The Cathay Pacific Intercontinental Marathon
It all started off with a plan to head to Europe as my last free holiday before my working life began. My initial plans had me wanting to travel to Dubai for the Dubai Airshow in November but my exam schedule presented me with bad news - I would have an exam during the time of the airshow. I was forced to change my plans but it had a positive outcome - I would be able to spend much longer overseas than I had originally planned. The trip would take me from Auckland to Hong Kong initially before starting my European adventure by flying into Amsterdam via London. Returning back to Hong Kong via Paris, I would then shoot off sideways for a quick visit to Los Angeles before heading home via Hong Kong and Sydney.
Hello and welcome to my 22nd trip report. This report will cover my flights on Cathay Pacific from AKL-HKG-LHR, LHR-AMS on BA, CDG-HKG-LAX-HKG-SYD and then the short hop on Qantas’ Jetconnect back to AKL. My apologies in advance for the length of this report as it is a marathon - I didn’t know how I could break this up so I just decided to amalgamate them into one report.
Since I was going to be heading to Hong Kong, there was only one choice in it for me - Cathay Pacific. Cathay Pacific is a world class airline and a member of Oneworld. It all started off in 1946 when it was founded by Roy Farrell and Sydney de Kantzow; naming it due to their ambition that the airline would fly across the Pacific one day. Starting off with a single DC3, the airline has grown to be one of the world’s leading airlines with a fleet of 114 passenger aircraft flying to 50 destinations right around the world, not to mention flights across the Pacific to the likes of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Vancouver. They have also acquired Dragonair, which helps them to connect the rest of China to their hub in Hong Kong.
With everything planned out, I started to make bookings. The initial itinerary just to Asia would see me fly Cathay’s A340-300, 747-400, A330-300 and Qantas’ 737-800; with small intra-Europe flights to be bought separately. I would travel right around Western Europe for 5 weeks and have a stop in Hong Kong each way. A few days before my adventure, I decided to add on a side trip to Los Angeles; also on Cathay Pacific. This would send me on my first 777-300ER long haul flights after 2 short hops across the Tasman in the great aircraft.
Due to the fact that I had night flights for the majority of the legs, I chose aisle seats so I wouldn’t be trapped by the window and two passengers and therefore didn’t take many pictures during those segments.
27 December 2011
An alarm early in the morning went off and I jumped out of bed to a beautiful summer morning. The day of the European adventure had dawned. Cathay Pacific has 2 daily flights over the summer into Auckland - the earlier flight (CX117/8) is operated by an A340-300 and the afternoon (departing Auckland) flight (CX107/108) is operated by a 747-400 over the northern winter but reverts back to an A340-300 during the northern summer. I had chosen to take the earlier flight in order to be able to hang out with my friends after I landed.
Being Marco Polo Silver has its benefits when flying with Cathay Pacific. You’re granted Business Class check in, lounge access and priority boarding. After arriving at the airport with no traffic on the roads, I headed straight to the empty Qantas Premium check in Area - it has a handful of check in counters for all premium OneWorld flights out of Auckland. Upon a professional greeting by the agent, I enquired about how full the flight was. I was told that it wasn’t very full at all and then she said that she’d block the neighbouring seat for me. I didn’t expect that but well done to the agent.What a great start to the day! With my boarding and lounge passes in hand, I walked the 5 or so metres to the immigration pre-clearance desk within the Premium check in area. Having a chipped NZ passport, it isn’t really an advantage when travelling alone as the smartgate system is much quicker. I then headed upstairs and bid farewell to my parents before heading airside.
Auckland airside hasn’t changed a bit since I last went through at the beginning of 2011. I went straight to the Qantas Business Class lounge for some breakfast. New Zealand tends to shut down between Christmas and after New Year as people take their summer holiday. The airport was rather quiet and so was the lounge. We were advised in the lounge that our aircraft had some engine issues and would be called for boarding at a later time. The offerings inside the lounge were satisfactory - cereal, fruit, yoghurt, scrambled eggs, toast and drinks. People came and went but my area remained completely empty. Eventually, a message was made across the lounge that boarding had commenced. After packing up, I thanked the lounge attendants and headed to my gate at the end of the pier.
To my surprise, the gate was rather empty by the time I got there which meant that most people had boarded. No queue for me - I was straight down the air bridge and onboard B-HXF.
27 Dec 2011
Routing: Auckland - Hong Kong (AKL-HKG)
Airline: Cathay Pacific
Scheduled Time of Departure: 0930hrs (GMT+13)
Actual Departure: 0945hrs (pushback), 0959hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 1530hrs (GMT+8)
Touchdown: 1543hrs (GMT+8)
Flight time: 10 hrs 58 min
Aircraft: Airbus A340-300
Cathay Pacific has a fleet of 11 A340-300s. They operate flights to AKL, DME, FCO, JNB, PER and some Middle Eastern destinations. With a configuration of 26J/257Y, they currently have the old ‘coffin’ herringbone J and the fixed shell Y seats. Retrofitting to install Y+ seats will commence Q3 2013. The A343 has served AKL for over 12 years now. This particular A343, B-HXF, was delivered new to CX in January 1997, making it 15 years old when I flew it. The cabin has had a few refurbishments since then.
I received warm “good morning” or “welcome aboard” greetings from the flight attendants as I made my way down the aisle to my seat. Not long after making myself comfortable in the pair of seats I had to myself, the captain came across over the PA and announced that we were delayed due to maintenance and that we would be performing an engine ground run at the gate before making our way to Hong Kong. The flight attendants thought on their feet and decided it was a good time to distribute the menu and also take some meal orders. Today’s choice - Chinese (noodles) vs English (egg) breakfast.
