Cathay Pacific Flight Review: Manila to London via Hong Kong (773 and 77W)

Author's note: This is the second of two posts related to this trip.  You can read the post from the outbound flight here.


ABORTED DEPARTURE
I was scheduled to depart four days earlier than when this trip actually took place.  However due to a personal emergency, I was forced to delay my departure by four days.  Let's just say that it could have been worse and more costly.  Given the penalties and fare differences, it would have cost me upwards of £750 (over $1,000) to change the flight and there was a possibility of booking economy class with another airline to cut my losses.  But I got lucky that at the last minute, I found a flight where only the penalty/rebooking fee of £350 needed to be paid.  

TIP: Consider purchasing travel insurance that covers personal emergencies.  You never know when such events could strike.    

The change of flight meant that I would miss out on flying with Cathay's two newest aircraft types: the Airbus A350-900 and Airbus A350-1000.  This was because I would be flying via Heathrow.  I was resigned to flying on two Boeing 777-300ERs.  On the flip side, Cathay allows arriving business class passengers to freshen up at Heathrow Airport.

I got my preferred seats and was excited to check in.  On January 12, everything at the airport was proceeding as normal up... until I queued at passport control.  It was there I received a text from my companion telling me massive flight cancellations were on the way.  I checked with passport control staff and they had not received any word on such.  But it was at the Cathay Pacific lounge that the situation became clearer: no flights would be departing from NAIA for the rest of that day.  Flight movement was suspended due to an eruption at Taal Volcano 50 miles away from the airport, which is relatively nearby in geological terms.  I was advised to contact the rebooking hotline or ticketing counter later but with the help of someone on the phone at the lounge, my rebooked flight was all sorted out.  

I grabbed my bags and headed home still nervous.  Given that volcanoes behave in all sorts of ways, I feared that the worst was yet to come and wouldn't be surprised if I would be in Manila for up to two more weeks.  Before midday on Monday January 13, the airport reopened but there were still severe delays.  The flights took until the following morning to clear.

TIP: When a possible catastrophic event emerges that you think might affect your flight, contact your carrier first before proceeding to the airport.  

CHECK-IN, SECURITY, AND PRE-BOARDING
Once I contacted Cathay Pacific's global reservations hotline to check if the flight would push through on January 14, it was all-systems go.  I only saw that two flights were cancelled.  Given what I have been through, the phrase "third time's a charm" was apt for this.

Cathay Pacific check-in area at NAIA Terminal 3
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We arrived at the airport three hours and forty-five minutes before departure.  Surprisingly, the check-in area for Cathay was not congested.  I queued at the Business Class lane and was served instantly.  The agent was helpful enough to get me a seating area that I had trouble securing for my Hong Kong-London flight: the window seats.

Cathay Pacific business class check-in desk at NAIA Terminal 3
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As there was still quite a bit of time, I spent nearly an hour at Mary Grace with the person who brought me to the airport.  We parted ways shortly after before five-thirty in the afternoon.

It took me forty minutes to clear passport control.  The queue was moving quickly at first but once I approached the front two rows, each booth serving our lane was occupied by only one officer (when it is full, two officers per booth should be on-duty).  Once I got cleared, I went straight to security checks which was not too slow.

Before going to the lounge, I purchased some treats at one of the stores.  They were polvoron, a famous snack that Filipinos eat.  They were overpriced at 220 (approximately US$4.40, £3.38, €3.90) per pack.

Oneworld carriers only have one lounge at NAIA's Terminal 3: Cathay Pacific's.  In terms of the interior, Cathay Pacific applies a very consistent design to it so that passengers can recognise it regardless of their location in the world.  Most of the elements found in the Heathrow and some Hong Kong business class lounges are provided for in the Manila lounge, including its famous noodle bar.  The one missing feature was the shower room, but given that Manila-Hong Kong flights are short, its absence was understandable.  And I did not see a reason why passengers would need to use it.

Entrance to Cathay Pacific lounge at NAIA Terminal 3
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A slightly more significant feature missing was the First Class section of the lounge.  Although most Cathay flights involving Manila feature business class as the highest class of service, there are still eligible Marco Polo and oneworld frequent flyers who fly the route and I feel they should not be deprived the privilege of first class-style lounge access. 

Cathay Pacific business class lounge at NAIA Terminal 3
Image source: hybridace101
Cathay Pacific business class lounge at NAIA Terminal 3
Image source: hybridace101

Cathay Pacific business class lounge at NAIA Terminal 3
Image source: hybridace101

Given that I was on a diet of a sort, I did not focus on sampling the food.  But compared to Sunday, the lounge was much more tranquil.


