matter. Instead I type in my e-mail address and a few minutes later I receive a mail from Cathay Pacific with a link to the boarding pass for me to open on my iPhone. I launch the page. Everything is in order. There is a button at the bottom of the page to add the boarding pass to your passbook, which I do.

Passengers travelling on Cathay Pacific and quite a few other carriers out of Hong Kong have the possibility to already drop their bags at the station in Hong Kong, instead of carting it all the way to the airport and dropping it off there. The service is available up to 90 minutes before departure, which is not bad at all.

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The check-in agent informs me that the video screen on my assigned seat is not working and that therefore they have moved me one row back to 15A. I’m mightily impressed, I must say.

The lifts taking you down to the platform level are right opposite the check-in counters.

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Cathay Pacific calls Terminal 1 home.

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LOUNGE

Location: The Wing, access to the lounge is opposite of gate 2, the lounge is on the mezzanine level one floor up
Type of Lounge: Cathay Pacific Airways lounge
Facilities: Washrooms, showers, public computers (Apple), Noodle bar, Café
Internet: Free, unlimited WiFi

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I like the design of the Cathay Pacific lounges. Black and white marble and what looks like black granite are used extensively and give the lounge a very elegant appearance. Having said that, it also make the place seem rather dark.

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My first stop is the infamous noodle bar. I’m not really that hungry to be honest, but I just like the idea of having a Chinese noodle bar in a lounge.

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Once I’ve demolished the noodles, I head for the café, order a cappuccino and start writing this trip report.

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BOARDING

Priority Boarding: Separate lane for First and Business Class passengers, separate airbridge to the L1 door

Boarding is delayed by about fifteen minutes due to the late arrival of the aircraft on the inbound leg. From what I understand, ATC related delays are quite common in Hong Kong.

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The load is very light in both classes on this flight. Only twelve of the 42 seat in Business Class are occupied, which suits me fine as it means I have the seat next to me empty.

CABIN

Configuration: 2 + 2 + 2
Seat: Regional Business Class, angled recline in a traditional configuration
Pitch: 45 inches
Width: 21 inches
Facilities: There are some plugs, but I’m not quite sure what they are for, overhead lamp
Audio and Video: Private screens, video on demand; earphones

The Cathay Pacific regional Business Class cabin is quite nice. There’s certainly something old school about the seats and they are beginning to show some signs of wear and tear. Nonetheless, it’s a very comfortable seat, particularly given that this is a short flight of only two hours and thirty minutes. There is a cushion on every seat.

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SERVICE

The cabin crew on this flight are simply excellent, there really is no other way to put it. And instead of taking it easy with such a light load, they appear to be taking this as an opportunity to offer a more personalised service.

As I board the aircraft, I am greeted with a big smile by one of the four young ladies working the Business Class cabin. She looks at my boarding pass and escorts me to my seat. She wishes me a good flight and returns to her station by the door.

In short sequence another flight attendant comes by, first offering a welcome drink and followed by the earphones, a blanket and menu for this flight.

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Just before we push back, Alice comes to introduce herself as the Inflight Service Manager and wishes me a good flight.

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THE MEAL

Hot Towels Before the Meal: Yes, there is also an antiseptic towel on the tray when the meal arrives

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Welcome drink: Cathay Delight – made with kiwi, coconut juice and a hind of mint

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Pre-meal drinks: Ginger Ale, served with a ramekin of warm almonds

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Choice: There are three choices for the main course – shrimps, lamb or chicken
Delivery: Tray service from trolley
Appearance: Metal cutlery, crockery and glassware
Type of Meal: Lunch, hot meal
Menu: Separate menu and wine list
Meal:

  • A seasonal salad with a citrus vinaigrette.
  • A selection of breads – I have the garlic bread.
  • Spicy Thai green curry with steamed rice and kalian.
  • A selection of Hägen-Dazs ice cream – chocolate chip, vanilla or cookies and cream.
  • Various teas and coffees, served with a praline. For the coffee there is a choice of either cream or milk. The milk is even warmed.

