Cathay Pacific’s state-of-the-art Airbus A350 adds new levels of comfort and sophistication one the competitive Hong Kong-Auckland route, discovers Nick Walton.
Cathay Pacific welcomed its first cutting-edge Airbus A350-900XWB in May 2016. Each features the airline’s newest generation business class, premium economy, and economy class products and is used on medium-long haul routes like its twice-daily service between Hong Kong and Auckland.
I planned to visit the new-look Cathay Pacific First Class lounge, The Pier, so arrived at the airport with plenty of time before my flight to Auckland. The 2,000sqm lounge is located near Gate 63 and was recently reimagined by Ilse Crawford of London-based design studio Studioilse, who has created a pleasant, residential vibe, with different spaces and nooks for travellers to discover. Dressed in warm, tactile and timeless materials such as onyx, limestone, and bronze, with an abundance of house plants and beautifully designed furniture, the lounge features a series of Day Suites and Showers, a Dining Room that caters to 100 and serves a la carte meals throughout the day, and a chic cocktail bar that wouldn’t look out of place in a hotel lobby.
Despite the late hour, crew handled the boarding process onto the three-class A350 with finesse; cabin crew welcomed passengers at the door and directed me to the main of two business class cabins (one with 30 seats and the other with eight, all in a 1-2-1 configuration), where I found my seat, 19K, on the starboard side.
Designed by Studio F.A. Porsche, the A350’s business class seats are 20-inches wide and feature a 45-inch pitch and can convert to a 180-degrees lie-flat bed. Blissfully private, like the product on the A330 and 777 aircraft, the 350 version is three inches longer, making for an even more pleasant sleeping experience. The seat also features additional storage space at both foot and shoulder level (the latter housing the airline’s very adequate, noise-reducing headphones, as well as USB and AC ports), a hidden compartment for water, a broad armrest below the window that’s great for tablets and laptops, an 18.5-inch personal touchscreen monitor, and a new 4.3-inch screen on the remote, in case you want to watch the map and a movie at the same time.
While some have claimed that Cathay Pacific’s service levels have declined over the years, I have always found cabin crew to be great – sure they might not sit and chat with you if you’re into that, but when it comes to consistent, crisp service (remembering that they’re actually there to save your life) I’ve never had a complaint and the flight to Auckland was no different. Crew served glasses of Billecart-Salmon champagne (and seconds) upon boarding, as well as hot towels, menus, and amenity kits packed with mini Jurlique products. When the meal service started, it was efficient yet friendly – cabin crew know everyone wants to get as much sleep as possible so cruised through the meal service with a well-versed elegance.
Ditto for dining. I think people expect too much at 40,000 feet – if you want gourmet, head to The Pier and have dinner on terra firma before you leave. Myself, I love dining on a plane; the solitude, the uninterrupted movie, the gin and tonic refills. On this evening flight south, we started with Parma ham, Portobello mushrooms, baked tomato with feta, and a mixed salad with balsamic. This was followed by a choice of Chu Chee curry prawns with mixed vegetables and jasmine rice; stewed beef brisket with white radish in a Chu Hou sauce; ricotta and spinach stuffed chicken breast with asparagus, capsicum and creamy polenta; and as a vegetarian option, spinach and tomato rigatoni. The chicken breast was perfectly cooked and the perfect comfort food for putting travellers to sleep, especially when followed by a cheeky cheese board and a glass of Dow’s port.
It’s pretty important to get a good night’s sleep on your way down to New Zealand, especially if you’re planning on hiring a car at the other end. Fortunately, the new business class seat aboard the A350 was perfectly comfortable, padded in all the right places, and blissfully long, and when coupled with the silent cabin of the A350 and the thick CX duvet, ensures a great night’s rest. I actually decided to skip breakfast and snooze a little longer as we approached New Zealand.
The personal monitors on the A350 feature the airline’s newest version of StudioCX, its inflight entertainment system, which is touch-navigated and configured similar to Windows 10, making it very easy to jump between movies and games and the real-time map. The system also allows access to the inflight wi-fi system, which is priced from US$9.95 per hour or US$19.95 for the entire flight. However, I was more interested in sleeping than surfing.
Despite being a Kiwi, I’ve always flown Cathay Pacific home to New Zealand – the service is exactly what I’m looking for, quick, efficient and cheerful enough without being invasive; the business class product is always a market leader; and the new A350 is only going to give CX an additional edge on this competitive route. Business class return Hong Kong-Auckland from HK$33,250 (US$4,260); www.cathaypacific.com