Cathay Pacific’s (CX) business-class product is legendary, and that reputation is well deserved. I recently got to try the service in an Airbus A350-900 on their relatively new Seattle-Hong Kong route, which began last spring. You may have heard a bit about the social unrest in Hong Kong of late; travelers’ concerns about those public protests have led to decreased bookings for all airlines serving Hong Kong. That issue is most likely what led to my being bumped to business from premium for the return flight, because the plane was surprisingly lightly loaded. But, that means I got to enjoy biz class both ways, so you’ll hear no complaints from me.
First off, I’ll admit to a bias – I really like the Airbus A350. This was my second round-trip long-haul flight on one this year, and both flights were very pleasant. My first-ever A350 flight was in April 2019 with French Bee, which as a budget airline configures their planes quite differently than Cathay Pacific.
The lower cabin pressurization altitude, large windows, and wide cabin all make for a great flight experience, even in 10-abreast economy, let alone CX’s stellar business-class seats. And I love the A350’s window in the loo – having natural reading light while you tend to business is awesome.
Anyway, here’s the review…
Flying Cathay Pacific: SEA-HKG, CX857, seat 15D
The A350-900s on this route are configured with 280 seats across three classes: 38 business-class “open suites” arranged in 1-2-1 configuration, 28 premium economy seats in 2-3-2, and 214 standard economy seats in 3-3-3.
The flight from Seattle to Hong Kong is 6,500 miles and about 13:40 in duration (there’s a 15-hour time difference between the two). The specific aircraft on the outbound flight was three-year-old B-LRA, which happens to have been Cathay’s very first A359.
Checking in via the airline’s phone app was simple – I was able to check in 48 hours in advance, and could get a boarding pass 24 hours ahead of scheduled departure. Airline staff at the airport counters were friendly and helpful, and, while the shared lounge at Sea-Tac Airport was not life-altering, it was a pleasant enough place to pass the time while waiting for boarding.
If ever a flight qualified as a red-eye, this one would be it. The scheduled departure time from Seattle is 1 a.m., with a 5:10 a.m. (plus one day) arrival in Hong Kong. We were wheels up out of Seattle at 12:52 a.m. on Thursday and landed a bit after 6 a.m. on Friday (a 100+mph headwind across the Pacific caused us to arrive an hour later than scheduled).
I was assigned seat 15D, a middle-row aisle seat. These seats are designed as open suites, and are among the best-designed of the type I’ve yet experienced. There are plenty of cubbies and shelves, the seat and in-flight entertainment (IFE) controls are logically laid out, and they’re placed to avoid accidental activation while sleeping. The 18.5″ IFE screens were plenty large, yet easily stowed away when not needed.
The suites are very well designed for privacy – even my tall self couldn’t see fellow passengers, save for the tops of a few similarly-tall people’s heads who were seated ahead of me. The upper edges of the pods also curl around to the aisle side, blocking views into adjoining pods and further enhancing the sense of privacy.
The eight aft-most business class seats are located behind a set of lavatories, which set off all kinds of warning bells on the seating-chart websites I’d consulted before the flight. I had a look at them on the plane, and they’re not as bad as all that; in fact, they’re arranged in something like their own mini-cabin, and the aisles are so wide that it’s not likely the additional foot traffic would be bothersome.
Speaking of bothersome, though, there were a bunch of overly-perfumed folks on the flight – definitely not the airline’s issue, but fragrance-free flying really needs to become a thing. That said, mad props to the engineers who designed the cabin-air system on the A350 – once the aircraft was running on its own power, all those smelly smells dissipated relatively quickly.
Cathay’s biz-cabin policy was that all bags needed to be in the overhead bins for takeoff and landing, regardless of where you were seated. With all the cubbies and shelves available, I really had no need for my bag, as there was plenty of room to stow my camera, iPad, and charging gear for takeoff. Surprisingly for a relatively new plane, the seat’s USB port didn’t provide enough amperage to charge my iPad.
WiFi was available at $19.95 for the entire flight, which seemed a great deal considering the duration. But, as it was 1 a.m. when we departed, I wasn’t planning to be awake long enough to need it.
I was curious how meals would be handled on such a late-night (OK, technically very early morning) departure. A light dinner was served soon after departure, breakfast menu selections were collected, and then it was off to the land of nod.
I have a decibel-meter app on my phone, and it’s relatively accurate, having been checked against a friend’s real decibel meter. The cabin interior registered about 85db at takeoff power and 81db or so at cruise altitude; not silent by any means, but much better than the 100db I just measured at cruising altitude in the 737-900 on which I’m currently writing this story.
After dinner, the cabin lights were dimmed and it was time to recline the seat into a bed. At that point, I discovered another nice detail: the overhead lighting is very well aimed, bright, but not too bright. It illuminated the tray area quite nicely with very little spillover so as to minimize disturbing other passengers.
