REVIEW: Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong - Chicago
Cathay Pacific (CX) Flight 806 - Hong Kong (HKG) to Chicago O'Hare (ORD)
Boeing 777-300ER, First Class, Seats 1D & 1K
My flight in Cathay Pacific's notoriously glamorous first class cabin started in the same (decidedly unglamorous) way all of my flights out of Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok Airport do - slurping a steaming hot bowl of dan dan mian and working my way through two baskets filled with doughy, savoury xiao long bao soup dumplings. Never mind that Cathay Pacific has six lounges strewn about the massive airport complex that are all accessible to first class passengers. Never mind that these lounges are filled with fine champagnes, food catered by the Four Seasons Hotel, and even has its own noodle bar serving bowls of dan dan mian.
I'm a creature of very few habits but the ones I do have I honor religiously. Without fail if I am departing from Hong Kong, I make my pilgrimage to the Crystal Jade eatery on the ground level of the airport's airside arrival's hall and eat the exact same meal. If I were on death row and were given the choice of my very last meal before death, dan dan mian and xiao long bao from Crystal Jade would be in the running. I even had one of my nicest, most serendipitous travel moments happen while eating this meal about a year ago, which I wrote about in my post titled "La Mien and Dumplings with Julie".
All of this rambling is my way of explaining to you why I don't have any photos or commentary to give you about the check-in experience or the first class lounge in this review. Unfortunately my fiance and I spent way too much time enjoying my traditional meal that we ended up having to essentially toss a fistful of Hong Kong dollars at our waitress before running through the airport Home Alone-style to make our flight back home to Chicago. I'm sorry I won't have details on those aspects of the flight, but I'm not sorry about having enjoyed that meal. Not even a little bit.
We arrived at our boarding gate a few minutes before the scheduled boarding time. Cathay Pacific generally provides very efficient, coordinated control of their gates in Hong Kong. Uniformed staff make their way through the crowds gathering around the gate and start asking passengers to form lines for first, business, and economy class boarding. As we walked up one of the uniformed staff members asked to see our boarding passes and when she noted we were flying in first class guided us to the empty first class boarding queue. We waited there for less than a minute before someone approached us and invited us to walk down the jet bridge to take our seats.
Cathay Pacific's jet bridge lead down toward to the plane and then have separate paths designated for first class passenger and business/economy passengers. We headed down the path marked for first class passengers and were greeted warmly by two flight attendants (FAs) who lead us to our seats for this flight - 1D and 1K.
Cathay's first class cabin has been reviewed in-depth in so many ways across the internet that I don't want to take too much time going over every minute detail available on the product. I'll focus more on our individual experience and general thoughts.
The seats are quite spacious though they aren't nearly as big as the seats you'll find on some other carriers, nor are they as private as they lack the sliding doors sometimes found in first class to allow passengers to close off their seat from FAs and other passengers. Still, this is a very nice product and it does provide a great deal of space and privacy.
As you can see from the panorama above, the seat shells do a pretty good job of wrapping around and shielding a passenger from the aisle. When seated, you definitely have a partition separating you from any traffic passing in the aisle. There is an opening between the partition and the front shell casing of the seat where there's additional storage and the in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen is held.
The seat isn't the widest in the industry but is still very spacious. There's enough room for two to sit in the seat, perhaps one and a half if you're a bit wider like I happened to be at the time of this flight. Still, there's tons of lateral space for a passenger to relax and move from side to side. The cushioned area of the seat on the side also folds down with an arm rest should you find the need to prop it up on something.
In the shell of the front part of the seat is a little alcove where a foot rest is tucked away. On top of the foot rest is a pillow with velcro on its back to keep it upright and attached to the wall. While its main purpose is to be a foot rest, it also serves as an additional seat inside the suite for a visitor. This is a nice feature if you're traveling with someone and they stop by to talk to you, or it can even be used if you wanted to dine together with a travel companion. As you can see in the photos above, the leg room is quite expansive. I am 5'8" and when my legs were fully extended I still was unable to place my legs on the rest. I was only able to get my feet up onto the leg rest when I reclined my seat a bit.