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The Thai green curry is quite spicy and very flavourful. But I leave the kailan, greens on a plane are rarely worth trying I find.

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One thing I already noticed on the previous flight is that they seem to have done away completely with those pebble shaped salt and pepper shakers and didn’t even replace them with sachets or anything like that.

The meal ends with the distribution of yet another hotel towel. The crew then quickly remove all the trays and switch off the lights to let the passengers have a rest.

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The atmosphere in the cabin becomes very relaxed, quiet and calm. Natural light is seeping in through the windows, casting strange shapes and shadows across the cabin. In the background the Rolls-Royce engines are gently humming their tune, softly lulling me to sleep. And as I slowly slip into a slumber, caressed by the warmth of the sun outside, I am reminded once more of what it is I just love so much about flying. And this, to me, is utter bliss.

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ARRIVAL

Terminal: There is only one international terminal in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi

We make a straight in approach into Bangkok. And indeed, the airport is very quiet when we arrive.

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I’m the first to disembark and make my way to immigration. If, like me, you need to obtain a visa on arrival, you cannot use the normal channel. The visa on arrival channel is about seventy metres further on. In order to obtain a visa on arrival you need to have:

  • one full empty page in your passport (the stamp they put in it is enormous)
  • THB 1000
  • a passport photo
  • a copy of your ticket to depart Thailand
  • a completed immigration form
  • a completed application form for a visa on arrival

Should you happen not to have any of the above, don’t worry. With the exception of the empty page in your passport you can obtain everything at the visa on arrivals counter, which also has a photo booth, a teller machine and a bureau de change.

GETTING INTO TOWN

Getting into Bangkok from Suvarnabhumi is a pain. Whatever you do, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. There is a train, the express, which obviously has the benefit of not getting stuck in traffic. The only problem with the train though, is that it doesn’t really go anywhere useful. And if you’re staying down by the river it’s particularly useless if you’re travelling with luggage as you will be required to change trains and cart your junk up and down a lot of stairs.

Fortunately, I’m being picked up by the hotel. And although my BMW comes with it’s own wifi network, cold water and a refreshingly cool towel, the traffic is still a mess. The things one must endure…

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In Bangkok I am staying at the Peninsula. Initially I was going to stay at the Mandarin Oriental, but from the pictures and reviews I found on Tripadvisor, the Peninsula just looked more appealing. I’ll leave it here for the time being, thank God it’s finally the weekend…

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Cathay Pacific, Business Class – B 777-300 to Hong Kong

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INTRODUCTION

I just disembarked from a British Airways A 319 flight from Basel. My next stop will be Hong Kong. I am going there by Cathay Pacific Airways Business Class.

TRANSIT IN HEATHROW

Transport: Direct shuttle bus from T5 to T3 via T5B
Departs from: Ground floor, the escalators lead down from the arrivals level roughly in the middle of the terminal, opposite immigration
Frequency: Varies on the time of day
Journey time: 10 minutes

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Terminal 5 is surprisingly calm this morning. Or rather, it’s busy, as usual, but it doesn’t seem hectic. I follow the signs marked for transfer to Terminal 3, which eventually leads me downstairs to where the buses leave from to the other terminals. The place is completely deserted. I don’t have long to wait for the bus and just before we depart a few more passengers do arrive.

TRANSFER CHECK-IN

Location: Departures level on the first floor
Facilities: One check-in counter, open only a few hours ahead of departures
Counters: Dedicated Cathay Pacific counter, Business and First Class passengers may check-in for their flight in the lounge

I already received my boarding pass for the onward connection to Hong Kong when I checked in for the flight in Basel.

