A Royal (dis)HHonor: Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong to San Francisco

Introduction
Aloft San Francisco Airport
Cathay Pacific Lounge San Francisco
Cathay Pacific First Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong to Singapore
St. Regis Singapore
Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge Singapore
SilkAir Business Class Singapore to Koh Samui
Conrad Koh Samui
Bangkok Airways Economy Class Koh Samui to Bangkok
Le Meridien Bangkok
Thai Airways Royal Silk Business Class Lounge Bangkok
Royal Jordanian Business Class Bangkok to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” First Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong to San Francisco


Cathay Pacific 872
Hong Kong (HKG) – San Francisco (SFO)

Sunday, March 31
Depart: 12:30AM
Arrive: 10:10PM (-1 day)
Duration: 12hr40min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 2K (First Class)

Once in a while you have one of those crews where you know within ten seconds of boarding that they’ll be phenomenal — this was one of those. We were greeted at the door by Patrick and Veronica, the Hong Kong based first class flight attendants for this flight. They were nothing short of amazing.

I quickly settled into 2K, and within moments was offered a pre-departure beverage by Patrick.


Seat 2K


Seat 2K ottoman


Seat/entertainment controls


Cabin view from 2K

Much to his disappointment I ordered still water (“Mr. Lucky, you do realize we have Krug, right?”), which was promptly served.


Pre-departure water

Moments later I was offered Shanghai Tang pajamas, slippers, and an amenity kit.


Amenities

I was also offered a hot towel.


Hot towel

By 12:30AM boarding was complete, and four of the six first class seats were taken — the two middle seats stayed empty. It was around this time that the captain (who I later found out was Canadian — I love the diversity of Cathay’s pilots) welcomed us aboard and informed us of our flight time of 11hr52min. He explained that there was a bit of congestion in the alleyway so we would be a few minutes late pushing back, but wasn’t expecting a substantial delay.


Nose camera

We were about 40 minutes late pushing back and had a really slow taxi to runway 7R, and at around 1:20AM began our takeoff roll, which was almost immediately aborted. While I’ve had several go arounds, this was my first aborted takeoff ever. It was a complete non-event, though in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but cringe/chuckle a bit at my luck. Before we even vacated the runway the captain was on the PA to update us in a calming voice – “ladies and gentlemen, as we began our takeoff roll we encountered a minor technical issue, and we’re just pulling off the runway to see what’s going on. We’ll update you shortly.”

Five minutes later he was back on the PA to let us know that the technical issue had been resolved and that we’d be taking off shortly. We once again lined up on the runway and the engines spooled up. This time a bit more power was applied before we stopped, though the takeoff was once again aborted. Instead of going straight to the taxiway we had a fast taxi down the runway towards the terminal. Again, the captain immediately came on the PA and said “ladies and gentlemen, we had the same technical fault once again, so we will be taxiing back to the gate so the engineers can look at it. We’ll update you as soon as we can.”

As soon as we got to the gate and the engines were off the captain was again on the PA to explain what went wrong. He explained that when we were taking off an indicator light was going off saying that a cargo door was open, and that it was probably just a faulty alarm. He said we’d be getting a bit more fuel as well and that he’d update us as soon as he can.

In the meantime Patrick and Veronica offered us some drinks. I had a Diet Coke, which was served with almonds.


Diet Coke and almonds

30 minutes later the captain was back on the PA to inform us that we were all ready to go and that we just had a short air traffic control delay, and that we’d be underway shortly. Once we started taxiing he updated us yet again to let us know we’d be taking off shortly. After my Royal Jordanian flight, the professionalism of the captain made me want to give him a hug.

Sure enough this time our takeoff roll on runway 7L was smooth, though we hit a lot of chop on the climb out. Actually, we didn’t hit chop just on the climb out, but for the first seven hours of the flight. None of the turbulence was horrible, though it was the most consistent turbulence I’ve experienced in my life, and made the meal service pretty difficult. As we climbed out I decided to watch some sitcoms, starting with Two and a Half Men.


Entertainment selection


Two and a Half Men

The inflight service manager came around at this point to apologize for the delay and to welcome us each aboard and offer us the menu and wine lists.

The menu read as follows:

And the wine list read as follows:

Despite the turbulence, Patrick and Veronica were troopers and executed the meal service with grace. They set the tables with great precision, and also presented me with a nice “welcome aboard” note.


