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Cathay Pacific’s newest long-haul aircraft, the Airbus A350, has been in service since 2016 — and I was looking for a way to finally try it. I found it using Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles.
Instead of the non-stop from New York (JFK) to Hong Kong (HKG), which offers an excellent business product but is flown on the older Boeing 777-300ER, I decided to go through Vancouver (YVR), which Cathay serves with the A350. (Cathay also serves Newark with the A350 as of late October, but I took my flight before the Newark service changed over to the new Airbus from the 777.)
I took the daily JFK – YVR Cathay flight on the 777 for the first leg, taking advantage of the fifth freedom rights that allow Cathay to transport passengers from the US to Canada even though it’s a Hong Kong-based airline. Then, instead of staying on the 777 for the second leg across the Pacific to HKG, I switched to the A350.
I saved up my Alaska miles and booked with them, since they offer excellent value when traveling to Asia. For the one way ticket I spent only 50,000 miles, which are worth about $950 based on TPG’s current monthly valuations of points and miles. My award ticket with Cathay Pacific not only included the flights from New York to Vancouver and onward to Hong Kong, but I also got a connecting flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai (PVG) in business class on the same ticket — a great value for 3 flights!
If you don’t have quite enough miles, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 30,000 miles after you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days of account opening. Once you score the bonus miles, you can either continue spending or even buy miles when Alaska has a promotion.
The only snag was an 8+ hour connection in Vancouver as the inbound flight from JFK put me into YVR at 12:45 AM and my next flight wasn’t until 9:30 in the morning.
Cathay Pacific Vancouver Lounge
I was able to spend some of that time in the brand new lounge Cathay opened in Vancouver in May 2016, with opening hours adjusted seasonally according to CX flight schedules. It’s open to First and Business Class passengers and members of Cathay’s Marco Polo Club with Silver Card status or above, as well as elite members of airlines in the Oneworld alliance with Oneworld Sapphire status or above.
The lounge attendant showed me around after checking me in, giving me a tour of the various amenities. It was a nice touch.
The space was very open with great views of the tarmac. I was among the first visitors, and the lounge quickly filled up with other business class passengers.
There’s plenty of seating and since the business class cabin on the A350 only holds 38 passengers and the 777’s holds 53 in the densest version, you should always be able to find a little corner. I especially liked these lounging chairs. It’s a great place to eat and view your plane coming in.
For the cold meal option, CX had a couple of salads prepared.
I was surprised to see so many pre-made sandwiches and wraps, but I must say, they were tasty.
A staple of most Cathay business class lounges is the Noodle Bar. Since this isn’t a very busy lounge, there’s one chef cooking up some wontons, dumplings, and other Asian food snacks.
I opted for the shrimp dumplings, beef dumplings, and a pork bun. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I re-ordered a few times!
There’s also a dining area where you can sit down once your buzzer beeps and you pick up your meal from the chef.
I made use of the showers (which are cleaned after every use) before I departed the lounge to board.
The lounge made a couple announcements that the inbound flight from Hong Kong would be arriving about 30 minutes behind schedule. From the windows, I got a view of our arriving aircraft — the lounge is just adjacent to the gate generally used by Cathay Pacific.
As I made my way down to gate 65 (where this flight generally departs from), I noticed quite a congested gate area, since the aircraft was not yet there.
Business class passengers board via door 1L, while Premium Economy and Economy passengers board via door 2L. There are two separate jetways leading to each door.
Cabin and Seat
The A350 in Cathay’s configuration has 280 seats: 38 business, 28 premium economy, 214 economy. Unlike most 777-300ERs, it does not have first class. I sat in the smaller of two business cabins, with only eight seats. The smaller cabin feel gives you a different experience and reminded of my past experiences in the First Class cabin.
The larger cabin consists of 8 rows and is also in a 1-2-1 configuration allowing all passengers aisle access. It does tend to appear busier than the back cabin.
The A350 has the newly designed business class seat, which isn’t offered on the 777. The privacy in these seats has vastly improved with the shield near the headrest.
The seat’s pitch is 45″ and the length of the bed is 75″. I was able to sleep very comfortably and I’m about 5 foot 10”. A comforter was at the seat when I boarded, but no mattress pad was provided.