LOUNGE

Location: Lounge C, access is on the first floor airside; the lounge itself is one floor up and there are lifts
Type of Lounge: Cathay Pacific Airways lounge, used also by Finnair
Facilities: Washrooms, showers, public computers (Apple)
Internet: Free, unlimited WiFi; the password is available at the reception desk

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The lounge is pretty empty when I arrive, I think there are two other passengers there. The lounge has a spacious, airy feel to it and no matter what time of day you come here, there’s always a nice place to sit. I also like the design and layout of the lounge, which is very unpretentious.

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The view of the action on the ramp is usually quite good as well. Particularly if, like today, they’re using 09R for departures. But alas, they appear to be doing some work on the façade of the building, the scaffolding making it pretty impossible to take any decent shots.

There is also a good selection of hot and cold dishes to eat. Including a full English breakfast buffet, pastries and Asian dishes. But I only have a glass of sparkling water, seeing as I’ve only just had breakfast on the flight in from Basel. The infamous noodle bar opens at 09:30.

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BOARDING

Priority Boarding: Separate queue for First and Business Class passengers to access the holding area, separate airbridge to the L1 door for First and Business Class passengers

I leave the lounge about 45 minutes before departure and slowly make my way to gate 18.

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Boarding starts a little less than 40 minutes before departure. Which gives me just enough time to take a few pictures of my chariot for today.

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I am given a very warm welcome as I enter the aircraft. The cabin crew checks my boarding pass before showing me the way to my seat on 15A.

CABIN

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: Converts into a fully flat, horizontal bed
Pitch: 81 inches
Width: 21 inches
Facilities/Amenities: USB and electricity outlets, reading lamp, night lamp, overhead lamp, stowage for shoes, duvet and pillow
Audio and Video: Video on demand; earphones are not branded

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The Cathay Pacific Business Class cabin hardly needs an introduction – it’s very elegant and beautifully appointed. The seat is very comfortable, it offers a lot of stowage space and a high degree of comfort and privacy. I am seated on 15A, which is the bulkhead row. I like this seat a lot. However it should be pointed out that there is only one window on 15A and you have to lean forward to be able to look outside.

SERVICE

The cabin crew appear to be from a variety of different Asian countries. They are very professional in the way they go about their work. Even so, despite being highly efficient they still find the time to be friendly.

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Once we’re airborne, the cabin crew start their service with the distribution of the Agnes B. vanity kits. There are different kits for men and women.

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FIRST MEAL SERVICE

Welcome drink on the ground: Orange juice

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Hot Towels Before the Meal: Yes, not scented

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Pre-meal drinks: Cathay Delight – made with kiwi, coconut juice and a hind of mint, served with a ramekin of warm almonds

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Choice: One vegetarian and three non-vegetarian options for the main course
Delivery: Tray service from a trolley
Appearance: Metal cutlery, crockery and glassware
Type of Meal: Lunch, hot meal
Menu: Separate menu and wine list

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Meal:

  • Peat smoked Scottish salmon with crayfish terrine wrapped in nori, served with an onion and fennel salad and lemon
  • A selection of breads – onion focaccia and garlic bread
  • Mixed salad with grilled vegetables and a herb vinaigrette
  • Szechuan style chicken with yu huang chilli sauce, steamed rice and Shanghai style Pak Choy with ginger and garlic
  • A selection of Irish, French and English Cheese, served with a glass of port
  • Black currant and lemon tart
  • Various teas and coffees, served with a praline

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Oh Cathay Pacific, what have you done? You’ve spoiled me for life. I think this must be one of the best, if not the best, meal I have ever had on a plane in Business Class. The entire experience is simply flawless and the delivery of the individual courses is very well timed. And the taste is simply amazing! Where to begin? First of all, the salmon in the first course is quite obviously of good quality, very often on planes you tend to get the cheap, fatty salmon that is just fishy and nothing else. But this here is quite the contrary, the lemon gently bringing out the best of the subtle salmon flavour. The terrine is out of this world and the combination with the nori works incredibly well.