FIRST LEG: CX902 from MANILA to HONG KONG

Flight Number: CX902
Gate: 115
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300
Scheduled Departure Time: 19:45
Aircraft Registration: B-HNX
Gate 115 at Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3
Image source: hybridace101




Gate 115 was filled with passengers.  Queues along the economy class lane were massive but lucky for me, there was another door for business class passengers.  I found my seat quickly.  Once I got settled, I asked the flight attendants if I could still order a special meal for my connecting flight.  They said that they would try and even if they didn’t guarantee it, I was impressed that they tried to make contact with those in-charge.

As for the seat itself, the recline and storage were fairly limited but adequate for a short-haul flight.  Don't expect lie-flat seats here.  Also, the seating area is designed such that passengers who choose to recline their seats would not intrude on the passenger behind them, so that's useful.  Whilst I think the configuration is generally reasonable for short haul flights, the likes of Singapore Airlines are going a step further with flat beds in regional business and I think Cathay should consider making their business class product at least lie-flat.  But given that the carrier needed to squeeze in as many economy class passengers as possible, this should be understandable for the moment.

Seat 12H on Cathay Pacific's 777-300 (regional business class)
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Cathay Pacific's regional business class seats on its 777-300 aircraft
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Cathay Pacific's regional business class seats on its 777-300 aircraft
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I was seated in the same bloc as my Hong Kong-Manila flight but found myself in the aisle seat this time.  I found the circa-2016 IFE interface loaded and finally, their new airshow/moving map channel where passengers can customise the angle and zoom they wish to view the flight progress from. I loaded up some of my favourite music to accompany me as I view the progress of the flight.  There was one AC power and one USB outlet which were adequate for my needs.

View from seat Cathay Pacific's 777-300 seat 12H
Image source: hybridace101

We took off 40 minutes after scheduled departure time.  And we managed to fly due northeast first before heading in the direction of Hong Kong.

Shortly after the seatbelt sin was off, the cabin crew prepared for the meal service.  Before I knew it, the crew served me with my special low-fat meal request.  At first, I was jealous because looking at the menu, those who chose standard meals had a choice between steak and salmon.  But I was served with a salmon meal anyway but with more portions of vegetables, so it wasn’t too different from one of the standard meals.  Desert was delicious.  The food was filling.

Low-fat/low-cholesterol dinner
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The cabin crew collected our food for before the first half of the flight ended.  They let me keep my desert and milk to continue consuming.  They came back for it.

For the next few minutes, I went to the economy class section and I didn’t find the aisles particularly narrow despite the new 3-4-3 seating configuration.  But there were plenty of seats here.  And it’s just as well as they needed to make room for passengers forced to reschedule their trips due to last Sunday’s airport closure.

Cathay Pacific's regional business class on its 777-300
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Cathay Pacific's new Economy Class on the 777-300
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For the rest of the journey, I stayed at my seat, listened to my playlist, and watched the moving map.  Occasionally, I switched the screen to the connecting flights page and found my next flight was far away from my arrival gate.

Connecting Gate Information on Cathay Pacific's new IFE
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Before I knew it, there was a half-hour left in this first leg.  The seat belt sign was switched on indicating an initial descent into Hong Kong.  I had to retract my seat.  I just spent the rest of my time watching the moving map, flight connecting information screen, and windows whilst listening to my playlist.  But it was weird as my connecting flight's information disappeared even though it was visible a few minutes ago.

RATINGS FOR THE FIRST 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 Business Class.
  • Check-in (10/10): The staff was helpful and I was able to get my request to a window seat.  
  • Lounge (9/10): The features and design are largely consistent with what Cathay Pacific offers elsewhere. 
  • Boarding Process (8/10): From a far, it was a bit difficult to see the business class lane.  However, when I found it, the process became quick.  It was good to see that two jet bridges were in use.  It could have been improved by having clear signs at the jet bridges indicating where the business class entrance is.  Most passengers may assume there is only one entrance to the whole aircraft when there is in fact two. 
  • Seating area (8/10): As this was a two-seater bloc, I didn’t have much trouble moving around.  The seat had reasonable recline for a short flight and the recline of the seat back was not intrusive though Cathay should consider investing in lie-flat beds for regional flights.  
  • Food (10/10): The salmon meal tonight was tasty.  It was full-course.  I was jealous of the choices afforded to passengers who chose a standard meal.
  • Cabin Crew (10/10):  When I mentioned to the crew that I requested for a low-diet meal for just one of the legs but not the other , they paid prompt attention to it without me requesting for it explicitly.  The crew in this flight went out of its way to make sure my needs were attended to.  They were polite and friendly.  
  • Punctuality (9/10): The flight departed slightly behind schedule in Manila.  The important part though was the flight landed slightly ahead of schedule.  
  • In-flight Entertainment and Connectivity (9/10): Nice to see it is touchscreen operated in addition to remote-operated.  The choice was adequate.  Liked that there was an option for wifi.  The interface is a huge leap for Cathay’s regional 777s, which normally get hand-me downs.  
INTERMISSION: HONG KONG AIRPORT STOPOVER
The arrival gate was at the extreme end of the terminal from the gate of my next flight.  But Hong Kong International Airport made it convenient with several transfer points.  Feeling that the one closer to the front of the airport was going to be crowded, I decided to use the ones closer to my arrival gate.  But first, I made an enquiry from Cathay's nearby transfer desk if there are seats left on the earlier flights to London.  They told me it was no longer possible to transfer to them.  Instead, they wrote my next flight's gate number for my reference.

