We're nearing the end of my first Flight Report series. This time, I will be flying with Cathay Pacific from Jakarta to Hong Kong and then onward to Shanghai Pudong. Please be reminded that the background of this flight report will be rather long but the report itself should be shorter as I didn't take as many pictures as before due to the fact I was quite tired.
Background There are a couple of airlines that are notorious for last minute equipment swap. Unfortunately, Cathay is one of them. For this route, the usual types are B777-300 and A330-300. Sometimes, you see them swapped with B777-300ER, B747-400, and A340-300 too. They just randomly showing up every now and then… The next question is whether you will get the regional product or the long-haul product. This flight is usually 4 hours long but sometimes it can get to 5 hours mark too. So, I was on a mission to find the flight with long-haul product so I can get a nap a bit. The flight departs at 5.15AM, that means I have to leave my apartment around 2.30AM ish. That means, all night partying, no sleep, just go straight to the airport and sleep on the plane hahaha..Alas, it was too much to hope for!
So, when I booked the flight, it was scheduled to be flown by A33E which is Cathay's internal code for 2-class A330-300 with long-haul J seat. However, around 1 month before the flight, I noticed that my seat arrangement has changed. Before I was on 19A, now I am on 12A. My first instinct said that "hey, maybe i got bumped to first class?". Then I thought about the fact that CX's A330 does not have first class cabin and first class seat starts from row 1. So much for wishful thinking hahaha… Anyway, fearing for the worst possible scenario, I made a dash to 'manage my booking' feature and found out that the equipment has changed to A33P. The dreadful A33P!! The world is collapsing #firstworldproblem.
For those of you who don't know, A33P is the newest configuration in CX's A330 fleet. It consists of only 24 regional J seats and 293 economy class seats. Before Cathay came up with this idea, their A330-300 configurations looked like this
A33G 39J (LH product), 28W, and 175Y A33K 39J (LH product), 21W, and 191Y A33E 39J (LH product) and 223Y A33Z 42J (regional) and 265Y
Now, the A330 fleet looks like the following A33K 39J (LH product), 21W, and 191Y A33E 39J (LH product) and 223Y A33P 24J (regional) and 293Y
CX reconfigured A33Z to A33P for high-density regional routes like PVG, MNL, TPE, CGK, SIN, and BKK. They also reconfigured A33G to A33E when they realized that their Premium Economy class demand was not as strong as they had hoped for, particularly for the sub-indian continent market. Back to A33P, CX eliminated 18J regional seats to cramp 28 more Y seats (265 to 293), this is the same Y seat count as CX's B777-200 (294). They retain the same amount of flight attendants to service A33P too. I can't imagine how stressful it is to work in Y cabin for 1-2 hour flights in this aircraft. Later in the report, I will explain how cramped and small the J cabin felt.
As for the flight itself, I specifically chose CX752 because I had never flown this one before. I've done the midnight departure one (CX798), i've done the 8AM one (CX718), and also i've tried the late afternoon one (CX716). CX716 does not fit my schedule as the connecting flight to shanghai would be very late. I also dislike the midnight red eye one because when you arrive in HK, everything is still close and the lounge does not offer full service just yet. The late morning one would mean I have to connect to past 12pm flights to Shanghai. There is this saying that always try to fly before 12pm to and from mainland china as you will be subjected to the smallest chance of being delayed. So that's my reasoning why I chose CX752 and its ungodly departure hour.
Speaking of which, CX752 is the newest addition to CX's operation between HKG and CGK. With CX752, CX now flies 4x HKG-CGK. It looks like this CX798 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 CX752 1 3 4 5 6 7 CX718 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 CX716 1 3 4 5 6 7
Jakarta has always been an important market for CX. In 1972, Jakarta was served by CX both as terminus and as refueling point. CX flew HKG-BKK-SIN-CGK with B707, HKG-KUL-CGK-PER with B707, and HKG-MNL-CGK-DPS with Convair 880. Neat eh?
