Review: Cathay Pacific A350-900 Business Class Hong Kong – Singapore (Return)

Review: Cathay Pacific A350-900 Business Class Hong Kong – Singapore (Return)

Cathay Pacific A350-900 Business Class
Hong Kong – Singapore (CX691)
Singapore – Hong Kong (CX736)

In late June I had two high-quality flights – from Hong Kong to Singapore and back – on Cathay Pacific’s A350-900. The only drawback (on both sectors) were technical issues with the seat, which – I’m told – the airline is working to address. The soft product was flawless, and reminded me of the three aspects about Cathay I love most: sophistication, style and safety.

Before I jump into the flight reviews, let’s take a quick look at my favorite Oneworld lounge in the world, which I visited early in the morning before my flight to Singapore and late in the afternoon a few days later – before my flight to Doha on Qatar Airways.

The Pier First Class Lounge (FCL)

Descending into Heaven

The Pier FCL can be found close to Gate 63 at Hong Kong International. Access is for First Class passengers and Oneworld Emerald cardholders (which is how I got in). Depending on how much time you have , it can be a great option to kick-back and relax in.

The lounge is open from 05.30 to 00.30 – more information and photos can be found here. The Pier Business Class Lounge is separate and further down, next to Gate 65.

I’ve found that a lot of US flights go from Gates 1-4 – a solid 15-minute walk away – so it may not be as convenient to lounge in as The Wing, which has both a First/Oneworld Emerald and Business/Sapphire side and is opposite Gate 3. I should note that I have never been to the other Business Class lounges, The Cabin and The Bridge, because – quite simply – there’s never been a reason to.

The Pier FCL is much quieter – both in terms of noise and foot traffic – than The Wing.

View from the dining room

When it was opened, the Cathay team marketed it as being more like a living room than a lounge and they’re perfectly correct in that assessment.

It is quiet and relaxing, with warm colors and low (not claustrophobic low, though) ceilings. It features super comfortable, large chairs to relax in and plenty of table top space to work, work, work, work, work on.

If I had a house somewhere, I would install a bar just like the one in The Pier. It’s u-shaped and large enough that there is plenty of space for each patron to sit, luggage by their side, and eat or drink or eat, drink and do work on the counter top. I admit I have spent many happy hours at this bar, and look forward to returning in early October en route to Australia (if not sooner!).

The lounge has a spa where 20-minute treatments are offered free of charge. I typically schedule a foot massage, and this time was no disappointment. It is a relaxing experience, no doubt.

Dining room menu

The Pier has a large dining room at the back of the lounge, which is split into three groups of tables. The staff are attentive, kind and happy to make recommendations. There is an extensive food and wine menu. The caterer changed in 2015 and the food has significantly improved since then. Before my flight to Singapore I had a lovely English breakfast and a few days later, before connecting on to Doha, I had the tasty Angus beef burger.

Angus beef burger and Dr. Wilson from “House”

Overall, the long walk to and from The Pier is worth it for the peace, quiet and level of service travellers receive there.

The Outbound Sector: HKG-SIN

D: 08.10
A: 11.55
Business, 18A
Airbus A350-900

I arrived at HKG at about 06.30 and walked over to the First Class/Emerald check-in area, which is the first bank of desks on Terminal 1’s Departure level. This area is unlike any I’ve seen before.

Its basically a series of screens at standing level with agents next to or behind them, which differs from the traditional walk-up desks with the baggage belt at your feet. The walls are lined with Cathay’s signature white marble. There are no baggage belts in sight, either. I decided to check my carry-on (so I’d not have to lug it around the airport) and the agent called someone to come from the adjacent Business Class check-in area to come take the bag. This may seem counter-intuitive but functionally and aesthetically it’s quite pleasing.

After my visit to The Pier FCL I left for the gate, arriving there at about 07.30. Boarding began 5-minutes later after passport checks were completed.

I walked on board and was welcomed by Christine, the In-Flight Services Manager (ISM). I found the cabin super warm, which got worse once everyone had boarded. The crew came around with apple juice, orange juice or water.

Shortly thereafter the Captain informed us the flying time would be 3hr9min. We pushed-back at 08.26 and took-off 15 minutes later. At 08.55 the crew came around with menus, but did not take any orders. The menu showed only breakfast options were on offer, which I found slightly annoying because I had had breakfast in the lounge and our arrival would be at about lunchtime.

The Meal

Christine came around the cabin to greet people, and the first drinks service subsequently commenced. They served non-alcoholic drinks off a trolley, but would bring alcoholic drinks from the galley if a passenger requested any – I think this is because it was a morning flight and most passengers wouldn’t be drinking anyway. It was, indeed, quite early so I enjoyed a black tea and some water.

Christine and Cabin Senior Chen were very friendly – their service was on-point – while the other crew were efficient and thorough, but not exactly warm and cuddly. Cathay crew nearly always address Business and First passengers by name, and this flight was no exception.

The meal service began in classic Cathay fashion – offering pre-plated dishes off a trolley. I had a fruit plate and a croissant to start. Given my large meal in The Pier earlier, I wasn’t entirely hungry, but asked for the egg and sausage plate anyway. The fruit was as expected and the croissant was flaky and warm.

The scrambled eggs were cooked well and the sausage was standard airplane meat. What took the cake was the round potato “pancake” for lack of a better word.

Like Qatar Airways, Cathay serves Billecart-Salmon Brut in Business Class, which is – competitively – acceptable for a Business product. The crew were really good about re-filling empty water glasses. All in all, a lovely meal.