The seat, as mentioned above, is of a fixed shell design. This means that when you recline, the cushions slide forward instead of the seat physically moving back into the person behind you. It is slightly similar to Air New Zealand’s new Premium Economy Spaceseat I tried in a previous report however the seat cushion doesn’t tilt up like it does in NZ’s seat, causing a lot of the pressure and weight of your upper body body to be forced onto one spot of the lower back/bottom rather than being spread out. Cathay Pacific had obviously not researched these seats enough and I found them to be extremely hard/uncomfortable. My glutes and lower back would be sore after a few hours of sitting down, even if I had attempted to soften it by sitting on the cushion. If you reclined the seat, it’d make things far worse so I guess it’s a good way to teach people how to sleep in the upright position for when they switch back to more ‘normal’ seats! I’m extremely glad that they’re finally replacing the seats but disappointed that the 744s and the A343s won’t receive them. I can’t wait to try the new seat out. The seat was the same on every single CX flight I had, accumulating to about 70 hours of sitting rather uncomfortably. Luckily I had an empty seat next to me on 3 of the 6 legs. I’ll go into more detail of each individual experience for each flight. You won’t believe how many times I wrote something about the seat and how I felt. But I suppose at least the legroom was acceptable.
Under seat storage is horrible on the window block of seats but looking over to the middle block, it looked like they had tonnes of room for belongings. There is this strange metal/plastic plate restricting what you can place under the seat. The picture doesn’t show it very well but you can see the huge amount of underseat storage of the middle aisle seat. The IFE boxes weren’t a problem.
After just sitting around and waiting, the purser, Bingo, decided to pay me a visit. She introduced herself, welcomed me on board the flight and told me that if I needed anything, all I needed to do was call her. It was the best welcoming I have ever had on a flight and it sure felt like I was in a higher class than where I was seated. I asked her if I could visit the flight deck after arriving in Hong Kong and she told me that she’d get back to me during the flight. It was all very professional and it had a great touch to the beginning of the flight. Well done Bingo - your service and professionalism should be one of the benchmarks for CX Economy FAs. I’m sure she did set the mood for the rest of the FAs on board that flight; the service was excellent that day. Now if only all flights were like that!
Cathay Pacific’s IFE is named StudioCX. The current version in the A343 and 744 was installed at the same time that the current seats were fitted. There is a new version being fitted to the cabins featuring the new Y seats as we speak. The old version has a handset and the new version is touchscreen. There is a decent selection of movies and songs however I was more interested in the airshow function whenever I wasn’t trying to rest. An iPod and a noise cancelling headset is all one needs to enjoy a flight! Every seat in non-regional planes have their own power point so you do have the ability to charge devices. The only downside is that for Economy passengers, it lies behind the tray table so you have to keep the tray table down if you want to use it. There is another place opposite the power socket where a USB port could have existed somewhere down the track but obviously this design isn’t going to be sticking around. Strangely enough, they had Harry Potter 7 Part 1 available but no Part 2 so if anyone ever wanted to watch the whole thing at once, they were out of luck.
Still sitting at the gate, a familiar humming sound of a GE90-115B vibrated the cabin. The NZ 77W bound for MEL was powering up alongside us. Not long after they had taxied to the runway, our hairdryer CFM56s were fired up for the engine ground run test at the gate. I thought that they would either push back first or even perform this at the engine testing area near the runway but no - they simply did it before pushing back. We finally pushed back at 0945 with a relatively short taxi to 05R for departure at 0959 to the east.
Departing to the east when travelling towards the north or northwest means a great view over Auckland City can be seen. Today was no exception. We took a route directly over Rangitoto Island in the middle of Auckland Harbour on our way across the Tasman Sea, along the Queensland coast and up towards Hong Kong.
Pre-service drinks were handed out with sanitising towels (no hot towels these days in Y on many carriers) not long after the seatbelt sign was turned off. The smell of food wafted through the cabin not long after.
As on a lot of these flights with Cathay, the meal selection consists of an Asian meal and a western meal. Today’s breakfast was a choice between an onion and spinach frittata and noodles with pork. I chose the frittata. The meal was fine. Possibly a little bit small but it wasn’t bland. The only complaint would be that the baked beans were rather dry. Bingo was on hand to serve the meal and remembered about my request, telling me that the pilots were fine with it and I could head up to the cockpit after landing in HKG. That was great how she both asked the pilots and remembered to get back to me. It was all done in a professional manner too. So it is true - people can make an airline.
Day flights travelling westbound are always nice to take. It means that you can rest a little bit and have enough energy to finish off the day once you arrive. I was keen on resting up in order to adjust to HK time before making the big jump to European time a few days later. There’s not a heck of a lot of things to see out the window while crossing the Tasman Sea but further on, there can be some decent things to look at.
As we flew over Papua New Guinea, pre-service drinks were served once again as lunch was being prepared. 6 hours into the flight, the service had begun. I had the chicken - it was tender and tasty. It was accompanied by New Zealand Natural Hokey Pokey (similar to honeycomb) ice cream. Again, on the small side - I’d predict that the rest of my meals would be of a similar size. The strange timing of the meal made me hungry later on in the flight. There are snacks available during the flight including CX branded instant noodles.
After lunch, it was time to sit back and rest up because the flight would arrive in HKG at 3pm local (8pm NZT) and I’d still have the rest of the day to complete. That quickly became a mission. I had a kid in the seat behind me doing all these annoying things. The design of the seat means that the tray table is hinged up to the seat. Annoyance number 1 - opening and closing the tray table, making it drop. The vibration of the tray table dropping went right through the seat. I probably should have switched to the aisle seat in hindsight. Annoyance number 2 - playing hand games with the seat back. How do you let your kids do these things? So you’re thinking I should have moved. Well I would have had to move into the next section for the 3rd annoyance. She started making really annoying sounds, squeals and she even sang the alphabet a few times. The mother obviously didn’t care either. Thankfully, it was only a day flight.
The rest of the flight was quite uneventful in the dark cabin until we were getting closer to HKG. We started descending and manoeuvring through the thick layer of pollution until the wheels met the tarmac of 07L. The nice taxi around to Gate 29 was one with a view of just about the entire terminal, spotting planes from all over the place. This is Hong Kong!
