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 into Town

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 Cathay Pacific Deck 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:

  1. a bowl with pasta salad,
  2. a cup of still water,
  3. a pre packaged bun with butter,
  4. a cup of Hägen Dasz strawberry ice cream,
  5. 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.

The Langham Place Hong Kong

Here is the link to the hotel’s website.

I decided to try something new in Hong Kong this time. Staying at a place like the Peninsula is all very well, but in a way the place is more like a museum than a real hotel, although indeed the rooms are very beautiful. So this time round I am staying at the Langham Place in lively Mong Kok.

In contrast to the Langham in Chicago, which is very grand and elegant, the Langham Place Hotel in Mong Kok is very modern and chic but somehow manages not to be pretentious about it. The design is modern with the elegant opulence only Asian hotels have. There is also a decidedly oriental touch to the Langham Place.

There are many different room types and packages that can be booked via the hotel’s website. Initially it may all seem a bit confusing, but in a way I think whatever you choose, you can hardly go wrong in this place.

I am staying in one of the Chuan Infinity Club rooms which are on the upper level of the hotel. The rate includes:

  1. All day access to the club lounge.
  2. Breakfast at the club lounge or downstairs in the main restaurant.
  3. Free wifi.
  4. Free unlimited access to the gym, spa and pool.
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The club lounge is very nice and comfortable. Save perhaps for the three loud Americans determined to let everybody know that they have just been to Japan and ‘the people of that culture are so small they are just so cute…’. The breakfast in the lounge is tasty and quite extensive. Moreover, the staff are really friendly and helpful. I can also highly recommend their afternoon tea, which is divine. The hotel gets extra brownie points for having the consideration to provide scones without raisins for people like myself who absolutely detest raisins.

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The gym is well equipped. It is mostly cardio machines and a few machines for weight lifting. There are only few free weights but you can still have a decent workout. The pool on the rooftop is great. The only downside is that it is only 20 metres long. I went for a swim just when the pool opened at 06h30 in the morning and had the place to myself. But space is rather limited and I can imagine it getting crowded on a sunny summer’s day (Which you do not get that many of in Hong Kong because it is usually grey from the humidity…)

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Emirates Airlines, First Class – A 380: Bangkok to Hong Kong

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: BMW provided by the hotel.
Departs from: Right outside the hotel lobby.
Journey time: About 40 minutes, depending on traffic and the extent to which the driver’s sense of self-preservation is developed.

In case you are wondering, the Emirates website explicitly states that their limousine service is not available to passengers travelling only between Bangkok and Hong Kong. That is why I had to organise a car from the hotel to take me.

Check-in

Location: Entrance 9 on the departures level, rows T and U.
Facilities: One First Class counter, four Business Class counters, nine Economy Class counters. The day before the flight I receive an email from Emirates inviting me to avail myself of their web check-in service.

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We pull up to the terminal near entrance 9, where the hotel’s airport concierge is already expecting me. He takes my luggage and guides me to the Emirates check-in counters. The check-in agent is very friendly and all smiles. She hands me my boarding pass, together with a voucher for the Premium Lane security check and immigration and sends me on my way. In the meantime, the concierge has been waiting dutifully. He then accompanies me to the entrance for security, wishes me a pleasant and safe journey and bids me goodbye.

The entrance for the Premium Lane is on the same level as check-in. All other passengers however, need to go one floor up.

The Emirates First Class Lounge

Location: One floor down from the check-in level. To reach the lounge, turn right after immigration until you reach the intersection of the D and E concourses. Take the escalators one floor down to level 3 and do a 90 degrees left turn at the bottom. Keep on walking until you reach to lounge.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated Emirates only lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets, showers, workstations with printer.
Internet:
Wifi is available, password required.

This is a really nice lounge. There is a lot of wood, with beige and brown leather sofas. There are two things that really strike me about this place: first of all, there are toilets and even showers in the lounge itself, which is quite unusual in Bangkok. In fact the only other lounges with facilities at Bangkok airport are those of Thai Airways. The second thing is the food. There is so much of it and it is so tasty! There is even a separate dining area with proper dining tables.

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Boarding

I am quickly coming to the realisation that most airports that receive the A380 are not really equipped to handle the beast. At least not properly. If you think that providing a third airbridge that goes to the upper deck is enough, I think you better think again. Alas, Bangkok is no exception here. Boarding starts and very soon it becomes apparent that there simply is not enough room for all the passengers wishing to board the plane (Just to give you the general idea, I have sequence number 543 on my boarding pass). At some point, one of the Emirates ground agents asks the passengers to move to the back of the gate and take a seat while we wait for boarding to begin. Nobody moves. The agent obviously has some serious attitude issue going on, and simply gives us this rather cocky ‘hello’, behaving quite as though we are deranged or mentally challenged for not falling in with his instruction to move to the back and take a seat. I think it never even dawns on him that there is simply no getting through to the back of the gate because it is in fact full.

Eventually boarding starts with a delay of thirty minutes.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: 1K, window seat on the starboard side of the aircraft. The Emirates First Class suite hardly needs an introduction. When it was first introduced, the airline truly caused a sensation. The suite is very private, due to the fact that it has sliding doors to screen passengers for more privacy. The suite is not completely closed though, and if you are standing in the aisle, you can still look into the individual suites from above. The First Class cabin is located on the upper deck and there are fourteen suites in total. Emirates operates the A380 in two configurations. In both cases, First and Business Class are on the upper deck. Economy Class is on the lower deck and the difference between the two configurations is the number of seats in Economy Class.
Pitch: 86 inches.
Width: 23 inches.
Facilities: 110 volt AC power port, wifi available through OnAir (who also provide the wifi for Qatar Airways), individual bar with a selection of soft drinks.
Audio and Video: Each seat is equipped with Emirates’ ICE inflight entertainment system with a huge selection of films, games, music and television programmes. The selection is extensive and has a good mix of classic and fairly recent films.

