Circle Pacific on oneworld – CGK to HKG on CX Business

Browsing through the oneworld website, I was contemplating a round-the-world trip but without the time to apply for so many visas for the numerous countries I am planning to visit, I made do with a Circle Pacific ticket which allows me a single price fare to visit some of the cities I had wanted to visit. The plan was to spend Christmas and New Year with my siblings in Vancouver, before heading to New York and Los Angeles, and returning to western Pacific via Qantas to Melbourne and Sydney. Since I would be taking Cathay Pacific to Vancouver, I had a stopover in Hong Kong, which I will make use to catch up with friends in that place.

Having had a taste of the regional Business Class on Cathay Pacific during my Bangkok trip, I opted for the Olympus Business Class configuration. This gave me a 20th December departure via an Airbus A340. Just as well since this will be the only A340 on the routing and I had taken enough of the regional A330 and B777 that Cathay uses. This though limited my departure to 20th Dec, with 4 nights stay in Hong Kong and a Christmas Eve flight to Vancouver so that I reach there by 24th. Fortunately my travel arrangements was good to go, and it was just as well since I would be expecting a 747 upper deck seating on my flight to Vancouver from Hong Kong.

And so here begins my trip review of my first taste of CX’s soon-to-be-renewed Olympus Business Class journey:

CX776 Jakarta CGK – Hong Kong HKG
20 Dec 2010
Scheduled ETD/ETA: 1450-2030
Actual Time of Departure/Arrival: 1504-2022
A340-300 B-HXE
Seat No: 16K

It was a relatively empty check-in counter at Soekarno-Hatta when I arrived, and a couple of people were waiting in the economy class check-in section. Having checked in online, and holding a Marco Polo Club membership meant I could check in on one of these fast lanes in addition to the Business Class queue. One passenger each was queueing in the 2 lanes which meant I picked the Business Class section. It was around a 5 minute wait while the CX agent that controls the queue tries to make small talk with me. Perhaps to keep me occupied or due to curiosity, I won’t know. I had 2 luggages which I had to check-in, with one of them stuffs and gifts for my siblings in Canada. While I know getting a tag for one of them straight to Vancouver might not be possible, there is always no harm in trying. As expected it is not possible since my stay in Hong Kong was pretty long to begin with. No matter then as I check in both luggages and the friendly check-in agent requested that I weigh my cabin carry-on since I had another camera-cum-laptop backpack. The cabin luggage was filled with some snacks that I didn’t want to ruin inside the larger suitcase which I checked-in in addition to a pair of windbreaker for cold weather in Hong Kong which I was told to expect. Thus it was quite light which meant it was tagged with no problems at all. Interestingly, my last international flight out of Soekarno-Hatta through Lufthansa also requested I tag my backpack, as I had only my backpack as carry-on luggage at that time. I was also offered a Hong Kong arrival card, which I have no need of since I had filled one at home already. I was thinking the tagging could also have to do with the tremendously large amount of luggage I have.

CX776 seen on my way to the Airport, operated by an Airbus A340 today

I proceeded to the immigration counter after taking the boarding pass and the lounge invitation. I passed the fiscal check for Indonesians with no problem but the queue for passport control was horrendous as the queue for Indonesians was long even though there were 5 lanes open while the ones for Foreigners was short despite having just 2 lanes. It might be due to the large volume of Air Asia flights departing and the holiday season in Indonesia as well. One family was being escorted by an Air Asia agent as it seems he is late for boarding and tempers soon flared as he tried to vent his frustration at the immigration officers – bad mistake – in my opinion.

Boarding Pass and Lounge Invitation in Hand

Around 30 minutes later, I passed immigration and proceeded to the choice of the Premier Lounge or the Pura Indah Lounge, both of which are located beside each other. I asked if I could enter both lounges, but the lounge agent just rejected that notion which left me with the Pura Indah Lounge which was nicer and has better selection of food and English language reading materials, though it had no views of the tarmac which the other lounge has.

