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Airline food will never be good as long as airlines limit their onboard galley capabilities to simple ovens for reheating precooked food.

So don't go getting your hopes up for anything special, Cathay's food being similar to most other airlines.

 
 
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Cathay Pacific Business Class review

Part 4 : Food and Drink, Miscellaneous, Summary
 

The appetizer and salad part of the main business class meal service on my Cathay flight SFO-HKG.

Part 4 of 4 parts on Cathay Pacific's Business class.  Please also visit :

1.  General info about Cathay and pre-boarding experience
2.  Boarding and the cabin
3.  The seat and entertainment system
4.  Food, drink, miscellaneous

 

 

Although Cathay Pacific boasts of having celebrity chefs designing feature meals for their flights (as do so many other airlines), the reality of their food - no matter who the consulting cooks may be - is disappointing (as is also invariably the case on other airlines too).

Beef stew, by whatever fancy name, is still beef stew, and seems to be a universal menu item on airlines all around the world.  In this case, it was worse than normal with a bad cut of gristly meat and rather bland sauce.

A reasonably good drink selection was a plus point.

All in all, Cathay's business class service is generally good, with the biggest negative being the poor quality video monitors.

This review is based on two business class flights with Cathay Pacific in November 2010, flying from San Francisco to Hong Kong and then from Hong Kong to Vancouver, both times on 747-400 planes.  I have also taken short-haul flights within Asia in coach class on Cathay Pacific.

Food and Drink

We were given nicely printed menus and wine lists shortly after boarding (click the links to open scanned pdf copies of each, in new windows - I omitted the pages in Chinese and just scanned the English language pages).

The menu for the return flight was of course different (and the food selections more oriental, with no meat offered either), but the wine list was the same.

The dinner (first) meal service on the flight over took about two hours in its entirety (the tray as originally presented is pictured above).  Food was barely adequate rather than exceptional (I had a terribly gristly piece of 'sauteed beef', and I rather took exception to a fat free vinaigrette dressing that was offered with the salad.

How can you have a classic vinaigrette dressing without oil (ie fat) in it?  On the other hand, they were giving out small miniature bottles of olive oil to have with bread, so I guess one could have concocted one's own vinaigrette mixture if the matter was sufficiently important.

As for the main meal on the return flight, there was nothing at all that appealed and so I didn't eat anything.

The cheese course was presented before the dessert.  This is not the most common order of courses, but I believe that it is the 'official' upper class method of dining in 'best circles' in British high society.

Although I was at almost the very back of the cabin, it seemed all food choices remained available for each course.

One of the two white wines was not available, but they had already arranged a substitute - a nice New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  All other wines were available.

For the flight to Hong Kong, the 22 seats in the upstairs cabin had three full time cabin crew looking after us - a good number and sufficient to ensure responsive service at all times.  There was a very clear sense of hierarchy among the three women - one was absolutely in charge, while the other two had to jump to her orders, and she would regularly ring a seat's call button to summon one of her assistants to fetch/carry something for her.

This was not objectionable, but it was different to the typically more egalitarian feeling work arrangement on most US crewed flights.

Both the flights suffered from a very common problem on long haul flights.  The typical scenario for me - and probably for you too - is that it is only towards the end of a long flight that I'm truly relaxed and sleeping.  And then, guess what?  Yes, all of a sudden, the lights come on, the crew gaily prance up and down the aisles, and hand out whatever the second meal is, complete with the offer of cups of coffee or tea to thoroughly wake one up and ensure that when the commotion of the meal service dies down again, there is no chance you'll get back to sleep again.

But this final meal service is invariably a couple of hours before the flight actually arrives at its destination.  It also is usually a quickly served meal, with the result being that you have been thoroughly woken up at least an hour or more sooner than would be necessary if the crew delayed the final meal as long as possible.  In the case of the return flight to Vancouver, the meal was cleared away 90 minutes prior to our arrival.

This is a classic case of the schedule being set for the convenience of the crew, not for the convenience of the passengers.  Shame on Cathay Pacific for doing this.

Miscellaneous

We were offered hot moist towels shortly after boarding, again after the main meal service, and again before and after the second meal service not long before landing.