The seat itself is very comfortable though when it's in a completely upright position (the required position for take off and landing), the rigid angle of the back can be a bit severe if you're unable to recline for a long time (such as delays). Once you're in the air and able to adjust the seat according to your own desires, that's when the true comfort unfolds.
The seat can be controlled through a touchscreen panel on the side of the seat's shell. Options to adjust individual parts of the seat such as leg, back, head, etc. are easy to work. You can activate a seat massage feature from the screen as well as turn the overhead light on and off.
If all of that seems like too much work to you, there are three preset buttons on the side of the shell that you can push for quick transition - the upright take off/landing position, the fully flat bed option, and the relaxation/semi-reclined option.
There are a few other details to the seat of note. There are flowers placed into holders along the wall at each seat, which is a nice little aesthetic touch. In addition to the overhead light, there's a reading light along the side of the seat shell if you are looking to make progress on a book or Kindle but don't necessarily want the overbearing wattage of the overhead light.
The entire area of the seat along the fuselage of the plane is a faux wood top where you can place any variety of items during the flight. Of course, placing items here during take off and landing is strictly forbidden. There's a raised ring on top of the counter area where you can place a drink. Next to the touchscreen to control the seat is a handheld remote that controls the IFE. Next to that is a small cubby where you can store small items. I placed my passport and my Kindle inside of it and they fit perfectly.
There's also a USB connection port and a universal charging port located along the shell of the shelving along the fuselage of the plane. It's great that you can charge your electronics at the seat but I found the location a bit odd since the plugs and cords hang into your lap area a bit.
There was also an awkwardly-shaped storage area directly below the screen for the IFE.
Overall the seat is very comfortable and provides a very good amount of privacy. It's not the leading seat out there being offered by any airline but it's a solid, tried and true product that features luxury and serves up comfort to a high degree. Cathay Pacific has nothing to fret about when it comes to this first class product.
Now, back the actual flight ....
While we were settling in to our seats and putting our carry-on baggage away, the in-flight service manager stopped by our seats to welcome us on board and wish us a pleasant journey. She noted that someone would be around soon to get us a beverage of our choice to help us settle in and relax. Sure enough, one of the FAs came by a few moments later and took our requests - champagne for Zach and just some water for me. She returned a few moments later and set down our drinks.
The pre-departure beverages were dropped off with Cathay's signature amuse bouche - a nice little snack provided to first class passenger prior to departure.
Today's offering was diced bits of salmon in some sort of gelee. A toasted slice of focaccia accompanied it. The FA also dropped off a hot, scented towel for us to "refresh" ourselves with. I'll admit - I'm always slightly confused on just how to use these. Are they just for your hands? Do you wipe your face with them? Is both okay? I've seen a variety of people use them in various ways in the past. I stick with my hands.
As the plane filled up with passengers and we enjoyed our snacks, the FAs swung by again to drop off a pair of pajamas and Bose headset (sanitized for your enjoyment). The pajamas provided will be in the size that the FAs deem appropriate for you, but don't be afraid to ask for the size you feel is most appropriate. CX FAs always seem to want to give me mediums or extra large, despite at the time being a very comfortable large.
Soon enough the plane's doors were closed and we were ready to head out. Four out of the six seats in first class were filled up today, two of which were occupied by us. Hong Kong never seems to take very long when it comes to queuing up flights for take off, and before I knew it the safety demonstration had been screened and our plane was rocketing off into the sky toward Chicago.
After about fifteen minutes the captain turned off the seatbelt sign and our crew hopped into action. First order of business was to hand out menus! What follows are a few snap shots of the Cathay Pacific first class menu on this flight .....
Like many long haul flights of this length, our flight would feature a lunch service to start followed by access to a list of snacks for the mid-flight time. We'd end with a brunch service just prior to landing in Chicago. Cathay Pacific allows first class passengers to dine at their leisure, so there's really no need to eat immediately after take off. While this option is offered by quite a few airlines flying the friendly skies, in practice I find that passengers don't really take advantage of the flexibility that often. We were no different on this flight and opted for lunch immediately. Despite having eaten a big meal just an hour prior to boarding. And running through an airport. Gah.
