Review of Cathay Pacific flight Bangalore Hong Kong in Economy

Airline Cathay Pacific
Flight CX624
Class Economy
Seat 71J
Aircraft Airbus A350-900
Flight time 04:30
Take-off 27 Dec 23, 03:15
Arrival at 27 Dec 23, 10:15
CX   #2 out of 94 Airlines A minimum of 10 flight-reports within the past two years is required to appear in the rankings. 511 reviews
Proximanova
By SILVER 347
Published on 15th May 2024

An e‘CX’eptional airline, second to none in branding


Before I start, I feel that I need to highlight just how brilliantly perfect Cathay Pacific’s brand image — and, in particular, typography (corporate fonts) — is, especially when almost all other Northeast Asian airlines are so uniformly atrocious with their branding, with Mainland Chinese airlines being the worst overall. For context, as a personal project, I’ve been comparing the corporate identities, typographic systems and brand consistencies of about 150 airlines across the world, across multiple areas like the website, IFE system, menus and ads/social media. Most of it remains incomplete, with only a few airlines (including CX, SQ and a few others) having full reviews, but here you can get a feel of how it looks like.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that CX is perhaps the most consistent in its branding worldwide, and other Northeast Asian airlines are the very worst of the worst. The big outlier in Northeast Asia is Cathay Pacific, and CX’s brand image and font system is so sublime, pristine and perfect, I rank it to be the joint-best in the world (99 out of 100) alongside Gulf Air. In fact, Oneworld airlines in general tend to do much better (on average) than those from the other two alliances — a major reason being the lack of Taiwanese, Korean and Mainland Chinese airlines in Oneworld, all with appallingly inconsistent brand identities (except perhaps Asiana and to some extent ANA), that SkyTeam and the Star Alliance have.


Northeast Asia has some of the finest airlines in the world — ANA, JAL, EVA, Starlux among them — so much so that 7 out of the 10 Skytrax 5-star airlines are from this region alone. However, in terms of fonts and brand consistency, Northeast Asian airlines are the WORST by a country mile. In comparison to European airlines (where my favourites are Air France, SAS, Finnair, Aegean and Austrian), the Gulf (my top picks are Gulf Air, Etihad and Saudia’s recent rebrand) and even Southeast Asian/Pacific airlines* (Malaysia Airlines, Qantas and Air New Zealand are the best here), Northeast Asian airlines — be it Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean — have almost zero sense of brand identity, with some exceptions like Asiana and Starlux Airlines.

In fact, JAL is the only Oneworld airline to do horribly in my ranking, as it has no brand fonts (just look at how ancient and old-school its website is!) like almost all other Northeast Asian airlines, in stark contrast to other members of the blue-circle group. (No one does worse than Japan Airlines in this alliance, since there are no Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean airlines.) Never mind that JAL has perhaps the best, most exquisite new first-class product in the world on its A350-1000; its horrific brand fonts undo a lot of the charming Japanese hospitality and service that it’s renowned for.** If Etihad, Qatar or a European airline like Air France or Lufthansa came up with such a thing, I’d be praising it to the skies… but JAL, EVA and Korean Air, despite being among the world’s top airlines, don’t even bother to try with their fonts. And the less said about Mainland Chinese airlines, the better…


Enter text here…


How e‘CX’otically can you fly India to Vietnam?


Which is why Cathay Pacific’s brilliance struck me all the more when I flew them in December 2023, from Bengaluru to Hong Kong to Hanoi. To get from BLR to HAN, there were a number of one-stop options, most of them via either Singapore or Bangkok — tried-and-trusted hubs for Indian travellers — since VietJetAir (which I flew the very next day after CX) hasn’t been approved for flights to some major South Indian metros, despite expanding elsewhere in India and bringing Indian holidaymakers to Vietnam by the planeload.

But I was looking for something much more exotic, and I lucked out when I saw a discounted fare on CX’s website for just S$510 on 27 December — much cheaper than on other days in the last week of 2023. The first leg would be on the new-but-not-brand-new A350-900, the second on the much newer A321neo, which joined the fleet very recently indeed after the closure of Cathay Dragon. In between, there would be an hours-long layover at HKG — possibly the world’s best airport for planespotting (ask OMAAT) giving me ample time to explore the Sky Bridge (which I’ve incorrectly called ‘Sky Deck’ before), Intervals Bar and Chase Sapphire Lounge: as top-of-the-line luxurious as premium airport establishments can possibly get.

After flying CX on both aircraft types, suffice it to say that I was stunned beyond belief at just how flawless and pitch-perfect an airline’s typography game can get, something where even the otherwise stellar Gulf Air fumbled at the finish line. If the A350 already raised the bar well above SQ’s mediocre, Montserrat-ridden IFE system — with Cathay’s own font appearing in almost every screen, something that SQ fails to do beyond the header text — the A321neo completely blew me away with its cracklingly sharp 4K display and nifty mini-display in the corner. No, these weren’t my favourite flights of 2023 — that honour would go to KLM’s 777-300ER in the SkyTeam livery to Denpasar, as well as anything involving SriLankan Airlines — but the all-round perfection and consistency that CX (as a Chinese-speaking airline) has nailed, beating so many Western (particularly European) and Gulf airlines, is simply astounding. Let’s get into it…


*And Singapore Airlines? It’s pretty solid, with the flagship Baker Signet font being supported by Gotham in ads/social media and Proxima Nova in the website and app. But the IFE has a long way to go compared to the perfection that CX and other Oneworld members (AY, QF, MH, IB, to an extent QR) have — not to mention OS, LH and A3 in the Star Alliance (and SK until it switches to SkyTeam in Sep.).

