On September 16, Cathay Pacific will start a brand new route that has me extremely excited – Washington, DC (IAD) to Hong Kong (HKG). It’s a direct, non-stop flight and even better, it will also be their first time using a brand new aircraft, the A350-1000. I’ve been a fan of Cathay Pacific for many years and we have even worked together on several occasions. In advance of this DC launch, they asked me to travel with them on one of their A350-900 planes to try out the service and to share my experiences with you all here. Although the -1000 is slightly larger, the core features will be the same, so today I want to share those elements of flying with Cathay Pacific I love most onboard one of their A350s. Although this is a compensated project with Cathay Pacific, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
The Airbus A350 is a somewhat new family of long-range jets with new designs for both aerodynamics and engines. It’s the first Airbus where both the fuselage and wings are made up mostly of carbon fiber, meaning that it’s more lightweight and fuel-efficient – words every airline loves to hear. It does more than just save money of course, that fuel efficiency means that the aircraft is also more environmentally friendly than other planes and the in-cabin comfort is improved as well. The A350 is quieter than current-generation planes, up to 20%, and a new air conditioning technology means that there is draft-free air management, adjustable temperature zones and lower cabin altitude which all translate into a more comfortable flying experience. At least that’s the promise.
Airlines work hand in hand with manufacturers to create aircraft that are finely tailored to their own needs. Such is certainly the case with Cathay Pacific and I was extremely excited to learn more the new flight experience. Looking back at my two flights onboard their A350-900 planes, theses are some of my main takeaways.
For those of us familiar with Cathay Pacific, don’t expect a major overhaul of their already tried and trusted cabin layout. Their cabins I think are amongst the best in the world when it comes to maximizing in flight comfort for passengers, and that’s certainly the case onboard the A350. Naturally, enhancements have been made to even further improve the experience. That comfort extends throughout all classes of travel as well, starting with a Business Class seat and bed that is their most generous to date. I’m 6’2” and was able to fully stretch out in the lay-flat position, a rare feat even in Business Class. In Premium Economy there is an increased 9” recline with supportive full leg rest & leather padded footrest and new and improved bedding in all cabins, like the new comforters in Premium Economy. Cathay Pacific has even designed an exclusive Economy 6-way headrest, with supportive side cushions to further enhance comfort across the Pacific. They’ve really done an incredible job across the board in enhancing basic comforts for all passengers.
I’ve had the great opportunity to fly with Cathay Pacific on many different occasions on a variety of routes around the world, and the shining star of every flight is always the service. In the luxury or premium travel experience, the extra features are nice, but ultimately service is all that matters. It’s the one aspect that can’t be purchased outright, it has to be part of a larger corporate culture and it’s dependent on the many crew members to create this feeling of hospitality. I don’t know how they do it, but I’ve never had a bad service experience with Cathay Pacific – not even someone who was slightly grumpy! As an American, that’s a rarity and it’s what makes flying with Cathay Pacific so very special. No matter what class of service you book, you will always be made to feel welcome and crew members always try to help in every way they can. In the Business Class experience, this means flights that were so pleasant I honestly didn’t want them to end. I wondered if the pilot could circle for a while just so I could enjoy the moment. That’s a little odd, granted, but for someone who truly loves the aviation experience as I do, it’s a special treat to find this incredible consistency in luxury and service.
Finding ways to stay amused takes on special importance for ultra long haul carriers. When flight times are 13+ hours, keeping passengers mollified isn’t just nice, it’s imperative. A couple of years ago I described the Cathay Pacific onboard entertainment program as one of the best I’ve experienced, and somehow that’s been even further enhanced on the new A350. All cabins now feature bigger and better personal TVs. When comparing the A350 against the 777s, the TVs in Business and Economy are 20% larger and in Premium Economy, about 14% larger. That’s a huge difference and I know certainly enhanced my own binge-watching activities. There’s also a lot more choice, including many more movie selections than I recall from past trips and a great TV selection with whole season box sets. That’s actually what I did nearly the entire way home from Hong Kong, binge watch a TV series I had missed but wanted to see. There’s also inflight Wi-Fi, a technological achievement that sort of boggles my mind given the distances we’re talking about here, but on both flights there were plenty of notifications that it was live and ready for use. When I fly though, I much prefer to totally disconnect, lay back and just enjoy the experience.
This category is actually one of the top selling points of flying onboard an A350 and from experience with not only Cathay Pacific, but other airlines, I can firmly attest to the differences in how I felt both onboard and after the flights. How the body reacts to air travel is a funny thing, but it can be tricked in a way to feeling better throughout the experience. Mood lighting with different color combinations is the first step believe it or not. Light is key in facilitating not only proper rest onboard the aircraft, but in helping to reduce the effects of jet lag afterwards. Light isn’t the only factor though, so is air and with better filtration, the air is fresher. The draft-free environment also helps tremendously and when coupled with lower cabin altitude, the net effect is a flying experience that overall isn’t as taxing on the body. When one flies over long distances, these subtle changes matter a very great deal.
Just as any premium travel experience is about great service, it is also about the small touches that make it a little extra special. Cathay Pacific already has these on their 777 aircraft, but they added even more onboard their new A350s. On long flights, personal storage space is key and these have been increased across all classes so that one’s personal seat has spots to stow more effects. In Business Class the seats are now single-touch adjustable and there’s even an interface to allow for a do not disturb function or to schedule when you want to be woken up. In both Business and Premium Economy there are new dimming reading lights and in Economy and Premium Economy there is eye-level smart device holders, which I think is an amazingly progressive enhancement. Every seat in all classes also has access to a power outlet, so there’s never any need to worry about arriving without your phone being fully recharged.
Cathay Pacific, like its hub city of Hong Kong, places a special emphasis on food and for passengers that means a delicious flying experience. The Cathay Pacific menus incorporate both Asian and Western favorites, using locally sourced ingredients that feel as if they were made in a fine dining restaurant and not onboard a plane. With plenty of options, I found it hard to choose just one entree, a rarity for a picky eater like me. Now, I didn’t do this purposefully, but I did put the flight crew through their paces with my special requests. Since I don’t eat fish or seafood, instead of the appetizer I asked for the cheese course as my appetizer, which they managed without a blink of an eye. I’ve received looks of death from flight attendants on other airlines for much less, so this level of hospitality meant a lot to me. I further customized my lunch en route by asking for one of the snack meals as my main course. Throughout the course of the flight, Business Class guests can order smaller snacks or light meals if they’re peckish. The cheeseburger on that menu sounded good to me, and once again the amazing staff in the Business Class cabin saw to my special request without complaint or inconvenience to me. It may not seem like a lot, but luxury travel should be about great service, which is all too often lacking when we fly.
Knowing that the IAD-HKG Route is starting soon!
As a longtime Washingtonian, I am especially excited though that Cathay Pacific will start serving my city on September 16, 2018. No longer will I have to fly to Newark or Chicago to connect to one of their flights, no, instead I’ll be able to leave right from home and on their newest aircraft as well. Four round trips per week are planned, and at 8,153 statute miles (7,085 nautical miles) each way, it will be the longest route in the airline’s network. By comparison, Hong Kong to London’s Heathrow Airport is a distance of 5,995 statute miles. Dulles will become Cathay Pacific’s seventh passenger service gateway in the U.S. and ninth in North America. I’ve been bragging about Cathay Pacific to my friends for years and I can’t wait for them to experience the same incredible service I have over the years and to explore parts of the world new to them with ease and comfort.