A birthday upgrade: Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class

It was a short weekend getaway to Singapore before I started my job to celebrate both my and my mother’s birthdays. We were booked on CX690 which departs Singapore at 12:45 pm. After a long buffet breakfast in Holiday Inn, we checked out and hopped onto a taxi that would take us to Changi Airport. The weather was decent that day and so was the traffic – took us around 20 minutes to reach Terminal 1 where Cathay Pacific is at.

Being a Silver MPC member, I was afforded priority check-in. Cathay has a whole row to itself, with two or three priority counters, and the rest are bag drops for Economy passengers. Cathay operates mostly on its regional fleets with its regional products, with less seats in premium classes, more in Economy. So it was no surprise that there was not any queue when we approached the counters.


I handed over the passports and causally waited. In 10 seconds, the lady manning the counter said, Mr Lam, our flight is overbooked together, but we only have one Business seat, is it alright if I upgrade only you? Overjoyed, I asked my father whether he wanted the seat – but he said it was my birthday so I could have it. I said okay and thanked the check-in agent for the pleasant surprise. She then proceeded to issue me a boarding pass and checked in our suitcases to Hong Kong.

Cathay uses the Dnata lounge in Terminal 1, which was an alright lounge. It has some food offerings which I did not sample, a decent alcoholic spread (not impressive though) and a café featuring real barista making coffee (which I found to be an excellent infrastructure!)


The café


Alcohol selection










I wasn’t particularly hungry or feeling I wanted alcohol, so I ordered a flat white from the café as I waited for the gate to open. It was an excellent cup of coffee. I really liked this part of the lounge. The barista helped make me feel that they knew what they were making (unlike in other lounges where fresh coffee would come from the bar)


Seating area – the lounge was not particularly crowded for a Monday. There were lots of open spaces for people to use. Though there were kids running around, which was never too pleasant for those trying to work (and I might be tempted to play with the kids though!)



I left the lounge to arrive at the gate for the boarding at 12:05, which did not happen as the plane arrived just a few minutes ago from Hong Kong. The stroll to the gate was not too long as the lounge was located quite near to the gate – which was probably a good thing (the QF/BA lounges, though not opened at this point, are located near the C gates.


I must commend the ground operations for Cathay in Singapore. They have made a priority lane for security, which Singapore Airlines’ departures so clearly lacked. As a Silver Member (even with the upgrade), I would clear security in a breeze. (Note that Green Member would not be able to use the priority security lane)


To show you how much difference it makes, here is the Economy lane:


To make things even better, there are segregated sitting areas, where Business Class and elite passengers would sit in a segregated zone with guaranteed seats and priority boarding privileges assured. Again, this is not seen in Singapore Airlines’ flights – which I would definitely want to see.

Our chariot today would be B-HNI, a 17-year-old Boeing 777-300, equipped with the old long-haul economy class (as reviewed here) and the new regional Business products.



Boarding commenced in earnest soon enough. It was much better when priority boarding was enforced with such strength, meaning not much queues and easier to navigate.


Boarding through door L1



I was given seat 12A, a bulkhead window seat, which was excellent. Cathay’s regional Business Class on its 773 has a 2-3-2 configuration, with 42 seats, all located between door L1 and L2. 12A is a good seat overall, and legroom is probably slightly better at bulkhead.


I was quickly offered a pre-departure beverage. The bog-standard champagne, orange juice or water. And I obligatorily took a champagne to celebrate my birthday! Cathay has a good champagne in my opinion.


Hot towel was offered soon after the drink:


Boarding was completed very quickly and we pushed back on time.


And so the safety demonstration began


There were some technical problems right after push back and we held our position for 30 minutes before we departed for good. With the 777, I was able to view the deliberation of the engineers:





Flight time of 3 hours 23 minutes


We did not hold at runway 20C and took off 40 minutes behind schedule


Construction at Changi Airport (for the new terminal?)


Gears up!



Changi airport as seen from air




The older generation inflight map


Leveling up slightly


At this point, the senior purser (not a very pleasant man, who frowned for most of the flight) came around and gave us the menus (weirdly, the other aisle had their menus prior to takeoff…)







The drinks cart came very soon. I took champagne and sparkling water with mixed nuts. Mixed nuts were warm but it came in very small portions.


Though the purser came back with some refills for my nuts, not for the champagne though.


At the core of Cathay’s service was efficiency. On a similar regional flight I flew in March on SQ, meals were not offered until well into the flight: but for Cathay, our tables were laid around 45 minutes into the flight. (But the promised refill of my champagne was probably forgot)


The salmon starter: it was quite an innovative starter in my opinion, pairing salmon with citruses, but it was very refreshing. Very fresh to say the least.


View from the restaurant!



Main: duck with rice. It was mediocre: the duck was not as tender as hoped but the sauce was the saving grace. The rice was too dry to be considered as good rice. I would say SQ had better mains on this route for Business Class. Though I am very happy to see the rice in a bowl (a first!) and the chopsticks that accompanied it (BA does not cater chopsticks and on SQ they are on demand) As customary for Cathay, all the mains were presented on a cart for the passengers to choose from. This is not something I mind too much about.



Efficiency! The flight has barely progressed much by the time the main was collected. But the efficiency was at the expense of my enjoyment somehow: the senior purser and the purser both ignored my request of a glass of wine… Maybe this was because no one else was drinking wine and they were not interested in entertaining me by opening a bottle of wine… I was very annoyed but I could live without the wine so I digressed.


So far, the service pattern had been from the front to the rear of the cabin, which was quite good for me as I was able to eat ahead of others. Yet for the cheese and fruit course, the service pattern was reversed, which did not make sense. For those at the rear, it would mean dessert starts almost immediately as they finish the main course. And for those in the front, it would mean a long pause in between courses. I somehow do not get the logic behind this.

As the fruit cart approaches me, most of the fruits were gone. And as the passenger next to me was a VIP, I was left with whatever’s left on the cart (row 11 was served by the crew working the other aisle)…


I was not too happy… So I asked the crew to get me some pineapples and honeydew money as I saw others enjoying. The crew said he would check with the other side, and came back with some more fruits.


This turned out to be a bad move. The pineapple was so bad and sour that I threw it out right after it touched my mouth… As they came back with more fruits, they also came back with champagne and the Inflight Service Manager wished me a happy birthday – which was a good personal touch.

Ice cream was then offered, this time in random order. Those who finished their cheese and fruits would be served ice cream. There were three choices: summer berries and cream (which I had), cookies and chocolate, and vanilla.


In contrast to the other crews who were slow at serving wine, the Inflight Service Manager was quick in her service. I asked for a Cathay Delight which was served up quickly. It is a kiwi and milk based drink.


And before landing, I asked for a HK style milk tea (to which I considered to be one of the best things on board a Cathay Business flight)


My seat: with cushion but blankets are only supplied on request


On approach:





Quite a beautiful day



2 windows for bulkhead






The nearly completed Zhuhai-Macau-HK link




Gear down:






Cathay’s first A350 spotted!


My verdict? 

Of course it was lovely to get upgraded on a cheap fare and on my birthday. Cathay treats its elite quite well as we can see from the priority treatment and the operational upgrade. It was also solid showing. The seat, though in a cramped cabin, was comfortable. Catering was unremarkable but nothing too bad. Service was bog-standard, professional yet distant, bar the occasional ignoring of what I wanted. There were some good bits: the champagne, the ISM and the upgrade. But equally, there were some bad bits: the other cabin crews, the pineapple and the dry rice in the main.

Despite an on balance underwhelming performance, I look forward to flying with Cathay on its long-haul Business Class from Europe to Hong Kong in December.


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