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Crap! The seats are covered in faux leather. I really do not like that because the plastic makes me feel sticky and sweaty. But apart from that, I think I shall never be a fan of this seat. In fact, I think it is in really bad taste. There is fake wood and gold coloured plastic everywhere. Furthermore, the design of the seat does not really make much sense either. On the side of the seat/suite there is the cabinet with the drinks. This is also where the remote control is. As a result, there is not really any space to put any drinks here. Either because the remote control is in the way, or because then you cannot open the drinks cabinet. As a result, the crew place things like drinks, nuts or the hot towel on the shelf in front of the screen. Which is okay. The only problem with that though, is that the shelf is too far away to be reached when you are sitting in your seat. There are a few other issues like this. There is a button on the left armrest to move the seat closer to the dining table. The only problem though, is that once the table is open, you can barely reach the buttons because they disappear under the table.

Oh yes, and after about thirty minutes the remote control decides to die on me. No more battery. And so I resort to using the touch screen, which again cannot be reached from a sitting position. All this is really no big deal, but it is hardly what you would expect from a first class product.

The Crew

There are twenty-three cabin crew on this flight. There is not really much I can say about them. They all seem friendly enough, although there is nothing personable about them and interaction with the passengers is kept to the minimum.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Coffee and a date filed with walnut.
Hot towel before the meal: Scented hot towel served on the ground. Unlike Qatar Airways, the towel is not handed to you on a dish but placed straight in your hand.
Pre-meal drink:
Orange juice with mixed warm nuts.
Choice:
There are two choices for the starter, four choices for the main course and four choices for dessert, including cheese.
Type of meal:
Lunch.

And what an appalling meal it is! I mean seriously? Where shall I start? *Standby for a major rant*

  1. Both appetizers on the menu do not sound or look overly attractive (really dry looking salmon or greasy duck), so I give that one a pass and simply start with the salad.
  2. I have just managed to put one macadamia nut in my mouth when the salad appears. We have a flight time of two hours and fifteen minutes and only five passengers in First. Do you think you could maybe slow down a bit guys?
  3. The salad is really puny, like something SWISS would serve in Business Class. And that is not a compliment.
  4. About thirty seconds after the salad arrives, the main course makes its first appearance. I ask the cabin crew if she would mind bringing it back in a few minutes, once I have finished the salad.
  5. Big mistake. By the time I have finished the salad and the pasta arrives, it has already cooled down and is somewhat crispy… At least the portion is minute so I will not have to have a guilty conscience for not finishing all of it.
  6. For dessert I try the chocolate pear tart, which, for some unearthly reason, is salty and not sweet and generally not very tasty.
  7. And finally, to finish, a cup of instant coffee.
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The Salad

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The Main Course

Rigatoni with a creamy tomato sauce, aubergine and courgettes.

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The Dessert

Chocolate pear tart.

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Arrival

Shortly after the table is cleared again, it is already time for us to start our descent into Hong Kong. When we land, British Airways, Air France and Emirates are already there with their own A380. The odd one out is Lufthansa, who operate to Hong Kong with the B747-8.

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Getting into Town

Transport: Airport express and metro.
Departs from: Terminals 1 and 2, arrivals level.
Journey time: roughly 40 minutes.
Fare: HKD19.- for the airport express to Tsing Yi for two persons, and HKD18 for the metro from Tsing Yi to Mong Kok for two persons.

I am staying at the Langham Place Hotel in Mong Kok this time round. The easiest way to get there from the airport is to take the airport express and alight at the first stop, which is Tsing Yi. The journey from the airport to Tsing Yi takes about 15 minutes. From Tsing Yi you have to take the orange line one stop in the direction of Central. Then from there, all you need to do is cross the platform and catch a red line train also heading to Central. Mong Kok is the sixth stop.

Conclusion

Do not worry, I still have quite a way to go. Even so, following this somewhat sobering experience on Emirates First Class, I think now is a good time to share some thoughts.

First of all, personally I think Emirates really cannot keep up with Qatar Airways, both in terms of hardware and the overall experience. The Qatar Airways First Class cabin is very classy and understated. In contrast, the hardware on Emirates is in really quite bad taste. Honestly, who designed this kitsch? As far as usability is concerned, the Emirates suite also has some serious shortcomings. I also think that the Emirates First Class cabin and suite are starting to look a bit old fashioned and rather drab.

Furthermore, the crew on Qatar Airways are very friendly and pay a lot of attention to detail. It is little things. Whereas Qatar Airways will hand you the hot towel on a dish, on Emirates the flight attendant just places it in your hand, which is somewhat inconvenient if the towel is still hot.

And secondly, I think it is quite apparent that Lufthansa’s Mr Spohr and his colleagues with all the American carriers have found an excellent scapegoat to hide their own shortcomings and failures in Emirates. Repeatedly, Emirates has been made responsible for the ailing carrier’s appalling financial performance. But quite frankly, if Mr Spohr seriously thinks the premium product of an airline like Emirates is competition, then I can only deduce from this that he has obviously never tried them. But apart from all that, I really do think that the Middle East carriers – and that includes Qatar Airways – will always be at a serious disadvantage because no matter how short the transfer time at their hub in Doha, Dubai or Abu Dhabi is and not matter how fancy their premium product on the ground is, they will not be able to make up for the loss of time and inconvenience of not taking a nonstop flight.

And finally, as far as Emirates is concerned, there was a time when they set the industry standard. I very much feel that this is no longer the case.

Epilogue: KLM, Business Class – Embraer 190 to Basel

Epilogue

There is this really excellent app that was recommended to me by my friend, the intrepid M., who is a seriously bad ass runner. The app is called MapMyRun. I think it is excellent because it allows you to log your runs and track your progress; you can map your route, see what distance and elevation you have covered, what your average pace is etc.

Are you wondering why I am telling you all this? Well, quite simply because I regret that sometimes I lack the presence of mind. Maybe I can blame it on Hong Kong this time or the jet lag. Otherwise, I think it would have been brilliant to log a MapMyRun workout of my run through Amsterdam Airport carrying a suit in one hand and my rucksack in the other.

Transfer in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Airport really is the best! If you are transferring from a non-Schengen to a Schengen flight and you are, like me, running out of time, there is a dedicated short connection track through immigration and security.

I arrive at gate B04, from where my flight to Basel will be leaving. One of the gate attendants looks at me and asks me if I have just come off the Hong Kong flight. I nod ascent, still trying to catch my breath, to which he comments that he is surprised by how quickly I managed to get to B04. Oh yes, I think if I had had MapMyRun activated, we would be looking at a new sprint best time. Life is full of missed opportunities.

