I was going to fly home via Tokyo on Japan Airlines in First Class to LA, connecting to a domestic first class flight on American to DCA. When my travel dates changed, I was able to snag a flight on Cathay Pacific First from Hong Kong to Chicago, which is more desirable not only because Cathay is seen as better, but because it represented a longer chunk of the journey. Unfortunately I was only able to connect from Chicago to DCA in coach, but that’s fine. One disadvantage of flying Cathay through Hong Kong on the way home versus JAL via Tokyo was that it meant an early morning departure from Taipei (it is also a bit out of the way). Cathay has flights from Taipei to Hong Kong basically every hour or so. My flight from Hong Kong to Chicago left at 11:55am, and I wanted to make sure I at least had some time to explore the first class lounge in Hong Kong, so I took the 8:05am out of Taipei, which would give me a 2 hour layover in Hong Kong.
Having gotten proper instructions from the Landis concierge, I left the hotel at 5:05am and walked about 2.5 blocks to an express bus stop, where a bus was already getting ready to depart. I paid my 140 TWD (~$4.50) and at 5:15, the bus was on the road for the airport. The bus was in theory fancier than the all-stops one I had taken on my way out, but was a little more beat-up. With no traffic, I was at Taipei Taouyan International Airport at 5:50.
I made my way to the First Class check-in counter for Cathay and was greeted by two friendly agents. The agent offered to move me to the 7:05 flight to Hong Kong. I hesitated briefly, knowing that it would mean a rush at TPE, but decided an hour at The Pier in Hong Kong was better than an hour at the Taipei lounge. Cathay’s lounge at TPE is actually closed for renovation, so I was given an invitation for the China Airlines lounge, which I had read was nothing special.
The line for security was quite long, though quick moving. From there, there was a line for immigration, and I only made it through both at 6:25, 10 minutes before boarding time for my 7:05 flight. It didn’t make sense to try the lounge, which was actually on the other end of the terminal anyway. Plus I had about $15 in Taiwanese currency left I figured I should spend. I darted through some shops, finding one that had some trinkets, where I was able to spend all but 18 TWD – about fifty cents. Again, lucky nephew.
I then headed down to the gate, where boarding had already begun. The plane/seating was the same regional business class as the one from ICN to TPE, so no further thoughts. I knew it was likely to be more crowded than my inbound since it was a Friday, and because the seat map on my original flight was close to full. It still wasn’t a very crowded cabin, though, with about 12 people in the 49-seat cabin. Coach was pretty full, though.
Service was a bit more discombobulated upon boarding; perhaps they were coming off a quick turn. But it soon settled into excellent service. For example, I had grabbed a Financial Times at boarding, and a Flight Attendant came up to me very concerned to explain that that it was the prior day’s paper (not a surprise, since it was still yesterday in London), and brought me a copy of the morning’s Hong Kong paper. Even with the bumpy start, the crew managed predeparture drink service and hot towels, followed by a personal welcome from the Senior Purser as she presented the morning menu. The menu was similar to the ICN-TPE flight, with a Chinese option—seafood stirfry and noodles – and an omelet and pork sausage. My plan for the next 20 hours of travel was to immediately try and switch to US East Coast time, but I still couldn’t bring myself to eat seafood stirfry at 7 in the morning. So an omelet it was.
I think Cathay must consider TPE-HKG a short-haul as opposed to the slightly longer ICN-TPE flight, so the meal service was a little abbreviated. Two carts were brought down the aisles – one with trays, fruit, juice, and water, and another with mains and coffee. The omelet was actually tastier than the one on the inbound, and the potatoes and ratatouille were flavorful. In a sign of how good Cathay’s service was, when I had a got a refill of coffee, the flight attendant apologized, “I used the same mug; I hope you don’t mind.” I didn’t mind.
Arriving at HKG, I was excited to try Cathay’s new First Class lounge, the Pier. Like the other Cathay lounges at HKG, it is on the lower level beneath boarding gates, so the ceilings are not that high. But Cathay has really made the most of the space. Unlike the Business Class lounges at HKG, which I’d found not to be particularly relaxing, the whole vibe of the Pier is comfortable. There are three main seating areas, one by the bar, one that is more like a living room, and then a sitdown restaurant – which I didn’t try. Everything has access to power ports and is brand new. The more “snackish” food options are served in “The Pantry” which was a beautiful spread of breakfast foods, and then a full supermarket-style refrigerator case full of drinks and refrigerated snacks.
