Cathay Pacific Offers The World’s Most Consistent First Class Product

Back in the day I used to fly Cathay Pacific first class so much that it almost became my second home. But lately I’ve been trying to avoid them a bit for a couple of reasons:

  • They don’t have wifi, which is both a blessing and a curse (perhaps slightly more of a curse on 16+ hour flights)
  • I’ve flown them so often and wanted to try more airlines

My last Cathay Pacific first class flight was from New York to Vancouver last March, and prior to that I flew them from Chicago to Hong Kong the previous June.

But I think I’ve sort of discovered the reason I’ve avoided flying Cathay Pacific, which is both the reason I love them and the reason I hate them. Cathay Pacific is so, so, so consistent. Like, creepily so.

When you fly Singapore Airlines, for example, the flight could be a “supper” flight, which has a really lackluster meal service, or it could be a “lunch/dinner” flight, which has an amazing meal service.

When you fly Lufthansa you could get their new 747-400 first class product, or you could get their old A330 first class product, which is probably two decades past its prime.

When you fly Etihad you could have an amazing flight with a top notch onboard chef, or they could run out of food halfway through the flight.

But Cathay Pacific offers what’s possibly the most well rounded and consistent first class product. I don’t think they’re the best airline in any single way, but instead they’re possibly the best all around.

I flew Cathay Pacific first class from Chicago to Hong Kong on Friday, which had a flight time of 16h15min. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

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Airshow between Chicago and Hong Kong

Why is Cathay Pacific so consistent?

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Cathay Pacific 777-300ER at Chicago O’Hare Airport

Cathay Pacific first class seat

Now that Cathay Pacific has just about retired all their 747s, there’s primarily just one aircraft type with first class, which is the 777-300ER.

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Cathay Pacific first class, seat 1K

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Cathay Pacific first class, seat 1K

The first class cabin consists of just six seats, in a 1-1-1 configuration. You can’t beat the spaciousness of the layout. While the cabin doesn’t consist of fully enclosed suites, I think they’re actually better. They’re private without being claustrophobic.

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Cathay Pacific 777 first class cabin

And the bed is possibly the most comfortable in the sky. It’s huge and features amazingly plush bedding. It’s like sleeping in a real bed.

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Cathay Pacific first class bed

The hard product is absolutely fabulous, and that’s despite the fact that it has been around for eons now.

Cathay Pacific first class amenities

Cathay Pacific has among my favorite amenities of any airline — great PYE pajamas (not quite as Emperor-looking as the old Shanghai Tangs, but…), an Aesop amenity kit, Bose headphones, durable slippers, etc.

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Cathay Pacific first class PYE pajamas

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Cathay Pacific first class Aesop amenity kit

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Cathay Pacific first class Bose headphones

Cathay Pacific first class service

I love Cathay Pacific crews. They’re consistently charming, friendly, and attentive. That being said, it’s important to understand Cathay Pacific’s first class service philosophy, which couldn’t be more of a polar opposite from Singapore’s philosophy. In the past I explained it as follows:

The service on Cathay Pacific 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.

So you have to know to push the call button between meals, and when you do they consistently show up within seconds.

Cathay Pacific first class food

Cathay Pacific’s meal service is consistent to a fault. The good news is that they serve the same main meal regardless of whether you leave at 1PM or 1AM, so it’s not like Singapore Airlines where you get a watered down meal service on a late night departure.

I think Cathay Pacific’s first class food is perhaps the weakest point of the experience, even though it’s still quite good.

They have caviar, which is awesome and gorgeously presented (though I do miss their old meal setup, whereby they also served salmon with the caviar).

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Cathay Pacific first class starter

Then they usually have a soup and salad, which are both very good. I usually don’t love their mains, though. They have two western options (either a massive chewy steak or what tastes like microwaved pasta) and then some Chinese options, which consistently feature fatty meat (I realize that’s by design for Chinese food, though I prefer leaner meat).

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Cathay Pacific first class main course

The desserts are usually fairly good, though I’m not sure I get the foil tin in the presentation…

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Cathay Pacific first class dessert

But the food service is very good, and they do serve Krug, which is my favorite champagne.

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Cathay Pacific first class Krug

That being said, they had only catered three bottles and there were four of us in first class (all on AAdvantage redemptions — profitable flight for Cathay, clearly!), so that lasted us for all of a few hours.

Cathay Pacific first class entertainment

The StudioCX entertainment selection is top notch. They actually had episodes of 2 Broke Girls that I hadn’t yet seen, which is a first.

Bottom line

I love Cathay Pacific first class! I’ve never had anything even approaching a bad flight on them. Are there areas where they could improve? Absolutely. But all things considered, I think they do offer one of the most well rounded first class product out there.

