The mere thought of a 15 hour flight across the Pacific is enough to make many people want to stay at home, and for good reason. Airplane seats don’t expand, and spending most of an entire day inside a pressurized aluminum tube with dozens of strangers (and their germs) requires patience, even in the best circumstances.
But … what if you didn’t have to cram yourself into economy class like a sardine? In fact, what if the theft involved caviar? And a comfortable bed? And a full-service meal service, white tablecloth that you can enjoy in privacy at the table with your companion?
All this and more is offered in the Cathay Pacific 777-300ER First Class Cabin, which I booked on a recent one-way flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong using 70,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles. The retail cost of the one-way flight for most dates is just under $ 10,000, for a staggering cash value of around 14 cents per point. As an added bonus, you get a free layover on one-way rewards and can continue to the Middle East at no additional cost. So I took a free business class flight to Dubai after spending several days in Hong Kong.
The living room
If you are traveling Cathay Pacific first class departing from Los Angeles International Airport, you are entitled to access their partner Oneworld Qantas first class lounge.
This in itself is a treat, as the lounge has a separate a la carte restaurant menu and private shower rooms – good if you were spending the day wandering around LA, like I had.
Once you’re in the living room, all food and drink is free, and at that time of night, a full dinner menu was available. (The salt and pepper fried squid appetizer, served with green chili sauce and aioli, was so good I ordered it twice.) From the lounge they announced the boarding of my flight about 40 minutes before the scheduled departure time.
The boarding process
As I made my way to the departure gate, they had just started boarding first and business class – talk about good timing! I felt a little guilty getting on the plane directly after the 200 or so people who were in line to board economy class, especially as someone who flies as “one of the 200” much more often.
At the end of the catwalk was a selection of newspapers in English and Chinese. I grabbed a New York Times and a Los Angeles Times and was escorted to my seat, 2A, by the flight attendant who greeted me at the door of the plane.
Cathay Pacific’s First Class is a 1-1-1 configuration, with all six seats having direct aisle access. The window seats on the left have an aisle for themselves, which means that, if you are in 2A, no other passengers pass by you during the entire flight. This is a seat as private as possible without it being completely closed. To put real estate in perspective, the six-seat First Class cabin takes up roughly the same space as 40 Economy Class seats.
The seating area includes space to the side for snacks and drinks, as well as a huge “main” seat that looks more like a double-wide throne compared to what you would typically get in economy class, and a separate seat in front of the main seat where a companion could join you. (It becomes part of the fully flat bed setup when it’s time to go to sleep.) It almost feels like your own little bedroom. There is storage space for your dining table, which your flight attendant sets up for you when you decide to eat.
A pair of Bose noise canceling headphones and a bottle of water were waiting for me when I got to my seat, and as I settled in, the three crew members who would work in the first class cabin got together. are presented. I was offered a glass of champagne, peanuts and a hot towel while the boarding process continued.
A comfort kit and 100% cotton pajama set were also included at my seat, both standard for the Cathay Pacific first class. (Yes, you can keep the pajamas on – and it’s so comfortable that I wear them all the time at home now.) The amenity kits included a dental kit with mouthwash; an eye mask; earplugs; and various Aesop conditioning creams, among others.
In about 30 effective minutes after boarding, we were ready for pushback just on time at 10:50 p.m., as the captain announced the relatively quick flight time of 14 hours 40 minutes. I could store my large bag under the “companion” seat in front of me, which was handy.
We waited at the gate for almost an hour due to air traffic control, during which drink refills were offered, and finally pushed back around 11:30 am or so. I was pretty tired at this point, so before taking off the flight attendants offered to “half-make” my bed for me, adding the mattress topper and pillows, so that I could directly fall asleep as soon as we got there. were reaching our cruising altitude. They also took my main meal order in advance so they would be sure to have everything I wanted when I woke up.
I slept about 8 hours in total, despite having some pretty strong turbulence at the start of the flight that shook me like a rag doll. The cabin started out quite hot but cooled as the flight progressed.
