After quite a long absence from writing FRs - mainly due to my repetitive flying patterns between HKG and LHR on CX which are well documented here and on other sites - I have returned after trying out yet another of my home carrier's new European ports: Madrid.
For a recap of my recent reports, click the following link:
It's one of the many times of the year that I fly back home to Hong Kong from the UK. As you probably noticed by now if you've read my previous reports I have this weird avgeek thing of trying out a new route, just to see for myself how an airline handles its operations in a foreign airport (or rather the chaos that this might bring). This time Cathay tempted me by announcing the launch of a direct Madrid service from June 2, 2016 WAY back in September 2015. I always had this on my calendar as the start date should work out for me to be on the inaugural flight. By the end of 2015, work was more or less settled and I boldly booked myself on the first flight with fingers crossed hoping nothing would turn up last minute that would spoil the party. But as you probably imagined (as with most things in life) things didn't go according to plan and I had to stay in the UK till the second week of June. Gutted, I had to ring my agent and have everything changed to a week after the first flight on the 9th. This is the second time I narrowly missed the first flight after missing the Manchester launch by a few days.
So the plan would be to fly down from London to Madrid and then onto the CX back to Hong Kong. Since I won't be able to leave London until the pm of the 8th, I booked myself onto an evening flight down to MAD, spend the night there, and take the noon flight the other day. This was no bother for me, since IB was offering some dirt cheap fares down to MAD, and I get to sample the A340 which only operated once a day on the 1910 flight.
As with what I'm used to doing, I bought an R class PEY ticket and used my AM to upgrade to J. Ticketing was a jiffy, and Business Class was wide open then, so my upgrade was confirmed in no time. 20,000 miles off my account, and I was good to go!
On the day
Fast forward a few months, and I have already spent the night in Madrid. I opted for the Crowne Plaza airport hotel since it offered some pretty attractive rates and had free shuttles to the airport until after midnight (my IB flight the day before had an ETA of 10pm-ish and was delayed - but that would be for another day).
This is how the hotel looked like from the outside: the common area of the hotels looked a bit old and tired but the rooms are really spacious.
When they say "airport hotel" it's not really next to the terminals, takes a good 20 mins to drive to Terminal 4. Don't forget T4 is quite far off T1,2 and 3, since it was newly built just few years back. The hotel itself is next to a busy highway and on the final approach path of runway 32L. Luckily the whole hotel has heavily glazed windows so its pretty much sound-proof.
I took the 09:30 shuttle from the hotel, and being the lone passenger onboard we headed straight for Terminal 4. I got to the departures area before 10am.
Cathay using the far left corner of the terminal.
I went straight for the check in counters. Despite the flight only operating 4-weekly, Cathay appears to have been allocated its own check in area. It wasn't big - maybe 6-7 counters in total, and even though I arrived quite early a queue has already built up for Economy. Most of the passengers appears to be from Mainland China or Taiwan.
The new corporate colours already in full swing.
One complaint I have is that the font is a little too small for my liking. I understand the new CX philosophy is to take a simplistic approach with almost everything, but there really is no harm in making the words a tat bit bigger.
Dedicated check in desks for Business and MPC members.
The check in agent was apparently new to her job, and it was quite funny seeing her gingerly doing every step whilst following an instructions sheet. All my bags were duly tagged and my BP and lounge invitation were issued. My flight today would depart from T4-S, the satellite terminal to the East of the main building.
I spoke briefly to the station manager after check in. He told me that most of the support staff for the time being came down from other European ports such as CDG, AMS and FRA (he was himself from CDG). I also asked about the loadings - as expected performance has been rather slow for the first week or so, but loads are supposedly on the rise in the weeks following.
I walked to the security checkpoint which is at the other side of the giant terminal. Passengers on premium classes get to use the fast track channel.
Going through security was no bother, and I was airside within 5 minutes. The main terminal is quite big in size, with a decent range of shops. The shopping area is located in the middle of the terminal, whilst gates are spread over both wings.
As I was told the satellite terminal also has a sizable shopping area, I left the main terminal for T4S via an underground transit system.
The train station that is well below ground level.
Illustration of T4:
The trains that are clean and quite well kept.
A long way back up to the ground floor
As expected, T4S is more-or-less identical to the main terminal sans the check in and security area.
I headed straight to the IB lounge "Sala Velazquez". The location of the lounge is something I would comment on - it is right in the middle of a filthy duty free shop, seems rather odd for a flagship lounge of the home carrier.
The lounge itself is very spacious, with a nice view of the tarmac and a good constant supply of natural light.
In terms of the food selection, I can see a range of hot and cold breakfast and a large drinks cabin. I'm especially surprised by the generous amount of alcohol available. Since I already had a large breakfast at the hotel, I only went for a couple of sandwiches and a slice of Spanish omelette.
I only spent half an hour or so in the lounge, before going back out to the terminal. Overall I am genuinely impressed by the lounge, given the low standards that are seen throughout lounges in Europe. This one reminds me of the CX lounges in HKG - large, bright, and with very good service. It also has announcements for when flights begin to board. Thumbs up to IB for all that!
The departures board - CX320 looks to be on time and will be departing from gate S23/25
The terminal itself is also rather impressive with its beautiful structure and large glass panels, it looks more like an Asian megahubs - the likes of SIN and ICN.
A CX advert:
I slowly walked over to my gate where my CX 77W bird was already waiting. MAD T4 isn't ideal for spotting out the window as there will be pillars here and there obstructing the view. The glass windows were also VERY VERY dirty.
My chariot today: B-KQS, she is almost 2 years old.
So gate S25 it is for my flight today, again new CX signage used.
With my BP scanned, I promptly walked down the air bridge:
I was warmly welcomed onboard by the ISM and taken to my seat personally.
