In January 2020, which feels like it as a different lifetime ago now, I made a quick trip back to Asia. For my return back to the states I found some last minute award bookings for Cathay Pacific First Class on a few Hong Kong to North America routes. Cathay Pacific first class has long been on my list to try, especially their famed Pier first class lounge and since I missed out on the insane error fare last year. Thus I went ahead and booked it.
Overall the experience was fantastic. The Pier First Class Lounge exceeded my high expectations and lives up to its reputation. The onboard experience was mostly good as well, with excellent seats, bedding and food but mixed bag when it came to service and crew and unclear soft product offerings (a mix of old and new amenities and F&B program).
I am glad I spent the miles and money on this flight. Experiencing The Pier alone made the journey worth it. Cathay Pacific is going through a real rough time between the protests and the current COVID-19 situation. I believe they will survive, but they will come out of this a different airline. It remains to be seen if their first class experience will be the same.
I had accrued some AAdvantage miles, and a handful were due to expire within a year. While I did not have enough for the full one-way first class redemption and the topping off for me was just over USD$1000, in retrospect I do not regret this decision at all even though it took me a while to commit to it. The total came down to 110,000 AAdvantage Miles and $67.35 in taxes fees, not including the amount to top off my AAdvantage miles. Confirmation and ticketing was near immediate. The nice thing is that with AA you can hold your award booking for 24 hours free of charge. This is what I did in considering the amount to top off. Topping off was also immediate.
I got both an AA confirmation and a CX confirmation. I call CX Hong Kong reservations to select seat 2A. 2A is probably the best seat in the 6 seat 1-1-1 cabin on CX 777-300ERs. It is the most private of all the seats. However, on the seat map it is blocked as a baby bassinet seat. In calling CX Hong Kong reservations, they were super quick to unblock and assign me seat 2A, after I agreed to the terms and conditions of the fact that its a baby bassinet seat and in the unlikely event of a baby in first class I would have to move to another seat. Thankfully no baby showed up on my flight at the last minute.
I had read mixed things about the rollout of the full suite of new soft product items for Cathay Pacific First that began in November 2019. Some have reported they got Bamford amenities but not the new F&B program, some routes received Krug Champagne while others received far less exclusive champagnes. Others received the full suite or pre-departure welcome note, tea, and champagne with hot towel, others did not. I decided to reach out to Cathay Pacific via Facebook and got immediate responses. The assured me that for CX806 HKGORD, that the full suite of new items had been rolled out. Much to my disappoint, this was not the case.
Date: January 13, 2020
Flight: CX 806 HKG – ORD
Aircraft: 4-class Boeing 777-300ER, B-KPN
Duration: 12:00PM – 11:15AM, 13 Hours 15 minutes in air
Seat: First Class, 2A
Distance: 7,790 miles
As mentioned in my The Wing and Pier First Class lounges post, CX has fantastic lounges in Hong Kong and the Pier is to date my favorite airline lounge experience.
After I spent about half an hour at The Wing, it was time to head to the gate. The First Class lane was already quite packed with a mix of actual first class passengers and Marco Polo/ One World elite members. As it was a U.S. bound flight there was extra security questioning at the gate. After about 10 minutes of waiting in line, the security team dispersed around the roped off area in front of the gate. Boarding began with special assistance and first class lane. After a quick questioning of where I arrived from, travel history and final destination, again with confusion that I arrived the night before and stayed at the airport, I was cleared to board.