I board the bus, assuming I am the last passenger holding up the proceedings. But then we wait, and then some more. Eventually, after another ten minutes or so an elderly couple slowly ambles over to the counter and hand the gate agent their boarding passes. The lady passenger is carrying a Shanghai Tang shopping bag, so I can only presume that she and the hubby must have been on my flight. Well take you time dear, when you are ready…!

The Meal

Type of meal: Snack

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Starter – Creamy potato and leeks soup with diced tomatoes.

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Main – Mixed salad with pesto pasta and Mozzarella cheese.

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Dessert – Dutch Speculaas spiced dessert.

Conclusion

TO CUT A LONG STORY SHORT…
The flight is pretty uneventful until we reach Basel. We are already established on a very bumpy and unstable approach when suddenly we accelerate and start climbing again. Apparently the wind keeps changing so we are going to have to make an approach from the opposite direction. A lot of screaming passengers and fifteen minutes later and we are finally safely on the ground. It has been a long time since I last heard passengers clapping with relief as we hit the ground.

Oh, and in case you are wondering: no, my suitcase did not make the short connection in Amsterdam. Still, a home delivery is better than having to cart the damn thing home myself.

KLM, Business Class – B 747-400: Hong Kong to Basel via Amsterdam

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Part of your life, you give me a moment. Me sure in spite of the past, and in spite of the future. This tick of our lifetime is one moment you love me.

– Jeremy Irons, Chinese Box (1997)

Introduction

As long as I can remember, I had always wanted to go to Hong Kong. Initially, my infatuation with the place was based partly on the old Kai Tak airport and partly on the territory’s fascinating history as a British trading post.

Originally, Hong Kong Island was leased to the British because the Chinese were wary of them and simply thought the Europeans were uncivilised. They did not want them setting foot on Chinese soil and mixing with the locals. No good could come of that. Trade with the hopelessly uncouth was okay as far as the Chinese were concerned, just as long as they kept their distance. And so Hong Kong – the barren rock – was leased to the British for a period of 150 years. In hindsight, the Chinese were probably right to be cautious about the British, considering how they set out to colonise the world like a contagious disease.

My first visit to Hong Kong was in 1994, I was twenty at the time. And I have kept returning ever since. Somehow, this place never gets boring. What I love about Hong Kong is that although the place itself is now quite familiar after so many visits, the city is never quite the same. Things disappear, change and reveal themselves in new light. And all the while it is business as usual in Hong Kong.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: MTR and Hong Kong Airport Express
Departs from: Wan Chai MTR
Frequency: Every three minutes
Journey time: About five minutes from Wan Chai to Central and another twenty-four minutes from there to the airport.
Fare: HKD4.50 for the MTR and HKD100 for the Hong Kong Airport Express.

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The entrance to the Wan Chai MTR station is just down the road from the Indigo Hotel, where I am staying in Hong Kong. From Wan Chai it is two stops to Central, where you can connect to the Hong Kong Airport Express. The transfer is pretty painless and easy, with directions on the public transport system clearly signposted. It is not possible to purchase a combined ticket for the MTR and Airport Express.

Check-in

Location: On the ground floor of the Central Airport Express station.
Facilities: In-town check-in at Central on Hong Kong Island or at the airport.
Counters: Counter 2 is the dedicated check-in counter for KLM, ANA, and Virgin at the in-town check-in area.

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Most carriers operating to and from Hong Kong will allow you to check-in at the station at Central on Hong Kong Island. In order to do so however, you must make the journey from Central to the airport by train. To this end, you are required to purchase your ticket before you check-in, the train tickets grants you access to the check-in area.

The QANTAS Business Class Lounge

Location: Immediately behind the exit from immigration north do a sharp right turn.
Type of Lounge:
Qantas lounge
Facilities:
An extensive buffet of hot and cold dishes, a large and well-stocked bar, showers and toilets, dining area and lounging area.

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This must be one of the nicest lounges I have ever set foot in. Of course it probably helps that the place is more or less deserted when I arrive. Even so, I am impressed by how spacious the lounge is, how nicely furnished it is and how good the catering is. It is not just that there are a lot of food choices; the quality of the food is also good. What is more, the lounge offers some excellent views of the ramp. From where I am sitting I can see my ride to Amsterdam in the distance.

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Boarding

There are two separate lanes for boarding – SkyPriority and everybody else. SkyPriority is for Elite and ElitePlus members as well as passengers travelling in Business Class.

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Boarding starts a little early at 12:50. By the look of it, the crew is hoping to make an early start in an attempt to have us depart Hong Kong ahead of schedule. And indeed, boarding is completed way ahead of our departure time, despite the fact that the flight is fully booked today. But then the crew discovers that there is a mistake on the load sheet, which apparently had been prepared in Amsterdam. It turns out we are overweight.

During the ensuing delay the crew, both cockpit and cabin, make sure to keep the passengers informed about what is going on. Eventually, by the time the crew have identified the items of freight that will have to be offloaded and have them removed, we are running more than an hour late, which is particularly unfortunate given that my connection to Basel in Amsterdam is – possibly was – only ninety minutes. But we shall see. For the time being there is not really anything anybody can do about the delay.