The Seat

The seat is an evolution from the standard Cathay Pacific reverse herringbone seat that’s found on most of their aircraft (their regionally configured ones are recliners in a 2/3/2 configuration).

The A350 iteration has been enhanced in a few notable ways, including more storage, an improved handset and a bigger, crisper screen. One thing I love about this seat is that – short of being a suite – it’s quite private and provides ample space for sleeping.

Here’s a funny story about Cathay’s A350. A friend who works at the airline always complains about Qatar Airways’ 787-8 Business Class Row 6, which is just the middle pair of reverse herringbone seats squeezed in between some crew storage compartments and the two lavatories used by Business passengers and crew. He finds it ridiculous that Qatar decided to stick two Business seats right next to the loo.

Well, Cathay’s A350 has the same issue – but its even worse. The forward lavatory doors open right into the face of passengers seated in the bulkhead row’s middle pair (11D and G) and are situated just in front of the row’s window seats, 12A and K. During cruise there are curtains in the aisle that block the lavatory from the seat, but I’m sure the light – and certainly the noise – get through. Thus I recommend avoiding 11D and 11G at all costs, and perhaps even 12A and 12K as well. 

I should also note that the storage compartment next to the passenger’s knees at 12A (and I assume 12K as well) does not open.

My seat was 18A and neither the USB nor the power outlet worked, so I used my spare battery charger to juice up my mobile. Also, the screen wouldn’t pop out of its unit and it took two crew members five minutes to pry it open with tools. The crew apologized and laid the blame – rightly so – on the seat manufacturer.

Other than that, the seat is a welcome improvement on an already great product – kudos to Cathay!

The Arrival

At 11.18 the First Officer announced the weather was warm, but cloudy and rainy, and we’d be landing on Runway 2L. Christine came by thank me and other passengers for flying with Cathay and to wish us a safe onward journey. We ended-up landing on a very wet 20R at 11.54, and had a short taxi to the gate for a slightly late arrival.

The Cheatline

Seat: 9/10
Service: 8.5/10
Food: 8.5/10
Spirits: 8.5/10
Overall: 8.5/10

The Inbound Sector: SIN-HKG

D: 09.55
A: 14.10
Business, 12A
Airbus A350-900

Cathay Pacific uses the DNATA lounge at Changi, which is spacious but has pretty bad food. It was crowded that time of day as well. I’m told the airline is opening its own lounge in Terminal 4 soon (which makes sense given how many flights they operate to and from Changi per day).

Boarding began from Gate D49 – which is at the very end of the D Concourse – at 09.30 (which seemed late to me, but the flight was not full). The crew welcomed me on board and offered guava juice, champagne or water.

ISM Cecilia brought me the menu and told me the load in Business Class was less than half so welcomed me to move around as I pleased. I decided to go to the bulkhead seat, 12A, to test the proximity-of-the-lavatory issue.

We pushed back at 10.00, and the only issue with my seat this time was that the vanity’s latch didn’t work properly, so the door would constantly swing open unless you slammed it shut.

I’m happy to report that I failed in my endeavour to test the noise and disturbance from next to the lavatory: it was broken so the crew had stuck an “Out of Order” sign on it.

The Meal

We took-off from Runway 20C at 18 past, and the crew began the first drink service shortly thereafter. I’d been up for hours so ordered a sparkling water and a Johnnie Walker Gold, which was served with nuts.

The lunch trolley rolled through at 11.00. The small salad had an amazing dressing and the cured salmon was the perfect taste. As a big fan of garlic bread, I was thrilled!

I planned on having the roasted cod so I asked for a glass of the Yealands Estate Land Made Sauvignon Blanc, which was crisp and not at all sweet (perfect, in my book, one of the best SBs I’ve had on a plane!).

The dish was perfect – the cod was not overcooked (I could easily pry a piece off with my fork) and the potatoes and beans complimented it well.

Following the main I asked for the cheese and fruit plates, which are the perfect size and feature a well-rounded mix of different flavors. Given the light load on the flight, Cecilia and her team were able to be extra attentive to passengers, beyond Cathay’s industry-leading service. Empty glasses were refilled post haste and there was no shortage of offers for more food, different wines, etc.

The Arrival

After a short hold we had a smooth arrival into HKG, touching down at 13.57, just ahead of a Singapore Airlines A350. We had a long taxi in, but once parked it was a quick de-plane and fast transfer – before I knew it I was back on my way to The Pier.

The Cheatline

Seat: 9/10
Service: 9.5/10
Food: 9.5/10
Spirits: 9/10
Overall: 9.5/10

The civil mid-morning departure, attentive, professional and friendly crew, great food & wine, and smooth journey made this the best flight I’ve had all year – perhaps even longer!

Overall: Cathay A350

Positives: this is a product I’d go out of my way to fly longhaul and ultra-longhaul. The seat is very comfortable and I appreciate the amount of surface space when its fully reclined into “bed” mode. The in-flight entertainment is the best I’ve seen on an airplane – the screen has the best resolution, the UX has easy navigation and is appealing to the eye, and the plane features the best exterior cameras I’ve seen to date.

Negatives: the seat issues discussed above. I also wish the windows would tint in a way that you can still see outside, like on the 787 (although I understand many flyers prefer a proper shade).

When Cathay adds a bed sheet and dine on demand further afield from the introductory routes, this product will be tough to beat.

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