Flight Review: 16 Hours in Biz Class on Cathay Pacific's A350, Newark to Hong Kong
My 2017 was pretty insane. I ended up flying around the world four times in November and December alone, with this Cathay Pacific flight kicking off my second-to-last work trip of the year. The goal was to make my way to Colombo (CMB) to begin a discounted Emirates itinerary that ultimately scored me Suite 1E on the airline's inaugural flight for its exceptional new 777-300ER suite product.
I was especially excited to fly Cathay Pacific's A350. Even though it isn't the most impressive configuration overall for the newest Airbus long-ranger — Qatar's plane takes the cake, in my opinion — it represents a big boost from the 777 on Cathay's 16-hour flight from Newark (EWR), and the fact that this plane does not offer the airline's exceptional first-class cabin meant that I wouldn't have to feel left out.
Truth be told, this isn't a booking I'm especially proud of. Ticketed with American Airlines miles, I would have needed to redeem 70,000 to get all the way to Sri Lanka in business class, but since we specifically wanted to review the A350 and premium-cabin award space is incredibly difficult to come by out of Newark, the only option was to pay cash.
Since the flight was almost completely sold out and I only needed to fly one way, the last-minute booking set us back $4,625 — booked through Amex with a 50% Pay With Points rebate, that was 231,250 Membership Rewards points. Again, we could have done much better by selecting a different airline and routing, but the Emirates inaugural made this whole trip entirely worthwhile, as did the discounted fare I scored by beginning in Colombo (CMB).
I credited the trip to American AAdvantage, netting me a total of 15,819 EQMs, $2,637 EQDs and 14,181 redeemable miles, which is enough for a one-way domestic economy award.
Airport and Lounge
I fly out of Newark Airport often, but almost always on United from Terminal C, which I much prefer to the rest of the airport — it's home to my favorite airport restaurant, after all. Cathay Pacific uses Terminal B, which isn't very exciting. I definitely didn't need to arrive two hours before boarding.
Given the late hour, there were very few passengers queued up for security. Just because the TSA agents didn't have much work to do didn't mean they were any more polite, though — one agent operating the metal detector was downright nasty to the Asian passengers in particular, almost screaming out his orders to remove laptops and shoes. I wasn't treated poorly myself, but he was so disrespectful to other passengers that I decided to file a complaint with the supervisor on duty. It really takes a lot to get me to that point.
Once through security, it was a short walk to the almost entirely empty gate area.
With nothing to keep me entertained in the terminal, I made my way to the British Airways Galleries Lounge, which was open exclusively for Cathay Pacific passengers since all of the BA flights had already departed for London.
The lounge offers a sit-down dining area, but that was closed. Instead, everyone was seated in one of the regular lounge rooms, which aren't ideal for eating.
There was a modest soft drink, beer and liquor selection.
And an even less impressive selection of food. By Cathay Pacific standards, that is — wraps and finger sandwiches are more exciting than what you'd find in some other US-based lounges.
There was also instant ramen noodle soup, which seemed to interest some of the other guests.
I made my way back to the gate area after a short time in the lounge, since it really was a bit of a snooze.
Cabin and Seat
This particular flight was operated by the aircraft bearing the Hong Kong registration B-LRS, which was just three months old at the time. And you could really tell — the plane looked and smelled fresh. A nice way to kick off the 8,000-mile journey to Hong Kong!
Cathay's A350s consist of 38 reverse-herringbone seats in a 1-2-1 configuration.
There are two seats up front in Row 11, followed by seven rows of four seats each in the main cabin, then just two rows of seats in a mini-cabin behind the center galley.
I would have preferred the mini-cabin, instead, but those seats were all claimed by the time I booked.
I was able to score bulkhead window seat 12K, which is designated as a bassinet seat for passengers with infants, so I had to call to make my request.
12K ended up being a decent choice, though it was in a fairly high-traffic area, with flight attendants and passengers walking by constantly. It sure beat seats 11D and G, though, which you can see in the top left corner of the shot below — those were far more exposed, and the passenger in 11G seemed to be in a constant battle with the galley curtain. Yikes!
I do prefer these seats to Cathay's 777 and A330 offering. They're a bit more high-tech, and there's more storage as well, with one compartment to the side of the seat...
...and a second just below the side table, with enough room to store a medium-sized laptop, such as my 13-inch MacBook Pro.