I boarded through door 1 for First Class passengers, although throughout boarding a mix of business, premium economy and economy class passengers also found their way through this door and the first class cabin. I was shown to my seat 2A and given a quick walk through of the seat after they asked if it was my first time. I do like CX’s first class seats. The seat itself is massive and offers a ton of space, even if its not an enclosed suite with doors. The grey fabric mixed with the darker wood and various shades of grey paneling create for a warm, elegant and sophisticated aesthetic, a touch of fresh orchid by the window certainly helps. There is plenty of storage, a full size closet for carry-ons (smaller items fit under the ottoman) and bedding and clothes to hang, a seat pocket under the TV as well as reading material pocket next to the seat on the panel, and a small storage compartment by the seat controls. There is both a console and touch screen seat control. The downside is that the outlets are located closer to the ottoman, which mainly becomes an inconvenience when the massive tray table is out or when you are sleeping. There is also a set of basic seat function buttons located on the outer panel of the seat to use when in bed mode. Because the seat is so wide, there are two sets of reading lights on either side and you can pull down the armrest on the aisle side. The ottoman is large and includes a seatbelt for if you’d like to dine with a companion. The A side of the cabin feels private because the seats open to the aisle but dont face your neighbor as across the aisle is the “wall” for the middle section seats which face the K row of window seats. I was then offered my Pye pajamas, I wish Cathay Pacific still collaborated with Shanghai Tang on these, which included a nice pair of slippers inside as well.
Throughout the boarding process, my two flight attendants and the purser came by to introduce themselves as they brought along varying items. Ringo was the star. Throughout the flight he was enthusiastic, friendly, professional, proactive, noticed small details and went above and beyond. Renuka on the other hand was not so stellar and provided inconsistent service. Nonetheless they all addressed me by name throughout the entire flight and despite Renuka’s shortfalls in service, she was still very nice.
A flight attendant assisting the passenger in seat 1A offered to take his jacket to hang up. As I settled into my seat, no one came to offer me to hang my jacket even though it was clearly lay atop the closet. When I asked Renuka for assistance with my coat, she opened my closet and said I could hang it in there, but there was no space left for my large jacket after my carry-on and the bedding was all squeezed in there, she then seemingly reluctantly took my coat to hang.
Awaiting at my seat were three pillows, 1 hooked on to the seat, one main sleep pillow and a throw. Bose noise cancelling headphones were also already in one of the storage compartments. In the seat pocket under the TV was the Bamford amenity kit and a bottle of water. There is a large touch screen panel with a wide selection of films and TV shows, although the one thing I dont like about CX Studio are the advertisements before any feature film. And First Class passengers get free wifi throughout the entire flight!
Renuka came by to offer me a pre-departure drink. Very sadly what was on offer for CX806 was not Krug, it was Deutz Cuvee William Deutz 2006 Champagne. Renuka came back with an already poured glass with hot towel and nuts. Throughout the flight there would be inconsistency between bringing a bottle of alcohol out to pour in front of me and pouring in the galley. Sadly I did not receive the welcome tea and note served on a beautiful chrome tray, I flagged down the purser to inquire mainly out of curiosity and he said that they have had issues with having enough stock of the tea and as such not every flight gets catered with that service. The champagne was not bad, but I was fully expecting a real treat with Krug, one of my favorites.
The menu presented to me was also not the new leather bound menu. Nonetheless it was part of the new catering and was all presented with the new china. I do like that once again Cathay Pacific has a good mix of Western and Cantonese/Asian selections and keeps the selections rather homey and familiar rather than extravagant, minus the caviar service. There is no separate wine and beverage list but the list was not bad at all and I appreciate they too have gone with the trend of offering unique “discovery wines.” (Full menu at the end)
Ringo came by to take my order for after takeoff meal and beverage. CX is a la carte dine anytime in First Class, but given that it was right around noon by the time lunch would be served, it made sense to eat right after takeoff. I’ll go through what I ordered below. Breakfast order would be taken later in flight.
Before pushback I was handed a soft fleece Bamford blanket to use throughout the flight. During turndown a softer 600 thread count blanket would be used.
When I checked the seat map at check-in, only 3/6 seats were occupied, but we departed with 5/6 seats occupied, likely with last minute upgrades or re-accommodations as there was one North America flight that had been quite delayed/ cancelled if I recall correctly. First class flights are the few times I wish and hope boarding takes a long time. But once again, we boarded relatively quickly and soon we were making out way to the runway for departure.
Shortly after takeoff the crew went into full swing. Curtains were closed off and service began. I was brought an Amuse Bouche of creme freche, shrimp and avocado paired with a nice New Zealand Sauvignon blanc, 2018 Auntsfield Single Vinyeard, Marlborough, for this first beverage, Renuka brought the bottle out to show me before pouring in front of me. The wine was really quite tasty and went well with the refreshing amuse bouche. Renuka even came by to top off the wine for me.
