Cathay Pacific continues to be one of my favourite airlines for their generous award availability, consistent premium class products, and fantastic route network to Asia from the west coast. I tried their first class product from Los Angeles to Hong Kong and business class from Hong Kong to Delhi on my crazy 11-day trip around the world earlier this year. Both flights were fantastic, and I was really excited to try the slightly updated seat on their newly delivered Airbus A350!
I booked the flight using 50,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles by transferring 40,000 SPG points (5,000 bonus miles for each 20,000 SPG points transferred). American Express is currently offering a 20,000 SPG point welcome bonus on their Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card, so now’s a great time to get the card!
CX855 is a new 3x weekly flight operated by Cathay Pacific direct between Vancouver and Hong Kong. The 9:30am departure time is great for those looking to get into Hong Kong in the early afternoon (on the following day) and has a flight time that varies between 12 and 14 hours. I decided to stay at The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel the night before my departure for a stress free morning before my flight. I’ve reviewed this property in the past for those looking to learn more about my favourite airport hotel!
Cathay Pacific has a beautiful lounge that recently underwent a full renovation. Those familiar with international lounge standards will be impressed with the decor, comfortable furniture, luxurious spa inspired shower suites with Aesop amenities, and, of course, the Noodle Bar. I reviewed this lounge on a previous flight to New York and consider it one of my overall favourites in North America.
I went to the gate about 15 minutes prior to our scheduled boarding time to get a couple pics of the beautiful new Airbus A350 that would be taking me to Hong Kong.
A few minutes later I was paged by the gate agent, which is usually not a good thing. I made my way to the counter to find a very friendly agent holding my passport and boarding pass!! Apparently I had put it down while taking photos and forgot to pick it up…. whoops.
Boarding began right on time and started with passengers requiring special assistance or those with infants. I had selected seat 20K, a window seat in the rear mini cabin. The business class cabin has a total of 38 seats, with 30 up front and 8 in the rear (my preference is always the smaller cabin for more privacy and generally less noise). All of the seats have direct aisle access in a 1-2-1 configuration. The reverse herringbone design offers a lot of privacy, especially window seats as they point slightly away from the aisle. I would recommend couples traveling together to select two of the middle seats if you plan to interact during the flight.
Cathay Pacific 855
Vancouver (YVR) – Hong Kong (HKG)
Thursday, April 13, 2017
Arrive: 2:30pm (+1 day)
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
Seat: 20k (Business Class)
While in theory the smaller cabin should have been relatively quiet with less foot traffic, a bunch of passengers from premium economy were coming up front to use the business class lavatory on the other side of the bulkhead from my seat. This went on for a few hours before one of the cabin crew reminded them it was off limits. Another small issue was the light from the galley. I’m not sure why, but the curtain remained open for most of the flight, with a bit of light pollution hitting my seat.
This was definitely not ideal, though it wasn’t nearly as bad as my flight from Paris to Chicago in Polaris First Class on the old United 767 when half the cabin crew hung out and talked loudly with the curtain open the entire flight…
Boarding seemed to take about 20 minutes with the friendly crew coming around to introduce themselves and offer pre-departure beverages. I had a glass of water since it was only 9am.
Pushback was a few minutes ahead of schedule with a longer than normal taxi at Vancouver Airport.
The takeoff was long and smooth with a rather bumpy climb out of Vancouver. The seatbelt sign was turned off about 20 minutes after departure at which point the crew started the breakfast service.
I wouldn’t say the crew was super friendly on this flight, though certainly better than most North American carriers. While the service was good, it felt a bit robotic and kind of like an assembly line. It wasn’t in the same league as my first class flight on Cathay Pacific (though first class should be better than business) and was not as polished as the service on my business class flight from Hong Kong to New Delhi.
Breakfast started with a glass of champagne and a selection of fresh pastries and a small fruit plate.
After the starter came an omelette served with baked beans, sausage and roasted tomato. While not the best breakfast I’ve had on a plane, it was perfectly fine and tasted better than the picture looks.
The Full menu for our 14-hour flight was a bit disappointing, as Cathay Pacific still hadn’t implemented ‘dine on demand’ – a feature many world class carriers offer in the business cabin and a nice option with such a long flight crossing the international date line.
The seat on the A350 is much the same as other long-haul configured planes, such as the Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 with some very minor cosmetic updates, increased storage, and reduction in seat width by about an inch. There have been multiple complaints of quality control issues with the new seats and I witnessed some on my bulkhead seat, such as cheap finishes in the footwell area, a panel coming away from the wall, and an armrest that would collapse into the stowed position if I put any weight on it.
As you can see the seat is only slightly updated from the other lie-flat business class seat Cathay Pacific offers.
