This was my first time flying Cathay Pacific first class, and the anticipation was almost unbearable! I had read many trip reports and reviews and had a good idea of what to expect. Speaking of expectations; mine were high, as Cathay Pacific is largely considered one of the best first class products in the sky, with a great hard product and consistently good service.
Cathay Pacific first class reward space is fairly easy to find with flexible travel dates. Generally speaking, one seat will be released per route roughly a year in advance when the route is made available for sale, and again two weeks prior to departure. While I’ve never personally seen more than 1 seat open a year in advance, I have sometimes seen 2 or 3 open reward seats at T-14 days. I started looking for availability in October for travel in the new year. I used Alaska Mileage Plan for the redemption, which allowed for flexible departure airports as Alaska allows positioning flights on the same ticket at no extra charge, and has a great route network from the west coast. I found availability from Los Angeles near the end of January and decided to book what was supposed to be a weekend in Hong Kong. However, Japan Airlines became bookable with Alaska Air Mileage Plan shortly after I started planning my trip, so naturally I decided to book another ticket to experience Japan Airlines first class and business class from New Delhi – Tokyo – Jakarta, which then quickly became an 11-day trip around the world.
Brad, Britt and I stayed at The Four Seasons Vancouver Hotel the night before my flight to Los Angeles and had a fantastic time (despite some original confusion regarding photographs at the hotel).
The plan was for Britt to drive me to Bellingham after checkout, essentially meaning my holiday could start a day earlier! The Four Seasons was great, and actually my first stay at any of their properties. Although not a very ‘points friendly’ hotel (they have no loyalty program), most of The Four Seasons properties I’ve looked into participate in The American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts Program, which is available exclusively to American Express Platinum Cardmembers in Canada and can offer great value, especially on short one-night stays. I grabbed an Alaska flight from Bellingham to Los Angeles via Seattle the night before my flight for a few reasons:
- My flight to Hong Kong was scheduled to depart Los Angeles at 8:25am, and although there were positioning flights available early the same day, I always prefer to minimize the risk of misconnecting by being at the airport as early as possible for an international flight, which in this case meant the evening before.
- This was a very complicated international itinerary with many stops and hotel stays. Normally I wouldn’t worry so much about misconnecting or a delayed flight, but for this trip I had to have some padding in my schedule as any irregular operation could be messy.
- I had read moderately good reviews of The Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Airport hotel, which had recently undergone a multi-million dollar renovation, and thought this would be a great opportunity to stay at the property and offer a review for the blog.
I woke up at roughly 5:30 for my flight to Hong Kong, knowing I wanted to spend some time in The Qantas First Class Lounge in the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. This is a lounge that has been praised by many travellers, and unfortunately my high expectations weren’t quite met, although I still had an enjoyable time (not as enjoyable as my visit to the Cathay Pacific lounge at Vancouver Airport).
Boarding was scheduled to start at 7:40am, but was delayed by about ten minutes. I had left the lounge a bit early as I wanted to get a couple of pics of the Boeing 777 that would take me to Hong Kong, but unfortunately due to the gate location, I wasn’t able to get a good shot. What was surprising was how empty the gate area was due to it being Chinese New Year.
Cathay Pacific 897
Los Angeles (LAX) – Hong Kong (HKG)
Saturday, January, 28
Arrive: 4:00pm (+1 day)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 1A (First Class)
Boarding began at approximately 8:00am and started with the first class cabin, which consisted of myself and one other passenger. The entire business class cabin boarded through the forward door shortly after us which meant they were coming through the first class cabin as I was trying to take photos. I also found the ground service to be a little rushed compared to other flights, maybe due to the traffic in the cabin or maybe because the captain was trying to push back on time after the delayed boarding. The in-flight service manager introduced herself first, followed by the two flight attendants who would be servicing the first class cabin. The crew was Hong Kong based, and seemed very friendly on introduction. I was offered a pre-departure beverage, and of course I chose the Krug, which came with a warm, richly scented towel.
My initial impression of the cabin was that it was spacious! The first class cabin consists of only 6 seats in a 1-1-1 configuration over two rows. Seat 1a and 2a are considerably more private since there is a partial wall separating them from the other four seats. I had selected seat 1a prior to departure by calling the North American Cathay Pacific office (this seat is normally reserved for elite members only). Considering there was only one other passenger in first on the flight, the flight attendant offered to use seat 2a as my bed, which I gladly accepted.