I still remember clearly back in 1996 (first time flying with CX), CX daily flight flown by the mighty B747-300, 4x weekly flown by A343, and once a week B747. Then, Asian financial crisis came and blew everything away, the daily frequency was reduced and downgraded to smaller A330-300 and a stop in Singapore. I was only served a tiny BLT sandwich with a drink, no appetizer and no dessert on that 4 hour plus flight. 3/4 of the plane was empty. Eventually, the route recovered and CX flew a mix of nonstop CGK-HKG and CGK-SIN-HKG flights with A330 and B777-200/300. As competition between CGK-SIN intensified and the demand became stronger for CGK-HKG, eventually CX decided to cut CGK-SIN and went daily CGK-HKG back with B747-400, A330, and B777 combo. A daily flight became double daily, double became triple, and now we have almost quadruple daily flights. Interesting, no? It shows the strength of demand and supply between Jakarta and Hong Kong. Mind you that Garuda and China Airlines also have multiple flights between these two cities.
Enough with the long background, now let's go to the report itself!
The Flight Route: CGK-HKG Date: December 30, 2015 Flight: CX752 Equipment: A330-300 Registration: B-LBK Load: J21/24, Y293/293 Seat: 12A Scheduled Time Departure: 5.15AM Actual Time Departure: 5.20M Estimated Time Arrival: 11.05AM (HKG time is +1 hr over Jakarta) Actual Time Arrival: 10.45AM (HKG time)
The day before, I did on-line check-in. Still, no sign of an equipment change back to long-haul configured A330.
I woke up at 2AM and checked flightaware to check whether the incoming flight from HK would arrive on time or not. As you can see, it is on its way to Jakarta. I find this timing quite odd. Who on earth would want to arrive at 3.30AM in the morning? Actually, when my driver and I were on the highway, I spotted my plane on short final. It was neat!
Soekarno-Hatta Airport was deserted that morning… or so I thought!
Entering the terminal building, I am greeted by massive groups of people flying with Saudia and Garuda for Umrah. Umrah is one of the rituals in Islam, it's almost the same as Hajj but it is shorter, it's like a mini Hajj. Two full loads of Saudia's B747 are waiting to depart that morning creating a huge pile of lineup at security check (to enter the airside area) and at immigration counter. The problem with these people are in general, they are first-time fliers so they don't necessarily know what is the expected behaviour and manner. A big chunk of the group is also the elderly that require wheel chairs and personal assistants. They sit on the floor, eating and chatting while blocking access for other passengers.
Anyway, I managed to locate CX's counters. There is only one counter for Business Class and marco Polo Diamond/Gold/Silver, one counter for Marco Polo Green, 1 counter for on-line check-in passengers, and 3 counters for economy class. The lines were long but the business class counter was fairly quiet. Only one MP Gold in front of me. It still took about 15 minutes to wait though. For whatever reason, there is a problem brewing. My apology for blurry pictures. I felt very tired and sleepy that morning.
After I waited for a while, I was finally waved to approach the check-in counter. The gentleman is nice, smiley, and polite to me. He acknowledges that my suitcases will be checked through to PVG. He then asks me, "Mr. Bombieflyer, would you like to change your seat or you are find with your current selection? You are the only passenger in business class cabin today, Sir!". I was like "eh, really? wow nice! that means I can move around during the flight at will?". He replies, "sir, you can play soccer or basketball game and the you won't be bothering anyone". Then I thought 'no wonder the sub the plane to A33P, no demand for premium cabin in this ungodly hour'
He prints the boarding passes, lounge passes, and wished me a pleasant journey. Off I go to immigration. I thanked him for the good news and leave the counter with light steps. I have never had the whole cabin just for myself :)
Immigration takes a long time thanks to the Umrah group and also early morning flights to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Jeddah, etc. I spotted CX's crew passing immigration.
After passing immigration, I checked the flight information display. I guess this is not the most updated display as it still shows departures from the day before
It's easy to spot the Umrah passengers as they are required to wear special attire and they always move in big groups. I spotted some of them on my way to the lounge.