The seat controls are easy to use, and so are the reading light and remote control for the in-flight entertainment.
There’s also a coat hanger, which was a nice touch.
The tray table isn’t big, and folds into two so you can extend only part of it if you don’t need it all.
A cubby allows for storing small items.
The armrests go up and down at the touch of the square button, and must be up for takeoff and landing.
The airbag and seat belt for every seat was different. The seat next to me had quite the big airbag seatbelt (luckily not mine), and I couldn’t find any pattern to which seats have the bigger airbag.
Unlike in most first-class cabins, here there’s no turndown service by the flight crew. Since there’s no mattress pad, it’s pretty simple to just put the bedding on. I do suggest to grab an extra pillow from empty nearby seats since the pillows are quite soft.
My seat was missing the second window since it’s located near door 2L. I didn’t feel a draft from the door during the flight.
The amenity kit included the essentials for a long flight including socks, toothbrush/toothpaste, eye masks, and more.
Provided are a set of Bose noise-canceling headphones in a small compartment with a mirror. This also makes for good storage for some small electronics.
There are also a couple of additional lights above the seat, in addition to the reading light near the seat controls, but no overhead A/C vents.
One of the most exciting amenities on this new plane is the in-flight Wi-Fi. I’ve always been upset that CX doesn’t offer Wi-Fi on its other long-haul planes, so I was expecting to be able to browse the internet. Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi didn’t work for me or the other passengers on board — a big letdown!
The in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems on Cathay Pacific haven’t been up to par with the level of service the airline offers, but that’s changed with the new system. You can easily browse channels, play games, and more.
And one of my favorite parts…front and top camera views of the aircraft which makes for great fun during taxi, takeoff, and landing.
Food and Beverage
Upon reaching cruising altitude, the meal service began. The flight crew’s service is top notch with Cathay, and it all begins when they personally welcome you upon getting seated. Usually, this is standard in First Class cabins, but not widespread in business. The one negative with the service for me is that the food is served from a cart. Cathay Pacific has been testing out more personalized service, but it wasn’t fully rolled out on my route at the time.
The meal started with some fruit and some bakery items.
Since this was a breakfast service, I had an omelet and potatoes. The meal was okay, but nothing great to rave about.
After sleeping for a few hours very comfortably, I woke up a little hot, so I asked for some chocolate ice cream, which came within minutes.
Before I knew it, the evening meal service began about an hour and a half before touch down in Hong Kong. I started with some Champagne and the appetizer came around, which was tuna tartare — really fresh, really good.
For my entree, I chose the grilled beef tenderloin, which was served with potatoes and a sauce that ended up overpowering the dish.
Some fruit came around about 45 minutes before our final descent began.
Cathay Pacific Arrivals Lounge
For all the times I’ve flown into and through Hong Kong, I never went to The Arrivals Lounge. TPG contributor Cristina Gonzalez recently did a comprehensive review of the lounge. My take is that I was really disappointed with this lounge when comparing it to the other CX lounges.
Here’s the “sitting area.” It’s incredibly small and the carpet is nearly coming up from the ground.
The arrivals lounge should be larger to accommodate passengers more comfortably.
The buffet had some salad, fruit, and some (stale) cookies.
I had the Shrimp Teriyaki Bento Box. It was well prepared, but it was small and too many noodles compared to shrimp.
I was very thankful for this part of the lounge. There were about 10 shower/bathroom stalls (which are cleaned regularly after each passenger). After a long flight, and before heading into town, it was nice to have a refreshing shower.
My experience on the new A350 was great — from the lounge to the crew to the very quiet aircraft. The lounge in Vancouver was great, but The Arrivals Lounge in Hong Kong was a big letdown. It was certainly unpleasant to have the WiFi be down during my flight, but hopefully, it will be up and running on your flight if you opt for the A350.
The new jet is certainly a great option, as long as you don’t prefer First Class. The crew was great and always remembered my last name which is a nice personal touch. While I hope I won’t have to do another crazy overnight layover to fly on the Cathay A350 again, I would gladly do so.
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