Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tokyo/Vietnam July 2011 - Cathay Pacific 872 First Class (HKG - SFO)

***This post is the conclusion to a full trip report. The index can be found here***

This was my first time arriving at the new Hong Kong International Airport. The last time I visited was when I was 14 years old, and I still remember our plane deftly maneuvering around the high-rise buildings during the nerve-wracking landing at Kai Tak Airport.

Hong Kong International Airport is really an amazing feat of engineering as well as a beautiful architectural achievement. I'd been wanting to visit for some time now, so the 4-hour plus layover gave me a perfect opportunity to explore the airport and take some pictures. I stayed airside the whole time, going through the transit passengers security check and then directly into the main terminal. I first went upstairs to check out the food court area, then I went on my way to visit the 3 main Cathay Pacific lounges... which involved quite a bit of walking.

I decided to visit the furthest lounge first, The Pier, which is located near Gate 63. I've heard some complaints about The Pier being dark and claustrophobic, but I honestly didn't get that feeling whatsoever. Sure, it's definitely a bit more cozy, but it's got a warm feel to it, and I definitely wouldn't mind spending a few hours here if my departure gate was close by.

There was plenty of seating available throughout the lounge, as well as open computers at the business center. Unfortunately, I wasn't feeling hungry at all, so I didn't bother taking a close look at the food offerings. I also skipped over the showers since I was going to be freshening up at The Wing instead.

Next, I walked back to the main concourse and went down to Cathay's newest business class lounge, The Cabin, located near Gate 23. I'm not exactly sure why Cathay Pacific decided to open up yet another lounge (I'm guessing perhaps due to the construction in The Wing), but I certainly didn't notice a significant difference between The Cabin and The Pier. They did have some cool pod seats in one area that were great for single travelers - I believe they're called Cathay Solus Chairs. The self-service buffet options looked similar to The Pier, and there was also a "Health Bar" that served up fresh juices and smoothies.

Finally, I walked over to The Wing near the security and immigration gate. I'm a bit embarrassed because at this point, I was pretty exhausted after a full day of traveling, and I actually fell asleep on a couch for quite some time and ended up not really even exploring the lounge. Though I must say, The Wing was kind of disappointing in the areas that I did manage to see. First of all, the upper level business class lounge was under heavy construction, so most of it was covered in white tarp and blocked off. I didn't bother reserving a cabana since I really didn't have any intention of taking a bath, and plus I'd seen plenty of pictures of it already. I did, however, take a quick shower prior to departure, which was great. No amenities were given, as the shower gel and shampoo were all in dispensers.

The Haven was quite nice, but very crowded at that time. I was able to get a table and perused the buffet and grabbed a few snacks. I didn't want to overeat since I knew dinner service would be substantial on the flight. After getting bored with the lounge, I decided to go downstairs to the departure gate. It was then that I noticed the flight had been delayed by almost an hour. Passengers were getting restless and it was beginning to look like a literal cluster#%*$. I noticed that the entrance to the business section of The Wing was nearby so I sneaked in for a few minutes to take a look. Wow, the place was absolutely packed... I didn't see a single open seat in there. Needless to say, I got out of there fast and ended up just waiting at the gate until departure finally started.

Cathay Pacific 872
Boeing 747-400
Hong Kong (HKG) - San Francisco (SFO)
Tuesday July 19, 2011
Departure: 12:30 AM (scheduled) / 1:09 AM (actual)
Arrival: 10:00 PM (scheduled) / 11:17 PM (actual)
Duration: 12h 30m (scheduled) / 13h 8m (actual)
Seat: 2A (First)

The first class layout for this flight was exactly the same as the previous flight from BKK-HKG, except I sat on the opposite side of the plane this time, in 2A. A welcome drink was offered, and I chose orange juice instead of champagne since I wasn't really feeling that great after a whole day of flying.

I was slightly bummed when I noticed that the cabin would be completely full yet again with all 9 seats occupied. Service was decent on the previous flight, but I had hoped for a less crowded atmosphere for HKG-SFO... unfortunately that wasn't to be. And worse, I immediately noticed that the 3 flight attendants seemed to be rushed and frazzled right from the start... and it only got worse as the flight progressed.

Menus were distributed, as well as pajamas and amenity kits. The men's amenity kits were downsized earlier this year, and now features a CD case-sized zipper pouch with miniature toiletries We finally left the gate about 40 minutes late, and after a very smooth takeoff, I was offered a glass of Krug Grande Cuvée with warm nuts.

Dinner service started soon after. I really wasn't very hungry since it was already almost 2:00 am, but I was determined to experience as much of the full dinner presentation as possible. I decided to mix and match the Western and Chinese options, starting with the caviar and Tsar Nicolaj Balik salmon, then the Western mesclun salad with tandoori prawn, Chinese double boiled soup, and the braised lamb shoulder for main course. I selected the baked apple tart with mixed berries and vanilla ice cream for dessert.