If you’ve flown Cathay Pacific first class, what was your experience like?

Comments

  1. @Lucky
    Norwegian Air trying to get Russian airlines banned from Norwegian airspace unless they are given right to fly over Russia on their Bangkok route.

    http://barentsobserver.com/en/business/2015/02/norwegian-flies-aviation-dispute-russia-13-02

    And if you are going to LYR this year might be the best as coal mining might be shutting down and this might reduce the number of flights because a lot of the miners live on the Norwegian mainland and fly in to work and then fly out again. If you ever wondered why there are so many flights to such a small place like LYR.

    http://barentsobserver.com/en/arctic/2015/01/future-svalbard-governments-table-30-01

  2. I love, love Cathay! I am very excited about my two flights with them coming up. I was very pleased with their service and product when I flew them. I agree, their bed setup is fantastic and great for sleeping.

  3. While I agree with you for the most part about Cathay’s mains, the Chinese cold plate is always very very good and their snack menu (a real weak point for Singapore) is excellent. Love me some hot pot in the middle of the flight!

  4. Lucky,

    I flew Cathay First from HKG-ORD this past January and honestly I was a little underwhelmed by the experience. I appreciated the bedding and Krug, but to me the service came across as rather robotic. I appreciate the crew leaving me alone in between meals but I never found that the service felt very authentic or caring in the way I am used to with Singapore Airlines.

    I realize that this was one flight and one crew, but I was wondering if you have had any similar experiences. I was really looking forward to my flight back, but after that experience I am honestly considering just sticking with Singapore Airlines.

  5. How would you compare JL first vs Cathay first? The hard products look very similar. It seems there’s a lot of long time love for Cathay but from most trip reports JL seems to be pretty similar.

  6. been thinking about book CX F for a trip to JNB via HKG in March or April 2016.. It’s best to grab seat 330 day out or play “last-min grab” from JFK (I live in Wash DC and figure it’s easier to do that from JFK or ORD).

  7. Only 3 bottles of Krug for 4 people on a 16 hour + flight? Seriously? What did y’all drink after the first 2 hours or so? Could you at least go back to J for some Dom?

    Flying FC in Suites in SQ on Wednesday LAX-NRT-SIN, please tell me that won’t happen to us….

  8. I just flew CX F for the first time from Lax-hkg – i thought the food was the best part! I didnt really try their western options (but my picky wife raved about the burger) i really enjoyed the hotpot and the dim sum was probably the best Ive ever had ( though I’m sure i just haven’t found the right spots in HK yet 🙂

  9. Agree about the steak, it was pretty bad. Would you redeem AA or Avios for this award (actually in reverse, HKG-ORD) given the upcoming BA devaluation?

    Also, it would be nice if you did a business class review now and then, especially if you’ve already flown the same route in F 😉

  10. i love CX for precisely this reason. when i first entered the miles/points game, the idea of trying all sorts of different premium cabins sounded great but as i went along, i realized i just wanted a consistently premium experience. and since i travel mostly to asia, CX F is the best use of miles for me. never had a bad flight with them.

    as for JL F vs CX F, i would say the food was better on JL but not by much. i found the hard product slightly better on CX for sleep but for lounging i like the JL seat. the one downside to JL — and i’ve found this on many of their flights, not just in F — is that if you don’t speak japanese they tend to be very hands off. at times it even seemed like they were nervous when they engaged with me. i don’t blame them for this really, it’s a common cultural experience in japan because of the culture of wanting to save face and not disappoint. on one flight i finally just dedcided to speak to the FA in japanese (which i’m decidedly not fluent in) and you could see the weight lift off her shoulders. for the rest of the flight she was checking on me every 5 minutes or so and it was night and day from my other JL flights.

  11. connected thru HKG for the first time, on the way to ORD. No maps in KA seat pocket showing F lounge location. No signs showing way to F lounge on arrival. And of course no F attendant escort to lounge.

  12. I gotta admit I love the Krug, caviar and a lot more about cathay. However, I think their new amenity kit just went further downhill. I guess they have to be able to cut costs one way or another 🙂

  13. Not true that Cathay always serves the same F meal. Late-night and early morning transpacific departures get an abbreviated supper or brunch service.

    And if you are in J or in Y, you may be woken up and forced to eat a second meal after 6 hours—of course you aren’t really required to eat, but there won’t be any more food service for the 12-15 hour flight so you’d better! You’ll never know in advance of boarding what kind of schedule will be followed. Sometimes the menu will specifically say the second meal is before landing, but they’ll serve it midflight anyway because they feel like it. Consistent, my foot.