**Psst! I may not like the typography of other Northeast Asian airlines, but (this is kind of a secret) I’ll be flying a number of them in June 2024 (the 767-300ER on JAL included) on a quick four-day review trip across ICN, TPE, HKG and NRT, throwing CGK in for good measure. Further details will be revealed over the coming months after the trip is over.


Routing


Pre-departure


Tuesday, 26 December, evening. Two-and-a-half days after arriving at my parents’ home in Bengaluru — and bringing home a new car on Christmas Day — I started looking up Flightradar24 in the evening itself, long before the flight. As you can see, simply searching for ‘BLR’ on the FR24 app yields not only this city’s airport code but also the whole B-LR* series of Cathay Pacific A350-900s — something that never gets old, and that I made full use of before and during the flight!


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At a quarter to eight, the A350 flying to BLR tonight was confirmed as B-LRB: not the second-oldest A350 in the CX fleet as the registration might suggest, but rather the fifth. Given that all B-LR* series A350s were built in 2016–17, B-LRX isn’t that much newer — only a year — than B-LRB. (The equivalent at Singapore Airlines, 9V-SMZ, is a full three years newer than 9V-SMA.)

On the contrary, the B-LQ* series of A350s is a bit newer, with B-LQA–LQF being built in 2021 and B-LQG onwards since 2023 — kind of like SQ’s 9V-SJ* series. Needless to say, I wasn’t worried about getting technically one of the older A350s in the CX fleet… after all, it’s an A350! I’ve had worse aircraft out there, above all the disgusting Thai Airways 777-200ER, about which I will spill no more ink.


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One last homemade meal for 2023 — a simple roti, brinjal and cottage-cheese (paneer) curry — and I was out at around 10:15 IST, what with the inbound flight being delayed a bit. This was my fourth time in this particular house in the southern fringes of Bengaluru, where my parents moved in (having shifted from our 20-year home city of Chennai) at the start of May.


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The hired cab — not Ola/Uber but rather a driver acquaintance — trudged out of the apartment complex with bag and baggage in tow, and through the never-sleeping roads of southern Bengaluru leading up to Bannerghatta Road.


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Up top, in the first row, you see the Ritz-Carlton, and below that the Four Seasons: two of the world’s most luxurious hotel chains here in Bengaluru. (India’s only other Four Seasons is in Mumbai, and its only other Ritz-Carlton is in nearby Pune. By way of comparison, Chennai and Hyderabad — despite not being as premium — are the two Indian cities with Park Hyatts.)

As we proceeded up and away from the city centre, innumerable office buildings and tech-parks whooshed past.


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Next came the Phoenix Mall of Asia* (first row below), a sprawling, gigantic complex in northern Bengaluru that had been inaugurated recently — and just over the Christmas weekend had fallen into trouble because of a massive 100-ft Christmas tree that blocked airport-bound northward traffic, causing people to miss their flights! As a result, the mall had to be closed down altogether for several days.

Then came the familiar jewellery billboards, furniture showrooms and celebrity-endorsed hoardings that typify the trek all the way up to Kempegowda International.

*I bet the developers didn’t even bother to search where else the ‘Mall of Asia’ name might be used. The real one is the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City, Philippines: one of the biggest in the world.


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Besides VT-IUZ, which I had flown to BLR some months before in poor health, the departure roster for the time being had only one non-VT-registered passenger widebody. Keep note of it, because this one turns up in the next instalment: 9V-SHI made the journey first back to Changi, before following me to Hong Kong, where I gave her long glances while planespotting beside the entrance to the Sky Bridge.


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At 11:30, barely an hour after leaving home, an achievement given Bengaluru’s infamous traffic!, we made it to Kempegowda International Airport’s Terminal 2. This — as I’ve said on several previous occasions — was awarded the Prix Versailles (Special Prize for an Interior) by the UNESCO earlier that month (December 2023) and subsequently featured in a Superstructures documentary by National Geographic India on its making and design.

Having bid goodbye to my parents — I don’t have siblings, and my grandmother was back in Kolkata at the time, coming back here some days later — I proceeded past the DigiYatra facial-recognition counters at the entry to this globally acclaimed, packed-to-the-brim-with-luxury aerodrome to embark on my longest, most jam-packed solo trip to date.


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Brass bells, blingy boutiques, boarding pass


It was nearly midnight, and there was plenty of time to go before the inbound aircraft landed, so I revelled in the towering landscaped bells at the check-in counters that, with their green leafy decorations, were possibly the most suited thing for Christmas.

At length I turned to the Cathay Pacific check-in line at the far left, and immediately I was struck by the quiet professionalism this airline showed in its check-in signage. No other Chinese-speaking (or Japanese or Korean) airline can achieve the elegance with their physical branding assets that CX can.


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I received both (BLR–HKG, HKG–HAN) boarding passes: sadly the plain drab white kind, with no colour whatsoever, which is perhaps the only area of failure for this otherwise flawless symbol of branding excellence. That said, neither SQ nor EK add any colours to their passes either, nor do many others… sigh.