At least the Queen of the Skies has the grace to try and console me for the delay. And how could any man resist her charms, despite her age? She sounds so much nicer than the younger birds. The take-off roll is everything you can hope for and expect of the 747 – she is much louder than other aircraft like the 777 and she certainly takes her time before eventually, elegantly and ever so gently she flexes the tips of her wings in an upward motion and severs our ties with the ground.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2, with a few single seats on the lower deck.
Seat: The Business Class cabin is divided over two decks on KLM’s Boeing B 747-400 fleet. There are twenty seats on the upper deck and another fifteen on the main deck. Obviously the upper deck is always fun on Jumbo, but there is also a lot to be said for sitting in the nose of the beast. Most of the seats are in pairs. However, there are three single seats on the main deck, which is mainly due to space limitations. The first row is in the very tip of the nose. Thus, there is a single seat on 1A, while 1J and 1K make up a pair. The seats are turned slightly outward, towards the windows on both sides of the aisle. Furthermore, the seats on the rows of two are staggered, with the window seat slightly further forward than the aisle seat. As a result, the seat feels very private in that you have to go out of your way if you want to to make eye contact with your fellow passengers.
The entire Boeing 747 fleet has now had the new cabin installed. Currently KLM is having the new seat introduced on its Boeing B 777-300 fleet as well.
Pitch: 63 inches
Width: 20 inches
Facilities: AC power outlets available, privacy screen, reading lamp
Length as a bed: 80 inches
Audio and Video: AVOD, 10.4 inches screen

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The Crew

The crew on this flight are friendly and chatty, as usual with KLM. While we are on the ground the crew make sure they are visible in the cabin to answer any questions the passengers may have during the delay. And once we are airborne the service is efficient, even so the crew still find the time for a little friendly natter with the passengers.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Fresh orange juice, sparkling wine, beer (Heineken) or still water
Hot towel before the meal: Not scented
Pre-meal drink: Ginger Ale, served with a bowl of warm nuts.
Choice: Two starters, three main courses, a selection of desserts.
Type of meal:
Lunch
Bread: A selection of different types of rolls and garlic bread.
Chocolates: Dutch chocolates are served at the end of the meal.

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The First Course

Broccoli soup with blue cheese.

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The Salad

Couscous with green salad and edamame beans.

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The Main Course

Sautéed grouper with sherry cream sauce, saffron risotto, green beans and baby carrots.

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The Cheese & Fruit

Cheese platter (Emmental and Danish blue) with seasonal fruit, served with Port.

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The meal is rather tasty. Especially the soup is unusual with a strong flavour of the blue cheese, which goes very nicely with the Broccoli. The pace of the meal is also very good, the entire meal takes much less time to complete than it did with Qantas but without being rushed.

The Second Service

Hot towel before the meal: Not scented
Choice: Hot or cold main dish with a choice of two cold side dishes.
Type of meal:
Light meal

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The Side Dish

Quinoa salad with beetroot and pumpkin.

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The Main Course

Penne with red bell pepper sauce and vegetables, parmesan cheese.

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Dessert

Traditional Dutch Apple pie served warm, with whipped cream. And a bowl of fruit.

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The lights go on just under two hours out of Amsterdam. At least we were able to make up some of our delay and although we departed seventy minutes behind schedule from Hong Kong, it looks as though this has dwindled to forty-five minutes by the time we enter Europe.

I always enjoy the second service on KLM and I am impressed by the amount of food they serve for the second service. Very often, with a lot of the other European carriers the second service is more of an embarrassment than anything else. But this is a proper meal.

Eventually, the crew pass through the cabin distributing the little BOLS houses, which marks the end of the flight. I collect house 91 and I am good to go.

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Arrival

Eventually we hit the ground at 19:40 and have a relatively short taxi – by Amsterdam’s standards – to our stand on the F pier. Perhaps I should say at the very far end of the F pier. By the time the engines are cut and the doors are open, it is already 19:55. My onward connection starts boarding in five minutes, the gate closes in twenty minutes and the flight departs in thirty-five minutes. And I still have to go through immigration and security…

Qantas, Business Class – A 330-300: Brisbane to Hong Kong

Folie1

Introduction

It is time to start the long journey home. Today I shall be travelling from Brisbane to Hong Kong, where I will spend two nights before I continue to Europe.

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Taxi.
Journey time: 25 minutes.
Fare: AUD40.- My flight this morning will be leaving at 10:50. So I have enough time to have one last tasty breakfast at the hotel. My taxi arrives to pick me up at 08:30.

Check-in

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Location: Rows 9 and 10.
Counters: There are four dedicated Business Class counters, all of which are staffed. There is a bit of queue for check-in at the Business Class counters this morning. This is mainly due to a large family of Chinese travelling with a hideous amount of luggage. There are boxes, suitcases and trolleys all over the place. And kids. Everywhere. What is more, I suspect that of the eight people standing there, only about half are in fact flying. The others are just there to add to the general chaos. My suitcase is checked in to Hong Kong and labelled with a priority tag. The check-in agent prints my boarding pass and hands me an express card to get me through the fast track at security and immigration. I will also have to complete an embarkation card. From check-in I head for departures, which is clearly marked by a huge yellow arch. I pass through the arch and go down stairs, where the security check and immigration take place.

The Qantas Club Lounge

The Qantas lounge is located opposite gate 80. Currently the airport is undergoing reconstruction. But everything is clearly signposted.

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Location: Airside, one floor up from the departure gates.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated Qantas lounge.
Facilities:
A large selection of hot and hold dishes and drinks, work stations, toilets, showers
Internet:
– The lounge is fairly small and rather crowded when I arrive. Apart from my flight to Hong Kong, there is another A 330-300 heading for Singapore, a Boeing 747-400 bound for Los Angeles and there is also the Cathay Pacific flight which, presumably, also uses the Qantas lounge. The lounge offers some good views of arriving aircraft, which glide past the terminal before eventually touching down.

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The lounge has all the amenities one can expect. Moreover, I am somewhat surprised by the generous breakfast offerings in the lounge, which certainly put the SWISS Senator lounge in Zürich Airport to shame.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts about forty minutes before departure. There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers and status card holders. The first call is for families with children, followed by Business Class passengers, and then passengers sitting in the rear Economy Class cabin.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 + 2
Seat: The Qantas seat may not necessarily look very attractive, but it is very comfortable as a seat and bed. When fully extended, it is of the angled lie-flat type – although the angle is not uncomfortable. The hard back of the seat is very high, so once you extend the seat into a bed, you feel as though you are lying in a cocoon. It is very private for a Business Class seat. In addition, there is also a privacy screen on every pair of seats. However, I tried it out and I really must say it is mostly useless because the screen is simply too small. It is also superfluous because once you are in the lying position, you would have to lean up anyway to take a look at your neighbour. Apart from a pillow and blanket, Qantas also provides a thin mattress to place over the seat, and once the aircraft is airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew pass through the cabin asking passengers if they would like to have the mattress placed on the seat. Perhaps the seat’s biggest drawback is the complete lack of storage space for your personal belongings, which is inconvenient. There is a holder for magazines in the side of the back of the seat, but this is not even wide enough to place my tiny MacBookAir 11’ in.
Pitch: 60 inches.
Width: 21 inches.
Facilities: Reading lamp, magazine holder, electricity outlet.
Length as a bed:
Audio and Video: Touchscreen AVOD – there are about thirty films available to choose from. However, the selection is a bit odd.