Pura Indah lounge is used by multiple carriers as you can see from my pictures. It also acts as pay-per-visit lounge for many elite credit card holders. It is one of very few lounges (if not the only one) that opens at 4AM in the morning. As a result, it was quite full and rowdy inside
The lounge is basic. Nothing to write home about. It is a nicer place to wait for your flight than being stuck at the boarding lounge. I only saw coffee, tea, juices, and water as beverage offerings. Hot meal consists of fried rice, fried noodle, toasts, chicken sausages, beef bacon, chicken rice porridge. Fruits are also available. I don't take pictures because the buffet area is full of hungry passengers.
My boarding passes and lounge invitations
Time showed 4.35AM and there was a call for CX 752 passengers to start boarding. This morning, we would be boarding from Gate D1. At Soekarno-Hatta airport, you have to pass a security check point on your way from the lounge/shops area to the pier where the gates are located. This is fairly brief and I found myself entering Gate D1. The same nice staff who checked me in is there yelling "business class passengers! Marco Polo Diamond! Marco Polo Gold!" in the middle of packed room. Economy class passengers are held from boarding but the boarding lounge is quite small so the line blocked priority line. I have to fight my way to go to the middle of the pack. I actually can hear people murmuring "Why is he cutting the line?" or "What a villager! Pushing his way like that!". Then the nice staff spotted me and apologized, "Mr. Bombieflyer, sorry for the chaotic boarding. It turned out that economy class is overbooked by 20 passengers so you are no longer the only passenger in the cabin". I suddenly felt like I got struck by a 20,000 volt lightning bolt. Oh well…. not my luck again!
Upon entering the cabin, a smiley ISM in black dress greeted me. She addresses me in English but later after she found out that I am Indonesian, she switched to Bahasa Indonesia. She asks her colleague to escort me to my seat. At that time the cabin is still empty. I am the first passenger.
Christmas decoration is still hung! Quite nice actually!
Sufficient leg-room. This is the same seat I had on Dragonair flight from HKG to DPS a month before.
Soon, one by one more passengers arrived and occupy the seats. Luckily, the one next to me remained empty. The seat right in front of me is occupied by a deadheading flight attendant. During the flight, all she does is sleeping. She does not eat, she does not drink, she only sleeps gate to gate. It tells how tiring it can be to be a flight attendant.
Flight Attendant Matthew arrived with a big smile "Mr. Bombieflyer, what would you like to drink before departure? I have orange juice, apple juice, and water". I am tempted to say "champagne please!" but I decide against and just choose water.
L1 door is closed while L2 is still open for economy class passenger to board. During this time, ISM walks around the cabin distributing the menu. She greets everyone. She is very nice! I can tell she's one of CX's seasoned ISM as her demeanor is very graceful yet professional.
Let's take a look at today's offering, shall we?
Not very exciting, it's breakfast after all. But it will do for this flight! Actually, I want to sleep more than to eat.
FA Matthew came to collect empty glasses, distributed blanket for those who need it, and prepare the cabin for departure. The captain came on the PA system and announces that today's flight would be a brisk 4 hours and 5 minutes. Though we have a full flight, we manage to minimize the delay and finally receive push back at 5.20AM, only 5 minutes behind schedule.
The windows are all fogged up so no good pictures until we are airborne. During taxi to runway 25R, I saw another Saudia B747-400 landed.
Terminal 3's apron is already in use although the building itself is not yet finished
After a powerful take off, we turn around 120 degrees to the right heading toward Borneo island. Cloud formation and sun rise provide the best IFE again
FA Matthew and a senior purser (I forgot her name but she's from Singapore) are in charge of my section today. After we passed 10,000 feet, he comes to me and asks me for drink and breakfast orders. To refresh, I ask for a glass of orange juice which is promptly delivered. Matthew then sets my table and delivers the first course, fruit slices and viennoserie. He casually asks how my day is so far and I tell him that I am a bit disappointed of not having the cabin for myself. He says that during crew briefing before the flight, he was informed that I was the only passenger to be served in business cabin, making a 1:1 ratio of FA:pax. Only very last minute he was informed that there would be 20 others joining the cabin.
