Cathay Pacific is generally
considered to be one of the world's best airlines.
It operates a fleet of nearly
new planes, with Asian cabin crew and generally ex-pat Western
pilots, and from its base in Hong Kong provides an extensive
route network through Asia and the rest of the world.
After an update in 2009, their
business class service is comparable with other leading
airlines, with some strengths and - ooops - some weaknesses too.
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.
A Brief Background on Cathay
Cathay Pacific was formed in 1946 by two former WW2 pilots, an
American and an Australian, with each contributing one single
Hong Kong dollar towards the company's startup. After a
brief time based in Shanghai, the airline moved to Hong Kong,
and it started services with a single DC3, with scheduled
service between Hong Kong and variously Bangkok, Manila,
Shanghai and Singapore.
In 1948 the Swire Group (one of Hong Kong's major trading houses
and fictionally written about in James Clavell's novel, Taipan)
bought 45% of the company, Australian National Airways bought
35%, and the two founders kept 10% each.
Recognizing the return of Hong Kong to China, and the need to
get more aligned with Chinese interests, the airline has allowed
itself to swap 17.5% investments with Air China, and another
17.5% is owned by CITIC Pacific. Swire still holds a 40%
shareholding, and the company is publicly listed on the Hong
Kong Stock Exchange.
These days it serves 127 destinations in 38 countries, spread
over five continents, with a fleet of 129 all wide-body planes
having an average age of just under 11 years (as of Dec 2010).
It is a founding member of the Oneworld alliance and has a
subsidiary airline, Dragonair.
The airline is well regarded and regularly wins awards for its
service. It has an excellent safety record (last fatal
accident in 1967, with one fatality after an airplane overshot
the runway on landing; the only one before that was in 1949),
although it also has the dubious reputation of having
experienced the world's first ever hijacking, in 1948.
Cathay Pacific has been generally profitable, and in 2009 earned
a nice HK$4.694 billion profit (~US$600 million), although half
of that was from fuel hedging, and another quarter from a one
off transaction; the actual profit from ongoing operations was
Before Flight Experiences
Checking in for the flights was easy, with priority access
checkin lanes and no need to use self checkin terminals.
A nice touch, when checking in at San Francisco, was to see the
checkin agents who were not busy serving customers were standing
in front of their counters, rather than seated passively behind
them. It made their welcome greeting seem more personal
and friendly, and at the end of the checking in process, they
would come around to the front again to stand alongside you and
talk you through your boarding pass, lounge invitation, etc.
These days lounge invitations are printed on boarding pass
forms, the same as the boarding passes, and have a bar code on
them which the lounge staff can scan (who knows what for or
While the staff were friendly, they weren't unduly helpful.
My bag claim check, printed by Alaska Airlines, had its tag
number unreadable (due to a misaligned printer at Alaska
Airlines). The girl told me I would have to leave her
check-in line, go find a phone, telephone Alaska Airlines, get
the bag tag number out of their computer, and come back, wait in
line again, and then give her the tag number.
I did wonder why she didn't pick up the phone at her desk and
call them directly, herself. But at least she smiled
sweetly at me while refusing to do something that most of us
would reasonably expect her to do.
The flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong was scheduled to
leave 90 minutes late (and ended up being even later when the
door finally closed) due to the late arrival of the incoming
The flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver was also late departing,
and ended up after repeated extensions of the departure delay
with the door closing an hour late. The excuse offered for
these delays was there was a problem with the In Flight
Entertainment system, which needed to be completely rebooted.
I did wonder why they chose to do this prior to boarding
passengers, as opposed to simultaneously with the boarding
process, or even with the plane in the air (as sometimes happens
on flights) and this strange excuse and repeated delays left me
wondering if we were being given the honest truth or not.
The flight to Hong Kong lost a few more minutes en route and
ended up arriving 1 hr 45 minutes late. The return flight
to Vancouver made up time en route, with some marvelously strong
tail winds of up to 160 mph giving the plane over the ground
speeds of up to 750 mph, and arrived 30 minutes late.
So both my flights were significantly late, due to
Cathay-related issues, as was of course the incoming flight to
San Francisco too. I don't know what the plane that became
the return flight to Vancouver did prior to operating the flight
to Vancouver, but the three flights I had personal knowledge of
were all appreciably delayed.
In San Francisco and New York, Cathay uses the rather
substandard British Airways
lounges (not only does the BA SFO lounge no longer serve
champagne, but on this visit it was offering crackers - but no
cheese to accompany the crackers), while in Los Angeles it uses the
lounge designated for all Oneworld carriers. Cathay have their own lounge
in Vancouver, and strangely use competing airline KLM's lounge
The real strength of Cathay's lounge product is of course
manifested in their main hub, at Hong Kong's lovely new airport
on Chep Lap Kok, which opened in 1998.
Cathay has two main departure lounges there, each segregated into
business and first class areas - The Pier and The Wing - plus a
new smaller lounge, The Cabin which does not split into separate
first and business class lounges.
Cathay also has an arrivals lounge, but this is unfortunately
restricted to first class passengers only, not 'mere' business class
I spent more time than I'd wished to in their huge Pier Lounge
(due to flight delays).
Fortunately, this is a lovely facility - spacious, relaxing, quiet, uncrowded,
and full of all the amenities you could hope for; ranging from a
good selection of hot and cold food (including food items cooked
to order), full bar for cocktails as well as regular drinks
(including champagne - a rather ordinary Lanson Black Label) and soft drinks, lots and lots of work
stations with computers, free Wi-Fi, plenty of comfortable seating, and
Part 1 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
21 Jul 2020
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