But it’s also little things that distinguish this meal. The bottle containing the vinaigrette for example, is made of glass, and not plastic. And apart from that, the vinaigrette tastes really very good, unlike that vile Heinz stuff Lufthansa insists on serving up in First Class.

The main course is also very tasty and the spicy sauce that is served with the meal lends it that extra kick. Moreover, the ginger flavour in the Pak Choy is refreshing and sets a stark contrast to the spicy chicken sauce.

And finally, the dessert. This is lovely, a very subtle and tasty combination of flavours. The crushed biscuit base in particular is delicious!

After the meal the crew distribute half litre bottles of sparkling water, before eventually turning off the lights. I change into my tracksuit and do some work.

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SECOND MEAL SERVICE

Hot Towels Before the Meal: Yes, lightly scented

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Pre-meal drinks: Orange juice

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Choice: Two savoury western dishes and chicken congee
Delivery: Tray service from trolley
Appearance: Metal cutlery, crockery and glassware
Type of Meal: Breakfast, hot meal
Menu: Separate menu and wine list
Meal:

  • Plate of fruit
  • Cornflakes
  • Pastries and rolls from the breadbasket, served with jam
  • Potato, bell pepper and corn frittata with mushrooms, grilled tomato and streaked bacon
  • Tea or coffee

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Just like the first service, this is another tasty meal.

ARRIVAL

Terminal: 1

If you’re ending your journey in Hong Kong you will have to complete a landing card for immigration. If the crew don’t automatically distribute the landing cards, make sure you obtain one on board, before the end of the flight. Depending on the time of day you arrive in Hong Kong, it can be a bit of a scrum at immigration.

Our arrival gate is at the far end of the terminal. To reach immigration we have to catch a train from the basement. But fortunately, immigration is not too busy today. And by the time I’m through, my suitcase is already expecting me on the carousel.

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GETTING INTO TOWN

Transport: Train
Departs from: There is one stop at the airport that serves both Terminals 1 and 2
Arrives: Tsing Yi, Kowloon, Central (Hong Kong island)
Frequency:
Duration: 24 minutes
Fare: 180 Hong Kong Dollars for a return, but you need to specify the validity of the return

The train station is conveniently located right in between Terminals 1 and 2, just a short distance from the arrivals hall. There is a ticket counter right behind customs, but this doesn’t open until 09:00 in the mornings. Alternatively, there is another counter and ticketing machines in the arrivals hall.

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At the Kowloon and Hong Kong island stations passengers can connect to a complimentary shuttle bus to their hotel. There are different routes on the mainland and on Hong Kong island proper which don’t serve all hotels but certainly most of the big chains.

WHERE TO STAY

This time, I shall be staying at the Hotel Indigo in Wanchai. The Indigo chain belongs to the Intercontinental group. It’s a nice, stylish hotel. Furthermore, the staff are really very friendly and helpful. The hotel is located close to the Wanchai metro station and tram stop.

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CLOSING REMARKS

As far as I’m concerned, Cathay Pacific Airways is among the best airlines out there. The Business Class seat is excellent and surpasses even the Singapore Airlines seat, which somehow always ends up giving me a backache. The quality of the food and the courteousness of the crew are simply outstanding.

Cathay Pacific Airways, Business Class – A 330-300: Perth to Hong Kong

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Airline: Cathay Pacific
Aircraft:
Airbus A 330-300
Cabin:
Business Class
Seat:
15A, window
From:
Perth
To:
Hong Kong
Date:
23. August 2013
Departure:
07:10
Arrival:
15:10

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Hey, who turned the lights out? It’s just gone 4 o’clock in the morning. It’s still dark outside and I’m all bleary eyed. My mouth feels dry and the vestiges of yesterday evening’s meal – which included a rather hefty dose of red onion – make my tongue feel as though something small and furry decided to surreptitiously crawl into my mouth and then unexpectedly lost its will to live. This really is rather early. But you see, today I am leaving Australia – unfortunately. I’m heading for Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific Airways.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

The taxi I ordered the evening before is already expecting me as I exit the hotel at around five in the morning. The journey to the international terminal in Perth takes about 15 minutes to complete. Traffic is good, but I’m still surprised to see quite a few cars on the road at this ungodly hour.