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The Crew

The service on this flight is excellent and restores my faith in Business Class flying, following my really crap experience with Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane. The crew are all quite senior and very friendly and very professional.

Amenities

Before we depart, the vanity kits are distributed. A menu has already been placed at every seat before the passengers start boarding.

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After take-off, the inflight service manager – ISM (M., please note the funky abbreviation, nearly as good as the POC…) introduces himself and the crew. He addresses every passenger by name as he distributes the landing cards for Hong Kong.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Choice of orange juice, water or champagne.
Hot towel before the meal: Served while still on the ground.
Pre-meal drink: Ginger Ale, served with a packet of cashew nuts and pretzels.
Choice: Three starters, four main courses, four desserts.
Type of meal: Lunch.

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The Salad

Garden leaves with balsamico dressing.

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The First Course

Blue cheese, walnuts, baby beans and tomato salad with pickled onions. The starter is excellent, it is very tasty and flavourful. The blue cheese goes really very well with the walnuts, which seem to be slightly caramelised and sweet.

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The Main Course

Roasted eggplant and silverbeet lasagne with cucumber, tomato and feta salad. The main course takes quite a while to arrive, in fact by the time I receive my dish, my neighbour has nearly already demolished his plate. But the flavours of the dish are really excellent. The combination of the hot vegetable lasagne with the cold cucumber, tomato and feta works really well. There is also a vinaigrette with the dish which works rather nicely.

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The Cheese

Selection of cheese served with accompaniments and a glass of sweet wine. After the main course I have some cheese, there is a blue cheese and a Camembert. The cheese is served with a selection crackers, a date and some fog bread.

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The set up of the meal service is interesting in that there is no tray. Instead, the crew place a tablecloth and then a napkin with the cutlery rolled up in it a side plate for the bread and the side salad. The dressing for the salad in added by the cabin crew before serving, and there is a choice of two different dressings. With the meal I just have still water to drink. All in all this was a really good airplane meal. The tastes and combinations were interesting, especially the main course was unusual. I only have to complaints really, if I may. First of all, the service takes ages to begin after take off and when eventually it does, it takes a very long time to complete the whole service. The other point is the cutlery. Good heavens, I know it is Alessi design and all that, but who on earth picked that stuff for Qantas? The cutlery sits badly in the hand and apart from all that, it just looks ugly. I finish the meal with a cup of mint tea, which is served with a small Valrhona dark chocolate stick.

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After the meal I settle in for a nap and only awake three hours later as the second service begins.

The Second Service

The second service starts fifty minutes out of Hong Kong. It is simple but effective. I rather liked it. Basically there are three dishes to choose from. Each one is served in one of those boxes they normally use in Chinese take-aways. I know it may sound a bit strange, but I thought it was rather a good idea. And it is very tasty too. I have the Rigatoni Arrabiata with green olives, capers, broccoli and Parmesan. Delicious!

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Arrival

By the time we reach Hong Kong, the sun is already setting. There is a lot of haze in the air today. Even so, it truly is a very beautiful approach and we descend over some of the outlying islands of Hong Kong.

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Getting into Town

Transport: Hong Kong Airport Express.
Departs from: Terminals 1 and 2.
Frequency: Every six minutes.
Journey time: 24 minutes to Central on Hong Kong Island, with intermediate stops in Tsing Yi and Kowloon.
Fare: HKD100.- To reach the city, I take the Hong Kong Airport Express to Central, from where I will continue my journey to the Hotel Indigo using the MTR. Note that the ticket machines do not accept credit cards. If you are out of cash, you will have to purchase your ticket at the counter, which normally has quite a queue.

Conclusion

This was a very enjoyable flight with Qantas from Brisbane to Hong Kong. The crew were not even overly friendly. But they were competent and they did their job properly. The food was very tasty, with good sized portions too. I also very much liked the seat, at least from the comfort perspective. Now if only there were more storage space… This flight really was in stark contrast to my previous experience on Malaysia Airlines in Business Class on my way from Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane.

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

Folie1

Introduction

I spend my last day in Hong Kong walking through the narrow streets of Wan Chai and its many food markets. The sights, sounds and above all the smells are not for the faint of heart but they give you a very different feel for the city. In fact, ambling through Wan Chai, glitzy Central with its banks suddenly seems somehow very far away.

But it has been a hot and humid day here in Hong Kong, so eventually I decide to call it a day and head out for the airport at around 18:00.

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: train
Departs from: Hong Kong Island Terminus
Arrives: Hong Kong Airport Terminals 1 and 2
Frequency: every 12 minutes
Journey time: 24 minutes
Fare: HKD100, that is HKD18 more expensive than the inbound journey from the airport

It is possible to check-in for Cathay Pacific flights at the terminus station of the Airport Express on Hong Kong island. Opposite the check-in counters is the lift that takes you two floors down to the platform. But today I have decided to check-in at the airport, quite simply because I have not done that before.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 1, rows B and C

The airport seems rather quiet this evening, maybe because it is Sunday. The good thing is that there are no queues for check-in.

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I haven’t eaten since breakfast and I could really murder a bowl of noodles right now. I ask the friendly check-in agent if there is a noodle bar in every one of the Cathay Pacific lounges, to which she replies that she is not quite sure. It is not really that important, but next thing I know she is already calling somebody somewhere to find out. So just in case you were wondering, there is a noodle bar in the Wing and Pier lounges but not in the Bridge lounge. She also informs me that, for operational reasons, my flight has a delay of twenty minutes.

The Cathay Pacific Wing Lounge

Location: The Wing, opposite gate 2
Type of Lounge:
Cathay Pacific Business Class lounge
Facilities:
noodle bar, coffee bar, drinks bar, Mac workstations, showers, toilets
Internet:
available, the password is displayed in various locations around the lounge

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Apparently you’ll need a lounge invitation to access the lounge, although I’m not sure what happens if you check-in online and don’t actually use a check-in counter before you head airside.