My choice of row 23 was (as explained in previous reports) mainly due to the stunning view of the mighty GE90 engines:)
Spotting - IB A343 EC-HGV, Iberia kept them for longer than planned because of the low oil prices, but they will be sent to the deserts very soon.
At almost precisely 1230 the doors were closed and air bridges retracted.
We pushed back about 10 mins behind schedule, and the taxi to runway 36R was rather short.
Soon enough, our heavy bird was airborne. Always impressive to see a 77W being pushed off the ground.
CX320 displayed on the control:
Menus and amenity kits were distributed:
A shot of the 77G (CX code for its 3-class 777-300ERs) mini cabin, seating a comfortable 14. Loading was pretty light on that day in J.
The drinks were served as our entrees were being heated up. I went for the off the menu Cathay Delight. The crew offered me an OJ as she goes to prepare my green drink. Warm nuts (served with the proper utensils) were also served:
At that point, we were overflying Barcelona, about to leave the Spanish coast:
Quite a long while after I finished the drinks and the nuts, the food arrived. This is where I was most worried about, having had below-par food being served on my last few flights. On offer today was:
The wine list was also quite plentiful, with the usual suspects and a few French reds on promotion:
The Starters: A timbale with King Crab and Avocado - Despite what has been said about CX catering, the timbale was very nice, fine dining level and very delicate flavours. Top marks dish. The salad was - well salad, nothing to write home about.
Then the mains - on paper the lamb sounded pretty promising, and I had fond memories of having lamb chops on CX J. The presentation was disappointing when the dish came to me, its like everything was put together in a hurry. Rather unexpectedly, the taste was actually nice. The meat was very tender and had a good meaty/juicy flavour to it. Seems like catering in MAD is doing a good job.
I had another look at the menu, and the Fried Pork Chop caught my eye. Curious, I kindly asked the SP for that.
The menu turns out to be very deceiving: rather than fried pork chop, I was given what looked like stewed pork (almost like the Beef Brisket you get from the street stalls in HK) and a disproportionately small bowl of rice. Thinking that this will be the dish where CX catering flops, I was proven wrong a THIRD straight time today - the pork was soft and the gravy tasted Cantonese! Would have loved to see fried pork chop at 32,000ft, but this wasn't too shabby. I later asked the SP about this out of interest, and she told me the catering team in MAD is yet to master the Fried Pork, hence the replacement.
I chose the Australian red out of the main wine list to go with the mains.
After a rather lengthy meal service (for me!), the crew came round to clear my plates and offered cheese/dessert. I went for both. The cake was ok, just a bit too sweet for my liking.
As for the cheese, I asked for a bit of everything. Nothing special here.
Watched London Has Fallen during my dessert. Excuse my language but it was absolutely SHITE. Not trying to sound like a film critic here but I should have known after watching Olympus Has Fallen, this installment had more or less the same cast and same storyline. Completely wasted 2 hours of my life.
Since these two days have been quite hectic for me, I pulled the curtains and went to bed after the sun has gone down.
Must have been over Turkey by then.
I managed to catch a good four hours of sleep, which was easy given the comfy Cirrus seat. I'm glad CX kept the seat more or less the same for the A350, but I would have preferred a better job by Porsche Design to really elevate the stylistic and aesthetic elements of the product. I always thought the "CX green" made the seat look less high class when compared with say the SQ J product.
I got hungry in the middle of the night and so I ordered the burger and Iced Lemon Tea from the SP in the galley. I have long seen burgers being served on US routes but I have never chosen that option.
The snacks menu:
The burger was quite good by plane food standards, but it is the Iced Lemon Tea I wanted to write about. As you probably realized it is an off the menu item, but massive kudos to the SP for improvising and actually did it properly. It was (no kidding) better than the ones served in some HK Cha Chaan Tengs. Absolutely stunning job from her, and it is these little things that makes (or rather skeptically - "used to make") CX a leading airline.
And a few TV shows later, some 2 hours out of Hong Kong, the lights were turned on, and breakfast was served.
As with the Fried Pork, the SP came round to tell me that the rice rolls were replaced by fried noodles. That was alright, since the noodles were very tasty. The congee on the other hand, was quite bland. On a side note, the fruits were very sweet and juicy. I wonder if that's a norm with Spanish fruits with all the sunlight?
Before I knew it, we were making the right turn for runway 07L. You can see the HK-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge down below us in construction. It will become the longest bridge systems in the world on completion.
And touch down! Full reverse!
We swiftly rolled into gate N30 after exiting the runway.
Disembarkation was orderly and swift, and before I knew it I was "back to the real world"
CX's latest toy, the much anticipated A350-900 B-LRA. Love the raccoon cockpit window!
That's it! Thanks for bearing with me and going through my long FR! Until next time:)
Iberia Velazquez VIP Lounge
Madrid - MAD
Hong Kong - HKG
This flight was by far the best I've seen CX in recent times. Everything on the ground and in the air was efficient. I admit CX is still quite far behind in terms of delivering a truly "premium" J class experience, especially after the emergence of the flamboyant products that the likes of QR and EY has brought to the market. But elegance and overwhelming luxury has never been the motto of CX. It has always gone for efficiency and safely taking you from A to B. In that regard I would say it's done a very good job.
I'd like to specially mention the crew on this flight. I have actually been properly pampered by the ISM, SP and a FA, all three of which have been really friendly and talkative (in a good sense) but not overly attentive. Well done to them!
And finally there's catering. Food from MAD has been good throughout, and overall it has definitely seen marked improvements. My observation is that catering is most problematic ex-HKG, which is ironic given the large presence of CPCS in HKIA and how it is actually able to produce quality meals when catering for JL and NH (even ET's catering is allegedly better than CX ex-HKG). Management really needs to give this a thought.
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