CHECK-IN

Check-in is in full swing when I arrive. Fortunately the queue for Business Class passengers is a short one, so I don’t have that long to wait. Strangely enough, the place is littered with Asians with their suitcases open and busy rearranging their bags. One young man approaches me and asks me if he might be able to check-in with me as a member of the same party so he won’t have to pay excess baggage. I politely decline but I must confess I am rather curious as to how much extra he’ll need to pay.

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From check-in I head upstairs and change what’s left of the Australian Dollars into Hong Kong Dollars. And then I officially exit the country. But I’ll be back.

THE LOUNGE

Cathay Pacific don’t have their own lounge in Perth and instead use the Qantas Club lounge. The lounge is not nearly half the size of the domestic lounge I was in yesterday in Adelaide. But it is equally well stocked and has a good selection of well prepared and tasty food options.

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BOARDING

Boarding starts slightly behind schedule due to the late arrival of our flight. The turn around is normally only 85 minutes for the morning service, which means that even the slightest delay is likely to have a knock on effect.

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There is a separate lane for Business Class passengers to pass the gate. From the departures level it’s two flights of stairs down to the entrance of the airbridge.

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THE CABIN

As I enter the cabin I am delighted to find that this aircraft has been fitted with the new Business Class seat. So no herring bone. There’s nothing wrong with the herring bone in terms of comfort but it really is a bitch to look out the window in those seats. The new Cathay Pacific Business Class seat is very much like the British Airways First Class seat, just not quite so roomy. This must be one of my favourite Business Class seats and certainly beats the Singapore Airlines one they have on the A 380.

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The load on today’s flight is pretty light up front, I only count ten passengers in total. The smaller Business Class cabin behind the L2 door remains completely empty.

SERVICE

The crew in Business Class are all female and very friendly. Shortly after I take my seat, one of the ladies appears with a choice of either orange juice or champagne.

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And then after that it’s the scented warm towels, which are a nice, rich texture quite unlike the ones British Airways uses in First Class.

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And then as the last thing before we push back, the vanity kit and a bottle of Evian arrive.

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DEPARTURE

Departure is from runway 03. The taxiway from the international apron does not reach all the way to the end of the runway. So at some point we have to cross the runway to the taxiway at the other side and then from there we reach the threshold.

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The acceleration is good, but it still takes us a while until we are finally airborne. And with that, I have left Australian soil.

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After take-off the crew come through the cabin distributing the wine list and menu for today’s flight.

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THE MEAL

Unlike my previous experience with Cathay Pacific, on this flight the meal is served on a tray directly from the galley, instead of from a trolley. Presumably that also has to do with the light load in Business today.

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In any case, the crew come to take my order for the meal and the drinks. We start with a plate of seasonal fresh fruit. The pineapple, melon and kiwi are fabulous and have remained fresh. The strawberries however, are somewhat bland in flavour.

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The tray arrives with the apple juice and milk coffee I’d ordered, as well as a glass of still water.

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This is followed shortly after by the breadbasket. There is a choice of different types of bread, croissants and muffins and a selection of preserves and honey.

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After that comes the vanilla yoghurt, which is very rich and creamy.

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For the main course I have the butter milk pancakes with caramelised walnuts, apples and strawberries with maple syrup – divine!

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The meal concludes with the mandatory scented towels Cathay Pacific seem to have an abundance of on their aircraft.

And now I think I’ll listen to some music. Here’s a nifty feature of the console to operate the IFE. At the top it constantly displays the time left to go to destination. I think this is a really neat feature!