The entire boarding process was very fast, with only 71 passengers on the entire flight. I still managed to have a couple of glasses of Krug and take a shameless selfie despite the express service.
It took about 25 minutes between pushback and take-off, with some good plane spotting opportunities, as I always love seeing the traffic at LAX.
The seatbelt sign was turned off about 10 minutes after take-off, at which point I got comfortable and started exploring the various functions of my seat.
I really can’t stress enough how spacious the cabin felt, partly due to the configuration of seats but also because there are no overhead bins in first class. Instead, each seat has a closet built into the suite with ample room for my two carry-on bags and hanging items.
Seat storage is also not limited, with a pocket below the IFE screen for literature or small items, a large cupboard on the window side under the IFE controller, and a small pocket on the aisle side wall where the safety information was located.
It’s hard to explain in words just how wide this seat feels. It would be easy (and comfortable) for two average size adults to sit beside each other, with an official seat width of 36 inches. Thankfully there is an armrest that folds down for added comfort, otherwise the seat could be too wide for some (if that’s even a thing).
Across from the seat was the ottoman footrest, which could also double as a buddy seat for couples travelling together. The privacy of the first class seats means people travelling together will have a tough time being social while in their assigned seats. While the ottoman can be used during flight (dining), it must be vacant during taxi, takeoff, and landing, despite it having a seatbelt.
The seats were controlled electronically through a small touchscreen display, which I found intuitive and simple. The seat could be adjusted in various ways, including lumbar and massage function, and of course, could be converted into a fully flat bed.
There is also a one-touch button to convert the seat fully flat, along with a control for the footwell light.
Each seat came equipped with individual power outlets, which is standard on most airlines. What I liked about this outlet was the location. Some airlines really fail at locating their power ports conveniently, whereas this one was perfect for hiding cords right between the seat and IFE monitor, on the window wall.
Lighting at the seat was fantastic, with individual reading lamps on either side, an overhead light, three full windows, and footwell lighting. The overhead light and footwell lamp could be controlled using conveniently located buttons on either side of the seat, while the reading lights could be turned on at the source.
Menus were distributed shortly after takeoff with breakfast being served first, with snacks available anytime and dinner just prior to landing. It should also be noted that Cathay Pacific features ‘dine on demand’, meaning meals could be ordered at anytime during the flight, and in whatever order you wanted, meaning I could have started with dinner service although it was 9:30am.
I found Cathay Pacific’s drink menu to be somewhat lacking compared to other first class carriers. While I definitely enjoyed the Krug, I wasn’t keen on either of the white wine options.
Cathay Pacific doesn’t get consistently good reviews for catering, although I found most of the food good or excellent, though not on par with other carriers, like ANA. I decided to stick with the western options, which didn’t disappoint. Breakfast started with fresh fruit:
I love the welcome note from the cabin crew!
Following the fruit was a bread basket, with a bagel, muffin and croissant:
I was almost full by the time the main course arrived, which consisted of freshly scrambled eggs, sausage, potato, ham, mushrooms and tomato.
I decided to work for a couple hours after breakfast, as I felt way too full to sleep. The flight time was scheduled at 15 hours with an arrival shortly after 4:00pm the following day in Hong Kong. I’m a fan of daytime flights to Asia from the west coast as I find them easiest for jet-lag management. My strategy is to stay awake as long as I can, have a short nap mid-flight, and arrive somewhat rested but tired (it feels like a very long day). Then on arrival I freshen up, have dinner, and stay awake as long as possible. I usually last until 10pm, and wake up the following morning rested and almost entirely adjusted to the new time zone.
The inflight entertainment on Cathay Pacific was great, with a large 17 inch adjustable monitor. I found the selections to be good, with a wide variety of western movies and television shows. I mostly watch movies on my MacBook and have the IFE screen on the moving flight map, although I did watch a few episodes of House of Cards.
The live exterior camera was a cool feature for take-off and landing, but was basically all glare mid-flight.
The seat was very comfortable in relax mode, with many different ways to adjust seat recline and lumbar support. I also appreciated the arm rest and was easily able to get comfortable for a couple hours of television.