Next, even though my bags were dropped off, I headed to the check-in kiosk to see how it looked like: and, indeed, it was properly branded with all colours and fonts in place. However, it could not retrieve my booking due to the oft-cited ‘passport name mismatch’ error that I’ve had before on SQ and Scoot, so I might as well head over to immigration and security.


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Our A350 was still some distance away from making landfall, as my A350-only filtered Flightradar24 map showed, and most of the others in the vicinity were from the Star Alliance — including SAS, which had resumed its BKK route only in November, and which will quit the alliance it founded on 31 August 2024 and join SkyTeam the next day. (At least SAS has been warmly welcomed into the so-called ‘weakest’ ‘leftover’ alliance; LATAM and China Southern weren’t so lucky, and will stay alliance-less forever.)


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There were significantly fewer Bollywood celebrity posters than at Mumbai, where I’d been three nights ago. Instead, the wide-open immigration/security area led into a narrow passageway — with a #Vote4BLRAirport sign (third row, right) nearby, referring to the Skytrax airport awards (where the number one is once again from Qatar) — that opened up into Bengaluru Duty Free, with Western actors/models gracing the Armani and Lancôme ads.


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As always: de-rigeur liqueur, liquor, sweets, perfumes, chocolates and some Indian specialties. Other than the towering and dazzling décor, it’s no different from other duty-frees.


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The mostly brown-and-white, high-ceilinged corridor led into a much more blue and low-ceilinged place, which then led to the main departure atrium. My jaw dropped the first time that I came here, back in September on the day that T2 opened for international flights, but there’s only so many times my jaw can drop. So I kept going.


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A bunch of books, a bottle and a (chocolate) bar


Next came the grandiose central atrium, where passengers congregated in cavernous enclosures or — for those more well-heeled — headed off to the 080 International Lounge at T2. With the number of flora-inspired decorations, it was clear that the place lived up to the ‘airport in a garden’ marketing strapline, and the blindingly bright boutiques (no Chanel, Dior or Gucci — yay!) only served to underscore it.


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Funnily enough, the lounge hadn’t managed to include Air India’s updated logo, even though it had for Saudia, which rebranded a month-and-a-half later. And the less said about Nepal Airlines’ antediluvian logo the better.

Besides CX, some alliance partners that serve BLR include Qantas, JAL and BA, not to mention the de-rigueur Qatar, Malaysia and SriLankan, of which only the last two showed off that blue circle. (QR and MH are the only two to put the Oneworld logo to the left, instead of the right, of their own.)


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I turned the corner, and tucked behind Anand Sweets and Savouries was the standard Relay book-cum-snackshop; I didn’t see a WHSmith here, but T1 has one. With such a mind-bogglingly vast array of sweets, drinks, snacks, books, goodies and gadgets, I doubt a WHSmith would be needed anyway. I had a particular fancy for a new chocolatier called The Whole Truth, with its refreshingly no-bullshit packaging.


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I ambled around the aisles and, before I knew it, picked up four books…


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…followed by a fifth, and the whole lot (plus a chocolate bar and a juice) cost me some ₹1,800 — not the cheapest! The author of the bestselling thriller That Night (as above) had come up with a new book, which I’d loved to bits when I read it in June 2023.* (An emotionally intelligent, genetically altered foetus who communicates with his perpetually harassed mother by kicking a certain number of times in her belly? I’m up for it!)

*Plus, the story is set in Singapore — during the 2003 Cricket World Cup in South Africa.


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B-LRB had almost reached BLR, as I kept up the conversation with my parents in Bengali/English. Translations: Ebar ghum: Now sleep. Shob hoye geche?: Is everything done? That sentence below: ’Now I’ll sit, read books, buy books, eat and roam around, what else!’

Half an hour later, Dad chimed in with his own memory of visiting HKG (Kai Tak, to be precise; he even remembered the date!) three decades before.
The last post by Mom: ‘I remember he had told me decades ago, one day I will take you to Hong Kong. So glad 2 out of 3 (i.e., excluding herself) have been able to go!’


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Meanwhile a nearby tall display showed an ad with a girl stopping by the side of a street in the dead of night, so that she could lick and lick at her Galaxy chocolate, ‘pleasure lasts’ as it was called… I think that slogan might be suited for, ahem, a different kind of company, with rubber products.

Followed by an inconsequential-by-comparison ad for Budweiser’s Beach energy drink, full of youthful energy. Duh.


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I lounged for a bit and took in the old-timey painting of the city a hundred years ago, shuffled through my new acquisitions — which only served to stuff my already-full bags beyond the limit — and then sauntered through the covered open-air leafy walkway to the departure gates.


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Brilliant and bright: From BLR to B-LRB


Again, the collective splendour of a thousand suns lights completely bedazzled me, all the more so at one-thirty at night. B-LRB had landed and pushed herself near the flowery bushes at the gate, as passengers disembarked, an hour later than they should have. In the distance stood a 737 MAX 8 of Air India Express, close to where VT-ATD, an A320neo and the only non-737-MAX to wear the new IX livery, rested for the night.