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About two hours out of Hong Kong the lights go on again and a fresh set of hot towels herald the beginning of the second service. Much to my surprise, the second meal service is another full meal and not just a snack.

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For an apéritif I have one of Cathay Pacific’s signature non-alcoholic cocktails – but alas I forget the name. It is a refreshing mix of kiwi, mint leaves and coconut milk. The drink is served with a small bowl of warm salty almonds.

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We begin with a trio of gravlax, seared tuna in sesame seeds on pesto and a lime marinated shrimp.

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With that I have some garlic bread. Well okay, three slices. But they really were quite small.

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On the tray there is also a salad with feta cheese, cranberries and a balsamico vinaigrette.

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For the main I have the vegetarian option, which turn out to be palak paneer, dhal masala, mushroom and peas with turmeric basmati rice. The dish is moderately spicy and simply excellent, with a variety of different spices and flavours miraculously crammed onto one dish.

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The hot meal is followed by a selection of fruit and cheese: Maffra Sage Derby, Jindi Blue and a Tasmanian Heritage Brie. With that I have a small glass of port.

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And as though I hadn’t already had enough, the meal closes with a mint tea and a dessert of dark chocolate ganache tart on a raspberry coulis.

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And this is how far I got with the tart.

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And just in case there are still some passengers who haven’t had enough yet, the crew pass through the cabin with a box of pralinés, which I decline. What a meal!

ARRIVAL

Our arrival is delayed slightly. Apparently arriving traffic is rather busy.

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Cathay Pacific provides an excellent arrivals lounge, which is located landside, right under the station of the Hong Kong Airport Express.

If you’re travelling to Hong Kong by public transport, I can highly recommend the Hong Kong Airport Express. Should your hotel be on the mainland, get off the train at the stop Kowloon. From there follow the signs to the Express shuttle bus. This is a complimentary shuttle for passengers with a valid train ticket and there are many different lines that will take you to the largest or best known hotels in the area.

During my brief stay in Hong Kong I shall be staying at The Peninsula, which is a truly lovely hotel. I did try taking pictures, but somehow they hardly do this grand building justice. So I will leave it here with a few pictures of the view from my room.

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Singapore Airlines, Business Class – A 380: Zürich to Singapore

INTRODUCTION

It’s been quite a while since my last post. I’ve been doing quite a bit of flying, mostly on airlines that have already been covered extensively in some of my other trip reports.

But this one ought to be interesting. Today I’m on my way to Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of the Sultanate of Negara Brunei Darussalam. Brunei is actually not that easy to get to, particularly from Switzerland. Of course my first choice would have been to fly Royal Air Brunei. They have a direct service from Heathrow. But alas, that flight stops in Dubai in the middle of the night on both the outbound and the inbound flight, which is inconvenient for two reasons: first of all, the interruption of the flight in Dubai means that you don’t really get a full night’s sleep. Secondly, the sector length for both the LHR to DXB and the subsequent DXB to BWN is about six hours each, which isn’t really enough for sleep either. I’m travelling on business, so I decide against this option. I don’t want to arrive feeling like a vegetable. So instead I shall be travelling with Singapore Airlines from Zürich via Singapore. This report covers the outbound leg from Zürich to Singapore.

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On the outbound I have a connecting time in Singapore of eight hours. The return is worse still, with a whopping twelve hours layover in Singapore. But still, there are certainly worse airports to have to do a stopover in than Singapore.

On a positive note, the flights between Zürich and Singapore are operated by the A380. She may be ugly as sin, but she’s still quite an amazing bird.