I had changed into my pyjamas shortly after take-off. PJ’s are by PYE, and are high quality and very comfortable. They are on the heavy side, so those who are sensitive to warmth may want to pack something else. I did read a lot of reviews of warm cabin temperatures (no individual air vents on this flight) but I found the cabin very comfortable, even under the duvet. Amenities are by Aesop, and very good quality, although somewhat lacking in variety. The kit itself is quite boring/cheap compared to what other airlines offer and ultimately I left it behind (I did take the Aesop products, though). Cathay Pacific also provides Bose noise cancelling headphone for first class passengers, which are fantastic!
After a couple hours of television I decided to get a good look at the bathroom. The space on the 777 is somewhat small, especially considering some airlines have showers in their first class lavatories, but was nice nonetheless. Amenities were by Aesop, and there were plenty of fresh hand towels stocked at all times. The bathroom was spotless the entire flight, with the toilet paper being re-folded after each use.
By the time I returned from the bathroom, the flight attendant had already turned seat 2A into a bed for my use. The turndown service is impressive, with a soft mattress topper placed on the fully flat seat, along with luxurious linens and duvet in addition to very comfortable pillows. I can’t imagine anyone having a tough time getting comfortable, as it felt almost as large as a standard twin bed.
For some reason the guy seated in 1K kept one of his windows partially opened the entire flight. It wasn’t open enough to see anything (not that there’s much to see over the pacific), but just enough to light up the entire cabin. I’m surprised the cabin attendants didn’t ask him to lower the shade, which seems to be the norm on ultra-longhaul flights.
I managed to sleep for a couple of hours and woke up feeling a bit hungry. We were about halfway through the flight at this point and I decided to order a snack. I settled on the shrimp quesadilla, which was delicious, cooked perfectly, and served with guacamole, salsa, hot sauce, and sour cream. I also ordered a couple of Heineken to really complete the dish.
After my snack I decided to take a tour of business and economy class. It was strange seeing a 777 so empty! Business class had maybe 10 people while economy and premium economy had about 60 combined total. I managed to get a couple pics but the quality is bad due to the low light.
I fell back asleep for another hour or so after my walk, and woke up feeling refreshed and ready to work. About 2.5 hours prior to arrival I put my laptop away and asked for dinner service to start. I scrolled through the IFE and decided to watch Argo during the meal service, which would take about 90 minutes in total. The meal started with a glass of Krug along with amuse bouche, which was a nice smoked salmon dish.
I selected the western option again, and skipped the soup all together. I was still somewhat full from my beer and snack but didn’t want to skip the meal entirely. After the amuse bouche came the caviar service, which was delicious as always. I love the presentation, including the mother of pearl spoon. It was served with all the usual accoutrements and bread basket.
For the main I ordered steak, which was the thickest airplane steak I’ve ever seen. It was really good, although slightly overcooked (I ordered medium rare, it came medium). The side potato and beans were delicious and well-cooked.
The entire meal service took about 90 minutes, at which point we were about an hour outside of Hong Kong. Unfortunately the views on approach were limited due to heavy fog.
Touchdown was shortly after 4:00pm, with a relatively quick taxi to the gate. It was great to see an Air Canada 777 at the gate, along with some other unique carriers I’m not accustomed to seeing in Canada.
This was the longest flight I’ve been on to date, at just over 15 hours, and I wish it could have been longer. There was nothing I didn’t love about my Cathay Pacific first class flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, and I can’t wait to sample their product again. Although not necessarily cutting edge in any one department, I find their seat to be perfectly comfortable with the right amount of privacy, despite not being fully enclosed. I thought the service was top-notch (although I would be interested to see how it compares on a full flight), and I found the catering either very good or excellent across the board.
Using Alaska Mileage Plan requires 70,000 miles for first class to Asia from North America and represents tremendous value, especially considering that includes a positioning flight in North America (on Alaska metal only) and an onward flight from Hong Kong to another Asian destination in business or first class, along with a stopover in Hong Kong (if desired). Check out my recommendations for the best travel reward cards in Canada on tips to earn enough miles – 70,000 miles is easier to accrue than most think.
Cathay Pacific continues to be a leader for premium cabin travel, despite their product being somewhat dated compared to some other airlines. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again for the ultra-longhaul journey from North America to Asia and would recommend them to anyone looking for a memorable flight across the Pacific!