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Cathay Pacific is a well regarded airline offering generally good quality service.

Pleasant staff and nice lounges add to the pre-boarding pleasure.

 
 
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Cathay Pacific Business Class review

Part 1 : General background, Checkin and Lounges
 

An image of one of Cathay's four lovely lounges at Hong Kong Airport.

Part 1 of 4 parts on Cathay Pacific's Business class.  Please also visit :

1.  General info about Cathay and pre-boarding experience
2.  Boarding and the cabin
3.  The seat and entertainment system
4.  Food, drink, miscellaneous

 

 

Cathay Pacific is generally considered to be one of the world's best airlines.

It operates a fleet of nearly new planes, with Asian cabin crew and generally ex-pat Western pilots, and from its base in Hong Kong provides an extensive route network through Asia and the rest of the world.

After an update in 2009, their business class service is comparable with other leading airlines, with some strengths and - ooops - some weaknesses too.

This review is based on two business class flights with Cathay Pacific in November 2010, flying from San Francisco to Hong Kong and then from Hong Kong to Vancouver, both times on 747-400 planes.  I have also taken short-haul flights within Asia in coach class on Cathay Pacific.

A Brief Background on Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific was formed in 1946 by two former WW2 pilots, an American and an Australian, with each contributing one single Hong Kong dollar towards the company's startup.  After a brief time based in Shanghai, the airline moved to Hong Kong, and it started services with a single DC3, with scheduled service between Hong Kong and variously Bangkok, Manila, Shanghai and Singapore.

In 1948 the Swire Group (one of Hong Kong's major trading houses and fictionally written about in James Clavell's novel, Taipan) bought 45% of the company, Australian National Airways bought 35%, and the two founders kept 10% each.

Recognizing the return of Hong Kong to China, and the need to get more aligned with Chinese interests, the airline has allowed itself to swap 17.5% investments with Air China, and another 17.5% is owned by CITIC Pacific.  Swire still holds a 40% shareholding, and the company is publicly listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

These days it serves 127 destinations in 38 countries, spread over five continents, with a fleet of 129 all wide-body planes having an average age of just under 11 years (as of Dec 2010).  It is a founding member of the Oneworld alliance and has a subsidiary airline, Dragonair.

The airline is well regarded and regularly wins awards for its service.  It has an excellent safety record (last fatal accident in 1967, with one fatality after an airplane overshot the runway on landing; the only one before that was in 1949), although it also has the dubious reputation of having experienced the world's first ever hijacking, in 1948.

Cathay Pacific has been generally profitable, and in 2009 earned a nice HK$4.694 billion profit (~US$600 million), although half of that was from fuel hedging, and another quarter from a one off transaction; the actual profit from ongoing operations was much smaller.

Before Flight Experiences

Checking in for the flights was easy, with priority access checkin lanes and no need to use self checkin terminals.

A nice touch, when checking in at San Francisco, was to see the checkin agents who were not busy serving customers were standing in front of their counters, rather than seated passively behind them.  It made their welcome greeting seem more personal and friendly, and at the end of the checking in process, they would come around to the front again to stand alongside you and talk you through your boarding pass, lounge invitation, etc.

These days lounge invitations are printed on boarding pass forms, the same as the boarding passes, and have a bar code on them which the lounge staff can scan (who knows what for or why).

While the staff were friendly, they weren't unduly helpful.  My bag claim check, printed by Alaska Airlines, had its tag number unreadable (due to a misaligned printer at Alaska Airlines).  The girl told me I would have to leave her check-in line, go find a phone, telephone Alaska Airlines, get the bag tag number out of their computer, and come back, wait in line again, and then give her the tag number.

I did wonder why she didn't pick up the phone at her desk and call them directly, herself.  But at least she smiled sweetly at me while refusing to do something that most of us would reasonably expect her to do.

Flight Delays

The flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong was scheduled to leave 90 minutes late (and ended up being even later when the door finally closed) due to the late arrival of the incoming plane.

The flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver was also late departing, and ended up after repeated extensions of the departure delay with the door closing an hour late.  The excuse offered for these delays was there was a problem with the In Flight Entertainment system, which needed to be completely rebooted.  I did wonder why they chose to do this prior to boarding passengers, as opposed to simultaneously with the boarding process, or even with the plane in the air (as sometimes happens on flights) and this strange excuse and repeated delays left me wondering if we were being given the honest truth or not.

The flight to Hong Kong lost a few more minutes en route and ended up arriving 1 hr 45 minutes late.  The return flight to Vancouver made up time en route, with some marvelously strong tail winds of up to 160 mph giving the plane over the ground speeds of up to 750 mph, and arrived 30 minutes late.

So both my flights were significantly late, due to Cathay-related issues, as was of course the incoming flight to San Francisco too.  I don't know what the plane that became the return flight to Vancouver did prior to operating the flight to Vancouver, but the three flights I had personal knowledge of were all appreciably delayed.

Lounges

In San Francisco and New York, Cathay uses the rather substandard British Airways lounges (not only does the BA SFO lounge no longer serve champagne, but on this visit it was offering crackers - but no cheese to accompany the crackers), while in Los Angeles it uses the lounge designated for all Oneworld carriers.  Cathay have their own lounge in Vancouver, and strangely use competing airline KLM's lounge in Toronto.

The real strength of Cathay's lounge product is of course manifested in their main hub, at Hong Kong's lovely new airport on Chep Lap Kok, which opened in 1998.

Cathay has two main departure lounges there, each segregated into business and first class areas - The Pier and The Wing - plus a new smaller lounge, The Cabin which does not split into separate first and business class lounges.

Cathay also has an arrivals lounge, but this is unfortunately restricted to first class passengers only, not 'mere' business class passengers.

I spent more time than I'd wished to in their huge Pier Lounge (due to flight delays).  Fortunately, this is a lovely facility - spacious, relaxing, quiet, uncrowded, and full of all the amenities you could hope for; ranging from a good selection of hot and cold food (including food items cooked to order), full bar for cocktails as well as regular drinks (including champagne - a rather ordinary Lanson Black Label) and soft drinks, lots and lots of work stations with computers, free Wi-Fi, plenty of comfortable seating, and showers.

Part 1 of 4 parts on Cathay Pacific's Business class.  Please also visit :

1.  General info about Cathay and pre-boarding experience
2.  Boarding and the cabin
3.  The seat and entertainment system
4.  Food, drink, miscellaneous

FTC Mandatory Disclosure : I was not given a free or in any way discounted/upgraded ticket by Cathay Pacific (I used frequent flier miles from my Alaska Airlines account for this ticket). I have not been paid money to write this article.

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.

 

Originally published 25 Nov 2010, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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