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The boarding time had been pushed to 2:35, and passengers continued to mill around in this wondrous eden that was as filled with luminously luxurious lights as it was completely devoid of eateries! But the structures were so exquisite, they were more than enough to feed the mind.


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A Qatar A350-1000 (A7-ANT) — this, the only Qsuite-guaranteed type, had started to serve BLR recently — had just landed as QR572. The long sexy grey beast pulled up to the gate in the same way that its green alliance partner’s junior sibling, B-LRB, had done. I could not resist clicking away, never mind the big yellow-and-green leaves that came in the frame.


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Further behind was an Air France A330-200 — F-GZCN (2004) — preparing to take off for Paris as AF191. Air France has terminated service to my previous home city, Chennai, from summer 2024, leaving that city with zero SkyTeam service, since Saudia no longer flies there either. Good riddance, I say: that awful airport (the city isn’t awful at all, though) deserves to lose more and more airlines, and I won’t be surprised if Ethiopian follows Air France and flydubai (and ANA before that) in ditching Chennai.* Meanwhile BLR enjoys not only AF and KLM, but also new alliance partner Virgin Atlantic, which launched BLR at the same time as AF ended MAA service.

This side of the windows featured easily 200 travellers hustling for a seat, while I went closer and examined one of the sculptures and the artist behind it. BLR has a dedicated webpage for the artworks spread across the place, and T2 in particular, which makes for good reading if you’re so interested in Indian culture.

*However, Cathay Pacific itself relaunched its Chennai route in February 2024, so not evey foreign airline is looking to pull out of MAA.


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It was past two now; I busied myself with reading about the resurrected Cathay magazine, previously known as Discovery. I’d had enough of SQ and TG and EK (even SriLankan) denying me my favourite page-thumbing reads, and so I was heartily, wholeheartedly looking forward to CX’s offering.

Surprisingly, though, both Vietnamese airlines on my trip had magazines, that too with well-written English articles: VietJetAir’s One2fly, Vietnam Airlines’ pair of Heritage and Heritage Fashion. Combined with Vistara’s eponymous magazine on the previous flight, this meant that the only airline without a magazine on this trip was, in fact, SQ!


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A Lufty 747-400 (D-ABTL) had landed as LH754, followed shortly by an Emirates A380 (A6-EVK) as EK568. Two in the morning really is the best time for planespotting in Bengaluru if you don’t want to be surrounded on all sides by only VT-registered (especially IndiGo) aircraft. At Delhi and Mumbai, though, there are plenty of daytime opportunities to snag exotic longhaul aircraft, which BLR, HYD and MAA don’t often get.


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Flightradar24 only confirmed the same: though SQ and TG take off a bit before or after midnight, you really need to wait until 2am to see the Gulf and European giants in action at BLR. Qatar doesn’t fly to BLR at any other time, but at least Emirates and Etihad do, even if not with their latest and greatest aircraft.


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Soon the melee for CX624 started to ease, and boarding was called just as people were reaching the end of their tether. Drowsy-eyed, they ambled towards the downward escalator, boarding pass in hand, as they — and I — began their venture into vistas unknown.


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A Qatar A350-1000, an Emirates A380, my Cathay A350-900: BLR really has done a phenomenal job in bagging the best aircraft possible from these global giants. As I enjoy the likes of JAL, KLM, Qantas, Ethiopian and now even Virgin Atlantic flying to Bengaluru, I must remind myself just how lucky I am for my parents to move out of Chennai and to this city that — beset as it is by traffic, infrastructure and water problems — is second to none in establishing itself as THE leading hub for southern Indian traffic.

I was enveloped by a giddy sense of excitement, heart palpitating, as I left Indian soil for the final time in 2023, eager to see what awaited me on this maestro beyond compare in terms of corporate brand identity. And now I would be leaving my cosy, familiar homeland, on a faraway quest to new… wait, New Territories is in Hong Kong!


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The flight: Boarding and departure


Flight: Cathay Pacific Airways CX624/CPA624
Date: Wednesday, 27 December 2023
Route: Bengaluru Kempegowda (VOBL/BLR) to Hong Kong–Chek Lap Kok (VHHH/HKG)
Aircraft: B-LRB, Airbus A350-900
Age: 7 years 4 months at the time (built: 4 August 2016, delivered: 24 August 2016)
Seat: 71J (starboard side, near window)
Boarding: 2:40am IST, GMT +5:30 (5:10am HKT, GMT +8)
Departure: 3:15am IST (5:45am HKT)
Arrival: 10:15am HKT (7:45am IST)
Duration: 4 hours 30 minutes

Notes:
• Third Oneworld airline flown, after Malaysia Airlines in October 2022, and SriLankan Airlines in April and November 2023. All flights on this alliance have been only on Airbus aircraft: A321 4R-ABQ, A330-200 4R-ALB (twice on consecutive legs), A330-300s 9M-MTH and 4R-ALO — a streak that was extended later that day by CX’s A321neo B-HPF.*
• First A350 not on Singapore Airlines or Thai Airways, and therefore outside the Star Alliance. The 787, too, was flown only on Star Alliance airlines — Air India, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and Ethiopian Airlines — until GF166 on non-aligned airline Gulf Air (BKK to SIN, A9C-FC) in November 2023, followed by the 787-10 on SkyTeam’s Vietnam Airlines — the last flight of 2023 (SGN to HAN, VN-A879) — later during this Christmas/New Year trip.
• First time to Hong Kong, thus far the easternmost destination visited, beating Denpasar by a hair’s breadth.