Renuka then came by the set up my table. I didnt make anything of it during lunch service, but upon comparison to breakfast set up and looking at pictures online, I realized she had swapped the placement of the bread basket and salt/pepper ramekins. Look, not a huge deal and like bread was still fine and I dont eve use salt or pepper on a plane, but in my opinion consistency and going by correct placement is quite important as these things are designed and the process is created for a reason.
Shortly the caviar service was brought out. Cathay Pacific does not offer vodka to pair but of course that is available upon request. I forwent the vodka this time and only stuck with a glass of champagne, which I requested after she asked if I’d like more Sav Blac. But the bottle was not brought out and the glass was poured in the galley. Once again, inconsistent. The caviar was delicious, though to this day the best caviar service has been Lufthansa First.
Next up was my appetizers and soup. Smoked duck with veggies and a double boiled chicken soup with bamboo pith and conopy. The soup was lovely. I then switched to a 2014 Yarra Yering Dry Red. No. 2, Shiraz, Yarra Valley, Australia red wine, listed under “Discovery Wines.” Once again, no bottle was brought out. I know by this point I could have asked to look at or take a picture of the bottle and they probably would have been more than happy to bring it out. But I was hungry and enjoying my film and I try not to inconvenience the crew too much during main meal service as it seems all 5 of us first passengers were dining at the same time. That all being said, the wine was phenomenal. The only bottle I truly wished I had asked to see.
Next up Ringo brought out my main. Except it was not what I had ordered. I did not make anything of it as I assumed that perhaps while taking my order Ringo thought I order the full Chinese meal + the seasonal special. Nonetheless the Deep fried pork ribs with cranberry sauce, braised egg bean curd with brown shimeji mushroom and jasmine rice was very good and went well with the Yarra Yering. Ringo realize his mistake but by the time he came out to apologize, I had almost finished the food. He asked if I still wanted the seasonal special clay pot rice that I ordered and said it would take a few minutes to heat up and once again was very apologetic about the mistake. Thankfully I was very hungry and was willing to try everything in First Class, thus their mistake was really a blessing for me. The biggest regret I had on the flight was not agreeing to a refill of the Yarra, but instead switching to a 2006 Bordeaux. Ringo brought out the bottle to pour, sadly the wine just wasnt as good as the Aussie Shiraz.
After clearing my first main, 15 minutes later Ringo came back with Clay Pot Chicken with Foie Gras sausage. It was delicious. While not quite the same as eating a hole in the wall clay pot rice in Hong Kong, it was still fragrant and delicious and the Foie Gras Sausage was quite special. I ended the meal with Sweet pumpkin soup with millet, which was comfort food but over all just tasted mediocre.
As they cleared my tray table they asked if I wanted my bed made and if I needed any tea or coffee. I ordered a “Calm Tea” and said yes to having my bed made while I headed to the bathroom to change into the very soft and comfortable Pye pajamas. Upon my returning, my seat had been fully turned down and lighting adjusted as well. The best part? The 600 thread count Bamford bedding blanket and comfortable mattress pad. It was so comfortable, better than some hotels, and the pillow was better than my own at home! The tea was served on a tray that came with my welcome note, better late than never I suppose! I had a wonderful and cozy sleep.
Both on the Cathay website and in reading other reviews I knew about the new pillow menu. However, at turn down, I was not given the pillow menu nor was I asked what pillow I wanted. When I inquired Ranuka, I was told there was no menu and that there was only soft or firm pillow to choose from, which to be fair the pillow that was already at my seat was very comfortable, but its the concept of offering a pillow menu for a flight that was so fun and cool in my opinion.
Oddly, upon waking up halfway through the flight I found the welcome pamphlet introducing me to the new First Class service placed by my side which included the pillow menu. I found it odd that this was given to me after I had gone to sleep and not upon boarding or at turn down. There are three types of pillows, soft, medium and firm, I believe the one I had was medium.