I waited for everyone else to disembark before heading for the cockpit. I had a nice chat to the Australian captain before it was time to leave and head landside. The immigration queue was moderately long but my bag was waiting for me at the other end and I was off to Kowloon! One of the cheapest ways of getting into town is by taking the bus the short distance to Tung Chung and hopping on the MTR and making whatever changes to get to your destination. The problem I faced was that it was heading towards rush hour and so the trains were packed. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as much like a sardine before but me and my luggage survived the first leg!
I was with my friends from New Zealand for a few days before they went off to China and Taiwan and I went the other way towards Europe. We took a day to go to Macau.
Pictures of Hong Kong and Macau:
30 December 2011
The short stopover in Hong Kong was over and it was time to embark on a completely new journey to Europe - my maiden voyage. My flight departed at 1am on the 31st but it required me to be at the airport on the 30th. I caught a bus directly to the airport from Jordan after parting with my friends. The buses are relatively slow (all the taxis zoom past) but at least they get you to the right place in one go. Why not save a penny when you’re in absolutely no rush at all!
We eventually rolled up at the airport. The bus I took arrived at the departures level so it was a quick walk from there across to the check in counters. There was no queue at the Business Class check in counter - at least 5 vacant desks. It didn’t take long and my bags were checked through. The check in agent had confirmed that it was a pretty full flight. I had changed my seat at the last minute in the hope of getting 3 seats to myself and it looked to remain that way.
Security was no problem at all and I found myself airside at HKG once again. I love the terminal building. Roaming around the terminal looking at all the different planes is a great experience. I did just that and found myself looking at a Biman DC10 - something I didn’t expect to see!
After a little bit of wandering, I headed for the lounge closest to my gate - The Wing. It turns out that my gate was the directly opposite the lounge. I handed the lounge pass to the attendant and was told where to go for both the showers and the lounge part. The only part of the lounge which was open was the lower floor due to renovations going on in the main part of the lounge. Offerings were nowhere near as good as what I’d experienced in the past but a few things to nibble on to pass the time away. The lounge as a whole was set to reopen in early February, just in time for my flight to LAX. The whole bottom area was supposedly renovated before the closure of the main part of the lounge so it had the cool individual seats which were apparently a big hit in The Cabin, another of CX’s J lounges. I decided to take a walk down to the shower area just to have a look but was persuaded by the person at the desk to take a shower. And that proved to be a great decision! The shower cubicles were like little fancy hotel ensuites. The shower took up the end portion and there was a toilet and a basin with a seat. The shower had the biggest monsoon showerhead I’d ever seen.. And it felt so good standing under the torrent of that shower! All amenities you needed could be found too; including a hairdryer, razor and toothbrush/toothpaste. All fresh for the journey ahead of me, I went back to the lounge for a few more snacks before making my way to the gate.
31 Dec 2011
Routing: Hong Kong - London Heathrow (HKG-LHR)
Airline: Cathay Pacific
Scheduled Time of Departure: 0105hrs (GMT+8)
Actual Departure: 0105hrs (pushback), 0124hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 0620hrs (GMT)
Touchdown: 0624hrs (GMT)
Flight time: 13 hrs 19 min
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Cathay Pacific have been users of the 747 for a long time. It has been the backbone and flagship of the carrier. They have had the -200, -300 and -400 series in their fleet over many years. Some of the older ones had been converted into freighters after their passenger life. However, fuel prices are starting to take their toll. Cathay has brought in the 777-300ER to replace some 744 flights such as most flights to North America. It is rumoured that Cathay will make an announcement this year on further 744 replacements. A few years ago, they mentioned that the A380 was too big for them; but things can change - time will tell what they will order. B-HUA was delivered new to Cathay at the end of July 1992, making it over 19 years old when I flew on it. It also sports Rolls Royce RB211 engines.
There was no queue when I got there - just about everyone else had boarded. This time around, the staff felt cold as I boarded the plane. I didn’t really care at that stage since all I wanted to do was sleep in order to ease into European time after my biggest time zone change. The doors were closed and I was left with 2 empty seats next to me - just like I had seen on the seat map when I checked in online. I thought I’d slide over to the window for departure before making a little nest for myself. I had strewn all my stuff under all 3 seats.
The seat was exactly the same, just in 3-4-3 this time. IFE was the same as well. No need to recover these points!
We pushed back on time and made the taxi down to the other end of the runway (07R), passing the remaining planes at the terminal and then those around the HAECO maintenance hangars at the far end of the airport. There was a short wait for a few planes and then we were off. There was a most peculiar route out of Hong Kong and it included a big circle over Hong Kong before heading north (picture below).
After the seatbelt sign was turned off, the purser approached me but instead of a nice welcome, she said, “Another passenger is going to sit in the window seat”, in the coldest manner possible. That person just had to be the one complaining from the row in front of me. Well, who’s to argue against the purser? So I reluctantly obliged, vacating my window seat and the dream of a nice little nest for the journey west. It set the mood for the rest of the flight. Then, as you do, the guy who snuck into the window seat told me his partner was going to sit in the middle seat. I told him to wait until after dinner. So he relayed that message to his so-called partner sitting directly behind me. His partner had a seat free next to him so it’s beyond me why they couldn’t just settle there or where they were originally placed.
Dinner came around soon after. I chose the beef stew which was pretty nice. The salad was pretty strange - “Chicken breast with mixed vegetables in Italian dressing”.. And I left it alone. But the weirdest most creepy feeling came from Mr 59H. He didn’t eat his meal but thought it’d be more fun to watch me eat, as if he was timing his strike. It was so awkward sitting there eating and seeing this creep watching me eat out of the corner of my eye for the entire time - it was just downright weird. I hope I don’t encounter anyone like that ever again. Some people are so rude in getting their way it’s not funny. So I had finally finished eating, got out of my seat to let 59H’s partner in and then moved to the seat behind where there was a gap between me and a girl on the window fast asleep and oblivious to anything else going on. And then one of their sons went across to join them. Oh well, at least I wouldn’t be bugged by them for the rest of the flight.