I’ve ridden maybe a dozen flat-lying seats, and found Cathay’s to be the most comfortable to sleep on, by far. Not only is the bed super wide, with plenty of foot space, but the mattress and duvet are plush, with enough padding around the head that you don’t have to encounter cold plastic at night. It is the closest thing I have encountered to a real bed in the sky.
A good thing about Cathay Pacific’s service, and where it differs from some of the other airlines, is that they are “hands-off” in the sense that they won’t bother you unless you invoke them – but when you summon them, via the call button on the remote, they’re invariably there in an instant. After waking up, I asked the flight attendants if I could start my meal service, which first involved selecting a drink from the drink menu:
After filling up with champagne before take off, I chose to wake up with a Hong Kong-style cup of milk tea, which they serve with its own little pot. Cute!
Cathay Pacific’s first class seats are configured so that if you are traveling with a companion that person can sit across from you in your seating area and you can have a meal together, or generally spend the same amount of time. together that you would like otherwise. (Note that your economy class partner cannot come first class to eat with you; you both must be first class passengers.) The two times I flew this product I was solo, so I haven’t been able to take advantage of it yet, alas.
After my flight attendant set my table, the meal began with a bread basket, served with the following word of welcome. Few airlines make this kind of handwritten note – it’s a little personal touch that really adds a lot to the experience. (In addition to the note, I was addressed throughout the flight by name.)
Next comes the caviar service, accompanied by a small mother-of-pearl spoon. I’m not a caviar person as such, but the two times in my life I’ve had it – both on first class flights – I’ve enjoyed it.
Here is the dinner menu proposed for my flight:
I had the shrimp salad, the beef tenderloin (ordered and served just right) and the apple and raspberry pastry, all of which were on par with what I have experienced in good restaurants.
And they end your meal with a little box of two chocolates.
After the meal, I checked out the entertainment options. There was a wide variety of choices in English, but no live TV which is where I tend to gravitate towards longer flights.
Seeing little interest in the entertainment selection, I set to work on the hours of Netflix shows I had downloaded, while enjoying a burger and ice cream mid-flight from the snack menu.
You might imagine that at this point I would have good reason to check the toilet. There are two toilets for six first class passengers, so needless to say there was never a wait.
The larger of the two toilets was spacious enough to change into Cathay pajamas and put on street clothes; the other was similar in size to what you would find in economics. Each toilet was stocked with Aesop lotions and extra dental kits.
And – that’s the kind of little detail that makes such a difference – every time you walk in, it’s clear that the toilet has been “freshened” by a flight attendant, because the toilet paper is folded into a triangle, and all. is impeccable. -scope. Such a beautiful touch.
At this point I was pretty drunk, but with a few hours left before I landed in Hong Kong, I ordered breakfast anyway – for the purpose of a full review, of course!
Breakfast on the whole was not as memorable as dinner, although the bread basket was particularly impressive; it consisted of a flaky croissant, an apple strudel and a cream cheese bagel, accompanied by honey and 2 different kinds of preserves. The scrambled eggs, bacon, and fruit smoothie were well prepared and the sausage was especially tasty.
Considering the time of the flight and the northern latitudes, the entire flight was in the dark, but as we began our approach to Hong Kong we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise:
Despite the time we left LA, we landed in Hong Kong a bit early and were at the gate 10 minutes later.
Wrap it all up
I had already flown first class on Cathay Pacific once, in 2016, and have noticed a few changes since: the airline previously offered a traditional appetizer before take off, as well as a flower at your seat, but neither did it on this flight. Also, the airline routinely offered premium Krug champagne in first class, but the champagne offered for this flight was not quite to my liking. The lack of availability of Wi-Fi on such a long flight was also noted. (All the problems of the first world, of course.)
However, all that being said, the one thing Cathay Pacific was always known for – its service – was on display. Contrary to the sentiment you often get on US based carriers, it really does seem like Cathay’s flight attendants are committed to providing a memorable experience. Suddenly, a 15 hour flight turns into a “Are we still there?” string together one that makes you say, at the end, “Dude, I can’t believe we’re here already.”
Especially if I am using points, there is no other way that I would prefer to fly over the Pacific.
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