*In June, however, I’ve booked myself on the JAL 767-300ER (my fourth Oneworld airline) from Taipei (Taoyuan) to Tokyo (Narita) — my first time on the aging but graceful 7-abreast 767, and my furthest east so far — as part of a mega review trip across Northeast Asia without leaving any airport.


Dark green, bottle green, mint green… but not Ethiopian’s bright greens


Reverse-herringbone seats are standard on CX A350s, both the -900 and the -1000, which is also the case for Qatar’s non-Qsuites A350-900s (A7-ALA–ALX) though they have a different product, the Collins Super Diamond. (As OMAAT points out, CX has done some nifty modifications to the standard Safran Cirrus product that make it stand out.) Steerage it was for me, though, as (almost) always the case… barring the previous flight on Vistara, my first in Premium Economy.


No window or aisle seats were available at the time of check-in, so a middle it was, but at least 71J was close enough to the right-side window and in Row 70 and above. The dull dark green upholstery was rather like SQ’s drab grey, and quite the contrast to Ethiopian — the other airline I’ve flown with green as its primary colour — where the greens are much brighter and more lively.
A big seat number greeted me on the IFE screen — no welcome aboard, no Oneworld logo, nothing — against the backdrop of a meandering river. When I clicked it and chose English, I was taken to the flight overview with a timeline of services from takeoff to touchdown, a bit like a condensed version of what you find in alliance partner Finnair’s new IFE system.


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These were the pictures as I stepped into the jet, as I settled in my seat as an announcement played and as I held the Cathay magazine (hurrah!) in my hand.


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Now CX is one of those airlines with a generic-looking animated safety video… but this one (unlike the others I’ve seen at SriLankan and Gulf Air) superimposed the animated characters onto real-life locales and planes, resulting in an oddly jarring, unsettling mix in certain places. For instance, a line-drawing of a woman receives a boarding pass from an actual flight attendant as she steps on board a real aircraft… like, what?!?!

(Note: English audio played with Chinese subtitles, and vice-versa.)


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At least the rest of the video was mostly on the animated side, though the blue seat covers detracted from the actual seats around me with their muted pastel green shades. That said, CX has never been one for showing off the beauty of Victoria Harbour and the Star Ferry, or Central, or Tsim Sha Tsui, or Disneyland, or any of the hundred and one attractions of Hong Kong (I’m no expert) in its safety videos as SQ does.

Playing it safe — pun intended — may have been the objective here. Regardless, despite the mismatch between animation and reality, this was on the whole rather well-produced. (For the record, it wasn’t shown on the A321neo to Hanoi later that evening, which had a manual demo despite the 4K screens!)


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Captain Gladys first made her welcome, prefacing it with ‘we apologise for the delay due to the inbound aircraft arriving late from Hong Kong’ — something that was repeated, apologetically each time, multiple times over the course of the flight. They might as well have folded their hands while doing so. Then Angus, the lead cabin steward, made his own announcement, and I might mention that both of them were native Hongkongers and not the diverse cabin crew from other countries that you can sometimes expect on CX.

Interestingly they introduced the flight in different ways: Gladys as ‘CX624, our Airbus service to Hong Kong’, and Angus as ‘CX624, our Oneworld flight to Hong Kong’ — something I also noticed with SriLankan, where they repeatedly said ‘our Oneworld flight to Colombo’; I have never noticed this with the Star Alliance.

This done, with the video already being screened, the cabin crew went about asking the (mostly North Indian) passengers — Tamil-speakers don’t visit HKG as much as KUL or SIN — to fasten their seatbelts and lift their window shades. Two such North Indians, a 40s woman and a 30s man, both well-heeled and posh, were on either side of me. My cabin bag had to be stashed in the DEF seats’ locker above Row 66 in front, as the nearby ones were all taken. Two girls in white shirts, Jenny and Yui, served my aisle, and we’ll meet them again in a bit.


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It was past three when I finally got the opportunity to use the A350’s tail camera, which I’d made full use of on Thai Airways in June 2022, and later did on Air India’s new A350 in February 2024, but which (like the magazine) remains an omission on Singapore Airlines. Never mind that this was the middle of the night: it still made for some great green lights, matching the colour of that button on the IFE screen, and it nicely complemented the rain-streaked view out the window where the K-seat passenger was nicely having a pre-takeoff snooze.


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At a quarter past three — nearly two hours after the scheduled departure time — B-LRB was finally up, up and away from BLR, as I left Indian soil for the final time in 2023. With some imagination, the lights on the ground below, if rotated, can be made to resemble the CX brushwing logo!


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Post-takeoff entertainment


First, as an avgeek like me is wont to do, I went to the Wi-Fi connectivity guide. This is where otherwise great airlines like SQ and KLM drop the ball with regard to their typography: SQ uses Montserrat for the IFE, and KL Roboto — two of the most common Google Fonts — despite both having their own unique corporate fonts elsewhere. Something that’s so basic and essential to branding, but that JAL and EVA will never have, as this is simply not valued in Northeast Asia outside of the Swire Group (which owns Cathay Pacific and HK Express) and probably Starlux and Asiana.