In the same way that people make an airline, they can also do the opposite. The crew I encountered on this flight had the opposite attitude as my first flight. None of them seemed to care about anything during that flight. I visited the lavatory halfway through the flight to find that the majority of the lavs at the back of the plane had no toilet paper and the ground was wet in most. You’d think that FAs would be on to that without hesitation by doing routine checks but I had to approach one of them and tell them that they needed attending to. They quickly went into action but they had all this down time to do a quick check and see if they were up to scratch and chose not to. To add to that, they had no expressions when serving the meals at all and it felt as though they wished they were somewhere else. Maybe it was going to be New Years Eve when we landed but we would be in London. Is that not better than serving customers on a New Year night flight? Throughout the flight, there were odd bumps of turbulence, some more severe than others. In the instances that required the flight crew to turn the seatbelt on, the loud voice of a flight attendant would come across telling people to return to their seats in English, Cantonese and Mandarin in a rather loud voice. This happened a number of times throughout the night and was particularly annoying for ones trying to rest/sleep.
I rested/slept for the rest of that flight, checking the airshow every now and then. Our route took us over St Petersburg, Copenhagen and Amsterdam on our way into London. It felt weird flying over the city (AMS) where I’d end up flying to later in the day. Breakfast was served somewhere over the Baltic Sea. I opted for chicken on noodles (other option was a similar meal to my breakfast onboard CX118) and wasn’t disappointed by the flavour. The accompanying croissant didn’t really look like much of a croissant.
As we approached London, the captain came across on the PA and informed us of the backlog of landing flights and to expect some time holding. We were only in the pattern for ten minutes as we left the pattern and headed for 27L. The short taxi into T3 was followed by the queue to get out of the plane. Immigration wasn’t overly packed at that time but it still took a few minutes for me to get through; and an IT was written on top of the stamp, supposedly meaning international transfer. My ticket to AMS was purchased separately so I had to go out and find my own way to T5 after collecting my luggage. Of course, that wasn’t too difficult as the trains come often enough through T1,2,3 on their way to T5.
Terminal 5 at LHR is huge and it’s solely for British Airways. It would make it annoying when you arrive on another Oneworld carrier and have to transit to T5 for the connecting BA flight. I checked in for my flight via the self check in kiosks as there was no queue anywhere.
With nothing else left to do landside, I passed through security. Processes here were relatively quick. Jetlag was starting to hit me and the surreal feeling of being on the other side of the world was also starting to settle. Witnessing the New Year fireworks from Auckland on BBC inside the terminal was the only bit of homesickness I felt during the entire 2 month trip.
After being accustomed to hearing the recorded woman calling out for flights: “British Airways, American Airlines” etc etc (for all the codeshared airlines), the Amsterdam flight was called.
31 Dec 2011
Routing: London Heathrow - Amsterdam Schiphol (LHR-AMS)
Airline: British Airways
Scheduled Time of Departure: 1140hrs (GMT)
Actual Departure: 1138hrs (pushback), 1155hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 1400hrs (GMT+1)
Touchdown: 1333hrs (GMT+1)
Flight time: 55 min
Aircraft: Airbus A320-200
British Airways operates a large fleet of 41 A320s out of 90 A32X family planes. G-EUUV was delivered new to BA in March 2008.
I made my way to my seat in the last row. The legroom was pretty tight - Eric later advised me that the rows in front of the plane were flexible seats which could be turned into Business Class seats; and in turn had far more legroom. But this was the only window available so I took it. We pushed back on time and made our way down the other end to 27R for takeoff.
A small snack was served onboard. It’s probably equivalent to what Air New Zealand serve, plus the option of many drinks. It wasn’t very filling. I took an apple juice with my snack of cassava crisps.
The flight went by without any problems and soon enough, we crossed over the English Channel and onto Mainland Europe. This meant that AMS wasn’t too far away. I had no idea where I was until we landed and passed another runway on the taxi in and that was when I thought to myself that we had landed on the Polderbaan. The long taxi in took us to Gate D4 with a nice view of the F100 perched on top of the terminal.
Disembarking didn’t take long but there was a rather big queue for immigration. UK is a non-schengen country which means you have to pass through border security when travelling to Europe. A few questions about how long I was staying for were asked and then I was given the all clear into Europe. I went to find the hotel shuttle stop for the ride to my hotel - the Hotel Ibis Amsterdam Airport. The bed was quite nice, room was ok, nothing fancy. I later ventured out into Amsterdam City but the jetlag got the better of me so I returned before New Year celebrations had begun. Not only that but I had a meeting the next morning with Suryo (Akhmad) and Eric (Airbuseric) for some spotting at AMS!
The middle section (ie all of my European travelling) is saved for another trip report in the future. As mentioned at the beginning, this is mainly covering my flights on Cathay Pacific so this report now skips to the flight out of Europe.
6 February 2012
Fast forward 5 weeks and I find myself in Paris, getting ready to head back to Hong Kong. 5 weeks had gone by so quickly and it was great meeting up with so many photographers and fellow trip reporters.
Paris’s public transport system is quite thorough. Due to the age of the infrastructure, things are not luggage friendly. It was a mission to get down to the Saint Michel-Notre Dame RER station with an overweight suitcase, a laptop/camera bag and a backpack but I somehow managed even with broken down escalators.
The RER B line takes you all the way to Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport and depending on what terminal your flight is from, you may have to take another people mover named the CDGVAL. For those departing from Terminal 2 (AF, KL, Skyteam carriers, Oneworld carriers and many others), there is no need to take the extra train as the RER stops in the middle of the Terminal 2 complex. Apparently there is a shuttle bus that goes around Terminal 2 because it’s so large but I had no idea where to catch it from so I walked all the way down to Terminal 2A from the RER station. It had been known for a few days that there was to be a strike on that day, the 6th of February, by the ground staff. With this in the back of my mind, I was wondering if the flight would be delayed at all. The departure board seemed ok, not too many flights were showing “retarde” as their status.