Hong Kong International Airport Transfer Point
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Unfortunately the departure automated people mover moved in only one direction.  This meant passengers with gates in the front of the terminal who want to explore facilities at the rear end of the airport would have to travel back by foot.  But it felt like a shorter walk than I thought and I stopped by some shops along the way.

One of the advantages of having my journey moved was that I was slotted into a later flight for Heathrow which meant more time at the lounges.  Having explored The Bridge and Pier previously, I decided to try The Wing this time.  The atmosphere on the lower floor was intimate.  But there was more than enough seating.  Food options consisted of macaroni and cheese as well as paella and chocolate moose.  I sampled just a little to keep my diet under control.  After a while I went  upstairs to find more seating.  Alas, Cathay's signature noodle bar was located there too.  The upper floor featured a coffee bar where one could sample some biscuits.  One of the things Cathay Pacific lounge users were treated to was a view of gates 2-4.  I am a bit unsure of what to think of the high-roof lounge and the fact that no glass separated the top floor from the rest of the terminal.  But the lounge was complete in what to offer valued customers.

Cathay Pacific's The Wing Lounge
Image source: hybridace101
Cathay Pacific's The Wing Lounge
Image source: hybridace101
Cathay Pacific's The Wing Lounge
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Food options at Cathay Pacific's The Wing Lounge
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Cathay Pacific's The Wing Lounge
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For the next 20-ish minutes, I wanted to try my luck at seeing what the Qantas lounge looked like.  To those on the departure floor, the entrance to it is confusing.  But when I got there, it was too late: the lounged closed for the day.

So I returned to The Wing.  After relaxing for a few moments, it was time to hit the showers.  The agent made sure that I was escorted to a clean and ready-to-use cubicle.  The shower facility looked a bit different from the other lounges but it looked very inviting and tranquil.  It was complete with amenities.  I had a comfortable shower and felt refreshed after 15 minutes.

Cathay Pacific's The Wing Lounge - shower cubicles
Image source: hybridace101

Cathay Pacific's The Wing Lounge - shower cubicles
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It was time to sit down at The Bureau (the section of the lounge where the computers are located) to rearrange the sims in my phone.  I made one more trip to the top deck to try and sample a few more snacks but I could not stay for too long as I heard that my flight was on "Final Call" status.  The staff was encouraging me to take my time but because I was watching my diet too, I had to finish quickly anyway.

Cathay Pacific's The Wing Lounge - computing facilities
Image source: hybridace101


TIP: Cathay Pacific has four different business class lounges scattered across Hong Kong International Airport.  If you're constrained for time, select the lounge closest to the gate of your next departing/onward flight.  

SECOND LEG: CX255 from HONG KONG to LONDON HEATHROW

Flight Number: CX255
Gate: 1
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Scheduled Departure Time: 01:10
Aircraft Registration: B-KPK



I used the business class lane and there were no queues.  I was greeted by the in-flight service manager at the door and I enquired if there were still seats in the front row.  He said it was all full at first but  alas, a few seconds later he reminded me that the passenger seated in front could not make the flight so he recommended I take it.  It wasn't exactly a window seat but given how cozy the front business class cabin is, I took the offer anyway.  And I was lucky as the seat next to me was not occupied.  Even if I knew that there were dozens of business class passengers in the cabin behind me, it the front row felt exclusive.  And sitting in the middle bloc made me realise how narrow the 77W aircraft is compared to the 747-400.

In my personal cabinet was a headset, bottle of water, and amenity kit.