I like the butter with CX logo like that. Quite cool!
We reach the south western tip of Borneo island when breakfast service commences.
My fruit plate is cleared by senior purser who then asks me for tea or coffee and yogurt or cereal. I ask for strong black coffee and yogurt. Matthew delivers the yogurt while our senior purser prepares my coffee. Mrs. ISM is busy in doing galley duty.
Then comes the main entree. I choose the chicken entree. I regret this because it is salty and drenched in oil. The rice is also very dry and luke warm. I guess this is one of the pitfalls in CX's system. They parade all main entree choices so passengers can choose what they want. But then the food tends to be cold when it arrives on your table after being paraded around. I do not finish the entree as I really don't like it. I ask for another cup of black coffee to finish my breakfast.
I go to the lavatory to wash my teeth. The lavatory is pretty standard, equipped with Jurlique product, other than that nothing special.
On my way back to my seat, I see FA Matthew and Mrs. ISM cleaning the galley. Matthew sees me and asks me if I want something to drink. I ask for a glass of water and while waiting for Matthew to prepare my drink, Mrs. ISM asks how my experience so far. I inform her that I am disappointed with the quality of the entree. Mrs. ISM acknowledges this and apologizes profusely. She tells me that many CX loyal passengers complain about the obvious decreasing F&B quality onboard CX flights but so far, the management has not really made any changes to address this problem. At that time, they were trialing the new dining concept for long-haul J class but as of now, the trial has been stop as the feedback from both passengers and crews are very negative.
Mrs. ISM gives me complain form and asks me to write down my experience in the form. I wrote about poor dining experience and the bad regional J seat while praised the friendliness and professionalism of the crew. 1 month after this flight, I received acknowledgement from CX and was given 14,000 Asia Miles.
By the time our conversation finished, we are already approaching HKG. I don't really watch anything during the flight as nothing really fancy me. Unfortunately, HKG is quite busy so we have to zig zag our way a bit. So instead of the promised 4 hours and 5 minutes, we spent 4 hours and 25 minutes. Today we will land from runway 07L.
We touch down at 10.45AM, about 20 minutes early from ETA. We taxi to gate 18 at Terminal 1 which is very close to the threshold of runway 25R and in front of Regal hotel. This is great because the walk from the airplane to immigration counters and transfer point is minimal :)
When the doors are opened, Mrs. IFM and senior purser stand at the door to thank passengers for flying with CX and wish us a pleasant onward journey. I manage to take one picture of my chariot today!
With that, I make my way to the transfer point.
That's the end of this flight report! I hope you enjoy reading it despite long prelude. Sorry I could not be more detail. The last installment of this series will be more detailed
Jakarta - CGK
Hong Kong - HKG
Definitely the highlight of this flight is the flight attendants. They epitomize the legendary CX service. Mrs. ISM was very graceful yet warm and approachable. FA Matthew was chatty, cheerful, and anticipated my needs. The regional seat is a big let down, as well as the breakfast offering. It's very so-so. Definitely not up to par with the offerings from SQ and GA.
I was not able to sleep as the angle of the seat is rather strange. It is okay for lounging but definitely not for sleeping. Maybe if CX752 was a day flight, it would have been a nicer experience.
The fact that CX management acknowledged my complaint was nice. 14,000 asia miles is not much but I appreciate the kind gesture from them.
All in all, I think my experience echoes other flight reporters' experience flying with CX. still, I have some faith on CX and if the price is right, I will not hesitate to fly with them again.
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Are Umrah travelers really required to wear their pilgrimage clothes from the origin airport ? I thought it was only from a virtual gate in flight (location depending on the route). True enough, you can't really change clothes in flight in Economy ;)
What a vivid description of the semi-chaotic situation in the airport ! Groups of inexperienced flyers are disasters anywhere, and lack of sleep probably made things even worse.
There were 20 lucky passengers on that flight - the upgraded ones.