The walk down to Terminal 2A went past many empty check-in areas, the odd Middle Eastern airline, some full AA check in areas, and finally down to Cathay Pacific. The Economy Class line was pretty full seeing that there was another Cathay flight (via AMS) which was also open for check in. No problems for me - the red carpet of the First Class check in was wide open so I was called over there from the blue carpeted Business Class line. I asked how full the flight was and the reply was that it was packed. With no mention of any delays, I was on my way with my boarding pass in hand.
Security took a little while to pass through as all the priority line people were entitled to jump the security line. I was in no rush as even the first Cathay flight still hadn’t departed. Once airside, I had a quick wander around (not that much to do in the smallish area) before heading to Cathay’s lounge.
Cathay Pacific’s lounge at CDG is a rather small, open air ‘rooftop’ type thing; perched above the main floor with a quasi view (ie if you tried, you’d be able to look out over the frosted glass ‘walls’) of both airside and landside CDG. I didn’t know what to expect from it. I went in, was greeted and was told that the place had no toilets but there was a toilet block opposite the lounge entrance. After entering, I could see why - there was absolutely no space for anything else in that lounge! France is known for its wine and the CDG lounge is apparently the only CX lounge apart from the HKG lounges which serve champagne. But more surprisingly, I saw a bottle of Chateau La Begorce Margaux 1998 - it was an extremely good wine. In hindsight, I probably should have had another glass or two to help me get to sleep! The food offerings were small but quite diverse and they were replenished quite frequently. It had things such as fruit, nuts, cold cuts, cheese, sandwiches and mini macarons. A fridge was filled with all sorts of drinks and yoghurts too. But obviously, that wine was definitely the highlight of the visit!
I left the lounge far too early because as soon as I reached the gate area, there was an announcement that the flight would be delayed by 30 minutes “due to the late arrival of the aircraft”. I knew that was a complete lie because the inbound aircraft had arrived at 6am. Obviously we had also been affected by the strike. Nevertheless, people started queuing. It got to the point where the Economy line snaked its way around just about the entire area of the Terminal 2A add-on gate lounge area. It kept on growing until most of the seats were actually empty because people decided to join the queue..
Eventually, boarding began..
6 Feb 2012
Routing: Paris Charles De Gaulle - Hong Kong (CDG-HKG)
Airline: Cathay Pacific
Scheduled Time of Departure: 1300hrs (GMT+1)
Actual Departure: 1339hrs (pushback), 1358hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 0720hrs+1 (GMT+8)
Touchdown: 0759hrs+1 (GMT+8)
Flight time: 11 hrs 20 min
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
B-HUB was delivered new from Boeing in October 1992, the next new 744 frame of CX’s following B-HUA; which I flew on to LHR. Other than that, the rest of the information about CX’s 744s from above are the same.
Indeed, the flight was a packed one. A few people were called to the desk just before boarding (possible op-ups) but I wasn’t one of them. Another silly decision by me to choose the aisle seat of the window block rather than the middle block would mean that there’d possibly be two people wanting to climb over me to get out. The guy in the window seat looked like some sort of architect/designer and I can’t believe he stayed put for the entire flight, not needing to even stretch during the flight. The prisoner seat guy was a Filipino who left his jacket on for the entire flight. More about him later. We were finally told from the flight deck that the delay was due to the strike. The plane was refuelling right up to pushback. It must have been from the lack of ground staff. Anyway we finally push back some 40 minutes behind schedule and make our way to the closest runway, Runway 08L.
Meals were eventually passed around. Chicken and rice was the option I chose. I don’t recall a menu being handed out on this flight. The main was nice but the salad was another odd ball.
Anyway, due to the horrible times of this flight, it meant that I’d arrive in Hong Kong after midnight Paris time. It left Paris at a time which wasn’t very body clock friendly. Therefore my mission was to sleep as much as possible so I could spend the day doing something in Hong Kong. I watched a movie until after dinner was cleared up. There were these French students all around my area who were up for the entire flight making quite a bit of noise and moving around; especially up and down the aisle. The only window I was able to look out of was the emergency door window at the back of the plane. There was a fantastic view of some cities over Russia as we flew east. Back in my seat, I tried resting/sleeping some more. My neighbour in his jacket thought he’d stretch out as far and wide as he could and in doing so, took the entire armrest and also somehow took my legroom. It was the most uncomfortable long haul flight i have ever experienced. I couldn’t have felt any more cramped than I did and the seat really didn’t help my cause either.
Hours passed, we made a funny zigzag pattern across western China on our way towards Hong Kong and there was an announcement over the PA near Chongqing if there were any doctors onboard. Well that was the last we heard of that as there was no medical emergency to Chongqing or other nearby airports and we continued our way towards Hong Kong.
Breakfast was due - some kind of omelette with potato cubes and bacon. Once again, the egg was well cooked.
I was so wasted towards the end of that flight and after it that I didn’t report on anything else; not that there was much to report on. We landed smoothly, I somehow made my way to my accommodation and crashed for a few hours.
My longer stay in Hong Kong was over and it was time for the add-on side trip to Los Angeles. Yes, it was more like a separate journey altogether.. And an odd way to be travelling instead of continuing around the world from Europe!
Nevertheless, the bus to the airport seemed to be the more direct way instead of having to change MTR lines 3 times and then onto a bus. The check in staff were very nice - both my bags were overweight by a few kg but they were put through without a problem.
The Wing, Cathay Pacific’s flagship Business Class lounge, had been fully reopened a few days before this flight. Everything was new and it looked fantastic. It retained features like the long bar and the noodle bar but included new features like The Coffee Loft. This cafe-like area took up the space previously occupied by the desk/lounge area overlooking gates 3 and 4. The use of cheap cafe-style seating seems to somewhat cheapen that area of the lounge, even if it’s supposed to be themed accordingly. I ordered a coffee and instead of using the espresso machine, they simply pressed the button on the automatic coffee machine and gave me the coffee. Surely the espresso machine isn’t just for looks.. It tasted horrible too.
There are a few signature drinks which Cathay has and they are available at the long bar. The Cathay Delight is a non-alcoholic kiwifruit and coconut based drink and is a must try if it’s available.