Once settled in, I slept like a baby: according to my sleep-tracker app, I slept for 8:38, a new record for me on a plane. Of course, a comfortable bed, quiet cabin, and down comforter didn’t hurt.
Cathay’s cabin service was as phenomenal as I’d been led to expect. It’s in the little things, like the flight attendants being super courteous and adept at small talk, and remembering details like the fact that I’d written “milk on the side, please,” on my breakfast order, even when I’d asked for some coffee well before breakfast from a person other than who I gave the paper to. Speaking of breakfast, after eight hours of sleep, I was ready for something to eat. I’d woken up a good hour before the scheduled breakfast time, so I asked for some coffee to help wake up.
Sipping coffee while sitting cross-legged in a large chair with the footrest up and the seat slightly reclined, just like at home in my recliner, but at 39,000 feet in the air, I remember thinking that I wished every flight could be like this. Breakfast was served promptly at two hours before landing. I’d been able to choose both my breakfast items and the delivery time on a card before having gone to sleep.
I ordered the traditional Chinese breakfast, which consisted of congee, a couple of shrimp dumplings, fruit, with some bonus pastries because the flight attendant thought I might like them. She was correct, I did like them, along with everything else.
Because this is a review, I had to find at least *one* nitpick. The large video screen at the unoccupied seat next to me kept turning on and off by itself while I was trying to sleep, waking me up each time. Simply turning over in the bed solved the issue. I guess I could also have availed myself of the eye mask from the amenity kit, but I was too sleepy and turning over was too easy.
Flying Cathay Pacific: HKG-SEA, CX858, seat 17K
I’d originally been ticketed for seat 31K in premium economy. I received a surprise upgrade to 17G when I got to the ticket/passport check at the gate at HKG. There were lots of empty seats on this flight, too, so I slid on over to window seat 17K once we were airborne. Flight time was 11:35 this time – the winds were in our favor.
Because of the unrest in the city, there were security checks just to access the airport. Anyone entering even the public areas had to show a valid boarding pass and passport, and the line was very, very long. Fortunately, I’d spent the last two nights at the Regal Airport Hotel (the first two nights were at the East Hotel downtown; watch for reviews of those in the future), so I was able to access a much shorter line via the connecting corridor between the hotel and the airport. Once that was cleared, it was check-in per usual.
At customs, passports were scanned for like the third time, and there was a mandatory photograph taken of each passenger. The Cathay Pacific Wing business-class lounge was fantastic. Quiet, comfortable, and the food options were all delicious. It’s a very pleasant place to pass the time instead of dealing with all the hustle and bustle of the shopping-mall style gate areas. As a non-drinker, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of nonalcoholic drinks available in the lounge. There were, of course, plenty of options for alcoholic beverages.
Once at the gate, the boarding process was a bit unusual. There was no premium boarding; random groups of about 10 passengers were led into a roped-off area for individual questioning by security officials. I was asked the standard travel questions (when did you arrive, where did you go, what was the purpose of your visit, etc.), then it was off to another line for final passport checks and boarding.
The service was as lovely as on the outbound flight. This was also a red-eye flight, departing Hong Kong at 11:35 p.m., and arriving in Seattle at 7:45 p.m. the same day. Similar to the outbound leg, dinner was served shortly after takeoff. I was still quite full from having enjoyed the Thai curry, rice, and gyoza in the lounge. But, in the name of a thorough review, I went for the burger plate, which turned out to be the only disappointment of the whole trip.
The bun was so stale it was more like a hard cracker – there wasn’t even any soft bread under the crust. I just left it and ate the patty, which is probably the closest I’ll ever come to doing the paleo diet.
The in-flight WiFi (Panasonic) was advertised to trip over to T-Mobile WiFi so passengers could text without purchasing the service, but that didn’t happen on either flight. Also, I wasn’t even able connect to the paid portal on this leg. It was no problem, as I slept a lot and didn’t need the connectivity, but it would have been a drag were I counting on the WiFi for working.
The bedding was a bit different this time – on the outbound leg, the sheet and comforter were sewn together in something of a loose sleeping-bag arrangement. This time, there was a separate fitted bottom sheet, which at first seemed a bit nicer bit in reality worked out exactly the same. There’s also a great night-light feature on the seats, with a soft light at hip height shining along the inside wall of the suite.
I mentioned this before, but I really, really liked how much shelf space these seats have. There was room for my phone, iPad, a water bottle (there is also a water bottle slot in the stowable aisle-side armrest), and a cup of coffee, still leaving the lap tray totally clear for my iPad.
I slept well again, 6:15 per my app. Despite being scheduled to land in Seattle at dinnertime, we were served breakfast based on our sleep schedule, which was fine with me.
The overall flight experience was top-notch; so much so that I didn’t even mention the burger issue to the flight attendants, as it seemed such a small thing in comparison to how comfortably and smoothly everything else went.
Disclosure: Cathay Pacific invited AirlineReporter on board at its expense for the round-trip flights; our opinions remain our own.