Anyways, I rang to order a mid-flight snack. Started off with “Oriental Breeze”: sour plum tea cranberry juice with honey and lemon and rose water and Betsy beer. The Oriental Breeze was tasty but a tad sweet, Cathay Delight much better. I ordered the Fish ball and fried fish cake with flat rice noodles in soup for my snack. It was quite good and came with chili sauce, again comforting and relaxing food. I was not hungry enough to also go for the burger. A neat feature on the seat control panel is that you can set your suite to do not disturb and also set morning call from flight attendant for meals or landing. It was during this time that Ringo also came and took my breakfast order and asked when I’d like to dine and be woken up. He recommended 2.5 hours before arrival as to give the crew enough time to serve everyone and also prepare the galley for arrival. I was fine with this even though I really wanted more time to sleep in the wonderful bedding. After my snack and another film, I went back to sleep.
I slept quite well and woke up here and there to change positions and check my watch to make sure I didnt oversleep. As I continued to sleep I began hearing silverware and plates clanking and realized it was now 1.5 hours prior to arrival. I had set up both a wake up call and Ringo himself had said he would wake me up. But upon seeing me that I was awake and making my way to the restroom they asked if I was ready for breakfast. I asked Ringo if there was still enough time given what he had told me, he said more than enough and that he chose not to wake me up because I looked like I was in a deep and comfortable sleep. While I do appreciate this and felt this was very considerate and indeed gave me more time to rest, he had set the expectation that I would be woken up 2.5 hours prior to arrival given pre-arrival procedures, things like that make me anxious. I also wondered if he would have ever woken me up had I kept sleeping. Nonetheless I was grateful for Ringo’s thoughtfulness.
Tonic detox juice and hot towel was brought in a copper serving tray. My tray table was then set by Ranuka this time with the correct bread basket and salt/pepper placement. First up was Orange juice, fresh berry smoothies, fruit plate and double espresso. Followed by Raspberry Yogurt Superbowl with goji berries, mango, raspberries and mixed seeds, this was fantastic in taste, texture and refreshing-ness. I ended with the Chinese breakfast: Sampan fish congee, shrimp and scallop dumplings, beef shu mai, chiu chow dumpling served with chili sauce. The fish congee was surprisingly incredible, with hearty and generous amounts of fish, very flavorful and authentic. The dim sum was also not bad, definitely above the average frozen kind.
After my breakfast was cleared away, I headed to the bathroom to change and pack up for landing. My seat had been returned to seat mode and a hot towel and toothpick was placed at my seat. We were well on our descent by this point. The purser came by one more time to check on each First passenger and asked us how our flight was. I was honest and said some minor disappointments given the various soft product varianecs but over all it was still a memorable and wonderful journey. And sadly my Cathay Pacific first class experience was drawing to a close.
We touched down in Chicago almost an hour ahead of schedule, much to my disappointment. And I bid farewell to the crew and the beautiful plane.
This was another incredible First Class experience for the books. What Cathay Pacific does extremely well is creating a homey and cozy experience from the ground to the air. The lounges truly are a home away from home. Onboard, the bedding was so comfortable and the food was tasty, familiar and comforting. I think that is why they are able to attract and retain passengers. They create a warm, subtle, homey and humble First Class experience. Nothing about the experience is necessarily glitzy, over the top or gimmicky. It is telling that they have managed to use the same door-less suites for over a decade now and have only adjusted the soft product offerings as well as enlarging the entertainment screen.
The Pier First Class lounge is beyond imagination. Onboard, my experience was over all very good but a mix of false hope from getting confirmation about the soft products I’d get to the varied and inconsistent service between my two friendly flight attendants created for a mixed feeling experience.
I was not disappointed because things like the bedding exceeded my expectations, but I was not blown away either as I had one flight attendant who was very proactive and attentive while the other one was all over the place.
Perhaps I should have booked the HKGJFK flight that was available (schedule for me was not ideal) instead to have more time aboard, and have a higher likelihood of the full range of new soft product offerings.
But in writing this now, April 2020, I definitely have no regrets and am so grateful I had the chance to experience this product. I once again can only hope Cathay Pacific survives this so that all of the CX teams can continue to provide this wonderful experience and so that you may also one day experience it for yourself, or do it again if you have done it before.
I can only hope we all are able to return to the skies soon.