There are also a few food options alongside the offerings of the Noodle Bar (noodles, bbq pork buns etc) and the Coffee Loft (patisserie items, Haagen Dazs ice cream behind the counter) which are self serve, consistent to the old Wing.
After a relaxing time in the lounge (of course, including a shower), my flight was displaying as boarding. An announcement was made for it too. The gate was well placed for me - all I had to do was walk out of the lounge. The usual extra US gate security check was done (the old fashioned rummage through the bag) and thankfully it didn’t take very long. My special water bottle was kindly emptied by the agent and returned to me. But in all honesty, the area isn’t overly ‘secure’ as such beyond the checkpoint itself - someone could easily toss a bottle of anything into that area. [These days, they perform the security check down the airbridge.]
12 Feb 2012
Routing: Hong Kong - Los Angeles (HKG-LAX)
Airline: Cathay Pacific
Scheduled Time of Departure: 2345hrs (GMT+8)
Actual Departure: 2354hrs (pushback), 0014hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 2015hrs (GMT-8)
Touchdown: 1935hrs (GMT-8)
Flight time: 11 hrs 41 min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Cathay Pacific ordered the 777-300ER back in December 2005, for delivery from September 2007 onwards. They have proved to be a great addition to the fleet and fly the majority of North American flights. Earlier this year, they announced that Premium Economy was going to to be introduced along with a new Economy Class seat (some in 3-class configuration and some in 4-class configuration). Some aircraft have already been retrofitted and some have arrived brand new from Boeing. B-KPW is CX’s 5th youngest 77W, delivered after B-KPX (ie it wasn’t delivered in chronological order) on 29 Aug 2011. At the time of my flight, it was the youngest 77W in the fleet. It currently sports the new Business Class seats but hasn’t been retrofitted for the new Y+/Y seats yet and will probably be the last plane to be fitted [All 77Ws and A330s have the new long haul product]. Cathay Pacific has stuck with a 3-3-3 seating configuration in Economy which would be music to some peoples’ ears. It does provide for quite a roomy cabin when compared to that of NZ’s 77W where (I feel) the black adds to the claustrophobic effect.
Down the jetbridge I went and I settled myself into my seat. I was rather lucky to have no neighbour in the middle seat on this flight. It gave me room to move around and not have to worry about getting up for someone. I could just feel the space as I sat down in that seat - the surroundings just felt so far away, especially when the overhead lockers were closed. Something strange underneath the seat prevented me from fitting any bags in front of me. The only thing which stopped me from being in absolute awe was the fact that the mood lighting was never used on either 77W flights - planes which I’m pretty certain have the ability to do so. Looking beyond the curtain in front, a nice purple glow was shining between the gaps. I really don’t get why they don’t use everything they have at their disposal such as mood lighting throughout the entire plane. Menus were handed out before departure, in similar fashion to the first leg of this trip. It said that supper and brunch would be served on this flight.
Departure was to the east on 07R (again) and off on a routing towards Tokyo via Taipei. Dinner was served some time after takeoff but I wasn’t hungry after having something to eat in the lounge. I chose the spare ribs and rice.
The flight was so much more comfortable with an empty seat next to me. It also meant that I had an extra place to store my stuff. The initial part of the flight was for resting so I could be awake for the latter end of the flight before our arrival at around 8pm local.
After reaching Tokyo, our course took us nearly directly due east - straight for the West Coast of the USA.
The IFE onboard the 77W seemed to be better than the one onboard the 744 and A343. It had external cameras onboard and the airshow program seemed to be better too. It will improve once more in the new touch screen version being installed into the new Economy seats.
And with the sun ‘setting’ again, we were getting closer to our destination. With that came the next meal. Brunch was served at a semi-appropriate time for Hong Kong but it was fast approaching dinner time in Los Angeles. How confusing for the brain to be served brunch with the sun setting. Nevertheless, I took the egg dish once again and no surprises - it was cooked to perfection again. I’ve come to the conclusion that Cathay Pacific is great at cooking eggs. The sausage, bacon and mushrooms accompanying the egg were fine too. Another pretty decent meal onboard Cathay Pacific.
It was soon time to prepare for landing.. It didn’t feel like a long flight!
As you may notice in the picture above, the ‘details’ about the flight such as time to destination, speed, altitude and temperature are all blanked out. It wasn’t the case when flying over Japanese airspace so I would assume it’s something that is turned off over US airspace for some reason (unfortunate for us enthusiasts). Our approach path from the north took us on the well known Santa Monica approach with a turn over downtown LA in order to line up with 24R. I was watching the forward camera for the entire descent and noticed a really flashy Staples Center below - the Grammys were being held and I flew right over the top of it! That was a pretty cool feeling. Not long after, we landed without a hitch and taxied into Gate 120. Immigration was horrible at TBIT. There were complications up in front of us with a whole group of people not knowing English and not following instructions. But eventually (at least 40 mins) I got through, collected my bags and got out of there.
I witnessed an emergency landing - this 757 performed a missed approach but instead of climbing, he held his altitude for a flyby. We later noticed that there was something wrong when the nose gear hadn’t been deployed. He went around, consumed fuel out near Santa Catalina Island and about 40 minutes later, he returned for the smoothest landing I had ever seen - his nose gear was held up for as long as possible. Well done to the pilots on that day.
22 February 2012
And after that side trip, it was time to head home. Home was (of course) on Cathay Pacific (and Qantas) via Hong Kong and Sydney; creating a 28 hour flying experience rather than the usual 12 it’d be for a direct flight between LAX and AKL. It sounded like a brilliant plan before the travels but after the experience on the Y seats, I was not quite as optimistic that it’d be as fun as anticipated. I’d be keen to do it in the future though with the new seats!
I rocked up to TBIT 2 hours before departure.. Plenty for getting through security at LAX when it’s dead quiet. The check in agent kindly put my luggage right through to AKL - it’s the first time I’ve had so many airport codes on one luggage tag - HKG, SYD and AKL! She was able to check me in through to Sydney but I was told that I wasn’t able to be checked in for the short hop on Qantas back home until later on. She was extremely helpful and at the end, she went out of her way by jumping over the scales to hand me my documents while wishing me a good flight.