Also when I boarded was it evident through the moving map that the aircraft hasn't been refreshed with the latest in-flight entertainment system.  The interface was circa-2012.  The audio/video selection was adequate and I found enough to fill my playlist.  Just as with my other flights, this business class seat had an AC power adapter and a USB port, which doubles up as an iPod dock to play content from on the passenger's IFE unit. 

Seat 12D on Cathay Pacific's 77W
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Seat 12D on Cathay Pacific's 77W with a zoom to seat controls and cabinet storage
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Business Class Bulkhead on Cathay Pacific's 77W
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Seat 12D on Cathay Pacific's 77W in flat-bed position
Image source: hybridace101
Like the first flight, the menu came in the form of a newsletter and a breakfast card was provided for us to fill out and leave on the coat hook.  I made my breakfast selection promptly and it was the continental option that I fancied.  The cabin crew who attended to me gave me some recommendations for the supper meal.  Ultimately, I chose the cod option.

Business class menu in newsletter form
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We left the gate on time but the actual take-off had to wait for a half-hour.  It was a long taxi to the runway.  But the IFE playlist kept me company.

About 30-45 minutes after take-off, the first meal was served.  The cod meal was delicious.  And even if I did not get the low-fat meal I needed, it look like a healthy offering nonetheless with large portions of veggies all over.  It was an all wipe-out.  To hopefully help me sleep, I ordered camomile tea as my beverage.  The ice cream desert was also tasty.

Cod supper for Cathay Pacific's business class passengers
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Ice cream dessert for Cathay Pacific's business class passengers
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Right after the meal service, I went to the toilet to freshen up for bed.  It gave me an opportunity to check whether the contents of it are consistent with my previous trip.  And they were even though the amenity bag was of a different colour.  One thing I wish they had though was a shaving pack. 

Business class toilet on Cathay Pacific's 77W
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Business class toilet on Cathay Pacific's 77W
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Cathay Pacific Business class amenity kit contents
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Time to roll out the bed sheets and duvets.  The beddings are easy to set up by the passenger him-/herself.  By just holding down one button, the seat becomes a bed instantly.  Apart from the relatively slightly bumpy first half due to turbulence, I could say that I had a 'normal' sleep and it was a comfortable surface to lie down on.  The crew tried tuning down the lights and my personal video screen to help me.  The armrest on the side of the aisle provided me with some extra privacy.         

At about midway through the flight, I woke up and grabbed a quick snack at the galley.  It was those dark chocolate treats and a sundried tomato-flavoured snack that I fancied.  After these quick bites, I went back to bed for an hour or so.

Cathay Pacific Business Class in bed form with beddings and duvet
Image source: hybridace101

Cathay Pacific Business Class in bed form with beddings and duvet
Image source: hybridace101

Mood lighting on Cathay Pacific's long-haul business class
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Cathay Pacific Business Class bulkhead behind row 12
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Light bites on Cathay Pacific's Business Class
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With four hours left in the flight, I played with the IFE and played a few episodes of one of my favourite sitcomes, F.R.I.E.N.D.S.  Almost everyone in the front business class cabin was watching an IFE flick so I wasn't alone at this point. 

From time to time, I returned my seat to the fully-flat position to enjoy my remaining time with the best business class bed I could hope to enjoy.

Cathay Pacific Business Class seat on 77W with IFE screen
Image source: hybridace101
Two hours or so were left in-flight.  The changing mood lighting signified breakfast time was almost upon us.  I played the latest Star Wars film even though the flight time remaining would be shorter than the film's length (still I skipped some portions).  As for the breakfast, the continental option contained mostly fruits and yoghurt.  It was a healthy companion for me whilst I continued watching the feature film on my IFE unit.   In no time, it was completely consumed.

Continental breakfast option for Cathay Pacific Business Class passengers
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Tray table and glass of water
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I took the liberty of visiting rear cabins to find that this particular 77W still sported an older economy class (circa 2012) with nine seats in each row (3-3-3 arrangement).  This signified the older IFE was still in place but the fact that the seating arrangement is just 3-3-3 abreast means economy class passengers here are getting a more comfortable ride.  And with fewer passengers, it hopefully does not slow down the boarding and deplaning process.

Cathay Pacific smaller Business Class cabin: view from the rear
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My original seat - 24A on Cathay Pacific's 77W
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Cathay Pacific larger Business Class cabin: view from the rear
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Cathay Pacific Economy Class cabin (old configuration) on 77W
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Cathay Pacific Economy Class cabin (old configuration) on 77W
Image source: hybridace101
For most of the flight I continued to kick back to the Star Wars film.  Just as it ended, the captain came back announcing we were a half hour away from landing.  And although he apologised for the longer flight, I was saddened that it meant my business class experience was about to end.  I just continued listening to my playlist at this time.

