Long Way to Vancouver – First Seat on Cathay HKG-SFO

CX870 Hong Kong HKG – San Francisco SFO
14 Aug 11
STD-STA: 1405-1135
Actual: 1433-1156
Boeing 747-400 B-HOX
Seat 1A

Boarding for what appears to be a full flight today on a Jumbo Jet could be frustrating with long lines and due to the need for extra security for flights departing to the United States, my flight to San Francisco was due to depart from Gate 4 which is the end of the terminal. The problem was another long distance flight was departing at gate 3 and there was a long queue to enter the enclosed compound. I went over to queue at the shorter premium line and upon checking my boarding pass, the boarding agent called her colleague who came over and breezed me past the rest of the queue, including Business Class passengers. So that’s what First Class is all about, since the airline does really put you in first place. The agent allowed me to bypass everyone queueing for boarding and led me to the additional security check. From there, I stopped by to take some shots of the 747 before I headed to the First/Business aero bridge.

The 747 that flew me to SFO

As expected, upon showing my boarding pass with 1A on it, the flight attendant gestured for another crew member to bring me over to my seat. By the time I arrived at my seat, nearly half of the First Class cabin was occupied, which meant it was not possible for me to capture the whole cabin to my liking. No matter, I was still pleased to be seated on 1A at the nose cone of the 747, and with the unique design of the plane, it also meant I was seated even more upfront than the pilots! I stowed my hand carry under the ottoman, and the crew mentioned to me about the closet where I could store my extra shopping bag.

View from 1A

With 3 windows by my side, I admired the view of the terminal from this end and explored the very comfortable First Class seats. The flight attendant came back shortly with drinks order and I requested for champagne to complete the experience. She came back with a fresh bottle of Krug and showed me the bottle before pouring the bubbly over a flute glass. The little gesture made all the difference in the world between First and Business and it is no wonder Cathay First is considered one of the best! I was already wowed up to this stage!

Windows to the World
Shanghai Tang Pyjamas

The crew came around again and offered me newspapers but having taken a copy from the lounge, I was fine and she next came by with hot towels and another came to enquire about my pyjama size. I took a medium size thinking it would fit. When she came back with the medium pyjamas, I realized it was still too large and exchanged it with a small size. Since dinner will be served first after the flight, I decided to change to my pyjamas after the meal, and thus continued to play around with the seat features, browse through the entertainment choices available and just relax with my glass of champagne. It took a while before boarding was completed and there was an issue with some missing passengers which delayed our departure a bit. This short delay prompted the stewardess into action as they gave out immigration forms for passengers. And the long time I spent in the cabin on the ground also showed me how wide and long the First Class seats were. Even fully extending my legs, they were still too short to reach the ottoman. Well I am not too tall to begin with but it still showed how very large a space it is. The fold down armrests on the side also made the seats a lot wider when put up.

Orchids by the window
Seat 1A

The controls for the seats are all placed ergonomically by the large ledge beside the window. I do think seat 1A had a lot larger ledge which makes it easier to place one’s newspaper, reading materials, passport, drinks and that hot towel. In first class, the stewardess were also nice enough to only collect the glasses and towels at the last minute of pullback. More time to enjoy the beverages! During our pullback, the crew ensured all the TV screens were pulled out and with the TV screen fully extended, it was no bother to me as mentioned by some reviews of this particular seat. I do admit it is a bit of a bother since they were stowed back to the sideways position for take off after the safety video which was screened in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. This meant no video of the take off or landing, so if they are truly important, other seats in the First Class cabin might be more suitable.

Flying over Wanshan Archipelago

Pullback was a long affair but being seated in 1A, the time just seems to pass by quietly though a ride on the nose of the 747-400 shows the age of the plane since it was a relatively bumpy ride when the plane decided to go full throttle for take-off. This is definitely not one of the best take-off experience! But as we took off on the southwesterly route, we were treated to excellent harbour views around Lantau Island, allowing me to spot the small village of Tai O. What is more amazing is the view as the plane passes by the group of islets known as the Wanshan Archipelago. With the clear blue skies and azure waters, it was a nice sight, and best of all was how I had all 3 windows in the prime vantage point to enjoy it!