The change most people will notice is the improved in-flight entertainment and the option to purchase wifi for a reasonable fee. The new in-flight entertainment screen is slightly larger than the old version and comes with a greater selection of entertainment, games and interactive maps. There is also an improved touchscreen remote for easy access to all the features.
My favourite feature was definitely the tail cam, which provides an exterior view of the plane. It was fascinating to see the curvature of the earth from up in the air!
I purchased the wifi and had great connectivity for most of the flight, which is something I value a lot as I generally work a great deal of the flight. I think I watched almost the entire first season of House Of Cards (probably the 10th time… It seems to be an in-flight tradition).
The rest of the seat is basically unchanged from the older generation, with the exception of improved storage and updated entertainment remote. Seat controls are easy to use and are still controlled electronically with physical buttons. There is also a small reading light in addition to the overhead lamp.
I had no problem fitting my 15 inch MacBook in the storage bin beside the seat, which was great. Notice how the finishes don’t look especially high-quality on this (almost) brand new Airbus…
There was also a little cabinet which housed the ‘noise cancelling headphones’ (I used my own), along with a power source for personal electronics.
We were a few hours into the flight at this point and the cabin was becoming increasingly hot – a common occurrence on Asian carriers. It was time to check-out the lavatory (now that the cabin crew had stopped the stream of economy passengers from coming forward) and get changed out of my heavy sweater and jeans.
The lavatory was fairly small and simple, but definitely felt new. Amenities were by Jurlique, and the cabin crew did a good job and keeping the washroom clean throughout the flight.
I came back to my seat and decided to catch a couple hours rest. Cathay Pacific doesn’t provide pyjamas in business class and the bedding was fairly simple (though comfortable) for such a long flight.
The seat reclines into a fully flat bed, and with the armrest lowered, provides a fair amount of space to stretch out. I’m 5’8 and had no problem getting comfortable.
Cathay Pacific provides a decent amenity kit for business class passengers containing all the usual amenities along with some products by Jurlique.
I wasn’t quite ready for sleep so I called the attendant to get a gin+soda, which she brought out with a small dish of mixed nuts.
Generally speaking, Cathay Pacific cabin crew stay out of the aisles during the flight but are lightning fast at responding to the call button. This is in contrast to carriers like Singapore Airlines where the cabin crew are up and down the aisle every couple of minutes to check on passengers. I actually prefer the ‘call when needed’ approach, as foot traffic in the aisle tends to get annoying.
I eventually fell asleep and managed to get about 4 hours of solid rest, which was surprising since it was still the middle of the day. I really prefer daytime flights to Asia as I tend to nap on the plane, arrive somewhat rested mid-day/early evening local time and stay awake as late as possible (usually until 10pm local time). I’ve always been able to sleep through the first night with this strategy and don’t usually feel much jet lag!
Lunch service began a couple of hours outside of Hong Kong and started with a a smoked salmon and crab meat appetizer, which was delicious! This was served with a green salad and some yummy garlic bread.
I like how Cathay Pacific rolls out a cart with all of the options, as I tend to choose my food based on appearance rather than how they are described in the menu. In this case, however, everything looked quite awful, so I went with what sounded best, which was the steamed chicken with Chinese sausage, vegetables and jasmine rice. Despite the appearance, it actually tasted quite good!
A tasty cheese and fruit course followed the main dish, followed my a chocolate mousse and raspberry dessert.
With the rest of the cabin up and eating, I took the opportunity to get a good shot over the pacific. I love being seated so close to the engine!
We started our descent into Hong Kong on schedule, but due to it being rush hour at the airport, we got put in a holding pattern for what felt like eternity (probably closer to 30 minutes) which resulted in us being a little bit late.
It’s always nice to see a familiar face abroad.
I was really, really, really excited to fly the new Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 in business class and ended up a little disappointed. Not to say this was a bad flight, but it just didn’t compare to my previous flights with them and I found the quality of the seats to be surprisingly poor. While the service was good, it didn’t feel personalized in any way, which is something some other carriers, such as Singapore Airlines, manage to do even in regional business class.
Cathay Pacific is still leagues ahead of most North American carriers and a fantastic option for those looking for a comfortable and consistent way to Asia from Canada or The United States. With 17 flights weekly operating direct from Vancouver to Hong Kong, this remains one of my favourite ways to cross the Pacific with great award availability for those booking last minute or well in advance. Using Alaska miles, reward flights start at 50,000 miles one-way in business class, with the option to layover in Hong Kong before carrying on to other destinations such as Southeast Asia, India, or Africa. Alaska Mileage Plan is a transfer partner of SPG, with points transferring at a 1:1 ratio with a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 SPG points transferred. For those of you who haven’t yet signed up for an American Express SPG Credit Card, Amex is currently offering a welcome bonus of 20,000 SPG points, which is a great start to getting a business class award with Cathay Pacific!