Cathay Pacific Business Class on the 777 continues to rule the skies but work is needed on the software if the airline is to stay competitive, discovers Nick Walton on a recent flight between Paris and Hong Kong.
We checked in for our flights in Helsinki (travelling to France with Finnair) so upon arriving in Paris we made our way directly to the signature Cathay Pacific First & Business Class lounge, located in Terminal 2, between 2A and 2C. This ‘salon’ is a great space; modern, refined and very CX, which has spent a great deal of money getting its lounge offering to the front of the pack.
The lounge has the airline’s signature noodle counter (the wonton noodles were a great welcome back to Asia), a dedicated workspace with Mac and PCs, great shower suites, comfortable lounge seating, and signature Solus seats with views of the apron. There’s also an extensive wine and spirit offering, cold snacks and friendly staff – what more could you want?
We boarded the three-class Cathay Pacific 777-300ER at gate A51 and quickly found our positions among the 40 reverse herringbone seats, set across a main and a smaller business class cabin. After the economy class passengers filtered through, the crew were quick to offer hot towels, French newspapers and glasses of juice or Piper-Heidsieck NV Brut champagne – although many of the latter were sent back, including mine, as they had lipstick marks on their rims.
At my seat, 17K, I found a bottle of water and a Seventy Eight Percent amenity kit, with earplugs, a toothbrush and toothpaste, hydrating products by Jurlique, and ‘anti-skid’ socks, which I love to wear at home during Hong Kong’s brief but enthusiastic winters.
While it’s been a long while since I flew CX long-haul, I’ve long been a fan of Cathay Pacific’s business class seat on its 777 aircraft. For me, the seat offers the perfect balance of ergonomics, privacy and technology. For lovers of a view, like me, there are two windows per window seat, and all passengers enjoy direct aisle access, the importance of which some airlines still don’t get. There’s an oversized tray, which is as good to work at as it is to dine on, easy-to-reach AC and USB ports and seat and entertainment controls, and when in bed mode, the 21-inch-wide seat offers two meters of seclusion and a very comfortable sleep.
Dinner is Served
I enjoyed the menu, which was presented like a broadsheet newspaper, with menu items interlaced with stories of dining in Hong Kong. The late lunch service started with an appetizer of prawn with plum sauce and marinated tofu, which was followed by a refreshing choice of mains.
These included braised beef brisket with turnip, steamed jasmine rice, pak choy and lotus root; fish balls and egg noodles in soup; pan-fried corn-fed chicken breast with lemon thyme sauce; Garganelli with mascarpone tomato basil sauce, pumpkin and button mushrooms; a quinoa tabbouleh salad with grilled zucchini, pumpkin seed and a pomegranate and mango dressing; or, a first for me, a beef burger with Emmental cheese, bacon, pickled onion, and zucchini, on a toasted brioche bun, with chunky fries.
While the prawn was a zesty sweet start, the burger was the real surprise – it was well-proportioned, perfectly cooked and overall an impressive dish considering it was served at 38,000 feet. I matched the burger with a glass of Chateau Macard Bordeaux Superieur 2015, a bold red with touches of blackberry and cherries.
Mains were followed by offers of a black forest trifle, Movenpick ice cream, seasonal fresh fruit, or a cheese plate with Cantel and Cebecou, paired with water crackers, grapes and quince paste. My wife isn’t a cheese lover, so I always make the most of cheese plates on planes and found this one to be the perfect balance of flavours and textures.
Breakfast of Champions
Throughout the 12-hour flight, snacks were also available for order while others were presented in the galley.
Two hours out from Hong Kong, crew served breakfast, with the choice of a Chinese breakfast of monkfish congee, and stir-fried egg noodles; a Continental breakfast of fruit, warm pastries, and Bircher muesli with raspberries; or a Western breakfast of fruit, pastries, and a three-cheese omelet with pork sausage, streaky bacon, and hash browns. An express option of pastry and coffee or tea allowed travellers the chance to sleep a little longer. I opted for the Continental set, which was the perfect pick me up before we landed.
For the longest time, Cathay Pacific led the pack but there’s little doubt that service levels have slipped. Gone was the genuine warmth of the cabin crew, replaced instead by robotic yet efficient service. There was a noticeable reluctance to any request, no matter how small. At any time that a meal wasn’t being served, the crew gathered in the galley to chat. Hopefully, the airline is taking note – if smaller carriers like Air Astana and Sri Lankan Airlines can make service look so easy and genuine, a massive carrier like CX should be able to follow their lead.
I’ve always found Cathay Pacific’s StudioCX entertainment system to be one of the better IFEs in the skies. Accessed via the seat’s 15.4-inch monitor, the system offered a plethora of movies and television shows. While CX’s headphones aren’t the worst around, I preferred to use my own Bose QC35 noise-reduction set, which can easily plug into the seat’s audio jack with the use of an adapter.
The Cathay Pacific hardware can’t be beat, which is why many airlines emulate their business class product, but work is needed on service as that is so often a deciding factor for premium travellers.
Cathay Pacific Business Class, Hong Kong-Paris return, from US$4,580 per person.
Note: The author travelled on a full-fare business class ticket without the airline’s knowledge.