Upon entering, I headed right for the spa, which offers complimentary “foot massages.” I signed up and got a buzzer, before heading to the Pantry and Bar. I had some delicious champagne (I don’t remember the brand) with my light breakfast, and sat for a bit before my buzzer went off.
I thought a foot massage would just be a massage of my feet, but in reality it was a full chair massage of my neck, head, and shoulders, foot bath, and foot massage, which really is a wonderful way of relaxing before a long flight and in the midst of exhausting travel. One thing that I’ve noticed from this and my one previous Asian airline massage (Thai First lounge in BKK) is that the masseuses disappear right after the massage, which makes it very hard to tip them.
After the massage, I floated back to the bar area where I apparently took one last picture of my laptop before leaving it on the table and heading to the plane, apparently in a hurry, 20 minutes before scheduled boarding time.
The Pier was actually quite a ways from the gate for the Chicago flight, and by the time I got to the gate, long lines had already formed. Yes, lines plural, as there was one very long line and one short one. It appeared the long one was for First and Business passengers, which was odd. But I then saw a third, shorter line for First Class and Oneworld Diamond elites. It was still oddly long for a 6 passenger First Class cabin, and lots of passengers in business class or with Oneworld Ruby came on line and we’re turned away, with several arguing that there was no way the long line was for them. DYKWIA. Finally, it was time to board First and Diamonds. Every passenger’s bag was searched before finally getting on the plane. One not-so- nice feature of the plane was that all of Business Class boarded through First Class, and it seemed like a lot more than the 51 passengers that are seated in the 777-300 business cabin. And then I realized I didn’t have my laptop – the saga of which I already discussed here – which Cathay handled awesomely, getting my laptop to me 2 days after I got back to DC. It did end up messing up some of my plans for the 14.5 hour flight, and delayed the blogging, but in the end, not the worst consequence of my klutziness.
I’ve only flown long-haul first on three other airlines: United, Lufthansa, and Thai. Unlike Thai, the suite didn’t have a sliding door, but it was relatively huge– such that my long legs couldn’t reach the ottoman from the seat in an upright position. I was seated on the left side of the plane, which is really private, as the middle and right seats in the 1-1-1 seating arrangement face each other. The seat was showing a bit of wear but was still quite comfortable. There are no overhead bins, but my backpack fit easily under the ottoman, which also serves as a guest seat if you want to dine with a traveling companion- though the main seat may even be wide enough for two. There were pillows on both the chair and ottoman, and a fresh flower next to the window.
The crew was super friendly, introducing themselves and letting me know who would be taking care of me.- Grace and Winnie- who were both fantastic. I took advantage of their hospitality as I kicked myself for leaving the laptop behind, and requested champagne as my departure drink. The Krug was poured for me at my seat, and served along with a king crab, mango, and corn amuse bouche, which was quite yummy. Pajamas, Bose noise canceling headsets and amenity kits were distributed pre takeoff. The FA, bless her heart, brought me a medium at first, and I politely requested a large instead.
The Aesop amenity kit was fairly plain and sparse, with earplugs, a dental kit, a comb, lip cream, face creamy, and a wiping cloth. The pajama bag then had PYE cotton pajamas, slippers, and a cotton eyemask.
The Cathay IFE is fantastic, with dozens of television series, including the last season of Mad Men, the Mindy Project, Veep, and House of Cards.Oh and Magnum, P.I. There were dozens of movies as well, including Spy, Jurassic World, and San Andreas. Two glasses of Krug later, about 30 minutes late, we were airborne.
Once in the air, menus were distributed, while I rewatched the finale episode of Mad Men over a glass of champagne and warm cashews, and changed into pajamas. The flight featured lunch service and breakfast service, with a dine on demand snack service. I went with the Western lunch menu, choosing the steak after several days of pork and chicken. My table was set beautifully, including a handwritten note from the crew. Grace was in charge of dinner and I felt super-taken-care-of.
First up was caviar, served with the traditional mother of pearl spoon, 2 blini, chopped egg, and sour cream. I accompanied it with a special Rhone Valley red wine.
Next was a personal bread basket with four small rolls (best is garlic bread, as always), and a Canellini bean and garlic soup, which was okay but not garlicky enough. Throughout, I was frequently offered refills, addressed by name each time.
