Review: Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class (HKG-DUS)

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I’d had a very nice time at Cathay Pacific’s Pier First Class lounge but now it was time for the second reason I was taking this trip – to try out Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A350. The first reason for the trip, to try out Cathay Pacific’s First Class on the 777, had gone very well so I was looking forward to see what Cathay would offer on their newest aircraft.

My flight was scheduled for 00:50 but, because I was keen to be one of the first to board (no photo of an aircraft interior was ever improved by having passengers in it) I left the Pier over an hour before scheduled departure.

The walk to Gate 30 took around 10 minutes (the Pier is at Gate 65)…but I knew I was early so I wasn’t exactly rushing. The board at the gate showed the flight was still on time….

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….but gate agents had yet to arrive.

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Still, that wasn’t exactly an issue as that put me first in line to board and I could see the Airbus A350 parked up at the ramp outside.

cathay-pacific-a350-1Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class

It wasn’t long before the gate agents arrived and, at around 10 minutes past midnight, we began to board.

Cathay Pacific’s A350 offers 38 Business Class seats laid out in a 1-2-1 formation giving all of the seats direct access to the aisle.

Just like the American Airlines 777-300ER has a 2-row mini-cabin at the front of its Business Class section, Cathay Pacific’s A350 has one at the rear of its Business Class cabin.

cathay-pacific-a350-business-class-seat-mapCathay Pacific A350 Business Class

While I always to my best to book the first row of the mini-cabin on American Airlines I had decided against doing the same on this aircraft…for two reasons:

  1. The first row could suffer from noise from the galley and lavatories
  2. The second row would leave me exposed to whatever was going on in the Premium Economy cabin and I couldn’t be sure that the first row of Premium Economy didn’t have a bassinet rest.

In the end I selected seat 14K

I was quick down the jetway to the aircraft and soon I was getting my first look at the inside of the Cathay Pacific A350.

cathay-pacific-a350-4Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class

As a solo traveler I was always going to select one of the single seats by the windows….

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….but a quick look at the seats across the aisle from me confirmed that they wouldn’t be too bad for a solo traveler either:

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Sure, they’re not as good as the seats by the windows but there’s still a good degree of privacy.

The seat itself is 20″ wide – 1″ narrower than the seats on Finnair’s A350 and 2″ narrower than what you’ll find on Qatar Airlines’ A350 – but, had I not known, I’m not sure I would have noticed.

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The seats have the same movable armrest that you’ll find on a lot of aircraft with similar reverse herringbone seats…..

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…but they must be stowed for take off and landing.

Once seated I started to take a look around what was to be my home for the next 12 hours.

Straight ahead of me and at seated head height was the stowed TV screen…..

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…below this was the foot well and the ottoman that forms part of the bed when the seat is fully reclined:

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Under the window there was a storage compartment that was accessible from the seat….

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…and it was wide enough and deep enough to house an 11″ Macbook Air, all the leads I carry around and a number of other items.

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The one issue with the seat in row 14 is that, although you technically have 2 windows, the second window is right next to the head-height storage cubicle….

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….so it’s not much use if you’re sat back in the seat.

Still, the storage cubicle itself was useful and was where the cabin crew had stowed the noise cancelling headset Cathay provides for the flight:

cathay-pacific-a350-13Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class

This is also where the headphone socket, the USB socket and the universal power socket are all found.

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I like that the headphone socket is visible in this storage cubicle (as compared to the  hidden socket in the very similar American Airlines cubicle) but I’m not sure I like the power outlet’s location – large plugs (like those found on Apple laptops) take up room and that reduces the amount of usable space in the cubicle.

The reading light, remote control and seat controls were all where you’d expect them to be – around head height next to the seat:

cathay-pacific-a350-15Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class

Nothing complicated about the remote control (which you don’t really need if you’re just watching movies or shows as the TV is a touch-screen) and nothing complicated about the seat controls either…..

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…although I did notice that the seat mechanisms were quite noisy.

It wasn’t long after I’d finished checking out the seat and the area around it (about 10 minutes after boarding) that the flight attendants came around with pre-departure beverages (PDB) and hot towels.

I can’t remember what the full PDB choice was but it wasn’t the usual water, champagne or orange juice. I chose the “Oriental Breeze” – a non-acoholic drink based on sour-plum, tea and cranberry juice, with honey, fresh lemon juice and a hint of rose water” – refreshing.

cathay-pacific-a350-18Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class

We pushed back 15 minutes late but, in the scheme of a 12+ hour flight that really didn’t make much difference.

Once we were in the air and had levelled off the flight attendants came around with bottles of Evian, the amenity kits and menus.

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Pillows were already on the seat when we boarded and the blankets were already on the ottomans:

cathay-pacific-a350-19Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class

This was the most substantial blanket I think I’ve ever had on an airline. It was incredibly heavy but also, as I found out later, very comfortable.

After the flight attendants had been round one more time to take food orders I turned my attention to the TV.

cathay-pacific-a350-21Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class

I’m not sure what make of screen Cathay Pacific has used for its A350s but it’s good.

The touchscreen worked flawlessly, the picture quality was very good and the whole unit felt solid and well constructed.