The hot towels may have had some sort of chemical added to them, because they all smelled awful.  Some airlines add a subtle dash of fragrance to the hot towels, but whatever it was on these hot towels, it was not refreshing or pleasant.

Shortly after take-off, the flight attendants came around, handing out Hong Kong landing cards for us to fill out prior to arrival.  At the same time, an announcement was made apologizing for not having sufficient landing cards onboard to give one to everyone.

This seemed like a regrettable oversight (although there were plenty available once on the ground in Hong Kong), and I subsequently noted wryly that although it seemed that few coach class passengers were being given landing cards, the crew had kept a generous supply spare for their premium cabin passengers.  Shortly before landing, a nearby passenger asked for a landing card, and a crew member appeared, clutching a thick pile of them, and handed one out, then asked around if anyone else needed one too.

I wonder how many coach class passengers were refused a landing card so that the crew could keep many tens of landing cards spare 'just in case' a business class passenger needed one?

I was selected to fill out a lengthy seven page passenger survey, and I noted one good and one bad element of this process.  The good element was that the survey form had adhesive strips around its edges and I was asked to seal it before returning it to the crew.  This presumably allows/encourages passengers to be more open and honest about any crew related negative experiences than is the case with the more common 'open' survey forms handed out at other airlines.

The bad element was that the survey forms were not being randomly assigned to passengers, but rather were being handed out to 'nice' passengers (yes, believe it or not, I was acting 'nice'!), so there was a selection bias by the crew that will skew the survey results at least as much as would have been the case with truly random surveys but open rather than sealed answers.

A nice 'thank you' was the gift of a souvenir Cathay Pacific pen in return for filling out the survey, and a voucher promising a discount off a future duty free purchase (which I promptly discarded).

Summary

A roundtrip business class fare from San Francisco to Hong Kong will cost you somewhere between a low of about $3400 (on Air China or Philippine Air, not nonstop) up to a high of $22,000 (on Qantas via Australia).

Cathay Pacific seem to have list prices for their business class service starting around the $5800 price point, and you might be able to find tickets for less through a specialized travel agent.

In comparison, you'll pay about $1000 to fly in coach class on Cathay, and less on other airlines (again with the possibility of finding discounted tickets through a specialized travel agency).

In total, you'll spend about 26 hours flying for the roundtrip, and so you're looking at an extra cost of about $185/hr to travel in business class rather than coach class - $4800 in total.

Is it worth $4800 to have a comfortable seat, the ability to spread out, to sleep, and slightly better food and drink than you'd get 'in the back of the bus'?  That is a question only you (or the person paying for your ticket) can answer; I'm simply able to tell you what to expect if you do decide to fly business rather than coach class.

Two other questions to consider.  Is it worth spending $5800 for business class on a nonstop Cathay flight rather than $3400 for business class on a less well regarded airline and with a longer journey time and connection somewhere en route?

Or how about choosing a Premium Economy cabin option as a compromise between the low cost/unpleasant experience of coach class and the high cost/better experience of business class.  Premium Economy (on EVA Air, via Taipei) is about $2260 roundtrip.

Cathay Pacific's business class experience is comparable to that offered by other airlines, with nothing to particularly distinguish it.  On the plus side, the seat was comfortable and the crew very pleasant and helpful.  On the minus side, the video screen was awful, and the food average rather than excellent.

Overall, Cathay is a well regarded airline and with a good safety record.  For travels to Hong Kong or Asia in general, they offer good schedules, usually convenient connections through Hong Kong, and you could choose them with as much confidence as you ever can have with any airline.

Part 4 of 4 parts on Cathay Pacific's Business class.  Please also visit :

1.  General info about Cathay and pre-boarding experience
2.  Boarding and the cabin
3.  The seat and entertainment system
4.  Food, drink, miscellaneous

FTC Mandatory Disclosure : I was not given a free or in any way discounted/upgraded ticket by Cathay Pacific (I used frequent flier miles from my Alaska Airlines account for this ticket). I have not been paid money to write this article.

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Originally published 25 Nov 2010, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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