    I agree that the food is mediocre. Edible, but not special.

  14. I agree on their excellent comfortable seat which i flew last week in first again as I have many times
    However though they have a pleasant lounge the service was slow and the food sub par
    Displayed beautifully sad tasting out of season fruit soggy pastry and a number of other poor quality choices
    They had variety and quantity but no substance
    Onboard the gummy leaden cream of chicken with rubber chicken floating around was gross
    Their mushroom soup was at least decent in the past
    Their rubber shrimp in red sauce stunk or stank of rotting shellfish
    I’ll take Qantas each and every time when traveling simply because I can eat the food
    What enraged me is in their first class lounge with state of the art Apple computers not to havevacworking Internet connection is unacceptable
    I had to go to a dodgy priority pass lounge to finish my work
    I’m looking for alternatives now as all they could say to me is so sowee!
    Fellow business travelers have said its been that way for awhile
    It’s an airline consistent in a few things
    Seat and in flight service
    Sloppy on many other counts
    Qantas blew them out of the water
    Cathay from Sydney to Hong Kong was actually a bit better in food quality
    Though selection was weak and presentation less impressive

  15. Hey lucky

    Is cx still running the Italian wine promotion for F passengers? Any idea how often they are changed? It seems like the one before the Italian (Bordeaux 1855 classification) lasted for over a year.

  16. lucky –

    first – love your blog and read it religiously…

    i agree that cathay has the most consistent first class product in the world, but to say that singapore has better food on a “lunch/dinner” flight to me is an exaggeration.

    i just had singapore’s “lobster thermidor” which quite frankly was foul. they didn’t appear to have a rice cooker which i am not sure if this was a product of the “saffron” rice or they just didn’t have the ability to cook rice on board at all..

    also, i had to request half of the items in the amenity kit which was slightly ridiculous… no slippers, eyeshades or tooth brush in the case? come on…

    continental breakfast also consisted of three pieces of fruit and pastries… Delta has better breakfast in J class…

  17. Lucky,

    You are right about the consistency, and means so much. I’ve got a trip out of LAX in F (gonna try the new Qantas F lounge!), but the return was a little more difficult. A couple of options on JL showed up, one through LAX (in F!) or BOS in J. I gotta get back to DC, so flying a domestic product for five hours really takes away from the allure. BOS sounded good, and they even fly the 787 on the route, cool! I was sold. Until I did some more investigation and found that there is no F on the 787 (I can live with that) but they’ve got this old school J product that they’re eventually converting over to the Sky Suites. WTF? This is a brand new aircraft and you install a subpar product? Huh?

    Plus JL’s lounges suck. With CX, you always get nice lounges in HKG, and there are no equipment worries on their long hauls. No matter what market you fly to in the US, you get the same hardware. No worries.

    I had to post pone my return by two days, creating some scheduling headaches, but a nice, consistent experience is worth it.

  18. “there were four of us in first class (all on AAdvantage redemptions — profitable flight for Cathay, clearly!)”

    How does that come up in conversation? “So, I don’t know if you actually paid $13K for this flight, but I paid in *miles!*”

    “Uh, me, too, bro.”

  19. @miro I think Lucky sticks to “aspirational” trip reports (ie F), rather than actually trying out various airlines’ J/C products that most of us are most likely able to achieve. I’d see him reviewing the Residence sooner than CX J again.

    Not to say that I don’t agree with you. I’d love to see more reviews of more business cabins for more airlines, but that doesn’t seem to be a remote possibility. Unless it’s LH, CX, or the ME3, it’s not going to show up here.

  20. I really liked the bed on my flight yesterday. Best sleep in the air yet. Krug, caviar, and the cabana in HKG were great too. I’m eager to read your JAL review and how it compared to Cathay. I flew JAL first in December and had a great experience. Different experience than Cathay, but great in its own way.

    @Tyler – The Italian wine promo is still going (as of last night)

  21. @Jon

    Since Lucky mostly travels on miles the cost difference between F and J/C is much smaller than it would be for paid tickets.

    Why would he fly J/C when it’s just a small extra cost in miles to fly F?

  22. Ben why do you think they catered only three bottles of champagne?? Had a full cabin on JFK-HKG in January and drank Krug start-to-finish… Definitely would’ve been bummed/annoyed if I hadn’t been able to do that! Did you complain?

  23. @Washeelers747

    CX no longer operates 744s on the HKG-JNB route; it’s been switched to a 777 with biz, prem. econ., and econ.

