Recently, I needed to get from New York (JFK) to Vancouver (YVR) and, surprisingly, it was not easy to find a flight that didn’t include a crazy set of layovers and several hours of travel time. I was not expecting to find a non-stop Cathay Pacific 777-300ER option — done!
The flight is special, since it is a transcontinental, but is operated as an international flight, since the stop in Vancouver is part of a longer hop to Hong Kong. Because of this, the flight lands in YVR at 1am, which means you should do some planning on getting to your final destination, since options will be limited.
It’s not a long flight – only about five-and-a-half hours – but it doesn’t mean one can’t enjoy the premium experience.
Prior to boarding, I was allowed access to the British Airways Lounge, but the layout of the lounge was a bit disconcerting. I was guided to a much smaller area that felt a bit crowded. Upon leaving, I realized that the lounge was actually much larger, and kicked myself for not having taken some time to explore the area properly.
Luckily the same amenities were found in several places, so it’s not like I really missed out on anything other than just a bit of peace and quiet.
The lounge is smartly furnished with several different styles of seating, which is pretty intuitive if you think about it – there are places for people to literally “lounge” or sink into comfy, wing-backed chairs. And then there are some more rigid chairs and tables for those looking to work or dine.
The area is self-service, which I generally prefer to typical bar and waitstaff. Mostly it’s for selfish reasons – I can pour as much Grey Goose into my tumbler as I want, and throw in some Twizzlers as swizzle sticks if I feel like it (don’t judge me!).
There was a cold buffet with finger foods and a few sandwiches, and the offerings really did a lot to accommodate all kinds of flyers – from the super health-conscious (lots of organic snacks, even kale chips) to the treat-yo-self types (that’d be me, devouring Oreos dunked in White Russians).
I left the lounge early to confirm my pre-pre-boarding access to get photos of the cabin. The Cathay gate staff were very courteous and accommodated my early access. I was super pumped to be in the cabin by myself, before everyone began to board. There is always something about being in a plane with no passengers — it was awesome to say the least.
The in-flight crew were beyond obliging of my requests. I was given a brief tour of the business class cabin by the purser. They showed me the different features of the cabin, as well as the seats. Business class, on this aircraft, was actually separated into two sections: one that held 14 seats, then a much larger section, with 26 seats, separated by the galley and lavatories. Both were decorated with panels of art, which I thought added a nice touch to the otherwise sterile plane environment.
In the 1-2-1 configuration, the business class seats are angled so that you don’t feel like you’re on top of other passengers. In fact, it’s very easy to feel like there is no one around you at all – the top of the seat surrounding the headrest is curved and extended enough to block out passenger/crew aisle traffic. It is a very personalized seat design that provides privacy and calm.
The seat itself is comfy, and the fabric used was a rich, dark green color. There was a side panel, where you can configure the seat setup, along with a variety of plugs and a reading light. I wasn’t crazy about the plugs being right next to my head; even though I didn’t have anything plugged in except my cell phone (using the USB port), but I just thought it’d be weird to set up something more substantial like a laptop or otherwise.
There were compartments upon compartments, and as a pack-rat, I appreciate this because I never feel like there is enough room for my belongings on a flight.
I was offered a choice of water, juice, or wine prior to takeoff. Of course I chose the champagne, which was a sweet, tasty brut classic by Deutz. A hot towel was also passed out and it felt nice to refresh myself before takeoff.
After settling in, I was really excited to check out the in-fight entertainment (IFE). However, to my disappointment it wasn’t turned on until we had reached cruising altitude. I understand why this is the case, but at the same time, it helps distract me when I’ve got some music or a TV show to watch prior to takeoff. I am always a bit anxious when flying, especially during take off.
One really cool thing, which I was able to access right away, were the external cameras. I loved seeing the plane takeoff in real-time, watching the mechanics of flight occur before my eyes, and the view of Manhattan from the air was stunning.
The amenity kits were passed out shortly after takeoff. I received an interesting little brown canvas sack tied with suede twine. It had your standards including a toothbrush, toothpaste, fuzzy socks, an eye mask and earplugs, and a lens wipe.