Welcome note

To start I had the salmon and caviar. The presentation wasn’t all that great because the potatoes were rolling around due to the turbulence, though it’s still a great starter, in my opinion.


Salmon and caviar

Next I had the caesar salad, which was very good as well.


Caesar salad

For the main course I had the tortellini, which was good as far as pasta dishes go.


Spinach and ricotta cheese tortellini

Meanwhile my friend had the braised pork spare ribs.


Braised pork spare ribs

For dessert I had the warm raspberry friand cake with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. It was great, though my one complaint is that the chocolate sauce is definitely Hershey’s, which really is a sin if you’re a chocoholic like me.


Warm raspberry friand cake with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce

While I would’ve loved a Hong Kong style milk tea to finish off the meal, due to turbulence they couldn’t serve hot beverages, so I was instead offered pralines, a hot towel, and water. Throughout the meal service Patrick and Veronica were simply amazing. They were engaging, friendly, charming, and extremely attentive.


Pralines and hot towel


Water

Patrick proactively offered turndown service, which I gladly accepted, wanting to get some shut eye. Cathay Pacific’s beds are among the most comfortable in the sky. I was looking forward to sleeping, though the turbulence prevented me from doing so. It was literally the most consistent turbulence I’ve ever experienced, as we rocked and rolled for seven hours, well past the international dateline. Interestingly it was light outside for most of the flight, from a couple of hours after takeoff till an hour before landing.


Turndown service

Ironically once the ride was smooth enough to actually sleep I wasn’t tired anymore. As I went to the lavatory I ran into the captain in the galley, who was begging the flight attendant for some ice cream and a muffin. We had a nice conversation for a bit. I’m always fascinated by Cathay Pacific pilots, so anytime I get the chance to talk to one I’m oddly giddy.

Once I returned to my seat I looked at the snack menu, which read as follows:

I wasn’t really hungry, so just had some strawberry ice cream and Hong Kong style milk tea.


Ice cream and milk tea

I decided to watch Silver Linings Playbook, which was mildly tolerable. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not much of a movie critic, as I really enjoyed Abduction.


Silver Linings Playbook

About 90 minutes out of San Francisco breakfast was served. While it was morning in Hong Kong it was 10:30PM in San Francisco at this point, not usually a time at which I’d have breakfast, so the service is a bit odd.

The breakfast menu read as follows:

At Patrick’s insistence I had some champagne with breakfast, which seemed perfectly justifiable given that it was evening in San Francisco.


Krug

To start I had fruit, orange juice, and a pink guava smoothie.


Fresh fruit

I then had some corn flakes and wheat toast.


Corn flakes and wheat toast

Then some strawberry yogurt.


Strawberry yogurt

And finally some scrambled eggs with a potato cake. I requested that the eggs not be runny, and they were indeed served just the way I like them.


Scrambled eggs

About 30 minutes out we began our descent, and the captain informed us of our updated arrival time of midnight and apologized for the delay. He also apologized for the consistent turbulence for the first half of the flight, and said he hadn’t seen such consistent turbulence in years.


Airshow approaching San Francisco


Airshow approaching San Francisco

We had a smooth touchdown in San Francisco and quick taxi to the gate. From there we cleared customs and immigration in no time thanks to Global Entry, and hopped in the shuttle to the Aloft, where we were spending the night. The next morning we flew Alaska from San Francisco to Seattle, and I couldn’t be happier to be home.

On the whole this was the most memorable trip I’ve ever had. Not because of any destination, necessarily, but because it reminded me of what’s important in life and how fragile life can be.

Safe travels, and I’ll be starting my next trip report shortly. Thanks for reading.

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Comments

  1. Are both Veronica and Patrick Hong Kong based? You said that Veronica was hong kong based, but nothing about Patrick.
    Also, why were you disappointed that the chocolate sauce was Hershey’s? I myself am a chocoholic myself and love Hershey’s chocolate. Do you have a different point of view?
    Also, when is your next trip report coming out?

  2. I’m not a chocoholic, but Hershey’s syrup with a meal like that really is letting down the side. 🙂

  3. @ AidanAhearn — Sorry if I didn’t phrase it clearly, they’re both Hong Kong based.

    Hershey’s just isn’t a very good brand of chocolate, in my opinion.

    Next report should be posted starting on Tuesday.

  4. Caesar salad! Is Cathay cutting back or something? Last time I had jumbo prawns on my Cathay salad.

  5. @ John — Hah, salad on outbound was much more elaborate with king crab. Agree this salad was on the cheap side.

