Monday, December 5, 2016

Cathay Pacific Flight Review: Hong Kong to Manila (A350)

On a recent trip report, I arrived in Hong Kong from London not knowing when I would actually depart.  Later in the afternoon of the day I arrived, I was lucky to get a flight out on the 4th of December, which meant my trip to the former British colony would be extended by one day.  Not only that, I was able to get a premium economy seat.

MORNING OF THE FLIGHT
My flight was not until the late afternoon.  So I had breakfast with my dad at the hotel before we all attended a mass service at the Rosary Church in Chantam Road.  After the service, we looked at more items at various stores.  After all, one of Hong Kong's main draws is its shopping atmosphere.  I finally purchased for myself some accessories for my iPhone and iPad.  Whilst I was at it, I haggled to knock off a few dollars off the total price of those goods.

TIP: Sham Shui Po offers a wide array of technology goods and accessories for discounted prices.  Stalls at the street are open to haggling.  Buying more than one item from the stall will increase your chances of success at haggling.  Use the Tsuen Wan Line to get there.

HOTEL DEPARTURE AND JOURNEY TO AIRPORT
I returned to my hotel at 13.00.  Due to time constraints, my parents and I did not go out to lunch in the city centre anymore.  We spent the remaining time packing up.  Unlike my past Hong Kong trips, we used a pre-booked shuttle service to get us to the airport.  The journey to the airport took about a half hour from Tsim Sha Tsui.  They were scheduled to fly on a Philippine Airlines flight but both terminals were connected by an underground tunnel, thus we all alighted at Terminal 2.

TIP: Unless you are pressed for time, it does not matter whether you alight at Terminal 1 or 2.  Terminal 1's departure hall is less than five minutes away from terminal 2's departure hall by foot.  You can also go shopping at land-side shops found in either terminal. 


They proceeded to their check in desk while I got my bigger bag at the left luggage facility between both terminals.  I transferred a few items between by bigger bag and smaller bag.  I also returned my WiFi router at the service provider's stand at the arrivals hall.

Before dropping my bag, I used one of the weighing scales to see if I exceeded my baggage allowance.  Luckily for me, the check-in bag weight exactly 30 kg, the maximum I was allowed.

Cathay Pacific Premium Economy Class check-in lane
Image by hybridace101
The baggage drop went smoothly.  There was a dedicated lane for premium economy class passengers.  The attending staff did not print a new boarding card for me, which meant I could finally try the mobile boarding pass technology on Asian flights.

Terminal 1's security configuration is different from what some passengers experience elsewhere in Asia.  Security check of bags came before passport control, and it was straightforward.  It took slightly longer since I needed to bring out another laptop.

I ate a quick lunch with my parents with food from Popeyes.  I had to leave shortly afterward to make it in time to my gate.  But this was not without passing by Relay to buy last-minute treats for a few friends back home.

TIP: Use the automated people mover, a driverless train system within the Hong Kong International Airport in order to access gates 40 and above.  

Automated People Mover station at Hong Kong International Airport
Image by hybridace101

Hong Kong International Airport Departure Area
Image by hybridace101

Hong Kong International Airport Departure Area
Image by hybridace101

When I got to my gate, there were still a few minutes left before boarding.  I was also pleased to see that the Airbus A350 would be used for this flight.  While waiting, I tinkered with the older laptop I brought.  I queued up in the premium economy lane shortly afterwards and I was surprised to see a lot of passengers queue up at the Business Class lane.  The ground staff reminded economy class passengers to use the correct lane.  Eventually, it was my turn to get served and board the plane.

FLIGHT PROPER

Flight Number: CX935
Gate: 61
Scheduled Departure Time: 17:35
Actual Take-off Time: 18:15
Aircraft Registration: B-LRA

Cathay Pacific A350 at Hong Kong International Airport
Image by hybridace101

This time, I was seated at the back of the premium economy class section.  Pillows and blankets were not brought out.  But I requested for one and a flight attendant provided it to me.  There was also no pre-flight drink on this occasion for premium economy passengers.

Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Class
Image by hybridace101

Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Regular Economy Class
Image by hybridace101

I was also pleased to find out that it was a female pilot who stood as captain for tonight's flight.

I dozed off as we left the gate just at around 18.00.  I was awaken when a flight attendant reminded me to unplug my mobile device from the AC port during take-off and landing.  It was strange because I did this on my previous flight before this without much problem.

