Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cathay Pacific Flight Review: Manila to London Heathrow via Hong Kong (2012)


Throwback Thursday Trip Report: Cathay Pacific (June 18, 2012)

cathay pacific manila flights
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
PART ONE: CX902 from MANILA to HONG KONG

Introduction

It has been several weeks since our family completed a month-long holiday in the United States. We used Cathay Pacific (CX) on that occasion. However, little did I know that I was going to fly with Hong Kong’s flag carrier yet again, this time to London on June 18, 2012. What would bring me to the UK is the impending wedding of my aunt, as nobody else from our clan in the Philippines was available. Everything was on short notice as we initially thought the wedding was in July. In fact, I was even worried that my visa would not arrive in time. We were contemplating between flying Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines as both carriers treat their long-haul flights from their respective hubs to London as if it was their flagship route.

Ultimately, we decided to take Cathay Pacific (CX). By flying with Hong Kong’s flag carrier, everything would be more or less familiar. As I had a chance to savour what the carrier is like on flights to the US, I thought it was fitting to experience what it is like on flights to the UK. Moreover, the miles that I would earn on this flight would come in handy one day.

Airport Matters in Manila

Having previously done a web check-in and being a Marco Polo club member, I headed to the dedicated check-in desk. Queues were not a problem at this time. Unlike the previous times we flew on Cathay Pacific, the gate staff did not print a new boarding card any more as I requested to use the one I printed out at home.

Passport control was ultimately not a problem though when I listed my occupation, the attending officer demanded evidence like an ID.

TIP 1: Passport control officers in Manila are quite serious in quizzing Filipinos bound for other countries for tourist purposes. If you are a Filipino, be ready with evidence of employment, studies, or a bank statement.

As there was still some time, I decided to go upstairs and have a quick meal. Although it was adequate, I found it a bit shameful that NAIA still does not have world-class restaurants and shops.

While eating, I also saw the Cathay Pacific flight before ours, CX918, still docked at gate 7, which was our flight’s gate assignment too. That flight was obviously facing a delayed departure. It meant that CX902 had to be reassigned to gate 5.

FIRST SEGMENT

Flight Number: CX902
Gate: 5
Aircraft: Airbus A330
Scheduled Departure Time: 19:55

cathay pacific a330
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
At the gate, the staff told me that I was reassigned to another seat.  I was the first to board since I carried a Marco Polo card.  Although I was pleased to find out that the A330 would be used to take us to Hong Kong, what surprised me more was that I was seated in what is normally assigned to be a premium economy class seat.  In fact, we were on board one of Cathay Pacific's first A330's with the premium economy product

TIP 2: Cathay Pacific flights between Manila and Hong Kong are known to vary aircraft even on the same flight. There is no way to tell whether the aircraft mentioned to you during reservation will be the same one that you will use on your actual travel date.

cathay pacific premium economy
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
cathay pacific premium economy
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
Instead of the 2-4-2 configuration, premium economy had a 2-3-2 configuration. The seats were wider and we were provided with remote controls for the in-flight entertainment (IFE). This is in contrast to regular economy class passengers on newer aircraft, who need to touch the screen to use the IFE system. The seat also reclined by a few more degrees. For the purposes of this flight however, service levels were still at a regular economy class standard as premium economy class service was not yet offered on the Manila-Hong Kong flights at this time.

Luckily, the flight was not completely full and departed relatively on schedule. This was unlike our previous encounter with this same flight almost two months before, where we were held-up for more than half an hour, and all seats were occupied. Before taking CX 902 on this occasion, all the flights I had taken from Manila were significantly delayed so this timely departure provided some relief.

cathay pacific premium economy
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
The flight was otherwise uneventful. I spent most of it listening to the audio playlist that I had set-up and watching the moving map also known as "airshow."  The seat also had a USB charging port and a dock to watch your iPod/iPhone/iPad content on the IFE system.

TIP 3: If you wish to view your personal iPod/iPhone/iPad collection on the IFE of CX’s new aircraft, you need a special adapter. The eXport In-Flight Video Cable is one example of this.

cathay pacific ife
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
As usual, we were served just a sandwich and beverage on this flight. I found it delicious nonetheless.