Flying over South China Sea

Upon reaching cruising altitude and when the seat belts sign were off, I headed to the toilet and noticed the occupied signs on the lavatories, but the crew mentioned it was due to passengers in the Business Class using these toilets that they had to make it look occupied. Similarly in First Class, the lavatories have a huge difference, and this lavatory sure have enough space and even comes with 2 private windows, making the lavatory feels much airier.

First Class Lavatory

After returning to my seat, the flight crew took down drink orders and I went with a cup of Hong Kong style milk tea which came along with a small bowl of warm assorted nuts, whereby in Business only almonds were given out. The senior purser then returned to give out menus for the flight. Today’s crew serving first class was led by Irene, a senior purser from Malaysia with her assistants from China and HK and the flight crew manager was from Philippines. During this whole time, I was always addressed by name, making the experience much more personal indeed. As expected, the food in First was definitely much better and I was looking forward to an excellent feast! The senior purser returned for my meal order and went through the list with me, including asking me if I would like the caviar for starters, and my preferences for the soups and main courses. I just requested for food from the Chinese favourites since I think Cathay’s chinese food offering is perhaps the best amongst any airline in the world. I also requested for a fruit plate in addition to the dessert, and she told me she would try to get one from the Business Class section for me as it wasn’t in the menu.

Cathay Pacific First Class Menu
First Class Cabin onboard Cathay 747

Shortly after my food orders were taken, I relaxed on the seat and switched on the IFE. This was the minor flaw though it made some special incident as the inflight destination and route that was inputted showed a HKG-LHR routing on flight CX253. I sure hope the plane wasn’t flying in the opposite direction to my planned destination. To reassure passengers, a ticker was screened on the IFE screen to indicate a malfunction in the destination routing and the captain also reiterated that we are indeed flying across the Pacific to San Francisco. This I continued to watch Thor that I had left from my previous flight.

Welcome screen showing incorrectly that it is flying to LHR

It was then at this time that the flight duty manager came over and introduced herself. She saw my that my face had turned quite red from drinking the champagne earlier and seems to fear that I have become slightly drunk. Thus the words she mentioned to me was about getting her passengers to just relax and drink lots of water. Upon enquiring about my route, she was surprised I did not board the direct HKG-YVR service, instead choosing to take the longer route. To me this longer route was more interesting in that I get to try out a new routing, and with more availability on the 747 it was an obvious choice. I would also be able to take this opportunity to visit one of my favourite cities – San Francisco once again!

Cathay Pacific First Class dining set-up
Caviar on CX First

Just as we approached the southern tip of Taiwan, my table was prepped for the meal service. The much larger table also meant more weight and more force required to pull it out from the armrest. Again, no need to do anything as the crew member came over to help you set up the table. It makes me feel really helpless and lazy though! The plate of caviar was brought out promptly and served with potatoes, the complete condiments, toast and the Balik Salmon. Being a fan of roe of all sorts, I really enjoyed this starter, and the taste will probably linger for years to come.

Flying over Tainan

The icing on the cake was the view provided out of the window as we flew past the city of Tainan, Chiayi, the eastern mountain ranges of Taiwan and finally into the Pacific Ocean. All these while I slowly savour the caviar and the salmon! Wonderful to be in First Class on Cathay eh? The highlight of the meal doesn’t stop here though as the next course was equally spectacular. Choosing from the Chinese selection, I had the papaya with pork, almond and peanut soup which was sweet and doesn’t reek of the papaya scent. It came along with the cold plate of marinated sliced abalone served with chilli soya sauce. The abalone was tender and full of flavour by itself, which surpassed my expectations for abalone served on a plane. As with service in Chinese restaurants, chopsticks were offered and this was something missing from Business Class as well.

Soup and cold plate
Abalone for cold platter

Given the high quality of the starters, the main course might seem a bit underwhelming, but it was a nice pairing for Chinese cuisine. I had the sesame salt-baked chicken with sesame sauce which was better than what I expected though the accompanying stir-fried pak choy was a bit overcooked and didn’t look too nice. Still, the ability to have freshly cooked jasmine rice with a pair of side dishes was a great finish to the main meal. Throughout the meal service, I only requested for water and the crew made sure my glass of water is frequently topped up with fresh Evian mineral water!