    As a side note I flew the HKG-JNB route myself a few months ago and was the only person in first in the nose. Best flight of my life. But unfortunately, considering that I was the only pax in 1st, I suspect demand must be so low that they’re not going to bring it back for some time, if ever. Biz. was packed on this flight.

  24. Whilst not entirely on subject, we flew with them back in December 2013 from Bali to London in Business Class and found them to be the worst airliner we’ve ever flown with. The beds were truly uncomfortable, the food was disgusting to the point I spat it out and the service was bordering on rude. Comparing them to Emirates or Qatar would be like asking a monkey to fight King Kong.

  25. “The StudioCX entertainment selection is top notch. They actually had episodes of 2 Broke Girls that I hadn’t yet seen, which is a first.”

    Interesting yardstick with which to measure the quality of an airline’s IFE.

  26. I once saw an article on CX service philosophy and that in first class, they think that all their F passengers want to be left alone to do their work, while they employ a more SQ like service in J, where they’ll check on you every few minutes.

  27. In theory the bed should be the best ever, but I didn’t sleep great both times I flew F. First time had too much turbulence. Second time it was either too hot or too cold the ENTIRE time I tried to sleep, and I woke up with sore throat. Terrible circulation.

  28. Having listened to hundreds of clients airline experiences, some patterns emerge. No airline can guarantee an outstanding food service. The catering company may run out of items, deliver poorly executed meals or not warn FA about changes needed if steam/induction ovens are not used. Most flyers do not have enough culinary knowledge to appreciate quality and intense labor required to provide a standardized service. I find curious when a first class pax fills up on ramen noodle soup which I buy at Wal-Mart for 50 cents. When a menu does not specify origin of the protein portion, sourcing of fruits and vegetables or the name of the master sommelier selecting liquor assume your luxury experience is all smokes and mirrors.

  29. @ Huck — No clue why, found it odd as well. Maybe it’s catered roundtrip and they served too much on the way out?

  30. @ andrew — What route did you fly? Sounds like JFK-FRA, where the lobster thermidor sucks. Catered out of Singapore, though, it’s excellent.

  31. @ Chuck — What is the difference in first class meal service between evening and late night flight? Can’t say I’ve noticed any.

  32. @ Stannis — Definitely American miles. We’re talking 67,500 AA miles vs. 105K BA miles plus fuel surcharges.

  33. @ LS — Actually a pretty big difference between the hard products. Stay tuned, writing comparison between the two today or tomorrow.

  34. @ Joel — Ultimately there are always some bad apples out there, but I’ve found a vast majority of Cathay crews to be super genuine. I’d suggest giving them another shot.

  35. (I was on the same flight)

    @Robert Hanson, when they ran out of Krug, they served Deutz Brut Classic, which I believe is the normal business class champagne.

    @Tyler, they are running the Italian wine promotion. There was a separate menu booklet with these wines. The one that was available on this flight was Salvano “Trabuch” Langhe Rosso DOC 2011. I had a glass shortly before we landed.

  36. I flew over on CX to HKG in biz class last month It was ok, the service was good, meals were fine, but it doesn’t compare to their 1st class comfort that I experienced for the first time 2 years ago. I enjoyed everything; the wine, caviar, champagne, IFE, amenity kit, and the bed was comfy.
    Tomorrow I’m back in first class on their longest trip (HKG-NYC) so I hope its not a let-down from the last time, even though I read the warnings about the amenity kit and no salmon. I refuse to consider the idea that they might run out of Krug.

  37. You know it’s funny that you send this. I flew CX F yesterday from HKG SFO. I have always been a big fan of CX, but I must say i was underwhelmed with the service on this flight, from beginning to end. I think much of it has to do with the tempo that is set by the purser, and in this case, the purser didn’t seem engaged, and everything I went to the galley area to get to restroom, the purser was there, eating — even towards the end of the flight when they were preparing the cabin for arrival, she was there with a big plate of home cooked (she proudly proclaimed) fried noodles.

    Overall the service was rushed and lacking attention to detail. I have another flight on the same route in two weeks. Hope it is back up to the usual standards.

    Additionally, this flight was on one of their refurbished 777s. Same nice seat, but the seat was already really dirty and had several large stains on it. Unusual as well.

  38. Compared to the superb food on EY/9W SFO-AUH, the CX food looks positively vile (meaning the main dishes and cupcake). And EY LAX-AUH was almost as good.

  39. Hi Ben

    Quick question regarding Cathay, so let’s say I book an economy award ticket for Cathay with AA miles for march 12th and I want to upgrade to an first class ticket for march 13th I would have to pay a $75 dollar since it’s within 21 days fee correct? thanks!

  40. @ danny — Correct, you’d have to pay the close-in ticketing fee, but not the change fee.

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