On reaching cruising altitude, Jenny handed out a bottle of Bon Aqua room-temperature water to everyone, and the woman to my left was requesting for hot water instead, which she did not have.


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Now I braced myself for the picture-perfection that was about to hit me from Cathay Pacific’s IFE system. (Unbranded, too: they don’t use the StudioCX brand any more.) I headed straight to the map and took in all the high-res 360° views of the A350 heading out of the Indian coastline.

Note that the A321neo with its glossy 4K screen has a different IFE system from Panasonic Avionics, whose theme is light instead of dark with sharp tile corners instead of rounded, but with the same 100% typographic consistency.


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And, of course, as you might expect from a world-class IFE system, there was a detailed overview on destinations from the map — on par with Panasonic’s Arc moving-map features (as seen on the Vistara A321neo and AI A350) or Thai Airways’ Travelport app. But even better was the fact that CX had customised the descriptions firsthand, so it didn’t read like a generic travel site. SQ’s equivalent (as on my previous A380 flight to Mumbai) occupies a much smaller part of the real estate, barring the 737 MAXes, which come fitted with the Arc system, so that’s another plus point for CX here.

Here’s the full-resolution view for the below picture — funny that they included Manila but not Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta or Hanoi — as well as some others that I managed to browse through: Bangkok/Singapore/Hong Kong, Tokyo/London and Beijing/Shanghai. (No, no Indian city was supported for the full-blown travel lowdown.)


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Next up was the guide to the actual flight schedule, where ‘Supper’, ‘Entertainment’ and ‘Stay Connected’ were oddly all bunched towards the beginning of the flight — probably because most people might want to sleep, even though it would land well after sunrise. However, the meal service was made roughly 45 minutes to an hour into the flight, so that was kind of a misrepresentation here.

Anyway, the new picks for the month included a prominent Disney+ tile, and indeed the airline was proud of promoting its collaboration with the blue streamer — now teal-green (like CX itself!) after integrating with Hulu — for a number of originals. (Full resolution here.)


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Then I visited the information and games screens, followed by the one most people head to: the Western series and movies (many of them Christmas specials) on offer for the month. It really is telling when EVA, JAL and co. don’t bother to do much with non-Asian (i.e., Chinese/Japanese) titles, with the proviso being that ‘you’re best off bringing your own entertainment’, but CX goes above and beyond — its slogan is ‘Move Beyond’, after all!


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I moved to a more familiar section: the Indian Cinema screen. For a Northeast Asian airline, I was completely bowled over at the vast range of recent and older Indian films (and not just Bollywood): on par with SQ, at least, if not some other airlines.

I decided against starting Barbie, the year’s biggest blockbuster, as I was reserving it for the 4K-crisp display on the CX A321neo later that day. (However, the HKG–HAN flight itself was shorter than the film, so I had no choice but to resume it on the SQ A350 back home from Hanoi a week later!)


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Wi-Fi and catering


Some 40 minutes after departure, at 3:54 IST, I switched my phone to Hong Kong/Singapore time to match the flight number, 624.


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I figured it would be good to connect to — even pay for — the Wi-Fi, because (a) this was one of those rare flights that crossed the 4.5-hour mark (though still a shade shorter than the A380 SIN–BOM flight the previous Saturday); and (b) I couldn’t resist playing the ‘BLR’ game on Flightradar24, searching for this and other A350s in that registration series. At US$13 for the full flight, it really was par for the course: neither too limited nor too expensive.


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We were an hour out of Bengaluru, and were cruising above the Bay of Bengal at that point, while the Qatar A350-1000 was just preparing to take off from BLR.


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A turbulence announcement was made, and all along the meal service was proceeding in the left-hand aisle, while no one in our side of the cabin got theirs… except for the guy in 71K, who got his Hindu vegetarian meal (pre-ordered online) before everyone else!


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Only an hour into the flight did Yui roll down her cart down my part of the aisle, and hand me my Indian vegetarian meal. (‘We’re out of chicken, sir; would you like the vegetarian or the fish?’ ‘Vegetarian, please, ma’am.’) The results were far better than on an SQ A350 two months later from Mumbai, where the crew took so long (2.5 hours out of 5, again no chicken) to serve the rear section of the plane, many passengers were angry and threatened to complain. While there wasn’t an on-screen menu as SQ has on selected regional A350s, I didn’t need one to be told the contents — though that would have been yet another avenue for Cathay Pacific to show off its unparallelled brand consistency!


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The main dish was paneer butter masala, a much-loved (and premium) Indian vegetarian main course, served alongside white rice in yellow dal, a red long-bean curry and a pickle on the side. Accompaniments were my go-to 7-Up, a cup of curd, some cut fruits, a cheesecake sort of dessert and — I wish airlines would do without this — a dry roll of bread and butter. There weren’t many things to critique about the flight, most definitely not the meal, which was all-in-all a delicious, safe Indian option and showed just how much CX understood its South Asian passengers’ palates.

For the record, that green cup reads: ‘Goodbye to millions of single-use plastic cups. Please recycle…’
 (Could not get the rest.)


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As I munched on, I decided to browse through the benefits of CX’s economy A350 product — no need for that iPad with such a vast entertainment offering (hey, they said StudioCX here!) — and the SkyscraperCity forum’s posts on the awarding of the Prix Versailles to BLR T2 by the UNESCO, and the airing of the Superstructures making-of documentary on National Geographic India.