As I entered the third course, I began to watch “The D Train,” a very strange but good Jack Black movie I’d heard good things about. The baked goat cheese salad was delicious, and one of the best salads I’ve ever had on a plane.
The entrée was a massive steak, which was tasty but not raveworthy. I was asked how I wanted it prepared, but I’m not sure it mattered.
I skipped the cheese course, and went right to dessert, which was a hazelnut pudding vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce, with a decaf coffee. Pretty delicious.
In case I wasn’t full enough, post-dinner, along with a hot towel came some ridiculously delicious chocolates and a bottle of Evian. Grace asked if I wanted turn down service, which I did, and she set up the mattress pad, duvet, and 2 pillows for me, and I went to bed. At first it was a little loud with crew chatting in galley but that stopped soon after, and I slept for about 7 hours. It was the best sleep I’d ever gotten on a plane; it was a little warm and I sweated through the heavy pajama top. That sleep did mean I didn’t try the snack menu. #firstclassproblems
When I woke, a new FA came over with a confusing message about my laptop. Since we were having a bit of a communication problem, she went and got Winnie who explained they had gotten a telex asking for information on where to Fedex the computer. Well that was easy!
I was brought a hot towel and offered a “wake-up drink,” which for me is coffee. I thought about ordering the afternoon tea set from the snack menu, but realized breakfast was probably coming soon. I asked Winnie who said breakfast was whenever I liked.
There were so many elements to breakfast that I actually skipped one, the cereal. The muffin was delicious, and the eggs tasted like real eggs – which is a feat on a plane.
I had a nice chat with Winnie who was interested in the fact I was connecting from Chicago to DC, which she thought was a lot farther away than it really is. I watched “St. Vincent,” which was an excellent movie, but not a comedy.
After breakfast I was already over Wisconsin, so I changed out of my pajamas, had a signature Cathay Hong Kong Milk Tea, and watched an episode of Veep as we descended into Chicago. In all, the flight was a phenomenal experience, and very “special.” As someone who doesn’t fly International First Class often, and otherwise does not live a “luxury” lifestyle, I really appreciated the attention and caring of all the Cathay staff I interacted with.
Going from Cathay First to American Airlines is bound to be a disappointment, especially when you’re transferring to a coach domestic flight. It’s not bad that I ended up only having one long layover and one coach flight on this whole trip, though. What was supposed to be a 4 hour layover actually ended up being a little shorter due to a delay on my inbound. There was actually a line for Global Entry, as Business Class got off the plane before First, but I still beat my baggage, which was about the 30th bag off. I got to observe a funny interaction at customs when a woman who had 5 suitcases with her and had been gone for 10 days insisted she bought “nothing” abroad…. Hmm.
Cathay and AA are at different terminals at O’Hare, so I had to take the train over to Terminal 3. I reprinted my boarding pass there, since it hadn’t shown Precheck on the Cathay-printed one, and thankfully this time it did – the security lines were huge. As a passenger on an inbound international first class flight, I had access to the AA Flagship Lounge, which I’d never been to before. The one at ORD was rather uninspiring. It was crowded and not well-designed; I’ve been in nicer Admirals Clubs. It doesn’t even have a shower. The big difference is the food, in that there is “real” hot food on display. When I arrived, there were dregs of lunch– both Western and Japanese: salmon teriyaki, chicken breast, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, salads, sushi, and rolls. Also, the booze was self-pour. There were a number of very loud Brits in the lounge, as flights to London and Manchester were coming up, The agent was very friendly though, particularly since it was a Friday afternoon and there were lots of full flights, including the DCA flight before mine I looked into switching to.
The boarding area for my flight was super chaotic, and it seemed like half the F cabin cleared at the gate – which I was ineligible to do anyway on an award ticket. There must have been an equipment change, because I had initially been seated in Main Cabin Extra, but the old 737 only had 3 rows of MCE, along with drop down TVs. I watched an episode of Mr. Robot on the overhead TV. Though there is streaming free entertainment on the flight, it doesn’t work on Kindles – which is all I had since my laptop was still in Hong Kong. I got 30 minutes of Gogo wireless for $4 and soon enough was landing at DCA close to on time.
In all, a great trip to see two new countries, and get a little pampered on the return. Stay tuned for the last trip report series from 2015 – my 4 day Mileage Run-ish trip to Rio and Iguazu Falls in Brazil!