Review: Cathay Pacific First Class Chicago to Hong Kong

Introduction
SAS Lounge Chicago
Cathay Pacific First Class Chicago to Hong Kong
Conrad Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” First Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong to Bali
Amandari Bali
Amankila Bali
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Bali to Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong to San Francisco
Mom’s Thoughts


Cathay Pacific 807
Chicago (ORD) – Hong Kong (HKG)
Thursday, June 6th
Depart: 3:30PM
Arrive: 8:20PM
Duration: 15hr50min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 2A (First Class)

I’m not actually sure why I’m writing another review of Cathay Pacific first class. Along with Lufthansa I find that they offer the single most consistent first class product in the world. That’s not to say the best (though they are very good), but rather that I’ve almost never flown Cathay Pacific or Lufthansa first class and been disappointed, since I always know exactly what I’ll get.

While they’re not enclosed suites, the seats in Cathay Pacific first class are incredibly comfortable. The bedding is top notch and I find that I sleep better in Cathay Pacific first class than almost any other product. The food is incredibly consistent though not amazing, in my opinion.

And the service is consistently top notch if you understand how it works. It’s not Singapore Airlines where the cabin crew are supposed to walk through the cabin every five minutes throughout a 15 hour flight to see if you might want something, but rather between the meal services they leave you alone to maximize your privacy, and if you need something you push the call button. And when you do push the call button, they’re at your seat within a matter of seconds.

Anyway, on to the actual flight…

We boarded through door 1L and were welcomed aboard by Grace and Rainy, the two cabin crew taking care of us in first class. Cathay Pacific’s first class layout on the 777 is especially spacious, as it’s just six seats in a 1-1-1 configuration (while most airlines have four across seating in first class on the 777, and even that is spacious).

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First class cabin

My mom and I selected seats 1A and 2A, which are my favorite. That’s because the center seats face the right aisle, so if you have seats 1A and 2A you have the aisle all to yourself. I gave my mom 1A, while I took 2A. After all, I wanted to be able to observe her and be sure she was maximizing her experience. 😉

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My seat, 2A

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My seat, 2A

Grace, who was the more outgoing of the crew, welcomed us both aboard and offered us pre-departure beverages. I ordered a glass of Krug. I find Cathay Pacific does a consistently excellent job with how they serve pre-departure beverages. I know this sounds silly, but they always bring out a tray with both the glass and the bottle, place the glass at your seat, and then pour.

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Pre-departure Krug

I could immediately tell based on Grace’s attitude that it would be a great flight. She asked me where we were headed and I explained it was a birthday trip for my mom, and also explained that it was my mom’s first time flying Cathay Pacific, so she better make it special. She seemed genuinely overjoyed at the prospect of making someone’s flight “special,” so that seemed to be her mission from that point forward.

After that I was offered Shanghai Tang pajamas and an amenity kit.

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Shanhai Tang pajamas and amenity kit

I do love Shanghai Tang pajamas, and am sad that Cathay Pacific is phasing them out.

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Pajamas and slippers

Shortly before pushback the captain came on the PA to inform us of our flight time of 15hr30min. Nothing makes me smile quite like hearing that long of a flight time in Cathay Pacific first class. Based on the announcements during the flight it seemed like the captain was Australian and one of the first officers was American, so as usual it was a pretty diverse cockpit crew.

We pushed back with only one other passenger in first class, at which point the safety video began to play.

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Air France and KLM

While I think it’s hard to compete with the excitement of flying out of JFK in the afternoon, terminal five at O’Hare isn’t half bad either. As we taxied out we saw Swiss, Etihad, and all kinds of other international carriers.

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Swiss

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Etihad

We taxied out to runway 10L. While we were number one for takeoff, there were several planes coming in to land, so we had to wait for about 15 minutes before we were cleared for takeoff.

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Planes landing

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Planes landing

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Planes landing

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Planes landing

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Planes landing

Eventually we were cleared for takeoff, and in typical 777-300ER fashion, rocketed off.

