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
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
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
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.
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
This was not objectionable, but it was different to the
typically more egalitarian feeling work arrangement on most US
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 :
General info about Cathay and pre-boarding experience
2. Boarding and the cabin
3. The seat and
4. Food, drink,
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
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25 Nov 2010, last update
28 Nov 2012
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