Once the wheels touched the ground, the IFE switched automatically away from passenger control.  A few minutes after, we docked at the gate.  I picked up my hand luggage from the lockers.  But strange for this flight was that only one jetbridge was ordered.  Luckily, it was closer to what I sat and it made me glad to sit in the smaller business class cabin.

TIP: Once you know you want to fly long-haul business class on a Cathay Pacific 77W or A359, please choose a seat in the smaller business class cabin at the time of booking.  As there are slightly different configurations, use the seat map embedded in the booking feature.  These cabins are usually separated by an exit row and/or galley.  You will feel as if you have exclusive treatment without booking first class.  


POST-ARRIVAL
My business class experience did not end on the door of the aircraft just yet.

First, as a business class passenger, I was entitled to use the fast-track passport control lane at Heathrow.  The lanes featured short queues.  But where I felt a slight bottleneck was at baggage claim.  It took almost 15 minutes from the first bags emerging for me to be reunited with all of my own.

Cathay Pacific had one final treat for business class passengers.  Given that I came from a long-haul flight, I was entitled to use the American Airlines arrival lounge which was on the landside portion of Terminal 3.  First, I had a shower at their arrival facilities.  I was pleasantly surprised that they were spotless and complete with amenities.  There was even a trap door at the back of the entrance for passengers to store the clothes they will change to.  Afterwards, it was time for me to enjoy the rest of the lounge for the next hour-and-a-half.  I grabbed some breakfast which was delicious but felt constrained to not eat the bacon bits.  In addition, I used the computer terminals to print out a document to renew my passport.  We had trouble at first and even the lounge staff was slightly confused on how to use it.  But I managed to figure out how to to use it eventually.  Before leaving, I transferred stuff between my bags.

American Airlines Arrival Lounge shower cubicle
Image source: hybridace101



American Airlines Arrival Lounge shower cubicle
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American Airlines Arrival Lounge shower cubicle
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American Airlines arrival lounge: computer area
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American Airlines arrival lounge: general sitting area
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American Airlines arrival lounge: food choices
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American Airlines arrival lounge: food choices
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I left the lounge just after 9.20 to catch the Heathrow Express for Central London.  It was there that I could change money and proceed to the Philippine Embassy to get my passport renewed.  With that, my rare business class treat came to a close.  


FINAL WORD AND RATINGS FOR THE SECOND LEG
After having four flights with Cathay Pacific's business class, it has proven itself to be one of the best.  I find their pre-departure and onboard offers overwhelming.  It is unbelievable in the first place for them to offer their five-star service at relatively bargain basement prices.  For sure, there could be things they could work on to give Singapore Airlines or Qatar Airways a run for their money.  But I was still all the more grateful to experience a legitimate long-haul business class of a five-star carrier.  Overall, once you experience Cathay's business class, it will feel very difficult to want to go back to economy class.

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 Business Class.
  • Lounge (departure lounge only) (9/10): The atmosphere gave you a feel that it was uniquely Cathay.  The lower floor gave one an intimate and welcoming feeling.  Plenty of seating everywhere.  The shower cubicles were tidy and well-stocked.  There seemed to be a decent amount of snacks especially at The Wing lounge.  Even though I have to be on a diet, it would be good to have a bigger variety such as what they have in The Pier lounge.  
  • Boarding Process (10/10): It was smooth. 
  • Seat Comfort (10/10): It was a legitimate flat bed.  One could even sit on the 'upper' part (where you place your back and head).   The fact that it was configured 1-2-1 allowed not only direct aisle access for every passenger but also purpose-built space for their stuff and privacy.  
  • Food (9/10):  Delicious food and healthy options available despite not getting a special low-fat meal.  There were choices for everyone though I would have preferred Cathay has steak and chicken options too.  They could also borrow a page out of Singapore Airlines' playbook by giving business class passengers an option to select their 'standard meal' online.    
  • Cabin Crew (10/10): Need I say more?  Their attention to detail, especially to a passenger's needs cannot be overstated.  A special shout out to James, the cabin service manager who reseated me in the smaller business class cabin.   
  • Punctuality (8/10): Although we departed more or less on time, we arrived a little bit behind schedule but not by very much. 
  • In-flight Entertainment and Connectivity (8/10): There was an adequate choice for someone like me.  But the aircraft did not feature wifi and the new interactive moving map as the other long-haul 77Ws.  

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