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Ready for takeoff!

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Runway views

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Airport view

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View on climb

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View on climb

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View on climb

It was a beautiful day in Chicago, so I was happy just gazing out the window for the first 20 minutes of the flight.

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View on climb

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Above the clouds

Once we leveled off the inflight service manager came by to introduce herself and give us the menu and wine list.

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Menus

Shortly thereafter Grace took drink orders. I ordered a Diet Coke, which was served with almonds.

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Diet Coke and almonds

I love my mom, but the one thing she struggles with is asking for things. So before the flight I explained to her if she wants anything during the flight she should push the call button. And I also explained to her that unlike on US airlines, you won’t get arrested and the plane won’t divert if you actually push the call button.

Fortunately Grace did most of the work for me in terms of conditioning my mom. My mom had a hard time deciding which red wine she wanted, so Grace encouraged her to do a wine tasting — “Mrs. S, may I suggest a wine tasting so you can decide which one you like more, and then we can serve you that one for the rest of the flight?” My mom responded with “well is anyone else drinking one of them, because I don’t want to waste the whole bottle?” Grace laughed and assured her the wine was there for her consumption.

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Wine tasting for mom

Anyway, at that point the meal service began. The menu read as follows:

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And the wine and beverage list read as follows:

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One of the great things about Cathay Pacific first class is that you can dine together, so we had lunch at my seat.

The table was promptly set, including the standard “welcome note” from the crew.

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Welcome note

My mom really liked the handwritten note they presented her, and she commented to Grace about what a nice touch it was. She responded with “it’s our pleasure, most of our frequent travelers seem to not even notice it,” while jokingly pointing at me.

For the first course we had caviar and salmon, which is my favorite part about the Cathay Pacific meal service.

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Caviar and salmon starter

Next my mom had the ginseng chicken soup, while I had the caesar salad with prawns, which I must say was excellent.

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Ginseng chicken soup

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Caesar salad with prawn

My mom had the steamed lobster as the main course, which she thought was okay. The lobster was really, really chewy, though.

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Steamed lobster

I always lose interest with the main courses on Cathay Pacific. The western options are always either pasta or a huge (but not especially high quality) sirloin. I’d take a Chinese option instead, though I always find the meat to be really fatty, which I’m not a fan of (though I realize it’s more flavorful, so very popular among many).

Instead I ordered the ravioli, which was “bleh.” I just had one piece since I wasn’t especially hungry at this point.

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Portobello ravioli

Then for dessert I had the chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.

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Chocolate cake

I then had some Hong Kong style milk tea, which I love.

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Milk tea

To finish off the meal I was offered a hot towel and some pralines.

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Pralines and towel

The service throughout the meal was spectacular. It was perfectly paced and Grace was a delight.

After lunch I requested turndown service, which was promptly taken care of. Cathay Pacific is one product where I can always sleep regardless of whether I’m tired or not, because the bed is just so damn comfortable.

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Turndown service

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Turndown service

In addition to the turndown service I was offered a bottle of water.

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Bottled water

I fell asleep with about 13.5 hours to go to Hong Kong, and woke up about five hours out of Hong Kong as we were hitting some turbulence over Japan, so I got more than a full night of sleep!

Upon waking up I decided to watch a movie. StudioCX has one of the most extensive on demand programming of any airline, and I decided to watch Identity Thief, which I thought was simultaneously horrible and hilarious.

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Airshow upon awakening

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Airshow

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Identity Thief

I perused the snack menu and decided to order some crab cakes. As soon as I pushed the call button, Grace appeared within five seconds.

For what it’s worth the snack menu read as follows:

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Grace explained it would take about 15 minutes to prepare the crab cakes, and sure enough 15 minutes later she served them.

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Crab cakes

After the crab cakes she asked if I might like some ice cream or other dessert. Sure, why not?

