I wanted to love Cathay’s Business Class flight from Hong Kong (HKG) to Auckland (AKL) … I really did. I was super excited to fly the world’s newest production plane, the A350 and this particular plane is only 6 months old making it the newest plane I had ever flown in my life!
I had personally read lots about the new hard product and how great it was and while I most definitely would have loved to fly in First Class, Cathay only flies the A350 from Hong Kong to Auckland and the A350 only features a 3-cabin configuration (Business, Premium Economy, and Economy Classes).
Cathay’s Business Class Cabin has a 1-2-1 configuration with 38 seats in a reverse herringbone setup. The seats are manufactured by Zodiac and while the design of the seats seems great on the surface, when you dig a little deeper, there are definite quality issues. When you add the quality of the food to the mix, Cathay’s Business Class product on the A350 is something that I struggle to recommend to anyone.
Obviously, the seat is going to be smaller than the First Class Seat I experienced on the 777-300ER but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as cramped as I found it. This was especially true in the recline position. I noticed that I couldn’t get my tray table to hold my laptop and still have room for my legs to be under the table. Perhaps I had it set to a peculiar position but I tried many and nothing seemed to work. In the end, I had to use the included pillow to prop up my laptop so that I could get some work done.
On the positive side of things, Zodiac did think about storage and did a pretty good job at providing nooks and crannies to store your things. While it’s not exactly a big thing, there’s even a coat hook available, something that isn’t a given in all seats. There’s also plenty of shelf space to keep your phone, chargers, and laptop.
The seat is set up in such a way that while it may not seem like there is a lot of privacy, the extended privacy panel that is at eye level, really makes the space feel very private.
Where the seat runs into issues is the fit and finish. As an example, there is a button that is supposed to raise up a spring-loaded cushioned arm to add a few inches of additional space when you are in the lie flat position. The problem is that this switch was broken in all three of our seats and I imagine it had issues with every seat in the cabin. When you pressed the button, not only did the cushioned arm not raise up, but it seemed to decouple from the platform on which it was mounted. I know I’m probably not explaining it all that well but if I were to sum it all up in a simplistic way, I would say that while everything looks great, the operation of the latches and mechanisms are clunky at best. The seats also seem excessively worn for how new the aircraft is.
This is apparently such an issue that Cathay Pacific has pledged to replace the entire Business Class cabin in the first three A350s that they took delivery of and will further engineer solutions for their 4th through 10th planes.
I can only assume that I flew one of the planes with issues.
The IFE System
The In-Flight Entertainment System (IFE) is new and very snappy when it comes to responding to user input. You get a very large 18.5″ touchscreen capable screen and a smaller PSP style remote control that can be used a second screen, great for when you want to watch a movie on the main screen and see your travel progress on the smaller screen. Now 18.5″ might not seem all the big but when it’s a foot in front of your face, it feels gigantic, a real pleasure when you want to be entertained on the flight. The selection on the IFE was something that I found lacking. This is going to be a personal preference for each person but I felt that the selection of new movies was limited and there wasn’t much that captured my attention in the rest of the selection.
One of the best features of the IFE system is the ability to watch the HD cameras mounted to either the underbelly of the plane, or my personal favorite, the tail of the plane. When you are able to combine the sideways view from the windows with the forward facing view of the tail camera, it really helps you to really grasp how special flight actually is.
This is where Cathay falls flat on its face. I was sorely disappointed with the food quality on board the A350 and the way the food was presented was … unappealing.
First off, you are presented with a menu that looks very good in theory.
In the past, when I have been provided with a menu in a Premium Cabin, the Flight Attendant has taken my order and brought me my food. Not so with Cathay aboard the A350.
Rather than take your order, the flight attendants first delivered the starters. Here I was surprised because it looked like a choice between the prawns and the salad. Seeing as I am allergic to shrimp and prawns, I was going to choose the salad but apparently, they come together.
Okay, no problem. I ate the salad and it was fine … nothing special but fine.
Next came the main course.
I don’t want to mince words here so I’ll just come out and say it. I was disgusted and appalled. I wish I had taken a picture of how it was served but I guess I was so shocked that it totally slipped my mind.
All meals were prepared prior to the meals being ordered and were carted out on a cart, dim sum style. Now, I get that most meals are prepared at the same time but for the love of Pete, at least make it seem like you are trying to preserve the illusion of a personalized meal.