Before I knew it, we started our approach to Hong Kong. My time sitting in Cathay Pacific’s new premium economy class seat passed really quickly. Once we parked at the gate, it is customary for cabin attendants to keep economy class passengers in the plane until the business class passengers disembark. As I alighted, I managed to get a photo of Cathay Pacific’s new business class product just launched in the previous year.

cathay pacific business class
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN

SCORE FOR THE FIRST SEGMENT

These are rated from 1 to 10 with ten being the best score. This covers aspects of the flight experience that CX and its ground agents are responsible for with a focus on Economy Class.


  • Check-in (10/10): Everything went quite smoothly. It also helps to be a Marco Polo member as you have a separate lane from other economy class passengers. 
  • Boarding Process (9/10): It didn’t take too long to get on-board. Again, my Marco Polo membership number came in handy here as I was one of the first to enter the aircraft. 
  • Seat Comfort (10/10): Even as I paid only for an economy class seat, being assigned to a real premium economy class section was a bonus. Recline was reasonable as was seat width. 
  • Food (5/10): The sandwich was delicious. However, I can’t understand why CX doesn’t go all the way to serve a full meal (even a basic one without appetisers and desserts) if flag-carrier Philippine Airlines does so on a flight from Manila to Hong Kong or vice versa. 
  • Cabin Crew (9/10): I had no problems with the cabin crew. Nothing really remarkable but nothing to complain about either. 
  • Punctuality (10/10): More or less, we departed on time. 
  • In-Flight Entertainment (10/10): The digital music collection was more than adequate. I’m not sure if I was able to listen to all the tracks I had set-up whilst tracking the airshow due to time constraints. And being in what is normally the premium economy class helped as you had the option to use the touch screen or the remote control. The airshow’s modern 3D graphics also appealed to me.
Cathay Pacific is a 5-star carrier. However, if you simply take a short flight between Manila and Hong Kong, you may make the mistake of thinking it is overrated. Indeed, the length of the Manila-Hong Kong flight does little to showcase its potential.

PART TWO: CX251 from HONG KONG to LONDON

cathay pacific london flights
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG

Airport Stop at Hong Kong

Given that I used CX and Hong Kong International Airport not so long ago, the process for making a connecting flight was all too familiar. Unlike my previous encounters with this airport, I had more time on this occasion as the flight from Manila landed on schedule. First though, I had to proceed to a transfer desk to make some enquiries about my return flight. Then I cleared security.

Since I didn’t have a proper supper yet, I had a meal at McDonald's. I also took the opportunity to look around at the stores. By doing so, I was reminded how limited the offerings of stores and eateries are at NAIA with just a few outlets monopolising the entire shopping experience at the airport.

hkia
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
hong kong international airport
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
Later, I made my way to gate 2.  Thanks to my Marco Polo membership, I was allowed to use the priority lane.  I was in fact one of the first if not the first to join the queue.

cx 251 london
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
SECOND SEGMENT

Flight Number: CX251
Gate: 2
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Scheduled Departure Time: 23:55

cx 777
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
One exciting thing about this flight was that unlike the CX flight I used to the US, I was on-board the Boeing 777-300ER (77W). To date, I rarely fly on single-decker aircraft for flights longer than 10 hours. I previously flew on CX’s regional 777-300's (773) but not the 77W. So I was eager to compare how the experience on this long-haul aircraft was.

This aircraft I was on had three classes, which meant premium economy was not yet installed here. Fortunately, I was seated in the front bulkhead section window seat. This meant that I could stretch out my legs all the way to the wall in front of me without worrying about the seat reclining. I also didn’t have to worry about others who needed to pass since I was the one seated next to the window.

cathay pacific boeing 777
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
In the block of seats I was in, I was seated with two ladies from Australia. We had a nice chat early on, as well as at other times during the flight.

cathay pacific economy class b777
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
Once airborne, I assembled the playlist of music I was going to listen to while viewing the airshow. There were plenty of audio options to keep me occupied. In the end, I probably assembled three hours worth of music for a playlist. Not bad at all.

I also watched a film entitled Game Change, produced by HBO and was based on a book by two political columnists that recalled the events of the 2008 US Elections. The film version however focused on the Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin. It ran for about two hours and for me it was worth the watch. This was not the first time I watched it on a CX flight. In fact, I watched it on my return flight from the US to Hong Kong.

Supper was served early in the flight. Like Singapore Airlines, CX provides a menu for economy class passengers. I chose the chicken curry option. I wanted the chicken, though admittedly I wasn’t used to the curry. But it was a delicious meal nonetheless.

cathay pacific in flight meal
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
cathay pacific chicken curry
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
Despite the 12-hour flight time, the flight felt a bit “faster” than expected. The IFE kept me occupied, and an open bar was provided in the middle of the economy class section where passengers could get drinks, crisps, noodles and peanuts any time.