The last time I flew Singapore Airlines was back in 2008. Back then I flew in First Class on the B777-300 from Zürich to Singapore and then onwards in regional First Class, I think it was on a B777-200, to Taipei. I was on a round the world itinerary which eventually also saw me take the Singapore Airlines B747-400 from JFK to Frankfurt, also in First. So I’m rather curious to see how time has treated one of the world’s most prestigious airlines in the intervening years.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

My first stop after I leave my flat is the Confiserie Bachmann on the square outside the station. They make the best pain au chocolat ever, with nice big chunky pieces of chocolate oozing out of everywhere. I think I may have already mentioned the fact in a previous post and so, simply for the sake of completeness, I am including in this post a picture of the delectable item.

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And then from there I head across the square, into the station and down to platform seven, from where my train will be leaving. Being a Sunday morning, the train that normally runs on this route has been substituted by what is in fact a short regional train. And to be fair, the load is pretty light.

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My only grippe is that the seat is rather hard. By the time we pull into Zürich Airport station 80 minutes later, my backside is feeling seriously worse for ware.

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To look outside you’d hardly think we’re already approaching the end of May. We’ve had a few scattered days of sunshine here and there but other than that it’s been quite miserable. At least the low-hanging clouds do look kind of poetic, I guess.

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Date: 19. May 2013
From: Zürich
To: Singapore
Aircraft: A 380
Airline: Singapore Airlines
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 18K, later on moved forward to 17K
Departure: 11:45
Arrival: 05:45, the next day

CHECK-IN

The airport is surprisingly busy for a Sunday morning when I arrive, with a mix of travellers and Sunday shoppers wandering, seemingly aimlessly, through the terminal.

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The Singapore Airlines check-in counters are currently located on the mezzanine level between arrivals and departures of what used to be Terminal B and is now, if I’m not mistaken, Check-in 2. This is only a temporary location for Singapore Airlines while the check-in area one floor up is redesigned and renovated.

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I am greeted at the check-in counter by one of my former students, who happens to be working for Swissport until he starts a new job in engineering in a few weeks. While he checks me in we have a little natter and I inquire about how he’s been and what he’s been up to. I figure I must have done a few things right in my job, because the next thing I notice is that he’s actually tagged my check-in luggage with a Suite First Class tag. Thanks for that!

We bid each other farewell and I make my way to security. After that it’s the passport control and then the underground shuttle that runs underneath the apron and runway 28 to the E dock.

Airside.
Airside.
Going down into the bowels of the terminal for immigration.
Going down into the bowels of the terminal for immigration.
Waiting for the next shuttle.
Waiting for the next shuttle.

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Inside the shuttle I.
Inside the shuttle I.
Inside the shuttle II.
Inside the shuttle II.
Arriving at the E dock.
Arriving at the E dock.

THE LOUNGE

I decide to give the Swiss Senator lounge a miss and try out the Panorama lounge at the E dock instead. This is a common purpose lounge which appears to be used by all airlines operating out of the E dock, with the exception of Emirates, who have their own lounge. Subsequently, the place is rather full when I arrive. Figuring it might be a while until I finally get some food on the plane, I help myself to a small plate of pasta and shortly after that it’s already time to head downstairs to the gate where boarding is about to begin.

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By now you’re probably wondering why there aren’t any pictures of my ride to Singapore. So here we go (taken from different locations, including the lounge).

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BOARDING

The boarding process is a very well organised affair, which is a good thing, seeing as Singapore Airlines recently stopped using the only gate at Zürich equipped with three airbridges.

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This means that all Business Class passengers on the upper deck will have to board through the front door on ‘ground level’ and then from there take the stairs one floor up.

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One of the male attendants sees me trying to take a picture of the stairs and offers to strike a pose. But before I can actually take the picture, he thinks better of it. Pity.

THE CABIN

To be honest, my first impression of the cabin is somewhat underwhelming. It looks slightly worn around the edges. Other than that though, the seat certainly offers a lot of personal space, it’s very wide.

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In Business Class there are only overhead bin over the central aisle. The window seats however, have some additional storage space as there are storage bins located by the side of the seat facing the window.

