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The Perils of Outstation Departure: Cathay Pacific "New" Business Class Service Chicago - Hong Kong

Long time no see everyone... I apologize for not posting more as we went through the chaos of COVID, last year of high school, college applications and more, but I figured I will now start typing up some reviews I've been wanting to post for a long time.

This particular review is for a flight I did not expect to take - CX807, a service from Chicago to Hong Kong - and it was booked at the very last minute using CX's own Asia Miles program.

Booking: The ultra-long-haul Sweet Spot of the Asia Miles award chart - 85K for practically a "return" business class ticket from North America to/from Hong Kong. (However, Asia Miles has since cut this spectacular sweet spot by not allowing any stopover over 24 hours to be priced under a "one-way" ticket, sadly - may it rest in peace...)

The flight was preceded by a chaotic morning... all that stemmed from a positioning flight from DC to Chicago. Supposedly a very easy commute with flights departing at half-an-hour intervals, it went quite wrong, to say the very least. Long story short, I had experienced everything from failing to wake up, being involved in an accident on the way to the airport, missing the original flight from BWI, to booking another flight departing an hour later from DCA, buying a last-minute "hidden city fare", being "caught" and bags gate-checked to Las Vegas and more. But eventually, after all the chaos, I made it (and gladly, my bags did too...)

Pro-tip: If you want to do Hidden City Ticketing, don't be like Bobby and sit for that extra sip of lemon water at the Admirals Club - board as soon as possible so the gate agents won't force you to gate check your carry-on bags to Vancouver, Pakistan, Syria - or whatever your "ticketed" final destination is.

Airline: Cathay Pacific

Aircraft: 777-300ER

Class: Business Class

Seat: 12K

Route: Chicago ORD - Hong Kong HKG

Registration: B-KPI

Date: December 23, 2019

Flight Time: 15 Hrs. 30 Min

Cathay Pacific operates from Terminal 5 of O'Hare and the check-in counters usually open 3.5 hours prior to departure. There are eight counters in total, 1 reserved for First Class and Oneworld Emerald, 2 for Business Class and MPO/Oneworld Elites, another for Premium Economy and MPO Green, and the others for Economy passengers. I arrived around an hour before departure, and the counters were essentially all empty. I was checked in very quickly by an agent without any issues.

Security was quick, and there was a dedicated line for premium class passengers. After whisking through TSA, I walked to the British Airways Lounge that Cathay Pacific used, with 20 minutes until boarding. First Class and Oneworld Emerald passengers can use the First Class section, and business class passengers would use the Galleries lounge which is just a short walk away. I didn't read quite a lot of reviews on this lounge (contrary to my usual practice of researching a ton prior to the visit to know where exactly the 4 toilets are :)), and I was expecting some interesting features since it is marketed as a pre-long-haul First Class lounge)

Well, I'm glad I didn't leave much time for the lounge. The whole lounge was antiquated, narrow, extraordinarily small, and most importantly, food-deprived (even the plants look quite discontent about living there). Given the size, I was surprised to even find a bathroom tucked in the very corner - yet one almost identical to the kind you find in Subway TM restaurants that invariably reads "out-of-order". Good thing it had a view of the tarmac, or it would surely be a dungeon-in-disguise. But hey, at least it had Pepsi...

After a short 10 minute stay in the British Airways "lounge", I headed over to the gate. B-KPI operated today's flight - a 11-year old 777-300ER in old livery completed with the new CX entertainment interface. Although I had flown most of the 77A/Hs Cathay operates, this marked my first time on this bird.

Boarding was organized in groups - eager to snap a few shots without being judged insidiously by other fellow passengers, I boarded as soon as First/Emerald group was called.

My seat for the flight was 12K, located just behind the First Class cabin in a "mini-cabin" with only two rows and a total of eight seats. Noteworthily, this section usually books out well in advance (particularly 11A/K, 12A/K), and I was pleasantly surprised to find 12K vacant when I booked the flight 4 days prior to departure. I highly recommend the peaceful ambiance of the mini-cabin, especially compared to the 44-seater in the larger business cabin in the back.

At each seat, you may find a plush pillow, a bedding set, and a menu on the side. The business class seats on Cathay 777s are ordered in a 1-2-1 fashion across the wide fuselage, a layout termed "reverse herringbone". Despite having experienced multiple versions of the same reverse herringbone, I found Cathay's to be the most spacious and well-designed - it's hard to imagine the novelty when it was initially rolled out back in 2012.

Despite the newer system, the TV itself was still the original size and the resolution was lacking compared to the offerings of the market.

When the boarding process neared completion, a pre-departure beverage was offered - with choices between water and a beet-based drink. This was slightly unusual - usually there is another choice of juices. But it was later realized that the OJ catered in Chicago came less than usual, practically running out mid-flight before the breakfast service.

The "new" business class service referred to the addition of a mattress, a pair of slippers, and a revamp of the original cart-style catering (to a dine-on-demand newspaper-style menu). Thus at each seat, you can find each component.