Every single entree was brought out on a serving cart and you were asked to make your choice. This was unusual, to begin with as I am used to the meals being brought out a few at a time rather than a cafeteria on a cart. I can’t even imagine how cold the food would have been when it got served to the poor souls in the back of the cabin because my meal was lukewarm when I got it.
To make matters worse, the quality of the food and the presentation was gag-inducing. Here’s a picture of my meal … I went with the pork because it was the most appetizing of the meals available.
Just look at the picture and tell me if you think this is an appetizing meal suitable for a SkyTrax 5 Star Airline in Business Class.
Not only did it look terrible, it tasted terrible. One half of the rice was cooked and the other half was soggy from the sauce that accompanied the pork. The pork itself was bland and very, very fatty. The only edible parts of the meal were the veggies because it’s really hard to screw up mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Outside of the silverware and porcelain serving dishes, I struggle to understand how this is passable in Business Class.
It’s a small thing but having sauce baked on and smeared across the side of your plate sure makes it seem like you are eating a microwaved economy meal.
I skipped the dessert because I had truly lost my appetite.
Breakfast was presented a little bit better with a selection of dim sum, fruits, pastries, and yogurt but no word of a lie, the food was once again terrible. The dim sum was cold, the fruit was not ripe and the what I tried of the croissant was as dry as a soda cracker. I skipped the yogurt as Cathay uses a sour yogurt that I just don’t care for. In the end, I had some of the fruit and called it a day.
All in all, the food was a HUGE letdown.
The service on board the flight was impersonal. Don’t get me wrong, the flight attendants did their best to be as personable as possible but it really felt like they were overworked as the Business Class cabin is rather large at 38 seats. I was commonly referred to as Mr. Loh and the FAs tried to personalize the service but I felt it fell short. After the meal service, there were no interactions with the crew to offer refreshments or further snacks.
Perhaps I was jaded by the excellent service I was provided aboard my First Class experience with Cathay but this Business Class flight left me feeling a bit empty. Even my wife commented that it wasn’t a very good flight overall.
Cathay provides amenity kits aboard their A350s in Business Class that feature Jurlique skin care products. The bag itself is simple and is reminiscent of a cloth pencil case and the contents within are the normal fare.
Here you will see the classic toothbrush, toothpaste, and mouthwash, a Jurlique Herbal Recovery Serum, Lip Balm and Rosewater Balancing Mist.
For me, the only cream that goes on this face is shaving cream so you can imagine how a Herbal Recovery Cream is lost on me. Needless to say, I kept the case and later on disposed of it as I couldn’t find a use for it. Interestingly, I noticed many unopened amenity kits left in Business Class seats.
The Plane Itself
I was very excited to fly the A350 because I’m an aviation geek and with the A350 being the newest plane in the sky, it was very cool to see what made the plane different from other older planes that I commonly fly.
The first and most noticeable thing about the plane is that it is incredibly quiet. So much so that I didn’t need my active noise canceling headphones because the hum in the background was almost non-existent. I could easily hear conversations 2-3 rows back so I was blown away with how quiet the cabin was. The obviously makes it a joy to fly and something that I look forward to experiencing again in the future.
One of the other great things about the plane are the bathrooms. No, they don’t feature showers nor are they overly large, but they do feature windows!
It’s pretty fun to go number 1 while looking out at a gorgeous view at 29,000 feet 🙂
There were many things that helped the A350 stick on in my mind as an excellent aircraft but the one that really got me saying “wow” out loud was how quickly the A350 gets up to speed and up to altitude. As we were rolling down the runway, I was blown away by how well you could hear the engines and how much thrust you felt as you pulled away from the earth. The A350 is easily the most acrobatic commercial plane that I have been on when it comes to take-off. It honestly felt like we were in a rocketship!
There were numerous issues that I faced aboard my Business Class flight on the A350 in terms of both the hard product and the soft product. I enjoyed the actual airplane immensely but found that the quality of the Business Class food and service to be severely lacking.
There is a distinct possibility that my expectations were simply set too high though I do not believe this to be the case. If I were to compare this to other Business Class flights I have been on, it is probably the second worst, next to United’s Business Class (not a Polaris flight).
We will fly Cathay Pacific once more in Business Class but on the 777-300ER from JFK-YVR at the end of our trip. While I may be lucky enough to upgrade that flight to First Class, I am equally as interested to compare the two Business Class products. Stay tuned!