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Ice cream

After watching Identity Thief I napped for a bit more, and woke up about 90 minutes out of Hong Kong as the pre-arrival meal service began. The menu read as follows:

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I wasn’t really hungry (though my sweet tooth always is), so just had some orange juice, fruit, and the blackberry cheesecake.

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Orange juice

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Fruit plate

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Blackberry cheesecake

About 30 minutes out of Hong Kong the captain came on the PA to give us some updated arrival information.

Despite some thick clouds and turbulence on the descent, the views were spectacular, as we flew right by Victoria Harbour.

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Views on approach

We had a smooth touch down in Hong Kong just a few minutes behind schedule, and quickly taxied to our arrival gate.

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Taxiing in

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Taxiing in

Upon deplaning we thanked Grace and Rainy for the great service and headed towards immigration, which was about a five minute walk. There was a bit of a queue at immigration so we had to wait for about 15 minutes.

However, by the time we got there our checked bag had already arrived, and we hopped in a taxi to the Conrad.

This was another awesome flight in Cathay Pacific first class. They might not be perfect… but they’re damn close.

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Comments

  1. I did JFK – HKG in First about a year ago. All six seats taken on the flight to HKG – I was the only one on the way back. (Which is how I charmed my way into an extra pair of pajamas. I love them.)

    Similar experience. Stellar bed. Definitely makes most of my other flights seem lame.

    The only mistake I made was going through the whole dinner service – I was on the midnight flight and should have just gone to bed, but I had heard so much about the food that I couldn’t resist. I was out of my mind tired by the time it was over, but the bed solved that problem.

  2. “She seemed genuinely overjoyed at the prospect of making someone’s flight “special,” so that seemed to be her mission from that point forward.”

    Once again, that sound you’re hearing is Janeses sharpening her claws…

  3. I miss Wannaporn…

    on a serious note, they need to do something about the amenity kit… at least the men’s one blows. especially compared to Emirates.

  4. As best I can tell, you put your Mom in the little cub seat and sat in your own big seat yourself – telling me she didn’t do as good a job as she could have in teaching you chivalry and manners 😉

  5. Another great review.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see anything of what your mom thought of the whole experience.
    You should have like a guest blog post or just a quick review of what she did or did not like.

    I’m actually rather interested how she experienced it, as it was her first time flying CX F.

  6. on my last flight with CX, my friend order a HK milk tea. i happened to walk back to use the restroom. to my surprise, i found out it was made from a powder mix. #firstworldproblem

  7. @ David — Yep, that’s pretty standard for Hong Kong style milk tea on planes. Believe it’s always made from powder (though I could be wrong).

  8. I’ve dated several CX FA’s of various tenure and let me tell you, they all hate it when you push the call button regardless of the cabin you’re in.

  9. Lucky, I live in HK and it’s definitely not standard for HK style milk tea to be made from powder! 🙂 Most HK diner makes it fresh. It’s actually quiet easy. That’s why I am surprised CX uses a powder mix.

  10. agree with Dima… really was interested for this series to see how your mom felt as a different prespective (given how frequently you’ve reviewed them)

  11. I’m not saying that, but they were trained to leave pax alone. They’re just lazy. Or you could say the ones I dated were.

  12. I’m not saying that, but they were *NOT* trained to leave pax alone. They’re just lazy. Or you could say the ones I dated were.

  13. Very nice review. I am all set for another CX F JFK-HKG leg next month. I didn’t find the bedding very comfortable last year when I flew them. It seemed too hard to me. But I have a very difficult time sleeping on planes. It will be fun to compare to SQ suites on the return

  14. “My mom had the steamed lobster as the main course, which she thought was okay. The lobster was really, really chewy, though.”

    “I ordered the ravioli, which was bleh. I just had one piece since I wasn’t especially hungry at this point.”

    “This was another awesome flight in Cathay Pacific first class. They might not be perfect… but they’re damn close.”