Food and Snacks in the Pura Indah Lounge

It seemed, though that most passengers on the CX flight agreed as the Pura Indah Lounge was much more crowded that the Premier Lounge. Having had a short lunch break at my cousin’s place before I headed to the airport, I wasn’t particularly hungry. I just got myself a small bowl of Mie Ayam (Chicken Noodle), Ayam Kecap (Chicken in sweet gravy), vegetable quiche and some morsels of snack. The only thing worth eating was the chicken and I got myself more of that, while the other food were just good for small bites. I got to grab a copy of CNN Traveller and was just starting to connect to the internet when the boarding call started. I just left some time to check my e-mail before packing the laptop back inside and head towards the boarding gate. However, once I reached boarding gate D2, they were just starting to board those on wheelchair, and a queue was already forming for business class passengers.

Airbus A340 Nose Cone, an EVA Air 747 can be seen leaving for Taipei at the back

It was perhaps another 5 minutes wait before boarding proceeded for business class passengers. With a 2-class configuration, there was 2 separate entrances to the Business and Economy Cabins, and unlike the 777-300ERs boarding procedure, it meant that Business Class passengers would not be bothered by the rest of the passengers. Entering the cabin, I didn’t notice any flight attendants serving us nor checking my seat assignment. I was seated on seat 16K and placed my bag and carry-on luggage on the overhead compartment before relaxing on the seat. Perhaps its the crew or my early boarding, but I felt the crew attending this flight was lacking in enthusiasm. It took some time for them before welcome drinks, hot towels and newspapers were offered to guests. Having taken a copy of IHT and FT back from the rack before boarding, I got my reading materials for the flight. Having requested for the Pacific Sunrise, it took a while before I received my drink. The Pacific Sunrise is actually a concoction of champagne, drambuie with orange and lemon zest. It added more citrus scent compared to a normal champagne and is thus more refreshing for a welcome drink to perk one up.

Welcome aboard!
Business Class Cabin on 1-1-1 configuration onboard the A340

While boarding was ongoing, I noticed this family of 4 who entered the cabin, with 2 young children in tow. Apparently the parents took the last 2 seats on my row and the kids were sent to Economy. I got to meet them in the same lounge as I did before boarding, and I found the 2 kids to be generally well behaved for a flight so there is no need to be worried. There was also another young Indonesian family with their domestic helper on the flight that day, and the father seemed to be really excited to be on Business, taking video shots of the cabin. Though they were seated on the other 2 rows which were facing each other while their domestic helper would be seated behind me in row K. The other 2 seats in row K in front of me were unoccupied, though someone was seated at the first seat on my row. Before long, boarding was soon completed and the plane started pullback at 2.48pm, bypassing several numerous international flights into Jakarta that day. I even got to note a new airline – Mihin Lanka at Jakarta. It seems to be a great time now for airliners in Asia as airport infrastructure develops and e-ticketing lowers costs for passengers making it more affordable for Asian-based passengers. There was also an Etihad Airways A330 and a Saudi Arabian B747 that day.

My seat or private cabin for the next 4.5 hours
International Herald Tribune and Pacific Sunrise as my welcome drink
Mihin Lanka in Jakarta with the tails of Etihad and Saudi Arabian Jets in the background
Take off from Jakarta, with the 2 engines on the A340

From our boarding gate D2, the Airbus A340 made its slow way to the end of the runway at the other end in Concourse F, where the Garuda Indonesia domestic flights are based at. The flight finally took off at 3.04pm Jakarta time. Take-off from the A340 seems forced, and even with its twin engine, it seems to lack the smoothness of an A330 or a B777. Perhaps that is the reason for its small utilization by airliners around the world. After take-off, the flight stewardess took down orders for drinks as they passed around a small portion of hot almonds. With the hot almonds as snacks, I switched on the personal inflight entertainment system – StudioCX. With the personal screen, it also meant audio-video on demand, and the first thing I noticed was the much wider selection of movies and programming for First and Business passengers. There was even a dedicated StudioCX magazine for First and Business passengers. I started on a Hong Kong movie directed by Benny Chan and with Hong Kong being my stopover destination, I found it fitting to start on this movie. I was also a fan of Benny Chan’s previous movies like Gen-X Cops and Invisible Target.

Legroom during the flight, more than adequate

I relaxed on the chair, and found the recline of the seat to be very good. After that, I requested for an amenity kit but it wasn’t provided for this short flight, though I was still able to obtain a sock and take off my shoe for a more comfortable recline position. In addition, I also requested for a stationery kit with postcards from the attendant, which was delivered to me. There were lots of places to place one’s belongings and I could always have my camera close to me by the triangular tray at the side. I was also able to place the provided blanket on the corner. While there is space at the back of the seat, nothing should be placed there as the seat reclines to a full lie-flat position. Half-way through the movie while I was still munching on almonds, the crew started placing placemats on the table to signal the start of dinner service. Appetizers were served before a bread basket was brought over, and as usual I chose the garlic bread. I took a glance out of the window and could notice the coast of Borneo, indicating we are close to halfway on our journey.

