Cathay Pacific CX344 London Gatwick (LGW/EGKK) - Hong Kong (HKG/VHHH) A350-900 Business Class
The end of August saw a rather ad hoc need for me to head over to London for two weeks of work, but with a bit of luck I was able to time my return back to Hong Kong near the inauguration (or rather resumption) of the new London Gatwick service. If you have been following my chain of flight reports, I've had the pleasure of trying out a couple of CX's new European destinations in recent years when the services have just begun, and this time I was again able to book myself on just the second flight out since the flight was launched on 2 Sept. The flight on CX344 was rather special for me personally: not only was it one of the first long haul flights for CX's A350 fleet, it would also be my maiden voyage on the brand new next gen jet - quite a change from the 777-300ERs that I have been so used to flying on my European travels.
This report will take an in-depth look at the A350's brand new Business Class product being tested on a long haul flight, with all the bits and bobs being tried and tested out - so please bear with me if the report is slightly longer than usual! (For those who don't know - Cathay's A350 sport new hard products in all three cabins, with the J class seats being a refresh from the Cirrus seats featured on the A330 and B77W fleet. The plane also features wifi and satellite TV capabilities for the first time in the CX fleet)
I booked my J class ticket through an upgrade from PEY's R fare. I made the call to MPC's call centre in mid-August, and my upgrade was instantly confirmed despite the flight being quite full already then. 20,000 miles poorer and my seat on the A350 was confirmed!
Booking already reflected in MMB. Note the 9000+ AM that I would rack up - that was a result of the promotion that CX was running on the LGW flights, awarding extra miles for all booking classes
Day of the flight
I live about 10 minutes away from Victoria Station, so taking the Gatwick Express to the airport was a no brainer for me. Having said that, I was never a fan of the station - I find it too crowded and chaotic with all the people from Gatwick buzzing around the station with their suitcases. Nightmare!
I left home at around 8am to catch the 8:30 direct train.
Very quiet compared to the average weekday.
I pre-purchased my ticket online, so I went straight through to the platform.
I was quite relieved to see my train on time, after all the fuss that the Southern train strike has caused in the past few months.
Gatwick's Express Class 387 train - apparently less than a year old this train, but it just felt like any other British train: bearable and not brilliant.
The platforms exclusively used by Gatwick Express
I guess 17 quid is considered cheap for an airport line by UK standards?
The journey was supposed to take half an hour, but in a very untypically British fashion, my train actually arrived 10 minutes early! Now that's a first!
The station itself is located next to the South Terminal, so it was only a short walk for me.
Gatwick's check in area is nothing to write home about.
I wasted no time in looking for Cathay's check in area. Turns out they have a whole check in aisle all to themselves.
The new corporate signage in full display.
Since I arrived almost four hours in advance, there was absolutely no one waiting to check in. The lady at the counter very quickly swiped my passport and had my BP printed. She seems to be fairly well trained, unlike the agent I had in Madrid who made me wonder whether she has undergone any CX training. The very friendly lady told me that most of the ground staff in LGW were recruited new,except the station manager who transferred down from Heathrow to have everything set up.
BP and Lounge Invitation: Cathay uses the No.1 Lounge.
With the documents sorted, I walked straight up to security - which is in the upstairs area.
There is a separate Fast Track security for premium passengers where they get to cut the queue and sent straight to the X-ray machine. It turned out to be quite pointless on a relatively quiet Sunday as there were no queues anywhere.
I was through to airside in under 5 minutes.
A floor plan to help me navigate the big terminal.
Airside is just like any other UK airport I've been to. They all have more or less the same shops with little character individually. I guess that is consistency for them?
The huge FIDS - I still don't understand why they won't publish the gates in advance. Anyway our gate was printed on the BP and it was going to be gate 17 in the center pier.
But I had to pay the lounge a visit before heading to the gate, which is located on the top floor.
The No.1 lounge is sort of hidden behind a series of long corridors, making me feel like I was walking down a back door.
Decent sized: not what I would call spacious by any measure.
It does offer a very nice view of the tarmac though. Ideal for avgeeks like me to kill a few hours.
Virgin Atlantic B747-419 G-VROY "Pretty Woman
As with the No.1 lounge in Heathrow, food has to be ordered. I was in the lounge before 11am, so there were only a bunch of boring breakfast options.
Not quite interested in the breakfast offerings, I went for a fish finger sandwich with tartare sauce. It was quite tasty - very fresh at least. The breadrolls and drinks were set up in a help yourself fashion.
After spending a few hours in the rather cozy lounge, I decided to make a move and walk towards our gate. Turns out it was quite a walk to get there.
Does that not remind you of Heathrow T3?
Hong Kong yet again!
