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First Class Cathay Pacific – Hong Kong – Tokyo

Background

With a one-way trip between Singapore and Tokyo on my itinerary, I investigated the different options for making the 7+ hour journey between the two cities. Rather than doing it in one go, I decided to fly Cathay Pacific and incorporate a short overnight stop in Hong Kong. In addition to breaking up the flight into smaller chunks, it gave me the option of using British Airways Avios to fly First between Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok (HKG) and Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND) on a Cathay Pacific Boeing 747. I had flown Cathay’s outstanding first class product before on its Boeing 777-300ER, but with the 747 coming up for retirement from the airline’s fleet, the window for flying CX First in the nose of the iconic aircraft was closing, so I thought that was the perfect excuse. Flight CX548 left Hong Kong at 08.45, arriving in Tokyo at 13.55. Equipment used on the daily flights between Hong Kong and Tokyo Haneda varies, so it is worth checking to make sure what aircraft you are on, and therefore what product – no matter which cabin you fly – you’ll find onboard.

At the Airport

I walked to the dedicated first class check-in area from the Regal Airport Hotel, which is connected to the terminal. With Cathay’s emphasis on premium service, and its flagship The Wing lounge being directly after security and passport control, I’m always surprised there isn’t a dedicated security area for first class passengers. Having made my way through, I headed into The Wing first class lounge – one of my favourite lounges – for breakfast.

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Boarding and First Impressions

I wandered down to the gate a little early to take a photo of the Cathay Boeing 747, so I waited for a few minutes before boarding started. There are few things as nice as walking onto a Boeing 747 and either turning left into the nose or up the stairs to its upper deck. With my first class boarding pass, I was escorted to my seat from the aircraft door, where the flight attendant introduced herself and helped me settle in.

Given that the Boeing 747 will be retired, its in-flight product hasn’t been refreshed beyond the addition of the Premium Economy cabin, making for a four-class aircraft with a total of 359 seats. In First, this is probably not too much of a concern, but Business is the ‘old’ herringbone style (similar to what you will find on Virgin Atlantic, but narrow and derisively referred to as the ‘coffin seat’), and Economy is the almost universally panned fixed-shell concept that Cathay tried and abandoned.

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First class is in the nose of the 747 with a total of 9 suites. Business class has 46 seats, divided between the main deck (1-2-1 across) and the upper deck (1-1 across). Premium Economy is configured 2-4-2 with 26 seats, while Economy is 3-4-3 for a total of 278 seats.

My first impression was a bit mixed: the suite design is very nice and obviously extremely spacious. There are fresh orchids at each that provide an elegant touch of colour, and the nose of the 747 always has an exclusive feel to it. At the same time, you can tell that the aircraft is getting older. That isn’t to say the cabin was in a bad state – it wasn’t, but it shows its age.

The Seat

I had picked “Suite 2A” as both 1A and 1K had been taken already. 1A and 1K are the prime seats for anyone traveling together and get you as close to being on an aircraft and looking straight ahead short of being on the flight deck. I would avoid 4D, the one suite in the middle of the cabin.

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The sheer size of the seat/suite is quite something when you first sit down in it; there was enough space for almost two of me to sit next to each other. Given the arch of the seat shell, you have complete privacy and no real direct sightlines to other passengers. If you are traveling with someone, you can sit opposite each other during meal service. There are no overhead bins, but each suite comes with its own little wardrobe. A small suitcase fits underneath the ottoman / buddy seat. The seat reclines to a fully-flat bed that even at well over 6’ I can actually stretch out in and still have space left.

Entertainment System

Each suite has a personal, widescreen TV that pivots out of the wall towards you. StudioCX, Cathay’s entertainment system, has a long list of movies, series, and other content to amuse yourself with during the flight. There was a wide selection of international newspapers and magazines as well.

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Meals

Early on in the flight, I asked for an amenity kit, upon which the flight attendant informed me that there wouldn’t be one given that it is “such a short flight”. I found this really surprising and a bit disappointing. The point of first class is that no matter what time of day it is, you can tailor the flight to however you want to spend the time. At just over four hours, if you’re paying for a first class ticket, there should be an amenity kit and the option to have turndown service. The flight attendant was very kind in sourcing me a few things that she could pull together, but I would have expected a full amenity kit as you’d get on longer routes.

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I had had breakfast in the lounge at Hong Kong airport, so wasn’t too hungry, but there were both Asian and Western options for breakfast. The first class cabin was less than half full, so it was almost like having your personal flight attendant throughout the flight.

Arrival

We landed at Tokyo Haneda on schedule. Being in first class, you are off the plane as the first set of passengers, and immigration was dealt with in typical Japanese efficiency. Haneda is much more convenient than Tokyo’s Narita airport, with a much shorter journey to the centre of Tokyo.

Verdict

I left the flight with mixed feelings. The first class suites give you an almost inordinate amount of space, and the cabin overall has a sense of exclusivity. Service was good, with the additional personal touch that comes with this being first class, but I wasn’t as impressed as I had been after my flight in First on the Boeing 777-300ER. I feel that if you are offering a first class product (with prices to match) it should come with all the trappings, including a proper amenity kit. The cabin is showing its age compared to the Boeing 777 (particularly following the Foster+Partners refresh).

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