The noodle bar is fantastic and there are different soups available. I’m famished, so first I have a spicy Shanghai style noodle soup with crushed peanuts, followed by a Japanese ramen soup with vegetables. You order your soup directly at the counter. You are then given a buzzer which starts blinking when your food is ready for collection. While I wait I have some steamed pak choi and some dim sum.

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With the imminent risk of starvation successfully mitigated, I find myself a more comfortable place to sit on one of the loungers by the coffee bar.

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BOARDING

Priority Boarding: there are three queues for boarding: one is for Business Class passengers and the top tier members of Cathay Pacific’s FFP, one for Marco Polo members and another for Economy Class passengers. Because Australia does not allow for more than 100ml of liquids to be taken on board as hand luggage, a secondary security screening takes place just before entering the airbirdges.

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There are two airbridges connected to the aircraft, although in my case there’s not really much point in taking the Business Class one to the L1 door, seeing as my seat is located in the mini cabin behind the L2 door anyway.

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The Cabin
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1
Seat: 39 seats. The window seats face away from the aisle, which makes the seat very private. The aisle seats however, face towards each other. However, they are still sufficiently private. This is one of the best Business Class seats out there and can easily match what British Airways has in First Class these days. In fact it is more or less the same seat. The finish of the seat is very nice and there is a lot of storage space. The overall impression is that a lot of thought was put into designing this seat. Incidentally, Cathay Pacific also provide you with a proper duvet and not just a blanket, even in Business Class.
Pitch: 82 inches
Width: 20.2 inches
Recline: 180 degrees
Facilities: power outlet, reading lamp, overhead lamp, a lot of stowage space
Audio and Video: AVOD, touch screen or remote controlled

Cathay Pacific does its own take on the SWISS Stübli, but in reverse order. The main Business Class cabin is located between the L/R1 and L/R2 doors. And then there is a further, mini cabin with only three rows behind the L/R2 galley (rows 19 – 21). Originally I was on 14A in the main cabin. But I am reseated because the check-in agent tells me it will be more private in the back. Okay, if you say so…

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Business Class is not full this evening. From what I can tell, most but not all of the window seats are taken, nearly none of the middle seats are occupied.

The Crew

I settle into my seat and immediately a young lady appears with a tray full of drinks. I go with the passion fruit and apple juice, which is refreshing but very sweet. Before we push back, hot towels are handed out. And they really are piping hot.

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The crew are very professional in the way they go about their duties. Throughout the flight I notice that they all address passengers using their family names. Perhaps they are not as chatty and approachable as some of the other crews I’ve experienced with Cathay Pacific, but that is okay.

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Amenities

Once we are airborne, the service is very efficient. The crew obviously want to make sure passengers have enough time to sleep and rest before the second service and our arrival into Perth. In short sequence the vanity kit, menus and a bottle of Evian for the night are distributed.

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Vanity Kit


Brand:
Agnes B. (designer from Hong Kong)
Content: there are different vanity kits for men and for women and I’m not sure if the content is the same – the men’s kit contains various moisturizers and lips balm, eye shades, ear plugs, socks, a toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste (it is actually quite a large tube that should last you a couple of days); shaving kits are available in the lavatories

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: passion fruit and apple juice
Hot towel before the meal: no
Pre-meal drink:
no
Choice:
one starter and three main courses
Delivery:
tray service
Type of meal:
dinner

Cathay Pacific offers an abridged service on this flight to speed things up and give passengers enough rest time. First of all, there is no pre meal drink. The drink arrives with the tray. Warm cashew nuts are available, but only on demand, they are not actively offered by the crew.

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The tray arrives with the dessert and the starter both already on it.

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The First Course

Savoury dips of red pepper and roasted eggplant with grissini.

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Cathay Pacific does not take orders for the main courses. Instead, the crew will bring you a tray with the available choices for you to pick the one you like the look off.

The Main Course

Tandoori chicken breast with biryani rice and green chilli.

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The Cheese

Chees platter: fourme d’ambert, cheddar, reblochon with crackers, apple and rosemary paste.

The meal is quite good. The roasted eggplant dip has a nice flavour that goes well with the red pepper and the grissini. The main course is okay, the Indian dishes on Cathay Pacific are always quite spicy.

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Dessert

Fresh berries with rose syrup.

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By the time the meal ends and the tray have been removed, there are still about six hours and a half to go to Perth, which means the full service was completed in more or less one hour from take off. Not bad at all! And now, time to get some sleep…

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The Second Service

The second service begins about two hours out of Perth, which seems a tad early to me. And indeed, 55 minutes before arrival everything has already been cleared away again. I think it would have made more sense to start the second service a bit later. But there are worse things that can happen.

  1. Mango and passion fruit smoothie
  2. Fresh seasonal fruit – dragon fruit, water melon and blueberries
  3. Birchermüsli
  4. Omelette with pan-fried pork sausage, bacon, roasted potatoes, marinated red peppers and braised bean ragout
  5. Selection from the bread basket
  6. Tea and coffee
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The second meal is a bit of a let down. First of all, because the ragout contains fava or broad beans, which I am allergic too. Secondly, everything seems slightly undercooked.

Arrival

We arrive into Perth under the watchful gaze of a full moon. In the distance you can see water; the realisation that I am actually staring at the Indian Ocean takes me completely by surprise. Quite as though my brain has not had enough time to adjust to the idea!

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More or less a year ago I departed from Australia from Perth on Cathay Pacific. It was in fact the outbound leg of the flight I arrived with today. I remember thinking at the time that it would be good to return to Australia and to Perth in particular some day. Little did I know at the time that I would be returning so soon. It is nice to be back for sure.

Getting into Town

Transport: taxi
Departs from: international arrivals
Journey time: ca. 40 minutes
Fare: AUD48.-

Getting into town from the international terminal is not quite as straightforward as one might think in Perth. There is an airport shuttle that runs from the airport to the city and there is also public transport. The only problem though, is that both services run to the domestic terminal only, which is quite a distance away from the international terminal. Perhaps on the way back I’ll give it a try. But right now I’m too tired, so I think I will just grab a taxi.

Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – Airbus A 340-300: Zürich to Hong Kong

Folie1

Absentation, the hero leaves the security and comfort of home…

The first leg of my journey sees me travelling from Zürich to Hong Kong in First Class with Swiss International Air Lines. This is actually my first flight with SWISS this year. My last long-haul trip with them was in January last year, when I accidentally ended up flying SWISS after my original flight on British Airways was cancelled and the KLM flight I was subsequently rebooked to went tech and was then also cancelled…

Getting to the Airport

Transport: train
Departs from: Winterthur station
Frequency: six trains every hour, four of which are nonstop
Journey time: 13 minutes on the direct trains, 17 minutes on the regional train (S-Bahn)
Fare: CHF4.20 one way

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My train from Winterthur pulls into Zürich Flughafen station just after eight, which gives me about two hours before the flight to Hong Kong is scheduled to depart.

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The station is deep in the basement of the airport. The escalators up from the platforms will eject you in the retail area, which makes it a bit difficult to find the airport for all the shops if you’re unfamiliar with the place. This is also where you will find the Terminal 3 check-in counters. To reach Terminals 1 and 2 and to access the gates you need to go up one more floor. There are yet more shops here and it’s a bit of a schlep to the terminals, but at least the the signage at Zürich Airport is very good (Are you reading this, Vienna Airport?) so it is quite easy to find your way around.

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Check-in

Location: Terminal 1
Facilities: dedicated First Class check-in area with direct curb side access.

Check-in for SWISS flights is in Terminals 1 and 3. However, if you want to have the full on First Class experience, you will have to make your way to Terminal 1, because there is no dedicated First Class check-in available in Terminal 3. I can only assume that SWISS doesn’t expect any of its top tier passengers to condescend to use public transport.

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First Class check-in is segregated from the rest of the terminal. There are no conveyor belts here, so if you’re checking in luggage, the valet will come and pick it up – once it has been tagged and labelled accordingly – to quickly whisk it away. There is something very old school about the process, which I rather like.

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The lady at check in asks me if I’m really okay sitting on 1K. I answer that I am and in return ask her if there is a problem with 1K. She tells me 1K is as good as any other First Class seat, but apparently I have the entire First Class cabin to myself this evening and could have had 1A instead. Well in that case I think I might just have my meal in 1K, sleep in 1A and maybe try another one to watch a movie. Just for the heck of it, because their mine, all mine!

The SWISS First Class Lounge

Location: Terminal 1, access is via a staircase in the forum housing the transfer desks
Type of Lounge:
dedicated Swiss First Class lounge
Facilities:
restaurant with à la carte dining, buffet with hot and cold dishes, showers, day room, office area
Internet:
access code with a validity of 1 year, the internet connection is very slow and the PCs are even worse

From check-in I head straight for security. Admittedly, this part of the experience does not feel particularly exclusive ever since they introduced centralised security screening at Zürich Airport. There is a separate lane for premium passengers, but this includes status holders and Business Class passengers as well.

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I’m feeling a bit peckish, after all my last meal was at noon. I choose the veal pie with Cumberland sauce, mushroom mouse and smoked trout with roe and sweet potato. And for something sweet I have a small piece of lemon cheesecake with raspberries.

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Interdiction, the hero is warned against some action…

It’s time to give my mum a call to see how she’s doing. Today I passed out in the gym. I was working out my legs. I’ve had two weeks of intensive training and I think I may have overdone it a bit. I confess to my mum. I mean, what’s the point? Mothers have a way of prying out of you the things you’d actually rather not tell them. My mum starts telling me off, ‘you have to listen to your body young man’ – Ma I’m going to be forty – ‘don’t you try to change the subject, this is no laughing matter, it’s not healthy for you’ – yes Ma. Eventually I ring off, but the communication continues. My mum starts texting me. ‘You don’t want to end up sick in a foreign country you know…don’t forget to eat…’. Bless her!

Boarding

At 22:05 I leave the lounge and I make my way to the meeting point for the shuttle to the E gates. The shuttle is a Mercedes mini van with room for five passengers.

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Boarding has already started when I reach the gate, but by the looks of it they’ve only just made the call for the premium passengers. The gate agent scans my boarding pass. She makes a point of addressing me by name, thanks me for flying Swiss First Class and wishes me a pleasant flight. I’m a bit impressed I must admit.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: 8 seats – While this seat is obviously no longer the industry benchmark and does not offer the same level of privacy as some of the new generation products out there, as far as I’m concerned, it remains one of the most comfortable airplane seats around. Guaranteed to give you a few hours of restful slumber.
Pitch: 80 inches
Length as a bed: 83 inches
Width: 22 inches
Recline: 180 degrees
Facilities: power outlet, reading lamp, overhead lamp
Audio and Video: AVOD, touch screen or remote controlled

The first thing that strikes me upon entering the cabin is that it is in mint condition. There are no signs of wear and tear, nor are there any marks or blemishes. Quite obviously Swiss has taken very good care of this bird.

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Amenities

Amenity kit: Bally
Content: toothbrush with Colgate toothpaste, comb, various cosmetics by Swiss brand La Prairie, Ricola sweets, tissues, eye shade, ear plugs, socks
Slippers: I wear a size 46 shoes. The slipper fit me comfortably, but I’m not sure they have them in smaller sizes
Pyjamas: Zimmerli (Swiss brand) in various sizes

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The crew on this flight prove once again that it’s the people that make the airline. As a customer, our perception of what is a good flight and what not depends largely on the impression we receive from the crew. And by the looks of it, I’m in luck this evening. The crew up front consists of one senior cabin crew in his early fifties. He’s very outgoing and charming and gives you the feeling of being genuinely welcome on board. The other is a young man of South Asian descent with a broad Bernese accent. He comes across as being very nice, friendly and polite.

As I reach my seat, it’s quite apparent that I am already being expected, which is a nice feeling when you’re going on a journey abroad. Within short sequence I receive the slippers, vanity kit and pyjamas.

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The Meal

Mimosa, served on the ground as a welcome drink – freshly squeezed orange juice and champagne.

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Amuse Bouche

Amuse bouche of fish with peas and butter flûtes from Sprüngli (served on the ground).