Screen Menu for StudioCX, Cathay’s inflight entertainment system
Dinner Menu
Inflight Entertainment with Hong Kong-style Milk Tea and Warm Almonds
Stationery Kit from Cathay Pacific

The menu for that flight was:

Starters 頭盤

Prawns with mango salsa and marinated fennel 明蝦及醃茴香伴芒果醬

Mixed salad with cherry tomato, celery, carrot and citrus vinaigrette 鮮蔬沙律伴柑橘醋汁

Main Courses 主菜 

Stir-fried chicken with black bean sauce, steamed jasmine rice and Chinese mixed vegetables 豉汁炒雞柳配白飯及中式鮮蔬

Grilled lamb chop with rosemary sauce, cous cous with ratatouille 烤羊架伴香草汁配意式麥米粉及茄醬燴蔬菜

Penne pasta with spinach nutmeg sauce and tomato concasse 菠菜番茄醬意式長通粉

Cheese and Dessert 芝士及甜品

Cheese selection 精選芝士

Fresh seasonal fruit 時今鮮果

Chocolate coffee mousse cake 朱古力咖啡摹絲蛋糕

Tea and Coffee 名茶及咖啡

Praline 精美朱古力

Drinks List 飲料 

Juices: Orange, Apple, Tomato  果汁:橙汁,蘋果汁,番茄汁

Soft Drinks: Coke Zero, Coke, Coke Light, Sprite, Perrier water, tonic water, soda water and ginger ale 汽水:零系可口可樂,可口可樂,健怡可樂,雪碧湯力,梳打,薑啤,巴黎礦泉水

Coffees 咖啡

Freshly brewed coffee, espresso, cappuccino and caffè latte; regular or decaffeinated 特級咖啡,特濃咖啡,低因咖啡,泡沫咖啡, 牛奶咖啡

Teas 名茶

Hong Kong style milk tea 港式奶茶

Ceylon, Japanese, jasmine 錫蘭紅茶,日本綠茶,香片

Organic selection: camomile, earl grey, peppermint 有機系列:甘菊茶,伯爵茶,薄荷茶

Hot Chocolate 熱朱古力

Wine List

Champagne: Billecart-Salmon Brut Champagne

White wines: P.Ferraud & Fils Viré-Clessé 2008 / Next of Kin Margaret River Chardonnay 2008

Red Wines: RockBare McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008 / Lionel Osmin Haut Capitole Fronton 2007

Port: Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2005

Aperitifs and Cocktails: Gin, Rum, Vodka, Martini Rosso, Martini Extra Dry, Campari, Sweet and Dry Sherry, Bloody Mary, Screwdriver

Whiskies: Chivas Regal 12 Years Old, Johnnie Walker Gold Label, Jack Daniel’s, Canadian Club

Cognac: Hine ‘Rare and Delicate’ Fine Champagne

Liqueurs: Drambuie, Cointreau, Bailey’s Irish Cream

Beer: International selection

CX Signature Drinks:

Cathay Delight – A kiwifruit based non-alcoholic drink with coconut juice and a touch of fresh mint

Pacific Sunrise – A refreshing combination of champagne and Drambuie with the zest of orange and lemon

The salad was a refreshing choice and I didn’t realize that fresh and crunchy celery sticks could make such an ordinary salad seem special. It was also the first time to say I do enjoy eating celery. As for the prawns, I don’t really like the contrast of flavours of the prawn with the mango salsa, and I would have preferred the last few scallops-based appetizer salads on those shorter regional routes I had on other CX/KA flights. My choice of main course – the lamb was another disappointment as the rack of lamb had a very strong aroma, and the cous cous (first time sampling this pasta) was tasteless. I would take plain rice any other day over this and kind of regretted my decision. Perhaps I would tell myself not to pick any lamb-based course onboard next time. The dessert service was the redeeming factor in the meal service as the chocolate coffee mousse cake was so good and the flight attendant also obliged with my request for more fruits in lieu of the cheese and crackers. The fruit platter was very generous and consisted of a variety of fruits including pineapples, strawberries, dragon fruit, honey dew and mango. I could easily have a second serving of fruits since they were all sweet and juicy!