  6. @Lucky – Ok, I disagree, but agree that chocolate rocks. Did they run out of Hong Kong milk tea and Diet Coke on this flight like on the flight from SFO to HKG?

  7. @ AidanAhearn — Nope, didn’t run out of either. Then again tough of them to run out of Hong Kong style milk tea when they’re not allowed to serve it for half the flight due to turbulence.

  8. that airshow makes no sense. Seems like a lot of random cities. Grants Pass in Southern Oregon is not that close to Austin. Weird.

  9. Is it safe to say that CX is aware of who you are at this point and alerts crews as to your stature and occupation?

    I like CX as much as the next guy but either you have the most incredible luck in crew rostering or they are getting a heads up that you are “recording” them…

  10. That is a lousy caviar presentation. You always present the tins to verify the origin. Where does that caviar come from? Obviously that is not Beluga or Iranian caviar. At least LH uses fish eggs from Italian fish farms. I hope that the fish eggs CX buys, are not harvested from some dirty Chinese farms.

    That would be disgusting.

  11. @Jeff Of course Lucky is well known. A bad PR move and you will see him tweeting like crazy!

  12. @jason Rest assured. In China, only the best of the best harvested food can be exported to HK.

  13. Having just experienced CX First Class from HKG/LAX in December, I can say that I am nobody, but also had the fantastic service and treatment that Lucky has described. It was hard to believe that just two attendants could stay on top of my perceived and real needs for so many hours! On a more personal note, every time I used the loo, it was as if no one had ever been in there before-kept immaculately clean and fresh-and I have rarely seen this kind of service before! Not on drop of water anywhere, and the whole lav spotless, even the floor.

    Curiously, I also experienced the aborted takeoff with the same reason given! Hmmm!

  14. You are a weird dude. Abduction was across the board garbage and silver linings was really special….Oscar much?

  15. CX flight crew in First are superb in my experience. I have always had the same experience Lucky describes, in general.

  16. Just so you know sitting at the pointy end you have a 15% chance of surviving a crash. Sit towards the back it’s 80% or more. Check out the 2009 study.

  17. Awesome report Lucky! For a 12 hour flight, did both Patrick and Veronica work all 12 hours for the 4 passengers in First class, or did they take breaks throughout the flight?

  18. Hey Ben – I am so glad you got to have the brilliance of this flight, so soon after the RJ flight. The contrast in communication from the cockpits is stunning.

    As for the attentive Cathay service, you reminded me of a JFK-HKG flight I took on CX in March. My mom (87 years-old) was in F; my wife and I were in C. This was a dream trip for Mom, and every half-hour or so, my wife and I snuck her a pre-wrapped present to help her smile and to celebrate the beginning of this adventure (the presents were small: a travel journal, a piece of her favorite chocolate; sanitary wipes in case we couldn’t find her suitable toilet facilities in rural Thailand, etc.) The FAs quickly got into the act, wanting to see what the next present was, and reveling in Mom’s joy.

    More importantly, though, was their service in a minor medical situation.

    Mom had a pre-trip leg wound that was taking a long time to heal, and she was worried about the possibility of a getting a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis) in her leg on such a long flight. Her doctor had said not to worry about it, and encouraged her to take the trip, but midway through the flight, she had a sharp pain in her leg.

    The amazing Cathay crew not only woke me up so I could offer her support, but patched me through to her doctor in New York — who reassured her that she was ok — then found another Dr. on the plane (who happened to be a specialist in DVT!) He said, without question, that her symptoms were not problematic, and she was relieved. Still, the FAs gently woke Mom up every hour to make sure she walked a bit (on the Dr’s advice) and kept me apprised of her condition throughout the flight. They even walked with her, talking and laughing and making her feel warm and safe.

    Cathay’s flight attendants treated Mom with the care that I would hope we would all treat each other, all the time.

  19. @ Jeff — To be honest I really don’t think they tell the crew. I mean the top airlines provide great service to everyone up front, so it shouldn’t matter who someone is (not that I’m anyone). For example I didn’t think the outbound crew was amazing, so…

  20. @ Joey — They both work both of the main meal services, and then take turns resting for the “middle” ~8 hours of the flight, where only one flight attendant is needed.

  21. @ Tom — Sounds like an amazing experience, so happy to hear they took such good care of your mom.

  22. When I took CX F JFK-HKG a couple weeks ago I tried using the call button. And it worked without a glare from the flight attendant! Had to overcome my “training” of knowing not to push the button in the US. But I did notice something interesting on my return flight.