The FA working our side of the cabin came by with her clip board and attentively took our order for lunch. I started by ordering a ginger ale to drink, which was brought out promptly and dropped off along with a plate of warm cashew nuts. Another FA stopped by to drop off the Cathay Pacific first class amenity kit.
A bit disappointing to be honest. Some rather run of the mill oral hygiene items along with some ear plugs, a comb, and shoe horn. The only really unique elements were the Aesop cosmetic creams which were good quality but sadly not scented to my liking.
I also fired up Cathay's in-flight entertainment system, which is a very solid offering. Apparently I didn't take any pictures of the system other than this one, so I apologize. Cathay offers quite a few options in terms of new Hollywood releases, Cantonese, Mandarin, and other Asian language movies, television shows, and music. It's not as vast as Emirates but is definitely a step up from what I usually see on Japan Airlines or Malaysia Airlines.
My lunch started with the caviar starter. A chilled tin of caviar is placed on a plate along with some traditional accompaniments. Some blinis, diced onion, egg, and a lemon. I liked that the lemon was contained within a mesh netting so you can squeeze it without worrying about the seeds flinging about. The FA took the liberty of bringing me a glass of champagne to go with the caviar, though I didn't have the heart to tell her I don't drink any liquor.
As is traditional, a mother of pearl spoon is used for the caviar service. I'm not sure what to say about the caviar starter - it's caviar. I don't have a refined enough palate to tell you whether this caviar is better than any others I've had the opportunity to enjoy in the past. It's oily, salty, and enjoyable.
For my next course I opted for the mushroom cream soup. It's difficult to plate and serve a nice looking soup on an airplane, as the little bumps of turbulence generally cause the liquid to slosh around a bit - case in point above. Still, the soup itself was pretty tasty. A little salty with the fried onion bites sprinkled on top, but still a solid offering.
Next was the main - I opted for the centre cut sea bass 'acqua pazza' style with baked fennel and bottarga. Despite being a Chinese airline, I almost always opt for the European/American style dishes on Cathay Pacific when flying in business or first class. After years of flying in both classes, I've learned that (at least in my very humble opinion) their Chinese dishes seem to come across as a bit Panda Express-y. Lots of breaded fried meats in sickly sweet sauces. Not good food for a plane ride.
This fish dish was, again, pretty decent. The filet was moist and the pop of flavor from the fennel and bottarga (fish roe) worked well up in the air. The plating of the dish was a bit messy, though I'm not a stickler for stuff like that. You're serving me a filet of fish with roasted fennel at 35,000 feet in the air over the Pacific Ocean - the plate can be a little sloppy.
Topping off the meal was the panna cotta with white chocolate, amaretto, and preserved cherries. There was also a small stick of some sort of nut brittle on the plate, unmentioned on the menu. This was actually my favorite dish of the entire meal - creamy, subtle, palate-cleansing. The crisp bite of the brittle contrasted nicely with the silky smoothness of the panna cotta.
With only a partial load in first class, the FA swung by and dropped off a small pint of strawberry ice cream. This was listed on the snack menu but I'm guessing they felt like they had more than enough for the remainder of the flight and were off-loading a bit of it on me. I'm never one to turn down free ice cream!
The meal ended with a tea or coffee service. I opted for a pot of jasmine tea, which seemed to surprise the FA. I requested the Fuding jasmine silver fur though the pot of tea that was brought to me had a tea bag hanging from it. In the past when I ordered this tea it was loose leaf, so I'm not sure if this was a change in packaging or I received a different type of tea.
The tea service is coupled with an offering of pralines by the FA, placed delicately on a small plate and dropped off at my seat. I don't eat chocolate so these remained untouched though Zach said there were very good and a nice touch to mark the end of the meal service.
With lunch successfully packed into my belly, I decided the next best thing to do was get a little bit of sleep while we crossed the Pacific Ocean. I grabbed the pajama set the FA had handed to me prior to take off and then headed to the bathroom. Cathay's first class rest rooms are always clean. A large basin sink with a touch actived water faucet.
Like the amenity kits, the products inside the bathroom were provided by Australian skin care company Aesop.