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It was past 7 (HKT) at this point, and most passengers, myself included, would rather stretch out and sleep amid the mood lighting instead of having the sun stream in their face. Accordingly, Angus strolled down the aisle, telling each passenger seated by the window, ‘Please help me close the window blind as the sun is rising.’ Jenny had handed out another cup of water, and there was no mistaking that patterned white top of hers.

Meanwhile I had some difficulty reaching out my hand to get to the power outlet, and had to press the call button. Yui — three consecutive keys on the keyboard, come to think of it! — rushed to help and was there in a trice. I asked her, ‘May I know where’s the in-seat power outlet?’ Yui smiled, ‘It’s below your seat,’ and sashayed off. This action of hers helped save my phone battery, as it needed enough energy for an exhausting day of photography across the airport!


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Before I settled in, I wrote a note on how cramped the whole setup was, especially before the cabin crew had come to clear the dishes, ending it with the /s that Redditors use to signify sarcasm. And then I launched into an invective on how Taiwanese and Japanese airlines, despite sweeping the stakes for the best inflight hopsitality, product and service, simply did not bother to have consistent typographical identities. This is where CX wins by default by simply trying, but not only did it try, it went so above and beyond that even the best of the best European airlines (like Air France) and Gulf ones (like Etihad) would do well to learn from this Chinese-speaking wonder.

Here — though not then — I must point special blame at JAL, being a fellow Oneworld partner, as it really sticks out like a sore thumb in this otherwise excellent, high-quality alliance (never mind its awful big blue logo!).


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Homing in on Hong Kong


I woke up with barely half an hour to go, as the cabin crew went around asking the window shades to be opened in preparation for arrival at HKG. With the sun streaming through the glass panes, I had a bit more difficulty capturing the connecting flights’ details, which had only now been published. CX743 to Hanoi was a long way off, so I wasn’t worrying in the least, let alone perspiring with sweat.


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I’m all-too-familiar with seeing the ships of Singapore as I land, so instead having a view of the South China Sea was at once exhilarating and weirdly unsettling, with the intrigue of an unknown place slowly creeping over. Now a baby started screaming, having remained silent throughout the flight.


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These were the Flightradar24 views before I drifted off to sleep, two hours into the flight (some exotic cargo 747s!), and as I woke up shortly before landing. My goodness, how aviation traffic in the Pearl River Delta (also called the Greater Bay Area) has bounced back after three years of draconian travel policies!


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As on most non-SQ A350s, the tail and nose cameras were my best friend, and I constantly switched between them — never mind the glare — to see where I was going to land.


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Only now, with the luxury of reading in daylight, could I sift through the Cathay magazine, whose cover spoke of a hot Aussie Christmas by the beach. Christmas isn’t always mistletoe and snow, you know — it can be a hot summer’s day in the bottom half of the world!


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These were the core stories, and I’ve chosen them such that you can get the gist from the titles and pictures, without bothering to zoom in any further.


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These were the airline-related pages, with fleet, routemap, onboard rules and entertainment all accounted for. When it came to the self-proclaimed ‘brighter alliance’ (which I believe it really is, when it comes to the corporate identities of its members, despite its depressing logo), I kept the big circle more or less out of the way when taking the picture.

And, of course, Margot Robbie was front and centre of the entertainment spread. Her film was the highest-grosser of the (Northern) summer!


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Touch down like a feather, taxi like a tourist


B-LRB kissed terra firma at 10:10 HKT (7:40 IST), 4.5 hours after departure, which was well short of the A380 flight from Singapore to Mumbai that’d been just shy of five. My first views of Hong Kong International Airport — the hills in the distance, the rolling runway, the crystal-clear tail camera — completely swept me away.


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Not for nothing is HKG proclaimed as one of the world’s best airports for planespotting, and the views of this landing 777-300ER are proof why. Here I finally was at this avgeek mecca, one severely battered by first the 2019 protests and then the pandemic, but starting to emerge stronger from it.


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The jet embarked on a long taxi, past the rolling hills and a plethora of green and red aircraft — before the pandemic much of the red would have been Cathay Dragon — with the highlight of the lengthy 15-minute taxi being HS-BBA, a Thai AirAsia A320 in the ‘Shades of the River’ special livery.


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We pulled past the runway and came closer to the terminal, passing underneath the Sky Bridge, with some exquisite panoramic shots in the distance including a Cebu Pacific A320neo.


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We drew closer to some CX A330-300s standing in remote parking bays, and eventually pulled up next to B-HLR, a 22-year-old veteran of that species who continues to ply her trade for the airline.


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At long last, at 10:30, passengers could start disembarking, but I as always took my own sweet time to do so. Fortunately, the people did so in an orderly fashion, and not with the haphazard nature that you expect from (South) Indians getting off planes, which may have something to do with the refined — decidedly foreign and polished — nature of the airline and not the familiar SQ or TG.

The red pantsuit of a female passenger ahead of me was a darker shade of the bright red donned by one of the female cabin crew in the aisle. I bid goodbye to Jenny (fourth row, right) — I couldn’t find Yui — and wished the cabin crew at the exit an enjoyable day ahead, before stepping off the plane into my seventh country, err, territory.


