Flight Check: Cathay Pacific

Hong Kong-Johannesburg Business Class


Background: Together with affiliated-airline Cathay Dragon (formerly Dragonair), Cathay Pacific offers an impressive network of global and Asian destinations from its hub in Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China. Johannesburg is currently the airline’s only African destination, served by daily flights. Cathay Pacific is a member of the Oneworld alliance, which also includes British Airways, Qantas and American Airlines.

Check-in: Although I’d checked in online there is rarely a queue at Cathay’s home airport, with long rows of check-in desks taking care of the thousands of passengers transiting through here daily. Business class passengers also enjoy priority check-in lanes. While security was quick and painless, there were surprisingly long queues at immigration with just a pair of desks open for processing passengers.

Lounges: When it comes to lounges, premium passengers are spoilt for choice at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA). Four business class departure lounges, as well as two first class lounges, are scattered across the airport. The Pier lounge recently underwent a major expansion and revamp, with new food outlets and relaxation spaces. However, The Wing remains my favourite lounge here. After a shower and a light dinner in the all-day Noodle Bar, I settled in at The Wing’s famous marble bar overlooking the apron, where affable barmen know how to shake up a decent martini.

Boarding : HKIA is no small airport, so I allowed 10 minutes for the stroll to our distant boarding gate, arriving just as priority boarding for business class had begun. Cathay’s ever-friendly cabin crew helped to get the cabin settled quickly, offering around stylish unisex amenity kits (filled with products from Jurlique), warm towels, and glasses of champagne.

The Flight: Cathy Pacific operates a Boeing 777-300ER on this flight, with business class laid out in a spacious 1-2-1 layout. The shared middle seats are ideal for couples travelling together, or business associates keen to catch up over dinner. While herringbone layouts like this can feel cramped, the clever design of Cathay’s business seat offers plenty of personal space, particularly in the footwell and at shoulder height. A small stowage locker at the shoulder stores noise-cancelling headphones neatly out of the way when not in use, with USB power inside for easy mobile and laptop (UK/2-pin plug) charging. The seat adjustment and IFE controls are intuitive and close at hand, with a private reading lamp for when the cabin lights are dimmed, which is not long after take-off on this overnight long-haul route. With Hong Kong disappearing behind us, cabin crew returned to take dinner orders. Cathay has a great reputation for its culinary offering, and this flight didn’t disappoint. Thanks to a tie-in with Michelin-starred Italian chef Pino Lavarra from Hong Kong, the four-course dinner menu featured both Asian and European influences. Grissini with savoury dips were delicious as an appetiser, before a choice of main courses: my pan-fried chicken with spring onion, choy sum and steamed jasmine rice was superb. Fresh berries in rose syrup and a generous cheese platter finished off the meal. I also spotted a number of passengers opting for the ‘Lighter Meal’ offering, where smaller dishes served quickly allows tired travellers to catch up on sleep. A nice touch on a late-night departure. Sleep? I was happy to explore the well-stocked in-flight entertainment system and wine list, which included New Zealand, French and South African wines, notably a delicious Bordeaux blend from Mont du Toit in the Western Cape.

Arrival: Landing was a shade early at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport. Another perk of flying at the front of the plane is that premium passengers can run ahead and beat the inevitable queues at passport control.

Verdict: Cathay Pacific remains one of the world’s leading carriers thanks to its superb customer service and top-notch levels of in-flight comfort. Throw in world-class lounges and a hyper-efficient airport, and it’s easy to see why Hong Kong is a transit destination of choice when travelling to Asia.

Richard Holmes