Terminal 4 at LAX, otherwise known as Tom Bradley International Terminal, is regarded many as a dump. There is absolutely nothing to do airside and I somehow hope that the new terminal being built right now can revitalise the terminal and make it sane to travel through again. The Oneworld members share a lounge. At the top of the elevator after going through the north side security, 3 airline logos are displayed - QF, BA and CX. The lounge itself is long - characteristic of the shape of the terminal and the area it’s confined to. There’s quite a bit of seating around the place, quite a few snacks, a bar and other such facilities. Though due to the shape, there is hardly any place which has privacy of any kind. It’s far from a quiet place in the late evening with many flights departing; notably QF flights back to Australia. It seems like it’s a step away from the typical American lounge because there is no such thing as a drinks voucher - I’m led to believe you can have as many as you like (different story if you’re departing from AA’s terminal and use the Admirals Club lounge). One of the downsides is that it lacks sufficient power points. You have go go searching to find ones that aren’t already in use by someone else.
After a little bit of standing around, it was time for boarding.
22 Feb 2012
Routing: Los Angeles - Hong Kong (CDG-HKG)
Airline: Cathay Pacific
Scheduled Time of Departure: 0005hrs (GMT-8)
Actual Departure: 2359hrs (pushback), 0029hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 0740hrs+1 (GMT+8)
Touchdown: 0800hrs (GMT+8)
Flight time: 15 hrs 31 min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
B-KPH was delivered to Cathay Pacific in May 2008. It has the same configuration as B-KPW has at this present time - First, herringbone Business and old Economy.
It’s so good to be one of the first to board - nobody to block the aisle while trying to put things into the overhead bins, nobody getting out of their seat to let others in... But today’s flight was full and that meant I’d have a neighbour. He eventually found his way to the seat. I basically had to store everything in the bin above me due to the lack of storage under the seat in front of me. I was too tired to do much more and my camera was locked away.
We pushed back early and had a long taxi all the way around from Gate 120 on the north side to the south runway of 25R. This happens to be the longest runway at LAX and a lot of the long/heavy flights use this one. It’s the same runway used in the emergency landing. A very long takeoff roll got us airborne and we made our way north along the coast and up towards Anchorage. The map below shows an approximate route to what I was watching on the airshow function for the whole flight.
Both meals were fine, similar to all other meals I’d eaten on CX to date. 15 hours was a long time to be sitting/sleeping in that seat. And to think I’d have another 9 hours in it again after a day in Hong Kong wasn’t exactly music to my ears.The route was particularly interesting, staying well clear or North Korea. We were told that we’d be landing to the west but just on approach, we did this huge bank and ended up landing to the east. It was a pretty cool experience but I wish I had some photos of it!
After we landed, I went up to the cockpit and had a nice chat to the American captain who mentioned that we took off with 130t of fuel and still had enough fuel left over for another 1.5 hours of flying! To think that we could have flown 16.5 hours was mindblowing.. The 777-300ER is one amazing plane.
A day (11 hours) spent in Hong Kong and at the airport spotting was drawing to a close. I now held my boarding pass for the last leg home on Qantas thanks to the check in agents. Unfortunately, I couldn’t switch seats but that wasn’t a big problem because I had a window. Another visit to a lounge was required. This time, my departure gate was a long way down - not far from The Pier. So I decided to give that lounge a visit.I think I should have stayed longer at The Wing. The low ceiling wasn’t as welcoming but the lounge had arguably better seating areas. Next time I’m in Hong Kong, I’m checking out The Cabin too.
There aren’t any boarding announcements in The Pier unlike The Wing and I had to keep checking the boarding status of my flight. Once it popped up, I was on my way to the gate area for my flight.
23 Feb 2012
Routing: Hong Kong - Sydney (HKG-SYD)
Airline: Cathay Pacific
Scheduled Time of Departure: 1900hrs (GMT+8)
Actual Departure: 1908hrs (pushback), 1926hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 0715hrs+1 (GMT+11)
Touchdown: 0730hrs (GMT+8)
Flight time: 9 hrs 22 min
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
Cathay Pacific has owned A330-300s for a while. With a fleet of 34, they are the backbone to the regional/medium haul flights which Cathay operate. They have a few older subfleets dating back to 1995 and a subfleet in which they’re still waiting to receive some more planes. The older ones are configured for regional travel and don’t make the long trips to the likes of Australia anymore. The newer ones have the normal long haul configuration and will receive the newest configuration consisting of the new J, new Y+ and new Y seats. B-LAK was delivered on the 26th February 2011 making it just under a year old when I flew on it. It had the new Business Class seat already installed when I flew it but it’s also the first A330 in the fleet to be fitted with Premium Economy and the new Economy seats. So in a way, I probably wouldn’t be disappointed if I flew this one again in the near future!
Having status helps when you want to board early.. But in this instance, everything fell apart as there was a strange queue in the airbridge. It was a LAG (liquids, aerosols, gels) security checkpoint set up just before entering the plane! It was not the desired way to end my time in Hong Kong - it was similar to a speed camera which you would only see (or miss) once you went around the corner. There were many outraged passengers who weren’t allowed to take their duty free onboard with them. They all claimed that they had no information of such rules. I believe that Australia’s rules are simply uncalled for. Who knows why they do such a thing like America does but it is a great way to annoy people. The water bottle I had taken from the lounge in order to drink during the flight was confiscated. But other than that, I was free to board.
The 2-4-2 configuration is the same as on the A340-300. With only one person to climb over, I was happy enough to grab the window seat. Departure proceeded just like my 2 other night departures out of HKG - taxi to the end of 07R. It seemed like quite a long takeoff roll in the A330. It also seemed to me that the A333 was louder than the 77W throughout the flight.. But I’m not too sure if sitting in a middle aisle seat made a big difference compared to being next to the window.