I find it amusing to see a miniature Bonne-Maman (Grandma, in French) jar of jam. It is a very popular brand in France, I would say medium range.
Thanks for sharing !
My apology for the late reply!
I am not sure about the official rules but the customs here in Indonesia is you already have to done the dress at the port of departure. Usually, before the groups go to the airport, they are housed in some kind of a dormitory for 1 or 2 days where they will get briefing, do prayers together, etc.
Indeed those were the lucky 20! The cynical part in me bet if CX had an aircraft with only economy class seats, they would have sent it and downgraded me to Y instead of having me as the only paid J passenger and upgraded from economy class overbooking 20 :-P
Regarding the jam, good to know that CX is serving a well-known brand. Not the top but at least not the lowest either :)
Thanks for stopping by!
For a 4-5 hours flight, they could really try to put their long haul products on this mid haul route... at least for the cabin.
Again pretty good service from CX as always
Thank you for the comments! I do strongly agree with your observation that with so many flights per day, CX should have its own lounge. And I strongly believe they could lend the lounge to other premium airlines like SQ, JAL, ANA too because let's be realistic here, non-Garuda Indonesia lounges at CGK are very basic, nothing premium about it at all.
I guess it all comes down to the operator of CGK that is not willing to lease the space to CX. CGK is already bursting its seam
I think CX should just rethink its overall regional business class seat strategy. Regardless whether they deploy it on their 2-hour flight or their 5-hour flight, the seat is just not comfortable and hands down losing against competitors
Anyway, thanks for stopping by and providing your comments
About the pilgrims, I think it wouldn't be such a bad idea if they had briefings of what to do and what not to do at the airport. No disrespect, but it might be best for them and other passengers that way.
What piqued my interest is that on the FID is the flight Garuda Indonesia GA92 to London-Gatwick? Was it a VVIP charter? I knew right away it's unusual, as Garuda's flights to Europe were, at the time, only GA88/GA89.
As for Cathay's food quality, I must say I'm quite surprised. When I last flew with them, the food felt like it was supermarket quality as opposed to something a 5-star airline should be serving on board a long-haul J product. At least the flight crew made up for it.
You are absolutely right! The pilgrims should be separated from regular passengers not just because they usually travel in large group, but also because they require different procedures. In the past, they were handled in a separate terminal and the aircraft would park at a remote apron but this terminal and remote apron have been demolished and rebuilt to make way for the new Terminal 3 Ultimate.
You have very keen eyes on details. GA88 is the CGK-AMS-LGW but GA92, hmm I don't know about this. I will ask my friend at GA :) Anyway, both routes don't exist anymore because in March 2016, GA moved from London Gatwick to London Heathrow
You are right about CX's food. It feels very cheap looking and the portion is also very small. The crew does make up for it but at some point, they can't keep going on like that.
Anyway, thatks once again for stopping by!
We missed each other in HKG by just a few days!
There are a couple of airlines that are notorious for last minute equipment swap. Unfortunately, Cathay is one of them.
- How true that is! Sadly, equipment swaps don't always work in the passenger's favor. There is such a huge difference in product from the regional product to the standard long-haul cirrus product, that it really is disappointing. When I flew to SIN a few days before you, I knew I was getting a regional cabin, so it was fine, but I'd be ticked if I were downgraded to a regional cabin if I expected a Cirrus cabin.
That means, all night partying, no sleep, just go straight to the airport and sleep on the plane
- Oh yeah! I've totally done that before...many times. Then when you can't sleep on the plane, you realize, it was a baaaad idea, hahaha. I wonder if, after finding out the aircraft was swapped, if CX would have let you change to another flight with Long-haul J for free. Some carriers let you do that, but of course, the new flights timing may not be ideal.
CX reconfigured A33Z to A33P for high-density regional routes like PVG, MNL, TPE, CGK, SIN, and BKK. They also reconfigured A33G to A33E when they realized that their Premium Economy class demand was not as strong as they had hoped for, particularly for the sub-indian continent market.