We were airborne at about 18.15.  Within the first half hour of the flight, the flight attendants served us with a light snack.  It was a chicken fajita pastry.  Cathay Pacific does not serve full meals on its Hong Kong-Manila flights.  But I still found their offering scrumptious.  It was also packaged quite creatively: on a gift bag.  I later got some Sprite upon request.

Snackbox for Cathay Pacific's Hong Kong-Manila flight
Image by hybridace101

Most of the flight was rather uneventful.  Instead, I spent most of my time watching a live stream of CNN, and when the stream experienced problems, I played some filipino music by artist Nina and checked out the airshow.

I asked a fight attendant for the other forms Filipinos needed to fill out such as a customs form and she said that it was no longer necessary.  It was only the health form that needed to be filled out.

TIP: Filipinos do not need to fill out the blue landing cards anymore.  Passengers who do not need to declare any goods also do not need to fill out the corresponding customs form.  


As the story on CNN was interesting for me shortly before landing, I wished the flight would go on for a little bit longer but on the other hand, we were already long overdue for landing.  As a result of my fixation on the live satellite TV, the more 'eventful' bits of the flight happened in the end.  I forgot my pencil case and yellow health form on my seat.  NAIA's ground staff assisted me.  And in spite of one failed attempt to find my pencil case by one member of the cabin crew, the flight attendant assigned to my area found it.  The form?  I had to fill out another one.

Other than that, we were treated to something else upon our arrival: the sight of another A350 by Cathay Pacific that was departing as the one I was on was arriving.  

Another Cathay Pacific A350 at Ninoy Aquino International Airport
Image by hybridace101

NINOY AQUINO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT TERMINAL 3
Despite the self-inflicted delay, the queues at passport control were quite short.  The passport control officer who attended to me asked whether I was a seaman, and I said no.  She probably suspected the Norwegian and Swedish schengen stamps on my passport.

I got my bags back within 15 minutes.  I breezed through customs without much question.  I had to wait for my folks for another hour and a half.  Whilst that was going on, I took the opportunity to look at various places around Terminal 3.  Unlike Terminals 1 and 2, non-passengers can enter the area and there are plenty of places for them to eat in and stores to shop at.  It had almost every possible fast casual dining outlet one can think of.  There was even a WH Smith although the items there seemed overpriced, just as with any other outlet at the airport.

Shortly thereafter, I went back to the passenger waiting area (for those waiting for their rides).  After 45 minutes, I exited the terminal and entered the car.  My month-long Philippine trip would begin here.

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

·    Check-in (9/10): In Hong Kong Airport, Cathay Pacific provided a separate check-in desk for premium economy.  Although we could use the baggage drop desk, the check-in desk for premium economy was less congested.  The process took less than two minutes.  
·  Boarding Process (9/10): The process was rather quick on our end.  The premium economy lane seems to be the quickest and least congested lane.  A provision of two jet bridges at Hong Kong Airport also helped matters.
·      Seat Comfort (9/10): With Cathay Pacific’s premium economy class, you can be forgiven for feeling like you are on a mini-business class.  The legroom was plentiful and had a lot of features for passengers to play with to feel comfortable.  There were multiple spots for the passenger to leave their things.  Having said that, the one area it may consider improving on is storage for laptops. Whilst the legroom was generally adequate, it was slightly annoying to some degree if you had to give way to another candidate whilst the tray table was down.  But otherwise Cathay Pacific’s A350 premium economy is in a league of its own.  
·      Food (7/10): I have to be honest, but this is the one aspect where Philippine Airlines beats Cathay Pacific in when it comes to Manila-Hong Kong flights because Cathay Pacific does not serve full meals.  But the chicken fajita pastry was still worth having.  
·      Cabin Crew (10/10): The crew assigned to my section was very helpful and shall I say gentle with how to handle passengers.  For instance she begged my pardon for doing her job to enforce safety regulations (i.e. no phones charging while takeoff and landing), as well as being helpful in getting my pencil case back.  
·      Punctuality (8/10): The flight tried to arrive in time but it seemed like we were delayed by 10 minutes presumably because of air traffic issues at NAIA.  
·      In-flight entertainment (9/10): The live satellite TV feature was great for those who want to catch up on news, but the selection of audio and video on demand seemed to be scaled back from what I chose from four years ago.  The airshow was also very interactive.  Nonetheless, on a short flight, this was less of an issue.

In general, I have always thought that a Cathay Pacific flight between Manila and Hong Kong is overrated.  The Premium Economy class experience on a short-haul did not feel as 'business class'-lite as a London-Hong flight did.  But it feels nice that Manila frequently gets a healthy dose of A350s long after its test run across Asia has ended.

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