There is a holding area at each gate where passports are checked for one last time.
The moment I've been waiting for: face to face with the raccoon-faced A350. I was actually quite critical of the plane's appearance when it first rolled out, but I must admit it looks gorgeous in the new CX scheme (rumour has it the new scheme is specially designed with the 350 in mind.) My chariot was B-LRA, the very first A359 that was delivered to CX in June. That was her very first long haul outing after months of regional flying.
The massive Rolls Royce Trent XWB powerplants.
Literally what's meant by face to face!
A very sizable holding area
Boarding was called at around 11:55am. As usual, J class passengers were invited on first with only one airbridge attached.
B-LRA's "identity plate" - this particular frame is leased.
I boarded through door L2 and made a left turn for the main Business Class cabin. This configuration has split the J seats into two areas, with the area between door 1 and 2 being the main J cabin housing 30 pax, and a mini cabin behind door 2 for 8. Fearing that the mini cabin would be rather noisy from it's proximity with the galley, I took up seat 19A, which is in the last row of the main cabin.
My home for the next 11 hours.
At first glance, the new J seat looks quite similar to the previous generation, sans a slight difference in shape and a redesign in the control panel. They've also made some subtle changes to the colour scheme giving the product a much warmer feel.
I really like the "sharksfin" logo lit up on the back wall.
The A350 is equipped with a brand new PTV system, so gone were the FAs who used to feature on the front page, and is now replaced by snapshots of Hong Kong.
A cheerful FA soon came over to greet me and offered me a welcome drink. Amongst the choices there was cranberry juice - I don't think I've ever seen that served on a CX flight. Perhaps it's what they've got from catering in LGW?
A few pictures of the new handset and control panel: The handset is fully functional - so all the functions you see on the main screen you can also do on that smartphone-like gadget.
Yes, I'm in the right seat!
View out of my large window. The two massive RR engines will be powering us to HK.
We pushed back just a couple of minutes behind our STD at 12:37pm. Here you can see the new 2016 version of the safety video being played. There is also a small section about the onboard wifi at the end.
Putting my two monitors to good use. The A350 has a tail camera (just like the ones seen on the A380) and a nose camera.
We made a short taxi to the threshold of runway 26L, the main runway in use at Gatwick. I was able to spot the retro Air Malta A320-214 (9H-AEI).
Our A350 was cleared for take off from 26L at 12:58, and it did not take long for us to get airborne thanks to those powerful engines!
Overflying the fields of Sussex
We made a right turn heading Northeast towards the English Channel, aiming straight for Amsterdam. As with the 787, the A350 is able to reach relatively high cruising altitudes on its initial climbout. We were at FL370 (37,000 feet) by the time we crossed the Channel.
Nice graphics on the map.
As the crew were busy preparing food and drinks, I had time to look around the cabin. Instantly noticeable is the electronic no smoking/seat belt sign.
An overview of the main J cabin.
The USB docks are now hidden in the little compartment next to the seat. Not convinced it's an improvement - I personally prefer the old design where the docks are next to the control panel.
There's a new storage space that also forms part of the bed when lying fully flat.
The amenity kit and Evian given out - so there's yet another new design for the amenity kit (I think it's been around since July but I might be wrong). Still looks very shabby by J class standards and seems like a massive mismatch with such a "premium airline" that CX claims to be.
Soon enough, drinks and warmed nuts were given out. I wanted my favourite Cathay Delight but it seems like Oriental Breeze was the one on offer for September. But before that - some OJ to start with. Praise where it is due, I was actually served with Fresh OJ with all the chunky bits in instead of the ones poured out from cartons.
My "Oriental Breeze" - a plum based non alcoholic drink that has been on the menu for as long as I can remember.
Beautiful wing view - I'm really starting to fall in love with those winglets with the small brushwing logo on it.
I read from other reviews that the FWD toilets both have a window, so I had to pay one of them a visit. The "noise cancellation" is really quite impressive when you put the toilet seat down, you can hardly hear the flush.
Another feature that the A350 boasts is that it is able to offer live satellite TV. On CX, BBC World News, CNN and Euronews are offered.
By the time I've finished wandering around, our lunch was ready.
To start the lunch service off a Terrine with mixed greens and beetroot. The terrine was rather delicious and well seasoned. A tasty dish all round.
Watching a bit of the news whilst munching down the starter.
