“So you’re flying from Singapore to Colombo to Singapore to Colombo to Singapore?”

No, not quite.

Good evening/morning! As I write this it’s 3AM just over the Indian Ocean, enroute from Colombo to Singapore.

Last night I did something for the first time in my travel career. I left my bags in a foreign country and boarded a plane with just my laptop bag.

Why? Because I’m flying roundtrip from Singapore to Colombo on Cathay Pacific. It’s the same plane the whole way with a two hour stop in Colombo (this is to position myself for a fare out of Colombo).

The flight times suck. The flight from Singapore to Colombo leaves at 9PM, and the flight from Colombo back to Singapore leaves at 1AM. I wanted a hotel room for the day so have my stuff in Singapore, but am not actually spending the night at the hotel, though my bags are.

In the US, airline employees seem to be used to mileage runners. Heck, one of the ladies at the Flagship Lounge in Los Angeles asks me if I’m on a mileage run every time I take an international trip, because she always claims “it’s that time of the year.”

Well, at Cathay Pacific it’s different, and we played a bit of a game of “who’s on first?” at check-in.

Agent: “Do you have a visa for Sri Lanka?”
Me: “No, I’m just a transit passenger.”
Agent: “Where are you continuing to?”
Me: “Singapore on CX710.”
Agent: “But… but… we’re in Singapore. You mean you’re flying right back?”
Me: “Yes, I’m just flying there and right back.”
Agent: “So you’re flying Singapore to Colombo to Singapore to Colombo to Singapore?”
Me: “No, just from Singapore to Colombo and then back to Singapore.”

At this point she asks for our itinerary, which I present to her.

The agents at Cathay Pacific in Singapore seem to have the same table system as Macaroni Grill, as she started scribbling down some notes on her paper “tablecloth.” She wrote down the flight number, which was surrounded by such insightful notes as “17+2=19,” “always smile,” and “change seats.” I’m sure she’s actually a theoretical physicist and there was much more to her scribbling than meets the eye.

Then we got to the Cathay Pacific contract lounge, where we were greeted by an agent in a Cathay Pacific uniform.

We wanted to request the boarding passes for the return flight, given that Cathay Pacific doesn’t have a transfer desk in Colombo.

I tried to dumb down things as much as possible, so handed her my boarding pass and said “excuse me, I have a connection on CX710 out of Colombo tonight, would you be able to check me in for that and print my boarding pass?”

She typed in her computer for a second and said “CX710? That flight is to Singapore, are you sure about the flight number?”

I explained we were doing a direct turn and that there was no transfer desk in Colombo, so she picked up the phone to explain the situation. “He said there’s no desk in Colombo, and I don’t know what that means.”

She kept typing and then managed to check us in, though couldn’t print the boarding pass. She thought it was the printer, so got on her hands and knees and started banging against it as hard as she could, thinking that would do the trick.

No such luck, unfortunately. At this point we had 20 minutes till departure, and Cathay Pacific closes their gates 10 minutes before departure (and this isn’t factoring in that security is at each individual gate). She ran with us to the transfer desk, where she (in utter confusion) tried to explain to the agent what was going on. With about 10 minutes till departure time our boarding passes printed.

She ran us to the gate, and we made it aboard with our return boarding passes with no time to spare.

These flights are operated by aircraft with Cathay’s regional business class, which is exceedingly mediocre. It’s slightly better than first class on a domestic US flight, though not by much. In an ideal world I’d spend slightly less than a full night flying it, though it’ll all be worth it tomorrow (as I’ll cover in the next post).

My observations from doing a direct turn in Cathay Pacific regional business class?

  • Hong Kong milk tea makes any flight tolerable. I think I drank so much of it that I’m growing udders.

  • The captain from Colombo to Singapore was definitely Stewie Griffin. Or could easily play the part.
  • Non-US carriers seem to love handing out surveys on flights, though for the love of God, do you really have to hand one out on a three hour flight departing at 1:30AM and arriving at 7:00AM?
  • Cathay’s regional entertainment system sucks. I had to watch “Pitch Perfect” twice. Which was actually not that bad on second thought.
  • Cathay Pacific has a more intricate meal service on a three hour flight in business class departing at 9PM than Singapore Airlines has on a 15 hour flight in Suites Class departing at 10:50PM. They served this thing called dessert…

  • Cathay Pacific loves all their customers… or maybe I’m just too easily entertained.

Anyway, stay tuned shortly for your chance to join me for a shower tonight. I know that sounds like punishment, and that’s why I’m giving away points for tolerating it.

Comments

  1. @ Mark — This was one of the friends I travel with occasionally. We didn’t travel outbound together, only the return.

  2. Given that you posted this, I assume that you figured it out, but, there is a single transfer desk at Colombo run by Sri Lankan Airlines that handles transfers for all of the airlines that operate out of Colombo. (It’s straight back behind the sitting buddha as you enter the main terminal area.) When I was there, the agent at the transfer desk couldn’t check me in directly (as he didn’t have access to CX’s computer systems), he sent me to the lounge and walked over to the CX checkin desks for me to get my boarding passes then brought them to me in the lounge. I (reluctantly) had to give him my passport, but it was all pretty quick and seamless.

  3. Same experience as Kyle, whether connecting to CX or EK (though the EK lounge means this is no longer a requirement when flying them).

  4. I normally refrain from correcting spelling/grammar, but I have to this time. It is “udders” not “utters”. Cows across the world are slightly horrified. 🙂 You did give me quite the giggle though. And milk tea is the bomb. I became addicted on a visit to Japan a few years ago. I am excited to have it in a few months on my trip with CX.

  5. @ Mile Bucket — Realized that and corrected it a minute after posting, sorry! That’s what I get for writing a post at 3AM in the morning after flying nonstop for days.

  6. Thanks for the entertaining post! I’m wondering what would happen if you can’t get the return boarding pass in time?

  7. so did you buy two separate tickets? I am assuming they would let you board without having a visa even though your first flight ends at CMB? If you could detail the process in a post, that would be very helpful for those who are thinking of doing the same thing

  8. I have always enjoyed the CX regional business class. They are not long flights, yet still have comfortable seats and excellent Cathay service.

  9. I love Sri Lanka. Been to Colombo and Negombo 4 times already. You should couple of nights there next time 😉

  10. While I understand the notion of positioning to CMB for great outbound fares, I’m not sure how flying SIN-CMB-SIN does that – or did you buy (or redeem) a one-way SIN-CMB and then continue on a revenue ticket that originates in CMB and has a transfer in SIN?

  11. The other day I flew SQ SIN-KUL. 0:47 flight. Two hot towels, two drink services, and a meal (pre-packaged sandwich). ‘Nuff said.

    Today I flew CX KUL-HKG, on the 777 with regional business. Not too bad for a 3:30 flight. And I saw the same SHARPS sign in the lav! From my seat in 12K I could see diagonally across to the C-cabin lav. After every pax exited, an FA entered to clean it. And while we were waiting for the jetway to pull up to the 1L door upon arrival, the lead FA was on her hands and knees wiping down the floor in the front galley so deplaning pax wouldn’t slip on the way out. Oh my.

  12. @ jim

    I’ve done the same thing twice so far (transited Colombo on two separate tickets). Once I arrived in via SQ, and once I arrived via TG. Neither time did the airline ask for a visa. Having said that, both times I applied for a free transit visa online ahead of time using their ETA system and got an instant approval, so if I needed to leave the airport I could do so easily: http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/

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