Fantastic dessert service with lots of fruits and a delicious cake

Throughout the meal service, my drink was continuously topped up and there was no shortage of drinks. At the end of the meal, tea or coffee was served followed with a delicate box of praline. I asked for an additional praline and the stewardess indulged me. Maybe due to my requests, I was asked by the purser to fill in a customer survey form, and with the nice service I experienced for the meal service, I thought I should do the crew some honor in their performance. And maybe get Cathay to pick up on their meal service whose appetizers and main course are sorely lacking in my opinion.

Best part of the meal – Praline and Tea

After the meal service concluded, I head to the washroom and to take a walk around the cabin. Overall the Business Class cabin ambience is a piece of calm and serenity and offers really good privacy for all passengers, due to the high barrier. Like many people traveling in pairs have commented, it is really difficult to find 2 seats to provide easy communication. This is perhaps why Cathay has released its plans to renovate its business class cabin. I went back to my seat, and noticed that the mood lighting in the cabin has been dimmed to provide a comfortable ambience for passengers to lie flat on their seats and get some shuteye before we land in Hong Kong. I continued to watch the movie though i can’t wait for it to end since I thought it was kind of cheesy and does not live up to the other movies that Benny Chan has directed. With more than 90 minutes to go before landing, I converted my seat to a bed and got myself a nice short nap until the captain called to indicate our start of descent into Hong Kong as we are due to land earlier than scheduled due to the nice weather encountered throughout the trip. I woke up and went to the washroom to freshen myself up before returning to my seat and converting it back to a reclined position. Descent into Hong Kong is always nice with its mountainous landscape and at night the lights of the city makes for a fascinating sight. The main drawback of the Business Class seat would perhaps be due to the really bad inclination towards the aisle, making it tiring for passengers to lean out towards the window. I would be glad to try out the new Cathay Business Class which faces the window instead of the aisle, just like what Boeing showed in its 787 Dreamliner advertisement.

Mood lighting in the cabin

During the descent, the flight stewardess went to the Economy section to fetch the 2 kids and brought them to sit at the 2 unoccupied seats in front of me. This was a nice gesture on Cathay’s part and ensured the parents could leave the aircraft on time with the rest of the Business Class passengers. Eventually the plane landed at 8.22pm Hong Kong time and I really felt good even after the nearly 5 hour flight. In fact I was looking forward to a longer ride on this seat a few days later when I head to Vancouver on CX. For now, I took my luggage and alighted the plane, before heading towards immigration. Our docking gate close to the end of the concourse meant the general signs directed us to take the train to the main arrival concourse. With the trains arriving at a very frequent interval, I reached a relatively empty immigration queue and within 10 minutes of waiting, I was served by a customs officer. After the usual questions, I was let through and proceeded to baggage claim where I saw that my priority-tagged luggage was already out. This was really efficient and beats the Singapore Changi Airport hands down in terms of time spent from landing to exiting the airport since it took me perhaps a record of less than 20 minutes.

Inflight reading materials with the StudioCX magazine exclusively for First and Business Class entertainment options

For my first experience in the lie-flat Business Class seats of Cathay Pacific, I would have to say they were good enough for me, and I wouldn’t even bother with First given this product. The hard product was good, even though the seats look quite worn which is perhaps why Cathay deems its time for a change. The lie-flat seats are much better than those regional Business Class seats and offers ultimate privacy like one is in their own suite. On the other hand, the high barriers makes it easy to knock your shoulders or hands while moving around and that is perhaps why one might feel it to be slightly uncomfortable. The dark sombre colors of the seat also adds to this effect, as I think a warmer earthy tone like those on Singapore Airlines works much better in providing a cosseting ambience. For storage and entertainment, Cathay’s Business Class offers a very good product though with many airlines offering lie-flats already on many planes, Cathay needs an upgrade of their fleet. Service wise, it was good but not spectacular due to the start of the journey while boarding was commencing, and the meals in the Business Class cabin really needs to be a lot better since I have tasted better food on their Economy Class cabin before. For a paying passenger, I think it provides adequate Business Class service, but it doesn’t offer more than that or anything spectacular for this 4 and a half hour route.

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