- HAH! That's hilarious, CX are going to run out of letter from the alphabet to use soon! This is why they have so many issues with aircraft swaps...they have TOO MANY configurations of the same plane.
Mr. Bombieflyer, would you like to change your seat or you are find with your current selection? You are the only passenger in business class cabin today, Sir!.
- Sweet! Its great to get a whole cabin to yourself. Thought there should ALWAYS be some demand for a premium cabin...that's bad revenue management on CX's part. Discount the seats at the undesirable hours if you have to, but try to get butts in those seats! Especially when you're flying an undesirable regional configuration, revenue managers have to take that into consideration for pricing.
She addresses me in English but later after she found out that I am Indonesian, she switched to Bahasa Indonesia.
- Wow, that's cool. So CX always have a speaker of the local language of every flight? I guess that makes sense, many carriers do it, but considering how many languages there are in Asia, this must be a pain to schedule.
Soon, one by one more passengers arrived and occupy the seats.
- Ah! I saw that coming! Again, back to the revenue management #fail. Only one seat sold and a bunch of free operational upgrades. It's great for those who get upgraded, of course, but bad for Business. Plus, when I buy premium cabin tickets and see free upgrades, it devalues the experience when you know you're one of the few people that actually paid!
I am tempted to say champagne please! but I decide against and just choose water.
- It is never too early for bubbly! I would have totally gone for it :-)
Sounds like you had a wonderful crew! CX catering may always be hit or miss, but the crews are usually professional and take great care of premium passengers. On my HKG-SIN, I felt like a prince with the whole crew waiting on me hand and foot as there were very few pax in the cabin and I was probably the only oneworld Emerald (I could tell because I was the only one the purser came to personally greet). It was wonderful, but I was a bit embarrassed by all the attention...Oh who am I kidding, I loved it! haha.
CX is such a great airline, if they could manage their fleet a bit better, they'd be perfect! haha
Thanks for a wonderfully written report. Truly a pleasure to read!
Indeed we missed each other again. Perhaps we should coordinate better in the future? hehe :)
The cynical part in me believed that if CX had an all economy class aircraft, they would have sent it to CGK and just downgraded me instead of having me as the only paying J passenger and upgrade 20 from overbooked economy. Alas, the smallest J cabin configuration they have is the A33Z. I agree wholeheartedly that it is bad revenue management on their side. The ungodly hour and sub-par offering should be enough reasons to price this business class cheaper
And the regional seat is just bad on all account. It's more like domestic F in the US. You are right, it was a bad idea to even think that I can sleep on that seat. I do wonder if CX just have to rethink its regional seat strategy considering their competitors are offering lie flat or angled flat seats. Regardless, I arrived in HKG feeling like a zombie hahaha
Funny that you take notice on how they name their fleet. Actually, I think they are getting better at it. A couple of years ago, before they completed business class cabin and economy class cabin refurbishment, they had even more sub-fleet. You have the 773, 73Z, 772, 772Z, A33G, A33K, A33E, A33Z, A343, A34P, etc.. you get the idea LOL
Some airlines, for example KLM and LH recruits local flight attendants to fly to China, South Korea, and Japan.These flight attendants fly exclusively AMS-China for Chinese speaking FA, AMS-South Korea for Korean speaking FA, etc.Now, CX recruits tonnes of Indonesians, Thais, and Filipinas to be their Flight Attendants but they don't fly exclusively on certain routes. Case in point, when I flew with them to YYZ and from JFK, I saw Indonesian FA, Indian FA, and Malaysian FA along their Cantonese FA. Indeed it's nice to have someone onboard who can communicate with you. In my case, I was able to get some insider news :) Juicy gossips about CX life
Overall, I think CX is still a pretty solid airline. Their crew really makes up for sub-par F&B and the sub-par regional seat. Their schedule is also preferable for many travelers as they offer multiple daily flights to popular destinations. I would not hesitate to fly with them again as someday, I hope to be a oneworld Emerald just like you :) :) :)
Thanks for your extensive comments! I appreciate the time you took to stop by and read my reports :)
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