Cathay has followed the likes of Finnair an installed cameras on the tail and the underside of the aircraft…and they’re on from the moment you board.

cathay-pacific-a350-22Cathay Pacific A350 Cameras

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The movie selection looked fine with both modern and older titles on offer…..

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…the TV shows were a mix of the very new (Silicon Valley) and the amazingly old (Red Dwarf):

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There was satellite TV on offer……

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…but I couldn’t get it to work during the flight.

There was a significant amount of viewing for kids……

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As well as the usual selection of games which can be controlled from the remote control:

cathay-pacific-a350-28Cathay Pacific A350 Entertainment

The last and most important bit of passenger technology that the Cathay Pacific A350 offers is onboard wi-fi.

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The information sheet provided suggested that there were three payment options available but, when I opened up my laptop to check it out, there were only two:

cathay-pacific-wifi-2Cathay Pacific A350 WiFi

I had a little bit of work left to do (despite the late hour) so I could have done with the 6 hour option that the information sheet mentions….but I had to settle for the $19.95 option that covered the whole flight.

I’m not sure if it was because this was a late flight (less users) or if Cathay are using a more advanced WiFi system but the wi-fi was definitely faster than I’ve experiences on a lot of other airlines.

Moving on….

40 minutes after we had taken off supper was served.

Supper Menu (click to enlarge)cathay-pacific-a350-30

Drink Options (click thumbnails to enlarge)

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Bear in mind that this was a meal served very late at night so it will differ considerably from what’s offered on day/evening flights.

The starter (freshly prepared savoury dips with grissini…aka mini bread sticks) and palette cleanser (seasonal berries and ginger syrup) were served at the same time…..

cathay-pacific-a350-39Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class Food

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The dips (which I think were yoghurt and eggplant) were very nice…although a few more breadsticks would not have gone amiss.

The palette cleanser (which I ate after the main course) was the highlight. The fruit was excellent, the grated orange peel gave the dish a great taste and I could have eaten 3 more bowls – it was delicious.

For my main course I ordered the chicken with french beans, fungus & mushrooms, kailan, carrot and steamed jasmine rice….

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Uninspiring and ordinary is probably the best way to describe the main course.

There really wasn’t much too it and, while it tasted perfectly ok, the meal wasn’t any better than what I’ve had on a lot of other carriers…and that was a little disappointing.

Perhaps I’m judging the airline too harshly but I expect more from Cathay than I do from British Airways, Finnair or American (Cathay’s oneworld partners) and I could have been eating this meal on any of those airlines.

After the main course I decided against ordering any more food as I really wanted to finish my work so that I could get some sleep.

The seat on the Cathay Pacific A350 is comfortable and, combined with the awesome blanket I mentioned earlier, I rested well…..right up to the point when, 3 hours before landing, the flight attendants decided to put on a mid-air production of Stomp.

stompCathay Pacific Flight Attendants 3 hours before landing

Or at least that’s what it sounded like.

I’m not sure they could have made any more noise in the forward galley if they’d tried!

I had assumed that it would be the noisy seat mechanisms that would disturb my rest (as other passengers adjusted their seats during the flight) so the fact that it was actually the crew performing an impromptu Broadway musical that disturbed me was surprising.

Sarcasm and snark aside there is one thing that’s well worth mentioning – the quality of rest I got during the time I was asleep was fantastic. I’ve no idea if this was down to how much quieter the aircraft is to most other aircraft that are flying but, whatever it was down to, it was great.

A little over an hour after the noise from the galley started up and almost two hours before landing the flight attendants came around with tea/coffee and a passion fruit & strawberry smoothie.

The smoothie was fantastic….the coffee, despite being illy, really wasn’t.

Shortly after the coffee and smoothie breakfast was served.

Breakfast Menu (click to enlarge):

 

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The starters were a fresh seasonal fruit salad and bircher muesli with blueberries (two of them!)

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The choice from the bread basket was a muffin, a baguette or a croissant…so I went with the muffin.

The main breakfast course was served from a trolley….

cathay-pacific-a350-53Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class Food

…and, on the grounds that having a US-stule breakfast seemed wrong on a Hong Kong-based airline, I ordered the Chinese dim sum – asparagus dumpling, shrimp fun gor, scallop siu mai and chicken glutinous rice.

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It was a good choice as the dim sum was pretty good.

About an hour after breakfast was cleared away we landed at Frankfurt Airport and my first long haul A350 flight was over.

Bottom Line

The seats were comfortable, there was ample storage,the blanket was great and what rest I got was very good indeed.

The entertainment provided should keep most passengers happy although, as I seem to say a lot, it’s not hard to bring your own movies, tv shows and music with you so you should never rely on an airline to keep you entertained.

The food and drink were really hit and miss…with a lot more misses than I would expect from an airline like Cathay Pacific. Perhaps it was because it was an overnight flight that departed at an early hour of the morning but there wasn’t much to get excited about….except for the fruit with ginger and the smoothie.

The service was average and way off the service levels I experienced on my First Class Cathay flight a few days beforehand. Sure, Business Class service is never going to come close to First Class service but the flight attendants weren’t particularly personable and they seemed to make little effort to keep the noise down at  time when the whole cabin was trying to sleep.

The aircraft and cabin were good and I’d love to fly in it again. The food and service were average..and that was disappointing.

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