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The views were simply majestic: I have to put it that way. So clear was the sky, so grand the scapes, that I paused for several moments on the jetbridge to the terminal before finally dancing off.


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HKG transfers: En route to grand, gorgeous, gleaming


HKG’s arrival corridors are more modest than the grandiloquent departure halls, and these were the standard-issue, low-ceilinged, HSBC-sponsored passageways that you also see at Changi.


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I daresay the corridors looked very drab and generic, with the odd ad here and there: not at all like Changi’s cosy walkways or my favourite Indian airports, CSMIA and Kempegowda, which stuff their corridors to the hilt with Indian culture and heritage.


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Only when you get to the upper floors do you realise the immense sweeping power this airport has. Heck, even the restrooms were plastered with colourful, vivid displays showing all manner of natural beauty.


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I headed a level or two down towards the transfer desks, and was surrounded by a few Indian passengers: a rare sight at this airport that is almost always filled with either East Asians or Westerners. This is no DXB, Changi or BKK where you’re going to find South Asians aplenty; Han Chinese are definitely predominant here, as in the city itself.


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That aside, the inter-terminal trains arrived fast, and speedily whisked me to the other side of the lone operating terminal. (HKG has always been all about Terminal 1 for full-service airlines, and T2, which was used for LCCs, is undergoing renovation, so those have had to shift to T1 as well for the time being.)


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Now two telcos, Airtel from India and the local CSL, had sent me their welcome texts: not that I needed any of their data offerings, as Wi-Fi was fast and easy to connect. (Take that, goddamn Suvarnabhumi Wi-Fi, which requires watching a noisy ad and disconnects after an hour!)


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At 11-ish I reached the transfer desks, and I didn’t need to do much — save for gawking at this familiar-looking yet strange Mannings pharmacy (known as Guardian in Singapore and the rest of ASEAN) — and I lounged about for a while, charging my gadgets. An immigration officer came and I showed him my onward travel documents for Vietnam, as well as my Vietnamese visa.

I was only just getting started with my exploration of this amazing aerodrome, a h(e)aven and a paradise for avgeeks! (continued below in the Travelling Bonus)


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Bonus : Click here display
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Verdict

Cathay Pacific

9.8/10
Cabin10.0
Cabin crew9.5
Entertainment/wifi10.0
Meal/catering9.5

Bangalore - BLR

9.4/10
Efficiency9.5
Access9.0
Services9.5
Cleanliness9.5

Hong Kong - HKG

9.5/10
Efficiency9.0
Access9.5
Services10.0
Cleanliness9.5

Conclusion

One of my main objectives for the end-of-year trip to Vietnam was to experience firsthand the sublime, blow-you-out-of-the-water brand image and typographical system that the global airline of ‘Asia’s world city’ has built for itself. Needless to say, I was completely floored by just how PERFECT this Chinese-speaking airline was as it went about its business, with an ASTONISHINGLY consistent corporate brand that only goes to show how dedicated it is to maintaining it, when its competitors (and partner JAL) in the region simply do not care. That it belongs to Oneworld is the icing on the cake, since it’s hard to get an airline from this alliance — barring JAL and perhaps SriLankan to a small extent — which does not have at least a decent sense of brand identity, and Oman Air will only strengthen it further when it joins in a few months’ time.

But ordinary travellers aren’t going to look at whether an airline uses its fonts properly in its signages, safety cards, IFE screens and magazines. They’re instead going to judge the airline on its catering, cabin-crew service and IFE selection, and I’m happy to say CX delivered very highly on all those counts too. From the cutting-edge A350 tail and nose cameras, to the extensive IFE selection across multiple languages, to the remarkable, to-the-last-bite savourable Indian vegetarian meal, to the efficient and courteous service, Cathay Pacific Airways got every one of those prerequisites right. The one area where it failed, if you ask me, was the bland, unstyled boarding passes, but that’s again a nerd like me splitting hairs over trivial things.

No doubt, I had more sweetly memorable flights in 2022–23 thanks to some outstanding cabin crew across SriLankan, Ethiopian, Air India and even IndiGo, but when it comes to the hard product, there are days that even the tried-and-trusted SQ service comes a cropper. From what I saw on this Cathay Pacific flight and the next to Hanoi, CX completely wipes the floor with SQ — world-class as my hometown flag carrier is — when it comes to typography and branding, with alliance partners Finnair, Qantas and Malaysia Airlines very close indeed. Of course, CX624 couldn’t beat the historic significance of KL835 to Denpasar in the SkyTeam livery, but when it comes to all-round performance, this was very hard to beat. In one word, all I need to say is that this is an eCXeptional airline, as I’ve said many times before and will say again.

Moreover CX is blessed to call an airport as picturesque, as picture-postcard-perfect as HKG as its home. I say this as a part-time resident of the city whose new BLR T2 is the new hotshot darling of all the airport architectural accolades and awards, going as far as getting an honour from UNESCO. But what BLR has been doing since 2023 with its Indian heritage and classic-meets-modern décor, HKG has done all the way since 1998 with those unbeatable tarmac views — and, much more recently, the Sky Bridge, Intervals Bar and Chase Sapphire Lounge, all of which I explored that day and will share more details about in the next instalment. Xie xie ni (‘thank you’ in Chinese) for reading!

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