    Being seated in 2K I noticed that the attendant would walk back from the front galley then pause right behind my seat and hold for a moment. Then he would take a few steps forward to observe the pax in 1K before heading back to the galley. I noticed he did this several times over the course of the flight. When he noticed something he would then interact with the pax (i.e. pick up plates or deliver an item).

    I found this observation curious, as it seems to challenge the theory that CX flights attendants are more reactive than proactive during the inflight service.

  23. And you are often raving about LH’s first, why? I’ll gladly trade an LH F seat with a CX one any day of the week

  24. Lucky, Nice you got back in the saddle, so to speak, so quickly with a great experience after your prior flight. Speaking of LH, would there be any way to upgrade a P fare to F? Or do they only allow J class to upgrade?

  25. “I’m always fascinated by Cathay Pacific pilots, so anytime I get the chance to talk to one I’m oddly giddy.”

    May I ask why you’re so fascinated? Just curious–haven’t flown CX myself yet.

  26. Nice post, Ben and great pix as always. The food service on this flight looks excellent, despite seven hours of The Jiggles. And – those rolling potatoes with your caviar. Oh, the horror of it ! Somehow, I suspect that this is a trip that you won’t soon forget. While your mileage may vary, the Boeing 777-300ER is currently my all-time favorite airplane; even Trash-Class is tolerably comfortable. That said, TWO pre-V1 runway aborts is a bit much. Thumbs-up to the crew for keeping you well informed. I’ve made five Pacific-crossing round trips on Cathay Pacific (sadly, only one at the pointy end) and I’ve always been delighted. I think their cabin staff must have ‘nice’ tattooed on their posterior padded anatomy. Let’s hope that your next trip is better – and that you don’t have to suffer through rolling potatoes again!

  27. I love CX caviar, seats for buddy dining, service, etc.

    Hard to believe that on my SQ F RT from Sfo to SIN, no caviar in either direction. On the outbound’ the only real dessert was a candy bar (or fruit or cheese). Bed not as nice as CX for my taste. Service and champagne was very good, but I give CX the clear edge so far,

  28. Do not understand why breakfast is being served for an evening arrival? Caesar salad also looked pretty unappetizing and agree with @Scott – that map makes no sense! Seems like a few glitches on this flight…

  29. @ Josh — Growing up I always wanted to be a pilot, and Cathay Pacific is the airline I wanted to work for. They have one of the most diverse set of pilots as they have bases at almost all their destinations, so you can fly with a New York London, or Sydney based pilot, for example.

    Furthermore, up until recently (when they raised the retirement agent) you could be captain in less than 10 years, meaning you could be a 747 or 777 captain in your early 30s.

    Pretty darn cool gig in my book. 🙂

  30. @ Peter — Sadly they don’t allow upgrades from “Z” or “P” to the best of my knowledge. Sorry!

  31. @ Stefan — Assume breakfast is being served because based on the time in Hong Kong that’s the logical meal after dinner. Agree it doesn’t make sense, but then again if a flight leaves at midnight and serves dinner after takeoff, do you really want another dinner 10 hours later?

  32. Hi Ben

    Do you prefer the LAX/HKG or SFO/HKG route in cathay first class?

    I have the option of trying one and i am not sure if there is a difference.

  33. @ Dan — Virtually no difference in terms of the onboard experience. At LAX there’s a first class lounge while there’s not at SFO, but at the same time security is usually a bit worse at LAX. So I’d do whichever is more convenient for you.

  34. @Scott, @Stefan The Austin referred to is Austin, Nevada which is midway between SFO and SLC. It must be a geographical marker as there is no commercial air service to that small rural town.

  35. Ben,

    Thanks for your kind words. I remember when I stepped on the 747 in LAX to go to HKG for my Cathay Interview and I said inside me “God I hope I don’t screw this up”. It has been a heck of a great experience as a crew for 11 Years. And our job is just that to do what the Captain and the rest of the crew did that day.

    Dino Stylianopoulos
    B744 Captain CX

  36. @ Dino — Awesome, thank for commenting here! Hope to be on one of your flights some day!

  37. “wrong” cities on the map? Lousy Caviar presentation? Come on people…do you just look for things to critise? Even if it seems good there’s got to be something wrong right?….and you have to be the ones to find it?

    First world problems indeed. (Insert rolling eye smilie here)

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