BACKGROUND: A member of the global Oneworld alliance, Cathay Pacific is one of the world’s largest airlines with a network of global and Asian destinations served from its hub at Hong Kong International Airport. While the airline has long offered daily flights into Johannesburg, November saw the launch of thrice-weekly seasonal direct services into Cape Town.
CHECK-IN: I was travelling on a connecting flight from Singapore, where check-in, immigration and boarding was automated and impressive. But as you’d expect for a major international hub, transit at HKIA was a seamless process and it only took a few minutes to clear security and reach airside. Online check-in opens 48 hours prior to departure, and was a seamless and efficient process allowing me to input Advanced Passenger Information and select my preferred seat (17A). Business class passengers enjoy a 40-kilogram luggage allowance in the hold.
LOUNGES: Cathay Pacific takes its lounge offering seriously, and there are four lounges at HKIA. The flagship is The Wing (situated near gate #2), with its iconic Long Bar, and it’s a fine place to settle in before the journey home. The lounge’s bespoke Solus chairs offer a private space to work or relax, while the open seating areas have plenty of leather couches and bar counters overlooking the apron. If you want to dine on the ground, Cathay’s signature noodle bar offers a compact menu of complimentary Cantonese dishes. The dim sum and Dan Dan noodles are excellent.
BOARDING: HKIA is a massive airport, so be sure to check your gate well in advance of boarding and allow sufficient time to reach the gate. Happily, the four Cathay Pacific lounges at HKIA are spread evenly throughout the terminal, so passengers can choose the lounge nearest their gate. Our gate (#68) was a 10-minute walk from The Wing, and boarding commenced as I arrived. Passport checks in the priority-boarding queue sped up the process, and I was on-board within minutes.
THE FLIGHT: Cathay operates an Airbus A350-900 on the Cape Town route, and while the size and layout of the business class seat is similar to that on the Boeing 777 service into Johannesburg, the upgraded seat has some notable improvements. Alongside a few cosmetic upgrades, the in-seat storage is an immediate step up. A foot-locker keeps shoes, laptop and personal items packed away yet within easy reach, while a separate side locker at head height contains integrated noise-cancelling headphones as well as a small vanity mirror. Here you’ll also find in-seat power, a UK-style plug, and USB port. Another key improvement is in the in-flight entertainment. On the A350, the upgraded seats boast an impressive 18.5-inch HD video screen, with separate digital remote controller. Seat controls and recline – the seat extends to a fully-flat two-metre bed – are the same as on the 777. There’s a coat hook at each seat, but the friendly flight attendants quickly whisked mine away to the lockers. Overhead bins are spacious, and you’ll have no trouble finding a space for your carry-on suitcase. With a 1-2-1 layout, the window seats are best for business travellers: the hard shell offers an excellent degree of privacy as well as two windows for admiring the passing scenery between spreadsheets. Rows 16 and 17 are well situated in the quieter central part of cabin. Avoid row 11, which picks up the most noise from the galley and toilets. Unlike the 777, the A350 service also offers the opportunity to get online. Above 10,000 feet in-flight connectivity is available: $19,95 for the flight or $9,95 per hour. The folding table is sturdy, so there are no bouncing keyboards as you type. While the late-night departure (00h10) means you may want to dine in the lounge before take-off, the on-board dinner service is worth staying up for. A four-course menu is offered, with both Asian and Western options. My Chu Hou brisket with steamed jasmine rice was excellent, and a fine pairing with the Rustenberg Syrah, one of six wines available in-flight.
ARRIVAL: Passengers on our inaugural flight were treated to a ‘scenic approach’, circling the Cape Peninsula before landing just minutes before the scheduled time of 08h30.
VERDICT: Cathay Pacific has long been known for its superb service and trend-setting in-flight product. With one of the newer aircraft in the fleet dedicated to this route, business travellers visiting Cape Town are in for a treat.