By David Armstrong
Talk about your fast movers. Only three years after it introduced a new business class product, Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific Airways is rolling out another new business class service, presently being installed in the airline’s Boeing 777-300ERs and Airbus A330-300s.
The old business class was none too shabby. The new one is better. I attended the lavish launch event at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in late 2010, when Cathay Pacific Airways (whose IATA flight code is CX) displayed mock-up cabins and stylish new crew uniforms for several thousand of its closest friends. In June 2011, I sampled the actual product on a Boeing 777 flight from Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
Simply put, the ample personal space, multiple seat-side amenities and ever-attuned CX flight attendants make the new product a clear success. This reviewer would actually look forward to a long-haul journey with this service again, a thought I wouldn’t ordinarily entertain about a 14-hour flight.
For starters, there’s space – the greatest luxury in the long-haul skies. The Business Class cabin is configured in 1-2-1 rows; every seat has access to the aisle. Cathay has lengthened and widened the most important physical feature on a commercial airplane: the seat.
Converting to a fully flat bed, the business class seat is about two meters long (82in). A bed extension in the molded shell around the seat increases seat width by 16.5cm (6.5in). As explained on cathaypacific.com, this is for “additional hip support, while the side storage compartment offers extra knee space for sleeping on your side.”
Speaking of personal storage space, a cabinet within the shell houses a mirror and a headset. Left-over space can be used to store personal items such as eyeglasses and smart-phones.
Is the flat-bed comfortable? Yes, indeed – though it must be said that no airline flatbed can equal the comfort of one’s bed at home, which doesn’t have to incorporate moving parts. And, of course, it wouldn’t be surrounded by the frequent staff and passenger movements typical of an airplane cabin, let alone bumps from turbulence.
But suppose you aren’t sleepy. You want to read, be entertained or work. I don’t know the Cantonese for “no problem” but it’s no problem. CX has more than serviceable lighting for reading, plus 15.4-in TVs with sound and video on demand and an electronic library of enviable size and variety: 100 movies, 500 TV shows, 888 music CDS, 22 radio channels and 70 games.
Entertainment is available in 10 languages. Not enough? You can use your own electronic device at a multi-port connector. Battery running down? There’s a USB port to charge mobile devices.
Like other airlines, CX is trying to limit the weight of its planes, both to save fuel and lower costs. Business Class fliers can carry on one bag that weighs up to 10 kilograms (22lb), compared to 15kg (33lb) in First Class and 7kg (15lb) in Economy. The bag can be up to 36cm (14in) high, 23cm (9in) wide) and 56cm (22in) long.
Another nice touch: If you are traveling in two classes on a round-trip journey, you get the greater baggage allowance on both legs of the trip. This is one small but revealing characteristic of an airline that wants to work with you.
One of the simplest changes from the not-so-old previous business class is also one of the best. If you have a window seat, you can actually look out the window. Previously, seats along the sides of the aircraft were angled away from the window toward the aisle. A crick in the neck was the occasional result for travelers who wanted to gawk at take-off and landing or gaze at the stars on an overnight flight.
Oh, another handy feature of the seat: You can move it forward or backward 28cm (11in) on a short track. It also has what CX describes as “a precision toggle (that) allows you to adjust the seat position to fit your mood and posture.”
Having toggled my seat to my heart’s content, my mood was downright upbeat. And it grew even better when I scanned the Business Class menu. Cathay offers both Western and Chinese entrees and snacks on flights to the Americas and Europe. The airline claims in advertisements to serve “the best Chinese food in the sky,” and it is indeed savory.
Dim sum morsels taste fresher than you’d expect for food prepared in a cramped airplane galley. There are steaming hot Chinese and Western teas, plus favorites like congee and bowls of hot noodles (the latter available in the long middle passage of transpacific flights) that bring comfort foods from Hong Kong and mainland China to the cabin.
Additionally, there is a wide range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks on board, and a good, though not extensive, choice of wines. Many are “New World” vintages from California, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and elsewhere. I also fancied a cocktail, so I enjoyed Cathay’s signature Pacific Sunrise – a refreshing mix of Champagne, Drambuie and fresh-cut zests of orange and lemon.
After safety, the first duty of an airline is treat its customers well. In times of sagging industry bottom lines, carriers can, and often do, neglect this. Not Cathay. Service on my flight was impeccable, with cabin crews who were always there when you wanted them but never intrusive. Over 15 years, I have flown CX maybe 10 times, and have never seen a serious misstep in service or courtesy.
All told, the new business class is a triumph. Cathay took an already-fine product and made it finer.
David Armstrong is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist specializing in features, news and reviews about travel destinations, airports, airlines, hotels and resorts. He is the former tourism, aviation and international trade reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered tourism, movies, media and theater for the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner. He is the author of five books and numerous travel articles for TheStreet.com, Travel + Leisure, Global Traveler, Napa Sonoma Magazine, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Toronto Star, Chicago Sun-Times, Aviation.com and many others. He blogs at http://davidarmstrongontravel.blogspot.com.