This was actually my first time ever trying caviar, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was really good, and I ended up practically licking the plate clean (though I didn't). The salad was rather typical, as was the soup. The lamb shoulder, however, was excellently flavored and extremely tender. 

Now, all throughout boarding and initial service, I noticed the flight attendants were pretty flustered, and seemed to be frantically trying to get everybody settled and their drink orders delivered. During dinner service, it only got worse, as the time between courses stretched longer and longer. At one point, after I had finished my main course, the empty plate literally sat there for almost half an hour before I finally reached for the call button. The flight attendant was extremely apologetic, but this was after she had already forgotten the wine I ordered with the main, and the water refill I requested along with it... though I did get the wine after a second request. Eventually, I sort of just stopped caring, and ate the food whenever it was presented and proceeded to entertain myself with Studio CX during the wait for the next course. I'm not sure if I was the only one experiencing this delay or perhaps others had decided to skip courses or dinner altogether, but by the time dessert was served, they had already turned off the lights for the other passengers to go to sleep. I had skipped the cheese course earlier simply because I was too full, and proceeded to finish off with some jasmine tea and pralines, which were delicious. When everything was finally cleared away, I noticed we were almost half-way across the Pacific already!

I also noticed the two female passengers seated at the front of the plane having some issues with their food during dinner service as well, and it seemed like the FAs were trying their best to smooth over an unpleasant situation. One of the passengers was also extremely sick, coughing and blowing her nose throughout the flight. Probably not by coincidence, I came down with a cold exactly 2 days after the flight :(

After the dinner ordeal, I changed into my pajamas (which were very comfortable) while the FA helped with the turn-down service. I have to say, Cathay's first class beds are amazing, and even for a light sleeper like me, I was able to get a couple hours of actual shut-eye after dinner. I awoke still feeling quite full, so I decided to sit up and watch some TV shows instead of attempting to go back to sleep. For the hour or so I was up, I noticed the flight attendants were all gathered in the galley chatting, and not once did they come out to do water runs or make sure things were okay.

Breakfast service started soon after (despite the sun setting again outside), and I was offered a smoothie to start off. I decided to mix and match again, choosing a fruit plate and croissants, and dim sum as the main. Everything up to the dim sum was really good... but once I opened the lotus leaf wraps, I noticed that the sticky rice inside was hard as rock. In addition, the shrimp dumpling and shu mai were dried out and tough.

Bad dim sum

Now maybe it's because I'm from the Bay Area and I eat it at least once or twice a month, but I honestly don't feel like my expectations for dim sum were sky high. They simple didn't steam the plate long enough, or the food itself just wasn't fresh. Either way, I ended up eating a few bites and returning the rest. When the flight attendant came by to clear the table, she noticed I had hardly touched the dim sum and wondered if it was ok. I told her the rice in the lotus leaf wrap was too hard, and she touched it and made a face and a disapproving sound. She apologized profusely, and offered to make something else, but I declined since I wasn't really hungry for anything else at that point.

Sunset over the Pacific

The rest of the flight was pretty uneventful, and to be perfectly honest, service was not very good. Whenever the flight attendants came by, they were always extremely warm and friendly, but the problem was they hardly ever came by! Whenever I went to the restroom, I would see them huddled in the galley eating or chatting away. Everytime I needed water, I ended up just going back to the galley and asking them for it.

Finally, as we approached San Francisco for landing, the plane did a quick 180 and then proceeded to fly around in circles. We all knew what that meant... a delay and holding pattern. The pilot came over the speakers shortly after and announced that since we had departed late, our gate was now occupied, and it would be about another half hour before we could land. Now normally I would cheer at this, especially sitting in first class... but at this point, I was really ready to get off the plane and go home. By the time we landed, we were about an hour late (since the scheduled arrival time already has some padding built-in), and I quickly called my sister to apologize and reschedule the pick-up. Deplaning was quick, and luckily the immigration line was fairly empty. My bags were also one of the first to come out due to the priority tags.

Holding pattern above San Francisco

All-in-all, I have to say I was pretty disappointed with this flight. I had heard great things about Cathay Pacific first class, but none of that was apparent in my case. Even the short hop from BKK-HKG was head and shoulders above this long-haul international first class service. Perhaps it was a fluke, or maybe the full cabin just made things more difficult for the flight attendants, but I was pretty bummed regardless. I hope to try out Cathay Pacific first class again sometime in the future, and maybe I'll have better luck next time!

Acca Kappa amenity kit with moisturizer, facial mist, etc.

Shanghai Tang pajamas

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