    Cathay’s food and service sounds a long, long way from almost perfect. In some of your earlier reviews you mentioned wondering why the CX first class cabin crews never showed up unless you paged them, just like anyone else would wonder. Now that you’ve been conditioned to page them for virtually anything you’re much less critical but the honest truth is that almost perfect service doesn’t need to be paged. That must be some kind of crazy wonderful bed to make up for everything else CX seems to have continued trouble improving upon.

  15. @ Dax — It’s interesting you say that. For example, I love Lufthansa first class, but a lot of people that fly it for the first time don’ “get it,” because they feel like it’s a country club and either you’re “in” on the service or you’re not.

    In the case of Cathay Pacific it took me a while to appreciate the service for what it’s worth. I actually kind of like being left alone for 10 hours and not being disturbed with galley from the light or anything unless I page for service. After all, on Singapore I almost feel guilty when I push the call button, since it almost indicates a failure on the part of the crew to anticipate my needs. That’s not the case with Cathay.

    I don’t love their food, but I love every other part of the experience.

  16. Such a bizarre timing of the flight with regards to meal time. You essentially had two dinners and a snack which given the departure time from the US and the arrival time in HK makes sense. However you landed at ~7AM Chicago time…I’d have been sick at the sight of that second dinner and would have wanted a breakfast!

    Do any of these long flights to Asia have a more traditional timing/meal schedule?

  17. one thing about HK arrival I dont like is no special ground service for F passengers, everyone que up in the same line, unlike arrival at BKK.

  18. @ Jeremy — For what it’s worth the midnight departures from the US (that arrive in HKG early morning) typically serve supper and then breakfast. Not sure if that makes more sense since you’re landing in HKG in the afternoon US time, but what was on this flight seems to be the “norm.”

  19. @ John — During rush hour I always take the Airport Express. That being said, my mom had a huge checked bag and while I don’t mind the Airport Express, dragging it onto the bus that connects to hotels didn’t seem worth it. The price difference isn’t huge when two people are traveling, so I figured a taxi would be easier.

  20. wow, only 55,000 miles? since i have citi aadvantage it will be 495000 one way? can i also add free one way to hawaii?

  21. @ jason — Yes, you would be eligible for the 10% mileage refund, though keep in mind you first have to pay the 55,000 miles and then later 5,500 miles would be redeposited.

    You couldn’t include a Hawaii to Los Angeles one-way, though you could include a one-way from New York to Los Angeles, for example.

  22. @Lucky: One of the reasons I enjoy the Ritz-Carlton brand is that they seem to do a good job of anticipating needs and managing expectations across a wide range of customers. To me that’s what great service is all about.

    Having to page the crew for even basic requests does indeed tend to indicate a failure of service. SQ isn’t perfect, not by a long shot, but they seem to have a better understanding of how to manage a wider range of customer expectations than CX does.

    Truly great service should’t expect you to ignore social etiquette, or come with a learning curve that’s invisible to the uninitiated, or require multiple attempts to eventually appreciate. Great service is something you rarely think about because it’s always there when you need it and never when you don’t.

    Although it’s nice to be warned that CX may not lift a finger until we take it upon ourselves to initiate an emergency distress call, it’s hardly an indication of ‘damn near perfect’ service, especially when it has to be learned from the words of previous customers rather than from CX themselves.

    Should be interesting to see how CX holds up next month when I have my first experience with them.

  23. Cathay foods on first class is pretty disappointing. I flown on F three time this year, and they all consisted of very similar menu. They just switched the menu from different routes. Your ORD- HKG menu is pretty much the same as the one I flown from SFO- HKG on January.

  24. “I always lose interest with the main courses on Cathay Pacific. The western options are always either pasta or a huge (but not especially high quality) sirloin.” I had a rack of lamb on this same flt. It was excellent.