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The Balik salmon is very tasty. I think I may perhaps have been a bit overly enthusiastic in demolishing it though, because the next thing I know the steward comes along and asks me if I’d like some more. Oh go on then, if you force me…!

The First Course

Balik salmon with crème fraîche and chives.

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Next up it’s the soup, which is outstanding. It’s incredibly flavourful; the taste of the lemongrass is well balanced with that of the corn. It’s a combination that works surprisingly well. The presentation of the dish is elegant; I really like the large and deep plates in which Swiss serve their soups. The plate arrives only with the popcorn in it. The actual soup is poured out into the dish at the passenger’s seat. As a finishing touch the steward adds a bit of cream to the dish and a few sprigs of thyme.

The Soup

Soup of corn and lemongrass with popcorn.

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The soup is followed by the salad, which is nice and crisp even though it looks like a bit of a mess. There is a choice of Italian or French dressing. I go with the Italian, which is much better than that vile stuff in a Heinz jar Lufthansa serve in First Class and which is inedible.

The Salad

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And then comes the main dish. This is just okay. The combination of flavours is all right, but somehow the veal just tastes bland.

The Main Course

Herb coated veal loin with rosemary sauce, macaroni gratin, artichoke and olives; with a side order of peppers and grilled zucchini.

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Next I have some cheese, and again I’m quite taken by the presentation of the plate. It all just looks so nice. I particularly like the mustard seed chutney, it’s spicy in the same way that wasabi is, the kind of strength that literally gets up you nose and makes you wince and your eyes water.

The Cheese

Selection of cheese served with mustard seed chutney, pear bread, fruit and crackers.

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By this time I’m already quite full but somehow the description in the menu of the dessert has kindled my curiosity. And I’m not disappointed. This is another well presented dish with lots of flavour. It’s very refreshing.

Dessert

Apricot and thyme slice with pistachio crumble, quark sorbet, apricot and vanilla coulis.

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To conclude the meal I have some Moroccan mint tea.

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While I’m eating, the steward made up the seat opposite into my bed, so once the meal is over I just cross the aisle, lay down and go off to bed. I even receive a small little soft toy airplane to keep my company during the night.

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The crew’s attention to detail is really something else. During the night I leave my bed twice, to find that it’s been redone by the time I return. They even give my pillow a good shake!

The Second Service

I awake just under five hours out of Hong Kong and figure I might as well make a start with the trip report. The friendly young man immediately notices I’m awake and comes to ask me if here’s anything I’d like. I ask for a coffee and an orange juice. While I wait he brings me a warm scented towel and a vitamin booster.

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  1. Bowl of Birchermüsli
  2. Plate of fresh fruit – melon, mango, kiwi and strawberries
  3. Various breads with butter and jam
  4. An egg dish with ham, sausage, mushrooms, beans, tomato – served with mustard
  5. Orange juice and coffee

About ninety minutes out of Hong Kong breakfast is served. The second service is not quite as elaborate as the main meal but it hits the spot nicely. By this time I’m also seriously wondering just exactly how much cutlery and how many dishes they actually have on board on a flight like this.

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Arrival

Our arrival into Hong Kong is beautiful. First of all there’s the light. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Hong Kong when the weather has been so nice. It’s clear day, with only a bit of haze. We approach the city from the north, flying out over the South China Sea with the city on our left hand side. We execute a number of turns around the entire city until eventually we’ve done a full 360 as we come out of the last turn to line up with the runway. Hong Kong is quite hilly, and on our descent we pass very close to the peaks of some of the hills and mountains that surround the area. It’s very spectacular.

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There is a lady expecting me as I disembark. Her job is to guide me through immigration and baggage claim as quickly and smoothly as possible. And indeed, within nine minutes from getting off the plane I find myself standing by the baggage reclaim carousel waiting for my suitcase to appear.

Getting into Town

Transport: train and bus
Departs from: Hong Kong Airport
Frequency: every 12 minutes
Journey time: 24 minutes to Hong Kong Island
Fare: HKD82 one way
The most convenient way to get from the airport into town is by train. At the station in Kowloon and at the terminus on Hong Kong Island there is a complimentary bus service available that will take you to most of the mayor hotels. There are different routes. If you’re not sure which bus to take,  just ask one of the many staff for directions.

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

Folie1
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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.

Transfer 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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The Cathay Pacific Bridge 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

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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The 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

The Crew

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.

Inflight Snack

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.

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

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The Second 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

  1. Apple juice, Orange juice or a Mango and Passion Fruit smoothy (my choice)
  2. Tea or coffee (my choice)
  3. A plate of fresh fruit
  4. A selection of cereals, Müsli or Yoghurt (Blackberry)
  5. Omelette with bacon, sausage, grilled tomato, frittata
  6. 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

Cathay Pacific Airways serves Terminal 2 in Frankfurt. 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 – A 330-300: Hong Kong to Bangkok

Folie1
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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

From Wanchai to the Airport Express Terminal

  1. MTR
  2. Tram

Departs from:

  1. MTR: Wanchai station
  2. Tram: Wanchai station, the tram stop is right opposite the exit of the MTR station

Arrives at:

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

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

  1. MTR: about 5 minutes
  2. Tram about 15 minutes

Fare:

  1. MTR: HKD 4.50
  2. 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

Check-in

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.

Location: Airport Express Terminal in Hong Kong
Facilities:

  1. Web check-in available up to 48 hours before departure
  2. Check-in counters
  3. 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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The Cathay Pacific Wing 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.

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

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.

The 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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The Crew

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

  1. Hot Towels Before the Meal: Yes, there is also an antiseptic towel on the tray when the meal arrives
  2. Welcome drink: Cathay Delight – made with kiwi, coconut juice and a hind of mint
  3. 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

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The Salad

A seasonal salad with a citrus vinaigrette.

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The Main Course

Spicy Thai green curry with steamed rice and kalian. This dish 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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Dessert

A selection of Hägen-Dazs ice cream – chocolate chip, vanilla or cookies and cream.

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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

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:

  1. one full empty page in your passport (the stamp they put in it is enormous)
  2. THB 1000
  3. a passport photo
  4. a copy of your ticket to depart Thailand
  5. a completed immigration form
  6. 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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