Steamed rice for main course
Sesame Salt-baked Chicken 芝麻鹽焗雞
Stir-fried Pak Choy 炒白菜

To end the meal, the black forest pudding with vanilla ice cream ad raspberry coulis was just perfect. The warm chocolate pudding sweetens the palate with the coolness of vanilla ice cream that just melts delicately. Add in the sour raspberry drizzle, and the taste is just that of a classic black forest cake. just before dessert service commenced though, the cabin lights were dimmed to allow those passenger who skipped dessert to retire first for the night. I was also offered a choice of after meal drink and went for green tea which came in a pot, much better than the way it was served in the lounge. Every passenger was also provided with a bottle of Evian placed by the side for personal refreshment.

Black forest pudding with vanilla ice cream and raspberry coulis
Green tea in a pot

The generous fruit platter that came after that totally satisfied my stomach for the dinner! So from the start of boarding till the end of the meal, I already had a nice glass of champagne, milk tea, nuts, a tour of islands in the south of Hong Kong, a magnificent vista from the eastern end to western end of Taiwan, and the best inflight cuisine ever. As you can see, there is no need to advertise top star chefs in airline menus, since they don’t really improve on the taste, and just make expectations harder to reach. Definitely a great start to my flight! In between my meals, I also finished the movie ‘Thor’ and got ready to retire to my bed. Before that, I had to request for an amenity kit since I wanted the socks and it turns out the crew had forgotten to hand them out to passengers as they were too busy. I returned back to my seat and withdrew the hangar from the closer as the crew member came around with the amenity kits.

Fruit platter

As I got up to head to the lavatory, she also enquired if I wanted my seat to be made up into a bed, and I obliged since I wanted to take a nap after the meal. As mentioned earlier, the First Class lavatory is definitely a more comfortable space for one to brush their teeth and change! The wonderful amenities within the lavatory was also by Acca Kappa just like the contents of the amenity kit. There was also hand towels, moist paper towels, shaving kits and sanitary pads in the drawer underneath the washbasin.

Washbasin onboard Cathay Pacific First Class
First Class Bed

The small size of the pyjamas really fitted me nicely and it was a really comfortable piece of cotton pyjamas with a nice oriental design, derived from Shanghai Tang’s classic collections. Perhaps the best pyjamas on any airline as well, though I realized it can get warmer than the Qantas Business Class pyjamas which I also liked for its simplicity. On my return to the seat, the crew asked me if I would fill up a comment form and provided me with the form, a pen and a $5 voucher for inflight purchases. Upon my return to the seat which by now has become a bed, I filled up the comment form and returned it to the crew. I also decided to ask the crew if I could like maybe use the voucher to offset the purchase of an extra pair of pyjamas which I was thinking of giving to my Dad. The crew responded graciously by saying she would check with the senior purser and get back to me. I returned to my seat thereafter and take a peek out of the window to notice that we had just passed the southern coast of Japan. The nice sunset cast a warm glow to the scenery outside and fortunately the moving map still showed our correct location and travel routes even if the home screen of StudioCX still thinks we are heading to London Heathrow! As I lie down on the ‘bed’, I got really comfortable, even with the IFE screen being extended outwards, and there was really no issue of getting out or knocking my feet against the IFE.

Flying past Southern Japan

I had nearly 4 hours of sleep and found the additional duvet for the seat to be supremely comfortable. With the nice fluffy blanket, it was a cozy ‘suite’ for a nap and I was neither too hot or cold. In fact the temperature was just perfect. Though I imagined the same ambience in an A380 would be even better since there would be less noise. During my short nap, there was also a bit of turbulence, which woke me up eventually and this also meant that I didn’t have a long sleep as I wanted to.

Ice cream and more tea
Horizon over the Pacific

So I asked for some ice cream along with a pot of green tea by walking to the galley. I like to take this opportunity to stretch out my legs a bit rather than just asking for the attendant button. The senior purser was there at the galley at the time and mentioned to me about the pyjamas which I seemed to have forgotten after my nap. Anyway she mentioned that they are running low on the small sizes and it would be better for flights heading back to Hong Kong when they would be able to know if they have spares to pass to passengers. But not a chance of even purchasing them onboard since they are ‘exclusively’ for Cathay’s First Class passengers!

