Upright to Auckland – Cathay Pacific Economy

by Continental Club on March 5, 2011

Yes, Economy.

Regular readers may already have suffered a slight cardiac flutter with the news that such a class of travel exists, if not a full-blown arrest at the revelation that continentalclub has sampled such a thing. Nevertheless and in the name of research, your intrepid reporter has done just that and lives to tell this tale.

Granted, a slightly shorter sample would have been sufficient, but we were in Hong Kong and we needed to get to Auckland, so eleven-and-a-bit hours it would have to be.

Armed with a British Airways Executive Club Silver card, pre-operation anaesthesia was applied in the comfy confines of Cathay’s Wing lounge complex at Chek Lap Kok. Whilst it may have been superseded in modernity and facilities by other lounges around the world (and indeed arguably by its own Pier and Cabin lounges elsewhere in HKIA) The Wing is still a rather pleasant place to numb the nerves prior to re-engaging with the hordes.

Food offerings continue to be noodles from the open kitchen, dim sum from hotplates, soup, fruit, cereals and rather dainty paper-wrapped sandwiches and rolls (several of the latter being offered a temporary home in the rollaboard in case of limited on-board supplies).

Beverage choices come from self-served soft drinks and beers in the galley area of the noodle bar dining area, or the full bar including hot drinks in the main lounge. Somewhat horrifically, milk supplied with either tea or otherwise very good coffee consisted of a UHT jigger. For Cathay to condone that in a directly-operated business lounge is surprising; for The Peninsula to put its name to it as the F&B supplier in the lounge is nothing short of amazing.

The lounge receptionist confirmed that boarding would be at-leisure for oneworld status-holders, and this it proved to be.

By-passing the throngs at the gate, clear signage was in place for First & Business Class boarding and therefore, by default, cardholder. At the aircraft door, the welcome was by name read from the boarding pass, and a member of crew in the cabin showed your correspondent to his seat; 66A on the outboard port side – the foremost of three rows of paired seats at the rear of the tapering fuselage.

Such seats offer the advantage of some additional space between the seat and the cabin wall, which is handy for locating goods and chattels for easy inflight access. They do limit the scope for leaning against the wall inflight however, at least for those of non-giraffic tendencies.

There is also a slight off-setting of the tray tables and screens from the seats in front, given the positioning of this first row of pairs.

The seat itself, the principal reason for taking the flight, was something of a revelation; a glorious concept of protected space for the economy traveller, if one that is slightly (though not irretrievably) flawed in execution. For those unversed in the subtleties of back-of-the-bus benches, Cathay uniquely plies the skies with hard shell seats in economy – seats which do not recline per se, but instead slump within the confines of their pre-defined space. The seat base slides forward, and the backrest follows in hot pursuit. Backrests lurching towards the unwary are banished, as are the catapults and recoils of one’s own backrest being used as a brace for a rearward passenger to lever themselves out into the aisle.

This, finally, shows some respect for the economy passenger and their rights to enjoy just a little bit of peace despite their lack of recumbence. A triumph, no less.

It’s not all good though, with a seat base that’s lumpier than boarding school custard and a backrest that feels as though it’s been made out of the same plastic from which yoghurt pots are born. The choice of colours for the seats is also somewhat Fisher-Price, which hardly adds to any feeling of solidity. One assumes that there was a job-lot of turquoise acrylic to be had at giveaway prices in Kowloon when the refit was being planned, and this was its ultimate moulding. Ghastly.

Never mind, the headrest is more than comfy and the judicious application of the (therefore) redundant pillow and the attendant blanket can mostly mask the shortcomings of the Cathay upholsterer, and a perfectly pleasant perch constructed.

IFE is a real Cathay highpoint, not without the need for the odd reboot of the Panasonic system, but the quality of the content, the size of the seatback screens and the ease of navigation are all superb, as is the rare ability to play music while watching the moving map, or to turn the screen off altogether while maintaining the presence of soothing tunes. The seat back also offers a multinational power socket, a separate drinks holder and a very sturdy tray table. Top marks.

Catering service is heralded by a nicely printed menu, even this far back on the aircraft. The menu was probably the highpoint of the meals however, as the food itself was non-descript at best and rather polarising in a Marmite sort of way at worst. Think citrus starter and Creme Caramel dessert; both styles of dish that can engender rather love/hate emotions. Lots went back. Quantity was passable, but the lounge-liberated sandwiches came in handy. Quality was fairly poor, to be honest – BA’s may look worse but the raw materials are undoubtedly an order of magnitude better. It was doubtful that my Cathay chicken had ever been near an egg.

Crew service was typically Cathay; that is to say charmingly polite, very hard-working, mostly robotic, hardly engaging and most unwilling to discipline passengers. At no point during periods of turbulence did any member of crew make additional PAs or directly speak to the significant numbers of passengers who continued to walk the aisles, use the washrooms or open overhead bins. I find this extremely frustrating, but sadly commonplace.

Disembarkation at Auckland was unsurprisingly leisurely, given that almost the entire passenger count had to leave before the dizzy heights (or backs) of row 66 could evacuate. Smiles and nods from the crew and reasonably rapid reclaim of bags marked the conclusion of the flight.

Overall, and as a longtime fan of Cathay, the flight itself was not one my better ones with them, expecially with regard to catering and crew control of passengers, but that seat was exceptional in terms of basic idea and I would be unafraid to favour airlines who develop it if ever I have need or desire to forego something a little more horizontal in future.

PS: I flew back to Hong Kong in the same seat; worse crew, everything else the same.

PPS: I flew London to Hong Kong return on British Airways in Club World. Ate like a King and slept like a baby both ways. Aircraft probably last cleaned in 2004.

PPPS: This review was first published by the author at seatplans.com and businesstraveller.com on February 25th 2011.

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One comment

[…] that it's not a comparison, but this is what I thought of the CX fixed-shell seat last year: http://blog.continentalclub.co.uk/fl…cific-economy/ Just to add to the fun, of course, there are also two BA World Traveller seat styles on the Hong […]

by CX economy vs BA WT? - FlyerTalk Forums on September 19, 2012 at 8:25 PM. Reply #

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