Part of my reason for taking my sister to Asia was to show her the value of points and miles. What better way than with a flight on Cathay Pacific first class? 😀 I was especially excited because it was my first time flying Cathay Pacific (I was a Star Alliance guy for several years), I had heard some glowing stories about their first class, and it would probably be the last time flying this particular product.
Trip Report Index
- Trip Report Introduction: Taking My Sister to Asia for Two Weeks
- Review: Cathay Pacific First Class SFO-HKG (Last of the 747s)
Nothing terribly exciting happened at the airport. I thought the Cathay Pacific business class lounge was perfectly fine, and my sister was amazed that they had an actual noodle restaurant inside just for passengers. There were some alcoholic beverages so I was able to mix myself a negroni. But otherwise it’s what you would expect from a carrier that only has two departures a day.
It’s worth nothing that Alaska Airlines is currently using this lounge as a substitute while the SFO Board Room is under renovation. It is available only to Board Room members — not with Priority Pass Select.
Cathay Pacific completed its transition from the Boeing 747-400 to the Boeing 777-300ER earlier this year. The last route from North America to Hong Kong that offered the 747 was to/from San Francisco. I had flights booked on the 777 from Los Angeles originally but took advantage of the fee waivers I get as an American Airlines Executive Platinum member. Besides, my sister lives in Berkeley. This would make the trip a lot more convenient.
What makes the 747 better?
It’s just an awesome plane. You can’t beat the hump! A 777 isn’t very distinctive, while a 747, A380, and even a 787 will stand out from the pack.
Because of the hump, the pilots sit on the upper deck. Passengers in first class are in the nose on the lower deck, meaning fewer distractions (no forward galley) and better views (seats 1A and 1K have angled side panels that let you look forward during flight.
The 747 has nine first class seats, but the 777 has only six. That means fewer seats remaining for award tickets on the 777, though availability will still improve if you look close to departure (within 1-2 weeks).
Cathay Pacific 879
San Francisco (SFO) to Hong Kong (HKG)
Boeing 747-400 — Seat 2K (first class)
Currently operated with a Boeing 777-300ER
Departure time: 1:55 PM PDT
Arrival time: 6:50 PM HKT (+1)
Boarding at San Francisco’s international gates is usually a zoo. Everyone has to take the escalators down to the departure lounge, which means you have a couple hundred people hemmed into a space with four walls and no outlet. However large you make it, it will seem crowded, especially when boarding begins.
However, an agent was fighting her way through to look for business and first class passengers, and after flagging her down she did an impressive job escorting us to the front of the line.
We were welcomed aboard and show to our seats, which are the same on the old 747 and the newer 777. While I think Singapore Airlines does provide larger seats overall, these were still spacious and had their own benefits. The primary seat is plenty wide, enough so that Katherine and I were able to sit comfortably side-by-side for a picture. The ottoman is narrower but provides a place for a companion to sit if you want to dine together during meals (Singapore doesn’t have an ottoman in its first class). And each seat had its own small closet, which would probably not hold a suitcase but could store a laptop bag or your clothes after changing into pajamas.
Because there are no overhead luggage bins and the closet is fairly small, you’re stuck storing your bag under your ottoman. As I said, it’s not that large. I travel with a Tumi Alpha International 20″ Carry On. It fit perfectly under the ottoman. Katherine was using my older Travelpro Crew 8 22″. It barely fit. (Although the 20″ sounds smaller, Tumi measures interior dimensions. It is smaller, but not that much smaller.) On my return, I had seat 1K in the nose and found out there’s space behind the closet. My Tumi still fit if I swiveled the bag, whereas the passenger next to me in 1A had a slightly larger bag that needed to go back in business class.
We started our pre-departure service with an amuse bouche and some Krug.
Once in the air I had some more Krug. And some more Krug. 😉 Then our flight attendant set the table for lunch. Katherine was joining me, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had some extra large linens available once the table extension was added. It was time for some caviar …and more Krug!
Caviar and Champagne
- Mushroom cream soup
- Heart of romaine with grilled jumbo prawn and Caesar dressing
- Porcini dusted beef tenderloin with red wine mushroom sauce and Bearnaise sauce, Yukon gold mashed potatoes, green beans, baby carrots, and yellow zucchini
– or –
Pan-seared halibut with creamy pesto sauce, wild rice with cranberry, baby carrots, and green beans
– or –
Lemon pepper linguine with fired roasted red pepper sauce and zucchini
- Double boiled ginseng with chicken soup
- Cold plate – marinated seaweed with carrot and daikon radish
- Braised abalone and chicken, served with steamed jasmine rice, baby bok choy, and carrots
Cheese and Dessert
- Cambozola, yellow Cheddar, Munster, and herb goat cheese
- Fresh seasonal berries with sweet rose water
- Chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream with raspberry coulis
- Red bean soup with lotus seeds
Tea and Coffee
We began our meal with caviar and a cute little note thanking us for flying with Cathay Pacific. This was the start of everyone addressing us as Mr. and Mrs. Mackenzie. 🙁
Then we had soup and salad, both of us beginning with the Western menu — Katherine switched to the abalone and chicken for her main course. However, mushroom soup is forever ruined for me by the amazing version I had at Eva, one of my top ten restaurants in Seattle (seriously, I licked the bowl). I’m not saying Cathay’s first class catering was bad, but nothing else has yet to measure up. I went into this biased.
