Eventually I had to leave the great lounge that Cathay Pacific operates at Tokyo-Haneda, but I was even more excited to be flying in first class on one of Cathay’s remaining Boeing 747-400 aircraft. It’s a beautiful plane, and Cathay Pacific has among the best service and one of the best first class seats.
My first time on Cathay Pacific first class was actually one of the airline’s last flights with this aircraft on a long-haul route, when I flew Cathay Pacific between San Francisco and Hong Kong in 2014. It has nine seats in the first class cabin vs. six on the Boeing 777-300ER that has replaced it, which means award space on Cathay Pacific is more difficult to obtain (although still pretty reliable when you search close to departure.)
I booked a connecting flight from Haneda to Kuala Lumpur specifically because it’s one of the few routes that still have a 747 (though not necessarily for every flight). I mentioned this in conversation with the flight attendant, who passed it along to the pilot. And he made a special announcement about the 747 and future plans before it’s discontinued later this year. So, yes, Cathay Pacific still operates the 747 if you know where to look. AirlineRoute.net lists the following routes in a post from last year:
- Hong Kong – Denpasar
- Hong Kong – Osaka Kansai
- Hong Kong – Surabaya
- Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
- Hong Kong – Tokyo Narita
My award was booked using miles from Alaska Airlines, which is among the cheapest options for medium-haul travel within Asia travel. Business class is just 22,500 miles one-way while first class is 27,500 miles. Compare that to 30,000-40,000 miles with most other loyalty programs.
If you can, book yourself into 1K to get a forward view out the window of the nose. This time I was near the back in 4A.
Even with my legs fully stretched out, I couldn’t touch my 22″ suitcase, which was safely stored under the ottoman. Is this a great seat or what!? Still, I could tell it was an older plane. There were more scuffs and dings than usual, and the television creaked when I extended it from the shell. Yes, the pillow is askew, but that’s more to do with Velcro than anything else. I fixed it later.
The front cabin was pretty empty at first, so I enjoyed my Champagne while snapping a few more pictures. On a shorter flight like this they don’t serve Dom Perignon or Krug, nor do they have pajamas or amenity kits. These are largely irrelevant. I don’t even remember what Champagne was served except it was still pretty good. I was most disappointed about the pajamas, which are my absolute favorite. (It might be useful to read my earlier review of Cathay Pacific first class.)
Eventually the peace was disturbed when some celebrity boarded with her entourage. Even though she had two friends also seated in first class, several more people back in business class were passing back and forth for the entire trip. Whoever she was, she was very high maintenance.
It was more amusing to watch all the commotion, and the flight attendant and I shared a few knowing smiles. I was sort of glad to be in the back.
Lunch menus were passed out, which were simple sheets of folded paper attached to a wooden board. I always appreciate when airlines use something better than a flimsy pamphlet — or, worse, a disposable flyer.
Rather than try to take sharp photographs during turbulence, here’s my transcription of the menu:
- Smoked salmon and prawn
- Grilled Wagyu beef tenderloin, green beans, carrots, creamy polenta, and Madeira sauce
- Pork, sweet tomato sauce, pak choy, and steamed jasmine rice
- Fettucine, mixed peppers, and mushroom cream sauce
Cheese and Dessert
- Camembert, Gorgonzola, White Cheddar, and Mimolette
- Fresh seasonal fruit
- Apricot cheese cake and mixed berry compote
- Freshly brewed Illy coffee and a selection of teas
- Assorted sushi
- Simmered prawn, salmon and sea break egg-yolk sushi, fried lotus root with spicy cod roe, steamed fish paste and pike conger roe with carrot, black beans served with green apple liquer
- Fried bean curd rolled with zenmai vegetables, arrowhead, shimeji mushroom, nabana green, carrot flower, ginan sauce
- Sea bream covered with Yoshino-kudzu starch, carrot, radish, chopped chive
- Side Dish: Surf clam with egg-yolk vinegar sauce, marinated carrot and radish with sweet vinegar, pickled cucumber
- Noodle: Udon noodles with braised fried bean curd with sweet soy sauce, wakame seaweed, chopped chive, wasabi
- Hot Dish: Grilled amberjack in Yuan-yaki style, grilled beef with sesame sauce, yuzu citrus rind compote
- Rice served with assorted pickles and miso soup
- Ginjyo-sake available upon request
- Fresh seasonal fruit
As you can see, the Japanese meal was much more elaborate (and there was Ginjyo-sake available upon request), but I decided to go with the steak. After some disappointing seafood on the previous evening’s American Airlines flight I was not feeling very adventurous.
The wine menu had five options, in addition to the Champagne. I went with the Domaine de Chevalier.
- Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte 2011 (90% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Sauvignon Gris, and 5% Semillon)
- Chateau Bouscaut 2012 (53% Sauvingnon Blanc and 47% Semillon)
- Chateau Haut Bergey 2005 (70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot)
- Chateau Olivier Red 2009 (55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot)
- Domaine de Chevalier 2012 (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot)
The salmon and prawn starter was very good. This is a dish I normally pass on with U.S. carriers — I still remember a training event at United Airlines where we were taught how to plate shrimp and salmon as quickly as possible — but this was prepared well and presented with care.
I passed on soup and moved directly to the steak. One thing I’ve learned about first class meal service is that I can’t eat everything. As expected, though, the steak was merely average. Cathay Pacific’s meal service doesn’t stand out like the hard product, which is one reason I was so pleased with my starter and dessert — they stood out more than usual.
Again, I passed on the fruit and cheese, so the meal ended with a delicious apricot cheese cake that was more like sponge cake. This was served with Hong Kong-style milk tea. It was one of the better in-flight desserts I’ve had — and I would almost say it was the best except a recent tiramisu served on JAL blew it out of the water.
I have to say it does frustrate me how uncommon it that I’m served pralines with my tea or coffee even when they’re on the menu. I feel guilty asking for them, but I guess I did pass on three other courses.
I spent the rest of the flight watching Library Wars: The Last Mission. The title alone made me want to watch it, and apparently it’s a trilogy (and animated film!) based on a Japanese novel. Imagine Fahrenheit 451 with more guns.
My short trip was largely uneventful, and following a preposterous plot in Japanese with English subtitles was challenging, so I appreciated watching the charades of the celebrity in 3A. Minutes from landing she still had three people in the aisle helping her with makeup and putting on her coat.
I just got up when we reached the gate, smiled at the flight attendant, and said, “I’ll let myself out before it gets too crazy. Thanks for the pleasant journey.”