This flight and the returning one are over three years old at time of posting. Time has passed, and CX will soon retire their last 744s, while AF is revamping their J cabins. Flight CX261 is now operated with a B777-300ER, anyway. Apart from the historical interest, I chose to produce an English version because these two flights illustrates two radically different flight experiences on the same route, and the result was not what AF-bashers and CX-lovers would have expected.
(I probably won’t translate the feeder TPE<>HKG flights)
(I do not count my flights to/from the mythical Kai Tak airport, in the pre-FR era).
This FR starts when I left the aircraft from TPE. There was a longish walk to the nearest control point of connecting flight BPs, providing the access to the Departures level upstairs. There are several similar control points, so that you do no need to go all the way to the center of the terminal and possibly walk all the way back in the same jetty (like in BKK). As usual, photography was prohibited there, but there was a good vantage point overlooking another control point.
I had already received the BP of my connecting flight, and I only needed to check the gate which had been announced on the IFE screen of the previous flight.
The flights departing from HKG that evening. They were really all kinds of destinations. The clock on the right is of course an animation on the screen.
Some plane-spotting : the KL 744 flying back to AMS. The tarmac is not brightly lit in HKG, which does not make photography with a compact camera very easy.
CX A340 and A330 CX
And an OX 747.
There were self-serve internet stations here and there, but all were busy, except one for a good reason.
The keyboard of this computer was stuck in Chinese mode (ZH = zhongwen 中文 = Chinese in Mandarin), which made it impossible to type any website’s address, be it as exceptional as that of Flight Report ;) I could only select between Traditional Chinese in Hong-Kong and Taiwan variants and Simplified Chinese (used on the Mainland). S.A.R. means "Special Administrative Region", the name of the status of HK for 50 years since its return to China. Hong-Kong SAR is the official administrative name in China, but nobody would dare use Taiwan ROC ("Republic Of China") here.
Yes of course, there were others on the right,
… but they were reserved for the customers of the shop on the left.
I don’t know if these high school girls belonged to that category
Since darkness made plane spotting difficult, I visited "The Pier" lounge, accessible at the lower level by escalators or an elevator.
Air conditioning in HKG was much more aggressive than in TPE, which was an ecological absurdity, and justified wearing adequate protective clothing. At that time, my running gag was wearing my usual business suit when traveling by plane, which may not correspond to your standard definition, but generated sometimes amusing reaction from the staff. (The list of items prohibited on board aircraft has increased in the past decades, but to date, high visibility vests and hard hats are still accepted. I had taken my hard hat off at TPE’s immigration control, per regulation). I received a warm welcome at the lounge’s desk: the staff obviously liked passengers traveling for business, no matter what their business was.
I was not impressed by this lounge (neither by that in TPE). Too crowded, and the food was nothing notesworthy.
Newspapers in different languages.
The buffet is on the left, and there is a counter in the back for made on order noodles.
The offering was very similar to that of the lounge in TPE
Sandwiches in protective wrappings
The tables and seats in the eating area. I had no wifi signal in that part of the lounge.
This was my selection, not much because I knew I would have dinner in the plane.
Going through the self-use computers area
… with the traditional corporate screenshot.
There were power ports in many places, but like often in Hong-Kong, they were only Type G. Woe behold who forgot to travel with an adapter! especially travelers connecting here between countries using different types of plugs. (I was once in that situation). That there were no multi-standard power port there, in contrast to Mainland China where they are ubiquitous in the most remote locations, was beyond my understanding.
It was time for boarding ; the extremity of that jetty close to Gate 67 was reserved for flights to the US, with an additional passport and BP check before reaching the gate itself, with a sign reminding the restrictions on liquids on board (the Americans did not even trust water taken airside from a water fountain after the HKG security check).
This was the 744 which was going to fly me to CDG:
I discovered the disaster as soon as I had boarded her.
I knew that CX had revamped its 777 J cabins only, but the reverse herringbone layout of that 747 was even worse than that of the A340-300 that I had had earlier on a CDG-HKG flight. My seat was 11A, on the right – my readers had probably guessed that.
I doubt anybody could seriously claim that this was a window seat. It was a seat with a window behind it.
Not only that seat, but all seats on both sides of the aircraft were actually non-window seats, or required elaborate acrobatics to see outside.
Note too that this configuration prohibited any communication between passengers, even if traveling together. I quipped to one of the FAs that CX’s business class was for divorcing couples only.
The smaller cabin in the hump had the same layout, with a single aisle, and the passengers didn’t have any more access to the widows. The cabin was already in night lighting mode when I went up there.
I liked the lighting of the staircase.
The economy class had a conventional seat layout. In order to have a window seat, you had to obtain a Y ticket, and not everybody had this privilege.