StudioCX
More caviar

I continued watching my episodes of House M.D. while enjoying my supper. And as the ice cream and pot of tea came in a small tray, they were able to be placed on the ledge rather than requiring me to take out the whole table out again. Another benefit of First Class. Finishing the tea and the ice cream, I took another peek out of the window to see the sun setting across the horizon, giving it a nice hue to the scenery as we pass by the Bering Sea. I returned for another short nap, but was only able to sleep for another 45 minutes or so before waking up once again. This time round, I decided for more snacks and enquired if I could get snacks from the snack bar. Instead the crew asked if I would like to order from the menu. I guess she didn’t understand I wanted chips or chocolates, so I had to further explain and she eventually led me to the business class section where there was a self snack bar and I got a couple of pralines with a pack of apple chips to enjoy with more entertainment from StudioCX. I also enquired if they might have more caviar, and while they said they have it, they didn’t have the potatoes. I just wanted the caviar with the toast anyway, and these were then delivered to me shortly afterwards as I am halfway through watching the comedy ‘How I met your Mother’. With the caviar, I also ordered a cup of Hot Chocolate and it was a fantastic snack prior to the breakfast that would be served later.

Fruit platter to start breakfast

I gave up on sleeping and decided to just relax during the flight with several more episodes of House to keep me occupied. It was definitely a very nice way to lounge on the bed while watching some of my favourite TV shows. Around 1 hours and a half later, the first course of breakfast was served which consists of more fruit, grapefruit juice, mango & passionfruit smoothie and warm fluffy croissants with a selection of spreads, honey and butter. A glass of smoothie for breakfast is always appreciated and the starter was an excellent prelude to the main course of dace fish julienne with pak choy congee and stir-fried egg noodles with vegetables. I went with the Chinese selection for breakfast again when orders were taken earlier during the flight and didn’t regret my choice at all. The congee is as good as those one can get in the congee house around Hong Kong, though the stir-fried noodles was a bit too oily and I was already too full after the bowl of congee. There was also freshly brewed coffee served in between which was excellent to perk me up just before our entry into the United States.

Dace fish julienne with pak choy congee 白菜鲮鱼粥

The completion of breakfast service also marked the near to the end of the flight and I used this opportunity to change back to my clothes. However the busy cabin in the morning meant many passengers had the same idea, and both lavatories were used, so the crew mentioned that she will call me from my seat once the lavatories are ready for use. I returned to my seat and continued my show on the IFE and realized that in First Class the service is truly so much better and that is what passengers are paying for in addition to the luxurious offerings.

Seat armrest in First Class
North California in sight

Again I was able to change back to my clothes in the clean lavatory, and it is amazing how the lavatory is well maintained during the whole flight in the First Class cabin. I guess it helps that only 2 lavatories are shared amongst 9 persons. Returning back to my seat and with the cabin lighting being switched on in preparation for our descent, I was comfortable in putting the window shades up to get a glimpse of the coast of Northern California and San Pablo Bay indicating we are close to landing in San Francisco. I tried to get a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge but it just seems to be eternally covered in fog while the downtown and the Bay Bridge is visible under clear skies. Passengers on my side of the cabin are treated to a view of Foster City and the artificial lake within as we landed on the runway at 11:56am local time. The plane took some time to taxi towards the gate and it was a magnificent summer day in San Francisco.

Downtown SF and the Bay Bridge
Landing at SFO

To truly end the flight on the high note, the flight attendant held back all business class passengers on disembarkation to ensure all First Class passengers disembarked first. It was something really necessary since the queues at the immigration was really long with several international flights arriving around the same time. This was something I really didn’t expect since my arrival into JFK on Cathay’s flight from Vancouver had been met with no immigration lines at all. There was a really long wait of more than 1 hour before I was served and allowed to proceed and collect my luggage. The priority luggage tags had no effect at all in this case since all the luggage were out on the conveyor by this time. There were complimentary trolleys in the international arrival baggage claim which was a nice welcome, before I pushed my luggage to collect my rental car from Hertz.

First 3 rows of the First Class cabin

My first time on an international First Class flight with such a great airline like Cathay Pacific totally exceeded my expectations and I finally understood what the fuss was about CX’s First Class. Let’s just say I would think First Class is absolutely worth the money/miles required if one could afford it. It is such a great experience to be able to fly in First, from the food to the extra mile that the crew goes for the passenger and the added comfort and amenities, that this flight would always be on my mind. Save for the minor flaws like the faulty IFE information on the home screen and the long queues on arrival at San Francisco, I think this flight is close to perfect as far as it goes. It also reaffirms Cathay Pacific as my top airline in the world.

Fondly missed seats…
Jumbos at SFO
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