With the starters cleared away, my mains arrived. The SP approached me before the service began and asked if a meal option I chose was not available on a previous flight. I did not recall that happening on recent flights, but nevertheless happily made my choice before all the other passengers did as the kind gentleman offered. Very impressive gesture on CX's part. At the end, I chose the Chinese option of stir fried prawns. Unlike the British Chinese takeaway-style dishes on my previous longhaul European flights, this prawn dish was actually quality with the flavours balanced nicely. It was mildly spicy but not overwhelming. Consistent with the observations I made on the Madrid flight I took in June, I definitely feel a slight improvement in the notorious CX catering. Whether this is credits to the catering in MAD and LGW, I really don't know. It also turned out that the prawn option was really popular on that flight, so it ran out pretty quickly according to the SP. I was told CX only loads about 11-12 meals per option on a 77G/359 flight, so some are bound to be disappointed if a particular option sold out fast. I saw the crew take out the Chinese option from EY to offer to those who didn't get the prawn - might well be a solution but not sure if it's a good idea from a passengers' perspective, having experienced an EY meal on J a few years back.
Garlic bread on that flight was really nice, so I asked for a second serving.
Despite the mains being good, I was still left rather hungry. Afterall, my last meal was a light breakfast at the lounge a few hours ago. The crew offered me the vegetarian option of a spinach and cheese spaghetti. It was nice but just a tad bit too salty for my liking.
The cheese course was next - nothing special to report.
Dessert was one area on the menu that caught my eye - they were offering two options instead of the one cake that the crew used to serve from the trolley. It turns out they now offer small, almost bite-size sweet stuff. I cannot tell whether it is yet another cost cutting measure, but the chocolate mousse was nevertheless very smooth and rich (albeit being WAY too small). It certain doesn't look as nice presentation wise.
With two mains down my stomach I was quite full for anything else, so I lowered my seat back and enjoyed the world outside my window at 39,000 feet as the sun slowly went down. And boy, what a view that was…
An afternoon flight out of Europe is really quite bad for sleeping, so I was only able to nap for an hour or two after wearing myself down with a few movies.
It was before long that a tempting scent of noodles flowed through the cabin. I could not resist that so I asked for a bowl of the beef tendon noodles. It certainly lived up to it's smell, though the beef tendon tasted more like a Chinese style beef shank.
A small snack bar was set up in the galley. Not really impressive to say the least.
So after yet more food, I finally got to settle down. I turned to my phone to try out further one of the key features of the A350 - the inflight wifi. Earlier on, I paid US$19.95 for a wifi pass for the whole flight. CX did not impose a cap on data usage, and the wifi was adequate for normal email/Whatsapp/Facebook use. Sending out photos is possible but would take some time. All in all, it's a nice feature to have for business travelers who needs to be online all the time, but I'm not sure if it's worth 20 dollars for 12 hours of texting and surfing social media.
Tracking my flight on Flightradar to make good use of my 20 bucks.
Fast forward a few hours and the cabin lights were brightened for the breakfast service, about 2 hours before arrival.
Overall I was again quite happy with the food I got. The strawberry and banana smoothie is a new addition to the breakfast menu, dating back a few months if memory serves me right. I went for the Chinese congee option this time round - it only tasted good when I added some fancy pink salt. It is not the first time that I've found congee on CX flights to be a bit bland.
Towards the end of the service, everyone in the cabin seemed to be in a rush, with the last few breakfast servings being rushed out to passengers who have just woken up. About 30 mins out of Hong Kong, the captain came up on the PA to give us an update on the arrival weather and instructed the crew to clear the cabin up. I must say 11 hours on the comfortable A350 flew by real quick!
On the decent into runway 07 in Hong Kong.
My final few moments with the massive Rolls Royce as we approach the Pearl River Delta.
After a number of twists and turns and twenty minutes ahead of schedule, B-LRA loomed over runway 07L to a humid and hazy morning.
It was not a long taxi to our gate 50. And so I had to bid farewell to my seat 19A that served me well for 11 hours.
The captain was kind enough to allow a quick visit to the cockpit. You can clearly see marked differences even with the A380 flight deck (and an even larger difference from the 1st gen glass cockpits on the A330/340). I really like the large monitor that became the centre piece in Airbus' redevelopment of this flight deck.
I thanked the friendly tech crew for having me after a few quick snaps and made my way up the airbridge. A CX 747 was waiting a few gates away. Will certainly miss them when they go by the end of the month.
No.1 Traveller No.1 Gatwick
London - LGW
Hong Kong - HKG
So there you have it! My maiden flight on the A350 surely ended on a high. The flight attendants were decently friendly and definitely served their purpose. The new hard product refresh was good, but so was it's predecessor. As Cathay themselves put it, this was meant to be an "evolution" to what is already a top notch product. But as a long time CX customer I expected a bit more after all the hype about hiring Porsche design for these seats. I guess we would have to look on to the arrival of the B777-9X for a significant change.
Thank you so much for bearing with my long TR. I look forward to any comments or questions that you may have!
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