And how about your private belongings ? The answer is simple : there was zero storage space accessible from the seat, and everything had be placed in the overhead bins during take off and landing. There is a fake ottoman – you may not sit on it, it only provides an extension of the seat in the bed position – but you can’t place things below during theses phases of the flight. Economy passengers had a better deal in this regard and this was another demerit for this cabin layout.
Sure, there was significant space behinf the seat, but you were not supposed to put thing there either, because the seat needed that space when being reclined.
This cabin layout was supposed to provide more intimacy, but didn’t, because the space in front of the passengers was wide open towards the aisle, from where you had a panoramic view of the sleeping passengers, with various lightings.
Now with night mood lighting
Other views of the mood lighting during the night:
From the seating position, this layout did not provide any more intimacy feeling. Note that during take-off, the gigantic 17” IFE screen was not turned towards the passenger, so that you needed to look at that of the seat in front which is too far away.
There was a multistandard power port, but my Type E+F laptop plug did not fit in, and I had to use a Type A adapter.
This was useless, because that power port did not deliver enough power for my laptop, whose battery kept draining mercilessly. There was enough power to recharge my camera, but this was a lot less useful for me. No, I did not use an internet connection: this corporate screen had been recorded in the lounge. Another demerit for on board comfort.
I did not try the headphones, but this is where it was, under the tiny tablet where only a glass could fit.
The passengers had to buckle a diagonal retractor belt, during take-off and landing only, a quirk that I had never seen that in any other plane.
The frist two seats in the cabin creates a triangle in which duvets and blankets were stored. They were hard to reach, which forced the FAs to exercises which could be rated unaesthetic or sexy, depending on your tastes in that matter.
If that was not enough, an ice cold draft lands right on my head, in any sitting position. There was no visible ventilation opening that I could block and I eventually asked for blankets to the FAs. They did not spare tha quantity, and made the rest on with a blanket wrapped around my head to avoid catching a cold (a very good quality blanket, BTW).
The J cabin of CX on long haul flights ? It was like a factory ship : a very large vessel without portholes in which the cargo was progressively deep frozen on board.
Pushback was on time ; I had a hard time taking this picture through the window behind my seat.
The safety card under a thick plastic protection, similar to that of the flight from TPE.
The bilingual English – Chinese menu
Distribution of a set of warm nuts and of drinks – a tomato juice for me. I have never been convinced by the warming up of nuts – I would rather have them cold.
How could I reasonably imitate a signature shot with a glass of tomato juice and a window which is behind you ?
A assortment of magazines in the galley.
There were basically three FAs for that full J cabin with 24 seats : a Korean, a Taiwanese and a Malaysian. I had an interesting and lengthy chat with two of them. They were quite puzzled by the number of pictures that I was taking of everything (what I post here is a small selection!), and suspected me of being a CX auditor, more than a potential spy for a competing airline. The Taiwanese spoke flawless English. Another FA (possibly in J too) came at time of boarding – I did not learn where she was from, but she had a distinct Cantonese accent in English.
I saw this one obviously struggling against dozing, straightening suddenly her head at intervals in a typical manner when it started dropping.
The amneity kit was good qulity stuff and the pouch’s format made it reusable. What was missing in my opinion was a small comb, especially for a long haul night flight which invitably messes your hair.
All the water served on board – this bottle distributed to the passengers or that provided during the meals was from Evian. I always found it ecologically ridiculous to send a container of Evian water bottles by sea from Marseilles to Hong-Kong. Isn’t there drinking water available closer to HK?
I chose fish : it was cooked correctly, but I found the sauce too heavy
Since I had eaten in the lounges in TPE and HKG and already had a quick dinner on the TPE-HKG flight, I skipped the cheese and had only a standard set of fruit for dessert.
Chance had it that I was randomly selected for a customer satisfaction poll by CX
This questionnaire was in excellent French, apart from some minor errors : an answer appeared twice, (2½ h – 3h), and the answer (2h – 2½ h) was missing for question 2h.
And there, the ratings could range from "Sangat tidak puas" to "Sangat puas" (that is Malay)
Nobody will be surprised to read that I rated "Sangat tidak puas" some aspects of comfort on board, but I asked for another form to complete this questionnaire, because there was no way I could express all my negative opinion on this reverse herringbone configuration.
« Would you consider flying CX again for another trip on this line ? »: my answer was “Definitely no”, and I meant it.
Agreed, the lie flat bed was comfortable. But I really did not appreciate being awaken shortly after 3 am for breakfast, when landing was scheduled at 5:50. Over two hours and a half before touchdown, because it took the FA an agonizing time to bring the breakfast one item at a time. Some passengers might find it chic, but it was time consuming, and I hate being told in what order I should eat my breakfast.