Dinner was served. I opted for the sauteed beef (other options were braised chicken with tomato mushroom sauce or bow tie pasta). It wasn’t as good as other meals I’d eaten on CX. Maybe it was because I had already eaten in the lounge so I didn’t feel too hungry by then.
I was in sleep mode from after the meal in order to get back into New Zealand’s time zone after having overshot it by 5 hours by going to Hong Kong. When I woke up, breakfast smells were in the air and it was still dark outside. I didn’t think much of the Chinese breakfast option - braised chicken on a steamed rice roll; so I opted for the trusty egg souffle again. And once again, it was cooked well.
The sun wasn’t even up by this point. It would be another half an hour before light would start creeping over the horizon.
And just like that, were were approaching Sydney. Runway 34L was in use for the heavies today so it meant flying over the city and then the airport before a 180 degree turn to line up 34L.
And just like that, 24 hours of sitting in that torture chair was finally over. Boy was I glad to get out of it, walk around and then sit in a normal seat.
I’ve been through Sydney Airport many times before but never for an international transfer. I suppose it wasn’t that special seeing that instead of heading for immigration, there was a separate direction towards a security checkpoint and some customer service desks before an escalator to take you right back into the airside departures area. Again I was “randomly selected” for testing of explosives traces.. Oh well. At least I wasn’t in a hurry - my flight was still a couple of hours away.
A bit of wandering around the place for the sake of it suddenly became tiring so I headed for the departure gate. Not long after, a boarding call was made.
With the seemingly QF standard “Thank you, Mr Young” from the gate agent after scanning my boarding pass, I was on my way home.
24 Feb 2012
Routing: Sydney - Auckland (SYD-AKL)
Airline: Qantas (operated by Jetconnect)
Scheduled Time of Departure: 0915hrs (GMT+11)
Actual Departure: 0923hrs (pushback), 0938hrs (rotate)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 1425hrs (GMT+13)
Touchdown: 1426hrs (GMT+13)
Flight time: 3 hrs 3 min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
Jetconnect is a wholly owned subsidiary of Qantas and it operates the majority of the Qantas flights to New Zealand “on behalf of Qantas”. Technically, it’s a separate operation but if one has never flown Qantas before, they would not know or be able to tell the difference. Jetconnect arose from the demise of Ansett New Zealand’s successor, Qantas New Zealand (using the Qantas name, though operating as a franchise). When that went belly up in 2002, Qantas sought to fill the gap and formed Jetconnect. Initially, they used 737-300s and -400s (transferred from their Australian fleet) on both domestic New Zealand flights but then sought to change things by withdrawing from the domestic market (Jetstar replaced their services) and purchasing a new 738 fleet in order to compete against Air New Zealand and Emirates on the Tasman. Fast forward to 2011 where they have all 8 new 738s equipped with Panasonic touchscreen PTVs - a quantum leap from the entertainment systems in the 733/4s. ZK-ZQG, the 7th 738, was delivered on the 22nd of June, 2011. It was named after Lord Ernest Rutherford, the New Zealander who was the first person to split the atom. They operate with a configuration of 12 Business Class seats and 156 Economy Class seats; identical to the 738s which ply the Australian domestic routes.
The flight wasn’t overly full seeing that it was no longer holiday season so I was glad to have an empty seat next to me. On the aisle was a girl from Sweden heading to New Zealand on exchange. The seats onboard this Qantas 737-800 are far better than Cathay’s long haul fixed shell seat. I would have been so happy if that was the seat I had just spent the last 70+ hours of long haul flying in. I won’t ever take another normal Y seat for granted! Legroom was plentiful too - said to be 31”.
As I mentioned earlier, These 738s have come with new IFE installed in them. It is touchscreen. There’s a decent selection of songs, TV shows and movies - definitely sufficient for the short hops the plane does across the Tasman. It was easy to use and also provided a decent airshow programme to track the flight progress with. Unlike Cathay Pacific, Qantas was able to store both part 1 and 2 of Harry Potter 7.
We pushed back a little late and made our way over towards the shorter of the parallel runways, Runway 34R.
With a departure to the north, we turned to the east immediately and began the short hop across the Tasman Sea.
Lunch was on its way. We were given two options - beef or chicken. I chose the beef and was satisfied with it. It was similar to what you’d get on a Qantas Australian domestic flight although comparing it to the 2009 meal I had, a salad was extra on this meal tray. Maybe things have changed or maybe the salad isn’t exactly required on a short hour flight between MEL and SYD.
And just like that, I was almost home. 23L was in operation which meant a downwind over the city.
And in typical New Zealand fashion, I was greeted to views of cloud from the land of the long white cloud.
There was a little bit of a satisfying moment there too as I had beaten CX107 in from HKG (although i did leave a few hours earlier). We made our taxi into Gate 15L - the A380 capable gates are ‘swing’ gates and can hold 2 narrowbodies each with an airbridge instead of one widebody on the dual airbridge.
I passed through immigration with ease and was home after nearly 2 months of travelling.
Cathay Pacific - People do make an airline. Unfortunately, there were some inconsistencies among staff members which let the rest of the team down. I suppose having a large staff base doesn’t help but I’m sure that something could be done in order to maintain a consistently good service each and every time. I’m glad that the fixed shell seats are getting scrapped but it’s frustrating that none of the planes which fly to Auckland will be fitted with the new seats. I might be waiting for the A350-900 before I get to fly on another Y seat on CX from Auckland.. And that’s a long way away. If I do fly CX again soon, I’m sure I’ll choose a flight through Sydney in order to get on that new seat and actually enjoy sitting in Economy for a long haul flight. I feel as though the service was better on the non-744 services.
Qantas (Jetconnect) - Qantas is the same full service carrier I’ve known them to be for many years. Their standards have not slipped and their product is competitive with Emirates and Air New Zealand, just as they set out to make it. I certainly wouldn’t have any problems flying them again but I suppose price and scheduling will be the only issues separating the 3 main carriers across the Tasman but at least you get full service no matter what.