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Every seat back is equipped with a set of USB ports as well as a universal electric plug socket that can take the British style plugs as well as the standard Swiss and European ones. Located immediately above that is a small compartment where you can place your glasses.

The general impression of the seat is that obviously a lot of thought was put into the design, it’s more functional than it is elegant. For example: the compartment where you place your glasses is lined with some velvety material to prevent the lenses from scratching.

Other than that, there are two cushions at every seat. I think I’d feel quite lost without them!

Our neighbour.
Our neighbour.

THE CREW

The Singapore Airlines crews hardly need an introduction and this flight is no exception. The crew is made up of a racial mix of young men and women, all of them eager to please. It has often been said of the Singapore Airlines crews that they lack warmth or personality. Some have even called them robotic in their mannerisms. On this flight however, this could hardly be farther from the truth. The entire crew are very attentive, service-oriented and very approachable, without however being intrusive. And that kebaya simply complements the female form beautifully…!

SERVICE

Service begins on the ground with a welcome drink. I have something that is apparently a mix of bitter lemon and seven up, and very refreshing it is too. And then after that I receive the first in a whole series of nicely scented, warm refreshing towels.

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The menu has already been placed at my seat when I arrive.
The menu has already been placed at my seat when I arrive.

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Push back is on time. With all the rain everything is looking lush and green outside.

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On our way to the active runway.
On our way to the active runway.
With all the rain everything is really looking lush.
With all the rain everything is really looking lush.

Departure is to the south from runway 16, the usual. As we do a final left turn to line up with the runway, I spot this here. It’s used for fire training nowadays.

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Seriously, they really don’t build them like they used to in the good old days. I know, perhaps I’m a bit weird that way. Probably if I weren’t I wouldn’t be writing this blog. But: for me an airplane has to have the sound and feel of an airplane. And that’s where the A 380 is a bit of a let down. First of all, it is really quite amazing just how quiet the cabin is. Even when we power up and go hurtling down the runway for take off, the noise in the cabin is at a pleasant level. And there’s not much of a sensation of acceleration either.

Airborne.
Airborne.
Veeeery gently climbing.
Veeeery gently climbing.
Blue sky. I have a vague recollection of the last time I saw that...
Blue sky. I have a vague recollection of the last time I saw that…

Quite surprisingly, Singapore Airlines no longer provide vanity kits on board. Instead, after take-off the crew distribute a pair of eye-shades and slippers. Everything else is available in the toilets, ear plugs need to be requested separately.

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THE FOOD

The meal service starts with the traditional chicken and beef satay, which really are tasty, even though I think I end up overdosing on the raw onion.

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To drink with that I have one of Singapore Airlines’ signature non-alcoholic cocktails, ‘Awaiting the dawn’ I think it’s called. It’s a somewhat unusual combination of tomato juice and pineapple that works surprisingly well.

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For the rest of the meal I stick with sparkling water.

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The satay are quite tasty, but without a fork or a spoon it’s quite impossible to lop up all of the lovely peanut sauce. After the satay there is a short break while the crew prepare the main service. In the meantime, I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy the view.

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First the table is set. Every seat is done individually. The starter today is dried beef with pasta salad, lettuce and antipasti, more specifically a spicy pepper filled with cream cheese and an olive filled with an almond.

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With that I have a few slices of garlic bread and a Silserli, a typical Swiss type of bread that gets its name from the town of Sils.

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The service is well-timed and efficient, without however being hurried or rushed. For the main dish I’m having the Indian spicy chicken with vegetable curry and pilaf rice. It’s quite a spicy dish, with plenty of flavour.

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After the meal there is a choice of either vanilla ice cream with a fruit sauce or a passion fruit cheesecake, which I have. The dessert is nothing special really, its only saving grace being that it is made with Agar Agar and not gelatine.

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The meal concludes with a selection of cheese, served with crackers, walnuts, dried apricots and grapes. With that I have a glass of port.

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