The salad was great. I don’t have a salad fetish like I do for soup. I just wondered how I would have any room left after eating those giant shrimp!
You can see at some point I switched from Krug to red wine. Cathay Pacific was running a promotion for red Burgundy in addition to the regular selection. The promotional list included eight wines of which only one was available on this flight: Château Cantenac Brown, 3ème Cru Classé Margaux 2005.
The steak was decent, and certainly had great presentation. But cooking or reheating steak on a plane is difficult. This was medium throughout (pink, but not bloody). Technically excellent, but without any char on the outside. I prefer a steak with more crust. In general I recommend chicken or fish since they seem to reheat better, but I took one for the team to see how Cathay does their steak.
I ended the meal with a small chocolate cake, ice cream, and a glass of port. Katherine chose the cheese plate. I am not a snob about cheese and don’t really care for it except as a snack. To each his own. Let’s at least give Cathay Pacific credit for stocking a good single malt Scotch. But when later that evening Katherine ordered a glass of Glenmorangie Signet on the rocks and let the ice melt, I was about ready to have a heart attack!
As if dessert wasn’t enough, I felt I just had to have a latte and some pralines.
After lunch it was time for some relaxation time away from my sister. I went to change into my pajamas in the lavatory. It was reasonably spacious though still small by newer standards. Or maybe I’ve been reading too many A380 trip reports. But in any case, it was nice to have a loo with a view.
I’ll spare you the pajama pic. Just know that I love them and continue to wear both sets from my outbound and return journeys. Cathay recently switched over from Shanghai Tang to Pye, which primarily makes shirts (Shanghai Tang has a full line of apparel). They fit true to size and can be worn with the collar up in a Mandarin style or down in a Western style. Either way they’re super comfortable. I just recommend you let them hang dry to avoid shrinking. Without Katherine around, I could finally get some peace and quiet …watching Robocop.
Eventually it was time for bed. Despite a large meal and a movie, I had about ten hours left in our flight and asked the flight attendant to make up the bed. It was the most comfortable sleep I’ve EVER had on a plane. I generally don’t sleep well even at home. On this flight i got seven hours, which is amazing. I slept so well that I had difficulty adjusting to local Hong Kong time upon arrival.
I did not order from the snack menu, but these included Maryland crab cakes, a roast beef sandwich with sun-dried tomato mayonnaise, shui gaw in noodle soup, hot pot rice with steamed chicken, and ice cream. Katherine joined me for dinner after we woke up. They were out of extra-large tablecloths, but no matter. As you can see, she did not sleep as well.
- Fresh seasonal fruit
- Pan-seared chicken breast with Madeira sauce, red bliss mashed potatoes, asparagus, and baby carrots
- Steamed sea bass with preserved vegetables, jasmine rice, and carrots
- Wild mushroom ricotta cheese cannelloni with pecorino cheese sauce
- Blueberry almond cake with berry compote
Tea and Coffee
I had the chicken along with a white Burgundy: Louis Jadot Merusault 2011. The only other white wine was an Artisan The Sands Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013, and I generally don’t like sauv blanc. Because the lighting was so poor and others were sleeping/eating, I didn’t bother with pictures of all these dishes. But the chicken was an improvement over the steak, and the fresh fruit was a pleasantly light starter after such a heavy meal earlier. The blueberry almond cake was also good.
We each had a couple cups of coffee, which turned out better than the lattes (espresso drinks are hard to do on a plane) and readied ourselves for landing.
Personally, I had one of the best long-haul flights of my life considering how rare it is for me to get a good night’s rest. I consider business and first class to be worth the extra miles for the bed-like seat and better food when you’re spending that much time confined to a metal tube. Anyone can hire good chefs and design a menu. This one had pros and cons, but overall it was not that much different from some other premium carriers. I think seats are a better way to differentiate a carrier. Cathay Pacific offers aisle access from all first and business class seats on their long-haul products, and the first class ottoman so you can dine together is unusual. Add to that the fact I actually slept, and I came away impressed.