Technically, this was a night flight for most of the flight, but since the summer solstice was just a few days away, the skies were slightly lighter. You could stare at the sky with a dawn lasting for several hours as we were headed several time zones back. Still, I managed to get a bit of shut-eye. The cabin crew didn’t take much issue with passengers keeping the window shades up as a result.

For breakfast, I had the egg, bacon and sausage option. Nothing could get more English than this. A croissant was also served. It was all scrumptious.

cathay pacific meal
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
I also took some time to watch a documentary about Bill Clinton shown on the IFE.

Later, we were on our initial approach to London Heathrow. For five in the morning, the skies were quite bright. It was clear that summer was upon us. In no time, the flight was on the ground. We arrived approximately a quarter to six.

cathay pacific economy boeing 777
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN

Arrival at London Heathrow

Just like my first flight, premium passengers disembarked before us. I have to say that I was impressed that punctuality wasn't an issue given Heathrow’s reputation as having one of the world’s busiest airspaces.

It was quite a while before we reached passport control from the gate. While walking to the checkpoint, I saw the provisions being laid out to process athletes for the coming 2012 Summer Olympics, which would take place in the following month. The queues at passport control were a bit long. After being cleared by the UK Border Agency, I purchased a local SIM from the vending machine. Then I waited for my bag. It didn’t take too long for it to arrive.

At the end of customs but right before the arrivals hall was a small duty-free store. It sold a lot of UK memorabilia though on this occasion, I didn't bother to purchase anything.

Whilst waiting for my uncle and aunt, I had a croissant and hot chocolate at the coffee shop at the arrival hall. I finally saw them and we headed for their car and a drive of more than an hour to their place in Milton Keynes. With that, my trip to Britain for the first time in nine years commenced.

SCORE FOR THE SECOND SEGMENT

These are rated from 1 to 10 with ten being the best score. This covers aspects of the flight experience that CX and its ground agents are responsible for with a focus on Economy Class.


  • Boarding Process (9/10): It didn’t take too long to get on-board. Again, my Marco Polo membership number came in handy here as I was one of the first to enter the aircraft. 
  • Seat Comfort (8/10): The seats were circa-2007. These are notorious for a hard shell-back which limited the ability of the seat to recline. But I didn't have much issues with the seat. 
  • Food (9/10): CX’s long-haul flights indeed provide a chance for real meals with real choices to be served. I was able to get my first choice on both occasions. I enjoyed the food even as the first meal was a curry mix. On long-haul flights, the open bar is also something I look forward to and it didn’t disappoint. 
  • Cabin Crew (9/10): I had no problems with the cabin crew. Nothing really remarkable but nothing to complain about either. 
  • Punctuality (10/10): More or less, we departed on time. Considering that London Heathrow was the destination, I was pleasantly surprised with the arrival. 
  • In-flight Entertainment (10/10): If there was one thing that “shortened” the flight, it was CX’s huge IFE collection. Using CX’s audio library, I was able to assemble a personalized music collection to go along with the airshow. The playlist was more than 2 hours long. CX also had a wide variety of films and I was pleased that they also included documentaries and political films. As this system was installed in 2007, USB charging was not included yet but it still featured an AC adapter. 
After this experience along with the experience of long-haul flights on other carriers, I have to say that Cathay Pacific is my favourite carrier for long-haul. A passenger will not run out of things to enjoy on a CX flight. Meals and refreshments are abundant and there are ways for you to stay entertained for a long flight. I strongly believe that if you want to enjoy the maximum level of service you can get from CX, you have to fly with Hong Kong’s flag carrier on a long-haul journey. 

-HybridAce101  


2 comments :

  1. I never been dissappointed with CX, Ife is good , cabincrew is nice and food is descent. But they are way ahead of pal.. when i pay for cx money is worth it, and im looking forward to go with qatar again and experience their new world class airport! Where i live in Asia, most tickets are 35% lower than from Philippines, since they charge to much taxes and to high fuel prices..

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  2. There is a way to find your aircraft type apart from chiecking in online (which normally shows the seat plan). Look at www.flightradar24.com and find the flight that forms yours as it departs Hong Kong. This will show the aircraft type and registration number. You can work out which flight from HKG forms your flight from MNL with a quick look at the CX timetable.

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