  25. There is a mention that the Shanghai Tang Pyjamas are being phased out.

    Any guesses or knowledge or rumor of what the new PJ’s will be?

  26. Hi Lucky,

    I will be taking the same flight later. On landing in HKG, which side of the airplane do you think has a better view of the HKG city?

    Thanks

  27. @ Christer — Generally speaking there aren’t many views to speak of on approach into Hong Kong. This flight was actually one of the first in a while where I had a good view. Really it’s 50/50 as to the side of the plane, since it depends what runway they’re using for landings.

  28. @ Dax nailed it:

    “Having to page the crew for even basic requests does indeed tend to indicate a failure of service.”

    “Although it’s nice to be warned that CX may not lift a finger until we take it upon ourselves to initiate an emergency distress call,”

    My brother flies Cathay regularly, and just rants about the service. I just flew it for the first time and thought it sucked… inattentive.

    Now, from readying this, I understand maybe I was supposed to pester them. But I am really uncomfortable with this snobby “ring the bell for the servant” approach.

    This notion that “they leave you alone to maximize your privacy, and if you need something you push the call button.” is really not necessary.

    They can easily “maximize my privacy” by simply wandering down the aisle, without saying anything. When I see them, I can politely say, “Excuse me, may I please have…”. Quite frankly, the push-the-call-button smacks of a disrespect for the professionals working the plane, and would make me feel like I’m expecting them to drop whatever they are doing to serve my every whim.

    At a minimum, they should probably make an announcement at the beginning of the flight, informing us that we will be expected to call them. Absent that, their reputation could suffer as they grow.

    I just booked a business class CP ticket for my next trip. I had the miles, and didn’t think first class was worth it. It now seems I would probably have been in for another disappointing flight, and if I hadn’t read this, I would’ve probably made that my last CP flight.

  29. I’m with Lucky. Stay the H out of the cabin unless I ask for you. Don’t need or want anyone wandering up and down the aisles asking is there’s anything I’d like when I am trying to sleep or relax. If/when I need something, I’ll ring. That’s what service should be, not fawning mechanical pacing up and down every 5-10 minutes over a 10+ hr flight.

  30. Hi Lucky,

    I have first class booked for my wife and I for next spring, ORD to HKG and tried to request seats 1A and 2A, as you recommend, but two different reservation agents both told me that seat 2A (and 2K) are basinets seats and can’t be reserved. Only available at checkin? Have you experienced this as well?

  31. Thanks Lucky, called the HK call center and they switched my wife and I into 1A and 2A, for both our outbound and return.

    I would not have realized these were the two best seats in First, without reading the post of you and your mom and why you prefer those two seats, and I would not have been able to reserve them without more advice from you to call HK call center. Thanks very much!

  32. @ Silver — Cathay Pacific is great about releasing first class award space either far in advance or close to departure — they don’t release much inbetween those times.

  33. Lucky, that’s a very interesting review! It motivated me to spend almost all my miles to travel from Paris to HKG in First class, with my wife 🙂

    Now that the tickets are booked, i see they have allocated seat 1A to me (window), and seat 1D for my wife (middle).
    With your mother i see you chose 2 seats following each other so that you could observe & ensure she enjoys the experience.

    For travelling with my wife, i am wondering what is the seat she should be getting, so that we can share most of the experience? I actually don’t know whether we can share more than the lunch, it seems those seats are well designed for privacy.

    cheers
    Nicolas

  34. @ Nicool — The center and window seats are sufficiently far apart that you can’t really talk. I’d do 1A & 2A so you both have windows. That’s what I always do, at least. Enjoy the trip!

  35. That menu actually didnt have any sirloin on it for the western items, it had beef tenderloin which looks like it would be good and since its tenderloin not fatty.

    I love your reviews Lucky but it seems kinda like you have flown Cathay so many times now that the luxury has worn off for you, but it does seem to be the same with almost all the other luxury First Class companies you review more than once. Seems flying first class to often makes it no longer fun.

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