Despite the cabin updates, the control handle for the entertainment system remained the same old-generation one. (and if you are quick to notice, I really hope the flight time to Hong Kong is not 24 hours long lol...)

Standard to all long-haul flights, you may also find a pair of headphones, a bottle of water, and an amenity kit at the seat. On this particular flight, the amenity kit was still the old Jurlique-branded one - although I fully expected the new Bamford kit as it was rolled out some time ago on supposedly all long haul flights... but no complaints here)

Here's what the mattress and the duvet in the bag looked like.

The new menu modeled a newspaper, different from the booklet-style originally used. It had been widely criticized citing the "cheap look" and substandard quality, yet I found it to be quite an interesting approach and decision (although the constant opening up, flipping and folding did make me miss the old design).

The idea of this service was "dine-on-demand" - a concept pioneered by Middle-Eastern carriers like Etihad, Qatar, and Emirates - and was designed to increase the flexibility and exclusivity of the onboard dining experience. Generally, it is a very positive development, as long as it doesn't compromise the quality in the first place. Oh Cathay...

All the options on the menu looked appetizing nonetheless.

This flight to HK included a lunch service and a breakfast service prior to arrival (despite arriving at 8 pm in Hong Kong), a mode adopted by many Asia-bound flights departing the US in the afternoon. As part of the new service, a breakfast card was distributed shortly before pushback, where passengers could note their meal preference and selection, similar to the ones found in hotels for a customizable in-room breakfast.

Shortly after all the pre-departure rituals of taking orders, safety demonstration and everything in between, we took off on time.

I couldn't help notice how US airports are gigantic in terms of number of runways... I wonder if any of the foreign pilots get flustered considering LHR/HKG and many more of the other mega-airports around the world operate on a max of two runways...

Shortly after departure, the first meal service began. December is the month for Cathay Delight, and served along with it, a nut mix (for those who aren't familiar, in even months Cathay Delight is served, while odd months are completed with Oriental Breeze - the two signature nonalcoholic beverages of CX, which I consider to be a staple on CX flights).

I ordered the smoked salmon appetizer, with some garlic bread and salad to accompany. So far, it was a good start to the meal service - the salmon and avocado tartare were fresh, flavorful with some tanginess that did the proper job of an "appetizer".

But the appetite was left painfully in vain - the main course did not arrive until 30 minutes later (during which I started a movie, and of course it opened with a food scene...). And when it finally arrived, I was lost for words. The wok-fried pork with black pepper consisted of precisely three slices of pork and three pieces of bak choy, along with some onions and bell pepper - it was the first time I felt the urgent need to calculatingly "conserve" each piece of meat for a proportioned serving and interval in order to finish the rice that comes with it. While it was delicious, I can't help suppress the still-lingering crave for more food after I finished.

So I decided to get a cheese plate - something that doesn't frequent my order. And a tiramisu.

Or two.

The meal ended exactly 2 hours into the flight - pacing that is to be improved for a 3.5-course lunch. At this point, I made the bed and decided to catch up on some sleep lost during the dozens of late hours spent crunching college applications.

The duvet was thinner than it was before, or perhaps the cabin was colder - but I tend to think it's the prior.

I visited the toilet before tuning out (for the most part since it is must-take picture in the curious aviation-blogging world). It was of standard size and stocked with Bamford toiletries.

After several hours of rest interrupted by the need for more food, I took a look at the snack menu and ordered the classic fishball soup with noodles. Delicious. Initially I was thinking to sample the burger option as well, but was told that the snack was limited to one per pax, due to the limited availability catered in Chicago...

So I ordered another cheese plate in its place.

The New Interface

A few more hours of rest followed. Two hours prior to landing, the cabin lights were turned up again (waking practically everyone - so much for the "dine-on-demand" and "sleep-as-you-wish"), and breakfast was served. A hot towel preceded the service.

For breakfast, I chose the Chinese option, which consisted of chicken congee, two pieces of dim sum, and a fruit bowl. Notice the serving of congee... while many may argue that it's aesthetically pleasing for such a small serving, it still left something to be desired (think: five scoops and it was gone...)

An amazing sunset for dessert.

Eventually, we landed at HKG 20 minutes early than scheduled, with a flight time nearing 16 hours. We pulled into the gate next to another CX 77W dressed in the new Oneworld livery.

Despite the various issues, it's still a comfortable transpacific ride overall - no highlights, yet no inconceivable, abysmal misdeeds. The shortcomings mainly concern the food, catering, and outstation ground service. However, these shortages were not all uncommon based on many similar reports. I sincerely hope Cathay can exit this cycle of cost-cutting on factors that challenges customer experience to a much greater extent than the cost itself.

Overall- B

Seat- 9/10

Solid hard product, comfortable flagship layout for transpacific service. Great mini-cabin ambience.

IFE- 7/10

Outdated screen, does not respond well sometimes. Need update to match similar offerings on newer aircrafts.

Food- 6/10

Good taste, bad portion that screams cost-cutting. Vey limited availability.

Service- 8/10

Professional but not spectacularly warm or proactive.

Timeliness- 10/10

On time departure, early arrival into HKG

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