I really enjoyed the inclusion of the Jurlique body products. The lip balm was amazing, and there were separate hydrating creams and lotions for the face and the body. It’s a little hard to reuse the pouch again, but it still added a classy touch.
The food. I sort of screwed myself over in this department. Originally I was booked in economy class, and in order to avoid a prison-esque meal I went for a low-fat, low-sodium option. The cabin crew politely obliged this meal request for my upgrade, but unfortunately it meant missing out on what looked like a very creative in-flight meal. So I’ll never know what prawns with lychee sauce taste like, nor did I get to indulge in the pistachio chocolate pie with vanilla sauce. Sure, I could have asked, but I did this to myself and I was going to own it.
But at the same time, the flight was so short that I didn’t really have time to use food as a distraction. What I received was pleasant and definitely made me feel better upon landing than a heavier, saltier meal would have. The setup included a mixed greens salad topped with smoked salmon and lemon slices, a bowl of fresh berries, and an entrée of poached chicken breast over sautéed veggies and jasmine rice. I was also offered a piece of bread and some SmartBalance to complete the meal.
Unlike those in economy, my meal was on some lovely porcelain, and included heavyweight cutlery and delicate glassware.
The wine selection in the business class cabin felt limited to me – two whites, two reds – but I did like how they had a featured region from the Loire Valley of France, and some extensive information to supplement the choices.
I also like to try signature cocktails aboard my business class flights (you know, someone has to do these things) — I just think they are fun. The one I tried was called the Pacific Sunrise and was a mixture of champagne, Dramboue, and citrus peel. I wasn’t a huge fan of it, but I’m glad I got to try something new.
Cathay’s 777 uses the Studio CX system for their IFE. At first I felt the selection was limited, but I think that’s just because the system is a bit tricky to navigate. It is both touch screen and joystick-remote guided, but it lagged a bit and the titles/genres felt a little disorganized.
However, the selection that was available was almost overwhelmingly delightful. Films included everything from recent releases, to classics like Roman Holiday, and even some feel-good-favorites from my childhood (Mrs. Doubtfire, My Best Friend’s Wedding).
I was about to put on The Hobbit, followed by 12 Years a Slave, thinking that the two films would pass the time faster. But when I sifted through the television programs, I was excited to not only find episodes of Flight of the Conchords, but that the entire second season was provided. This is a big deal because many airlines only host a few select episodes of each show. Several offerings (including the ever-popular Arrested Development) had full seasons for passengers to binge watch.
The most innovative aspect included the playlist feature. With it, I could seemingly weave together movies, music, and television programs, to continuously play without ever needing to return to the home screen and starting everything over again. Flight of the Conchords became a marathon with no breaks in between episodes, so I didn’t have to worry about being woken up to start a new program once the first had finished.
I wanted to see if I could get some rest, but knew I wasn’t tired enough. I decided to have a few more glasses of champagne, and try the cheese plate (I do so love a good inflight cheese plate). The cabin crew obliged me and I was able to have a little snack as a means of preparing me for some much needed to rest.
It always seems odd to me that a long-haul international flight that is about seven hours (let’s say from JFK to London) has many high-end products to choose from, but a trans-con between JFK and YVR (about six hours) will have a lesser, domestic-type product.
Sometimes I wonder if any flight less than ten hours is worth the money for the upgrade. Between the coursed dining and IFE, sometimes there isn’t enough time to really take advantage of a comfortable rest. When I began to settle down I only had about two-and-a-half hours, which didn’t feel like enough time to enjoy. But the thing is — I arrived in Vancouver at 1am and had a crap-ton of stuff to get done that day, without much time to rest.
I am positive that if I would have flown economy, my ability to get my job done well would have been much less. Sure, the better food, sparkling wine, and fancy seat are nice, but for many, it boils down to just plane (heh) business. I could easily see how using miles or cash to upgrade can pay off, especially for business travelers, not only based on productivity, but enjoying the entire flight experience.
Note: the author had already purchased economy class tickets and was upgraded, by the airline, one-way to conduct this review. Opinions are her own.
Katka, the author, is a travel writer based in New York City and wrote this review for AirlineReporter.