Coffee and "berry smoothie" at 3:20
A glass of water, fruit and a sample of butter at 3 :24
Croissant and jam at 3 :25
This is the choice for viennoiserie and jam
Yogurt at 3 :37. You could choose from two flavors, which meant more time wasted for the service.
I chose the Chinese dish. The Guilin spicy sauce was as spicy as I expected it to be: most people who have never been in China (including myself a long time ago) do not realize that Chinese cooking is very spicy in most parts of the country, with the notable exception in Guangzhou and to some extent in Shanghai. It was good, but I noted a regrettable etiquette mistake which is obvious on this picture.
How Could CX serve this dish with disposable chopsticks? It was just as unacceptable as serving champagne in plasticware. It was politically incorrect too. These waribashi cost CX a food demerit.
The hot meal arrived at 3:53, which means that it took half an hour to serve a breakfast which was not very complex, even though the FAs were working fast.
The window was so hard to reach that I considered sending a physical therapist bill to Flight Report after all the pain to take these pictures. In reality, this was all I could see of the wing and reactors when looking back.
But holding the camera against the window, upside down because the window frame would be less in the way, I managed to have a decent framing.
All that for a winglet with such a nondescript decoration required motivation.
The sun was rising behind the aircraft as she started her descent.
Flying down between two cloud layers into CDG.
Landing in CDG
A very smooth touchdown
And thrust reversers deployment
Terminal 1 was still lit at dawn.
Arrival at the terminal 2A at 5 :50, half an hour ahead of schedule. I took this rather wet picture of an Air Austral plane while disembarking. This Reunion Island based airline uses ambiguous wording to let people believe that the whole of that Indian Ocean island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but only a selection of natural sites are.
How could I know that was not in China or Taiwan ? I only needed to look at the advertising on the jet-bridges (there are actually some other airports which resist to the Hong-Kong banking invader).
A panoramic view with a well know brand on both sides, th CX 747, and a jam in the jetbridge because of a passport pre-check by immigration officers.
I recognize that this passport check was not right at the plane’s door (I had that before : it is much more of a nuisance, because nobody has his passport ready there and there is no space to search for it in your hand luggage or clothing), and that the policeman who checked my passport told me “Bonjour” with the faintest smile. That was a considerable progress compared to my past experiences in CDG.
I had taken a picture of the front landing gear for plane number geeks: she was B-HUI, an apt registration number, since 回 [hui] can mean « coming home » in Mandarin. Yes I know, HK’s official language is not Mandarin, but Cantonese…
Going through immigration control was fast. There was a Parafe automated passport control gate (validated by reading a fingerprint, usable by French passport holders only), but it was faster to branch at the last moment to the nearest manned counter where nobody was waiting.
The policeman asked me where I was coming from ; I wondered why, since a French citizen could legitimately come from anywhere, only Customs would make a difference. Maybe it was plain curiosity and boredom.
Now I needed to recover my checked luggage, which is always the part of air travel which I find least enjoyable. The space was limited, the conveyors took time to start and the luggage pieces arrived isolated, but the priority tags were respected and my luggage arrived together at 6:32. Forty-eight minutes after reaching the parking position: that was a very bad performance, especially since this was not yet the morning rush hour, but it was only 12 minutes after the plane’s scheduled arrival time.
Cathay Pacific The Pier - Business Class Section
Hong Kong - HKG
Paris - CDG
The conclusion is a high contrast story. The punctuality of the flight was excellent and even compensated the inefficiency of CDG’s luggage handlers. The FAs were very friendly, I has interesting conversations with two of them and their quality of service was flawless. The catering on board was OK, but not exceptional and loses half a point for disposable chopsticks reasons.
Comfort on board was a disaster. From a standard 8 grade, I deducted 1.5 for having no window, at any seat, and 2 points for the ice cold air. I deducted 1 point for the power port which could not power my laptop and 0.5 point for the absence of storage space accessible from the seat. I deducted half a point for the wake-up at 3 am. I add half a point for the quality and quantity of the blankets and duvet, including those requested when I complained about the cold.
That leaves only 3 points for in flight comfort. This grade is only meaningful when related to the price of the ticket: I would have been less severe if I had been in Economy, but being too cold was not acceptable, anywhere in the plane.
HKG was as usual excellent (apart from the out of service internet access computer, and the perennial issue that the power ports are G type only)
A warm welcome : the staff at The Pier lounge in HKG passed my high visibility vest test with flying colors. That lounge was above industry standards in all respects.
CDG was sadly as usual below industry standards in all respects. A passport check in the jet bridge is neither convenient nor welcoming. The luggage handling was unacceptably slow, and there was no free wifi internet access then.
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