I opened up my pajama bag to change into something more comfortable. The pajama kit includes a top with a Chinese collar, matching pants, and matching slippers. The clothing was pretty good quality, the kind that you can save and use over and over again in the future. The slippers were a nice touch but of a throwaway quality. Flimsy, good for on the plane though.
When I exited the bathroom a flight attendant was waiting for me with hangers to make sure my clothes was properly stowed in my seat's closet and didn't get wrinkled. A nice, thoughtful element of service. This also happened to me on Japan Airlines first class, the only other first class product I've flown where someone met me at the bathroom door to help me with my clothes.
Having told them that I intending to sleep, the flight attendants had already converted my seat into a bed. The seat can fully reclined to 180 degrees flat and a mattress and comforter is placed on top. A full sized, comfortable pillow was plucked down at the head of the seat. Overall, Cathay first class has a very comfortable lay out for sleeping and resting during a flight. It's not actually my favorite first class seat for sleeping (both Japan Airlines and Etihad gave me better rest when I've flown with them), but Cathay is nothing to shake a stick at. A quality sleep on offer here.
I slept for a good six hours before waking up halfway across the Pacific. I wasn't particularly interested in watching anything on the IFE so I did the other thing that's almost universally acknowledged as a great way to pass some time - eat!
From the snack menu I ordered the roasted duck with vermicelli noodles and some egg tarts. Neither one was a particularly memorable meal, simply solid offerings to deal with some slight hunger pangs. With my hunger taken care of, I decided to skip watching the IFE again and tried to catch a bit more sleep. My intention was to sleep for just another hour or two, but ended up waking up as the flight attendants were starting to offer the breakfast options prior to landing at Chicago's O'Hare International airport. Ooops.
Seeing me rise from my slumber, the flight attendants swung by to make sure to take my breakfast order.
After two full weeks in Asia, I was ready for a little taste of America. I kicked off breakfast with a simple bowl of corn flakes with milk and a glass of grapefruit juice. It's just a bowl of Kellogg's corn flakes so there isn't really much to discuss here.
I also asked for some yogurt, which was brought out to me and turned out to be apricot-flavored. I was a little surprised that the yogurt was simply put down on my tray table with little fanfare. I thought maybe they'd have the yogurt in a separate dish like the corn flakes? It didn't bother me at all but did seem to be a bit incongruous with the lofty service ideals Cathay has for first class.
For my main dish I went with the dim sum selection. A small ceramic pot with a few little tidbits inside. A tofu skin roll, shrimp dumpling, shumai, spinach dumpling, and some sort of meatball. Dim sum is hard to do on a plane, and it showed a bit with these dishes. Each dim sum piece was 95% moist and succulent and 5% dried and crunchy on the edges. Even though it was only a small portion, it really created an off-putting texture and ended my meal on a bad note.
As I had woke up a bit late for breakfast, by the time I had finished my mediocre dumplings we had started our decent. I hopped up quickly to change back into my street clothes while the cabin crew prepared the plane for landing. We sailed over the expanses of farm land as we slowly lowered out of the sky and our adventure on Cathay Pacific's first class came to an end.
This was my first review of Cathay Pacific first class but it's far from the first time I've flown it. Other than Japan Airlines, this is the first class product I've flown the most. It has a storied, pristine reputation among many travelers and aviation geeks, and I generally feel that's a status that's well-deserved. The service in Cathay's first class is consistently friendly and welcoming. The seats are quite private and comfortable, offering a variety of lounging positions and a fully flat bed. I also really like the variety of non-alcoholic drinks the carrier offers.
The few things that I wish were better? Catering on Cathay always leaves me quite underwhelmed. The food just never impresses and on a few occasions has just been downright bad. Though I didn't watch any of the IFE on this flight, I do find it slightly annoying that they repeat the same 2 or 3 commercials at the beginning of every program. If you're watching a sitcom, that becomes particularly tiresome and annoying.
Overall I think Cathay Pacific first class is an excellent way to travel, and I can see why so many people hold it amongst the best ways to traverse the skies. I don't think they excel in any specific area, but they do great in almost all areas that the overall experience still drifts towards the top of the heap.