There's also a bit more room in bed mode, since the large side armrest lowers flush with the seat. I found the bed to be comfortable, although I do wish Cathay Pacific offered proper bedding in business class.
Waiting at my seat was an amenity kit with most of the essentials, including a dental kit, eye mask, earplugs, socks, and various creams.
There was also a small pillow at each seat — it was comfortable, but I (incorrectly) assumed we'd be given something more substantial when it came time to sleep. The blanket was sufficient, though, again, a mattress pad would have gone a long way to elevate the sleep experience overall.
Another Cathay business feature that's been updated with this latest aircraft is the in-flight entertainment system — the selection appears to be just as diverse, but the display is sharper and more responsive.
The touchscreen slider also makes it especially easy to skip the commercials, or pick up right where you left off on a previous flight. I preferred to select content right on the main display, but you can also make your pick using the wired touchscreen remote, which also doubles as a second screen, letting you view the moving map and exterior cameras.
There was even a live TV option, though I didn't mind taking a much-needed break from CNN.
I really enjoyed watching the tail camera on the wired remote, even though it was dark for much of the flight. I wish all new planes had these cams!
Finally, the A350 is the first plane in Cathay's fleet to offer satellite Wi-Fi, which worked fairly well and was very reasonably priced, at just $19.95 for the full 16-hour flight.
Food and Beverage
I faced a bit of a dilemma with this flight. With a 1:00am departure, there was no way I'd be able to skip dinner before the flight in favor of the inflight "supper" service at around 2am. So I ate dinner at home and then a second dinner on the plane. A sacrifice, wasn't it? But it seemed justified in this case.
And then I saw the menu. Eight pages! What have I done? By then I was fully committed, though, and with 16 hours to work my way through, the task seemed manageable after all.
After boarding, we kicked things off with a Perrier and Cathay's signature drink, the Cloud Nine, which consisted of vodka, Cointreau and Sprite. It was refreshing but a bit too sweet for my taste.
Then, after takeoff I was presented with a a light appetizer, warm bread and berries, along with a glass of still water.
Entrees were plated and presented on a cart, so you could pick what you wanted based on how it looks — which I love.
Given that we were flying from the US, I chose the Western option of a grilled beef tenderloin, which was well done but still fairly tender and flavorful. I didn't finish it all, though.
Next up was a cheese plate — a fairly basic dish which I easily could have done without at the late hour, to be honest.
The chocolates were a very nice touch, though, and I had a couple of those. Yum!
While the food was fine, I was most impressed with the service, and how accommodating the crew was overall. For example, when I finished my regular sized water bottle and asked for a gigantic bottle to replace it, the flight attendant didn't hesitate!
I was feeling pretty full after my second dinner, but that didn't stop me from trying the hot snacks about halfway through the flight. Both of the snacks, at one time. Yeah, I know.
As impressive as they look, I was a bit underwhelmed by the flavor — the burger was bland, and the skewered pickle made the otherwise stale bun extra soggy up top, which was an odd contrast. The wonton soup was a bit better, but the veggies were overcooked and the broth was a bit lacking in the flavor department.
My hot snacks took about 20 minutes to prepare, though there was also a decent selection of packaged items available on-demand in the galley.
During a walk through the plane, I was pleased to see that economy passengers had a similar snack box available in the rear galley. Very cool!
It was time for breakfast just a couple hours before landing. There was a choice of juice and a smoothie, along with fresh fruit, yogurt and cereal, followed by another entree cart.
The stir fried prawns with egg noodles seemed most appealing, so that's what I went with. The noodles weren't cooked well, though — they were soggy in the center, and then extra crispy on the sides. I only had a few bites. I'd definitely say this was the weakest link.
At 70,000 AAdvantage miles, Cathay's A350 is hands-down one of the best ways to get to Asia in business class. We paid far more than that, though, and had there been award availability on one of the 777-300ERs out of JFK, I'd definitely have suggested that, instead.
That said, there are plenty of other opportunities to catch a ride on this brand-new plane — you can fly it from Hong Kong to San Francisco (SFO) or Vancouver (YVR), the route Eric Goldner recently reviewed. It's also available on several European routes, including flights to London Gatwick (LGW), Manchester (MAN) and Paris (CDG), along with Auckland, New Zealand (AKL), Tel Aviv (TLV), and a handful of regional destinations in Asia. If you have a choice between the A350 and one of Cathay Pacific's other planes, I'd definitely go with the A350 — unless of course you manage to snag a seat in first class.