Review: Cathay Pacific – Sydney – Hong Kong Business Class
Flying between Sydney and major Asian airports, your options for doing so in first class have been reduced significantly over the last few years. Home carrier Qantas has put two-class Airbus A330s on routes to Bangkok and Singapore, and even to Hong Kong it now mostly flies a three-class (Business, Premium Economy, Economy) Boeing 747.
Equally, Cathay Pacific, the other option for a direct flight between Sydney Kingsford Smith (SYD) and Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok (HKG), has been flying a three-class Airbus A330 (also Business, Premium Economy, and Economy) between the two cities for a while now. It will increase capacity to a Boeing 777-300ER, but still without its signature First Class. I recently flew Sydney to Hong Kong on Cathay’s A330 in business class; flight CX162 scheduled departure was at 11.25am, arriving at 17.50 the same day.
At the Airport
I had spent the night at the Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel, the only hotel directly opposite the international terminal, so getting to the check in counter took all of five minutes. My original window seat had an issue with the inflight entertainment system, so I was given another seat. The check in staff was incredibly friendly, saying that they would speak to me again at boarding to see if the issue had been fixed and could move back to my original seat.
Being in business class, I received a voucher for the express lane at security, which I was eternally grateful for: the terminal was packed. Looking at the long, snaking queue I bypassed, I reckon it saved me at least an hour and a half. Security was relatively painless, if not for the slight hold up due to the passenger ahead of me wanting to bring four two-litre bottles (!) of cranberry juice in his carryon. I’m always surprised at how surprised someone is that security won’t let them do so.
A quick slalom through duty free takes you into the main terminal, where soon on the left you’ll find the escalator taking you one floor up to the Qantas First and Business lounges. Sydney is one of the airports where I’m happiest having Oneworld Emerald status, as it gives you access to the outstanding Qantas First Class lounge. It really is one of the best lounges in the Oneworld network, with great views over the apron and towards downtown Sydney, plenty of seating and facilities, actual restaurant-style food and service, and a lovely spa with complimentary treatments.
That’s where I headed first, as I’ve never been able to secure a treatment before (naturally, they’re in high demand, and Qantas First customers can pre-book). I was in luck this time, so I booked a treatment and afterwards settled in for breakfast, ordering Eggs Royale and a coffee. Qantas works with chef Neil Perry to design menus both on the ground and in the air; I’ve found the food quality here to be among the best I’ve had in an airline lounge.
The spa treatment was excellent, and the treatment room with a ‘living wall’ full of plants is not only beautiful, but about as far away from a hectic airport experience as you’ll ever get. I spent some more time relaxing and catching up on emails in the lounge before making my way down the gate.
Boarding and First Impressions
As I approached the gate, a long queue had already formed. I circled around towards the business class lane and waited for what turned out to be 45 minutes before we were able to get on board.
The Airbus A330 Cathay operates on this route has only one configuration: Business, Premium Economy, and Economy. The business class cabin is split in two parts: rows 11 through 18 between door one and two, and then a mini-cabin of rows 19-21, for a total of 39 seats at 1-2-1 across. Premium Economy has 28 seats configured 2-3-2, while Economy fits 175 passengers in 2-4-2 across.
The ground staff approached me about my seat allocation, but I said I was fine to see what happened once I got on board. My reassigned seat was in the mini-cabin, but as I sat down the crew asked me and one other passenger if we could move to the main cabin so that they could keep the mini-cabin empty. I didn’t mind, as I still got a window seat in the main cabin, which even with us moving was about half full.
If you’re travelling alone, the choice is easy: get a window seat. Travelling together, you can opt for the middle pair, which allows you to chat with each other if you turn / lean forward a bit.
I was addressed by name from the time I got to my seat by every member of the crew, which I’ve always had on Cathay in business class – it’s a nice touch. We were handed a drink (champagne, orange juice, or water) as the cabin settled in, with a hot towel shortly after take-off.
From its previous herringbone seat that wasn’t universally loved, Cathay moved to the Cirrus reverse-herringbone seat you’ll find on this Airbus A330 and across most of its long-haul fleet (only a few older aircraft that are on their way to retirement still have the previous product). It is a huge leap forward and one of my favourite seats currently out there.
It reclines to a fully-flat bed that is a spacious 82 inches (over 2 metres) long, which gives plenty of room to stretch out. Given the configuration and the seat shell, you have great privacy, with almost all other passengers shielded from sight. The seat has a green/grey fabric cover and cream shell, which together with the pop of the orchids dotted around the cabin, is very tasteful. Though I wouldn’t call the cabin worn, there were definitely the scuffmarks, nicks and dents that show up with time.
You can adjust the seat to various positions, there is a table that folds out, and a number of storage spaces for mobile phones, wallets, and the like. Headset, pillow, and duvet were waiting on the seat, while amenity kits were handed out by the crew.
I wouldn’t say there are any necessarily bad seats, but I would probably avoid 11G and 19G, the middle right seats in those rows, for their proximity to the lavatory. Row 11 in business class has bassinets, and if you’re in row 21 you will have the bassinets of Premium Economy right behind you.
All seats regardless of cabin class have personal inflight entertainment screens, which in business class are large, 15” widescreen TVs that fold out of the shell of the seat in front. StudioCX, the inflight entertainment system, has lots of options, with movies, series, and music. The one thing that drove me mad was the need to watch the same commercial for some Asian bank after every programme; one thing if you’re watching a two-hour movie, another thing between each twenty-minute episode of a series.
After an aperitif, lunch was served relatively soon into the flight. Oddly, there was only one choice of starter, but the trio of prawns, crab salad, and smoked salmon was delicious. As a main course, I had Hong Kong-style prawns with steamed rice and stir-fried vegetables, which was tasty as well.
A snack was served later in the flight, but the satay I wanted was no longer available. The crew was unfailingly polite, and like I said earlier, addressed me by name throughout the flight.
This being a day flight, I tried to stay awake as much as I could, though having had a pretty intense travel schedule, I reclined the seat and dozed for an hour and a half or so. At 6’4, I love the space the Cathay seat gives you, and the duvet and pillow, though not quite as nice as in its First Class – for obvious reasons – are very comfortable.
We arrived in Hong Kong a little late, but I had a long layover before a connection to London in the evening, so it didn’t bother me that much. We got off the plane quickly, after which I made my way to flight connections, where I had to go through another set of security screening, but it was quick. I then walked through the terminal towards Cathay’s The Wing First Class lounge, which was a bit of a hike, but since the lounge is so lovely I didn’t mind.
There is a reason Cathay has such a good reputation, for its business class, and across the board. The seat is fantastic, with great space and comfort for relaxing, working, and sleeping. Combine that with the service and the HKG airport experience and I’d fly them again in a heartbeat.