Date: 27 December 2003
Airline: Cathay Pacific
Flight: CX 170
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
Scheduled departure: 1250
Actual departure: 1245
Scheduled arrival: 2035
Actual arrival: 2020
Departure gate: 55
Arrival gate: 61
Although I am quite aware that the majority of Flyer Talkers fly comfortably in the serene surroundings of First and Business Class, I (kindly!) thought that some of you may be interested to know what is happening up the back of the bus aboard what many of you believe to be the world’s best airline.
This trip to Hong Kong happened to be a last-minute consolation after having had grief with Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines over waitlists for a round-the-world trip planned for the same period. Fraught with problem after problem, difficulty after difficulty and annoyance after annoyance, we came to the conclusion that the trip was jinxed, indeed demonstrated with Air New Zealand bluntly saying that we were unlikely to get the first sector – Perth to Auckland. Oh the mercilessness of those bloody Kiwis!
With the horrific predicament of being left without a holiday and having to live through the 40C+ weather of a West Australian summer, it was decided that any escape that could be possible would be booked, ticketed and paid for within the blink of an eyelid. It just so happened there were a few cabins going on the Superstar Leo from Hong Kong to Fremantle in that golden period and thus, the trip was booked with no consultation. Indeed, payment was made and the travel agent, yes that breed of often useless folk, was left to make the decisions to make this short little trip a reality. Yes, life was dangerous, terrifying and insecure as we waited to hear and see whether a travel agent could do the extraordinary and book successfully a trip encapsulating the desires and requirements of their clients. In order to get to Hong Kong, we were ticketed on what many believe to be the world’s finest airline, Cathay Pacific and from the in-house airline geek, there was little in the way of resistance.
Arriving for check-in on Saturday the 27th of December, having been stuffed full of food from the preceding three days, we were met with the charming sight of winding queues and enough luggage to cram into every god**** stall in Nathan Road with enough left to give to the poor in Africa to wear atop their heads. Despite travelling as a peasant myself, my parents had conveniently found only two seats in Business Class for themselves whilst placing the meagre heirs to the throne up the back. Marco Polo club members were also privileged to be checking in at the on the extravagant carpet. Greeted by a genuinely friendly Scotsman who, along with other family members took great pride in demeaning women and Australia – indeed in jest with that famous Scottish sense of humour – the trip seemed to be off to a good start. As far as check-in agents go, he was exceptionally helpful, knowledgeable and pleasant and, when I start my airline, he shall be one of the lucky few to grace the check-in counters for my flights. Alas I digress.
Having spoken to the airport manager for CX in Perth, we secured three window seats for the three heirs and the possibility of visiting the flight deck prior to takeoff. Chuffed at what I considered to be an unusually seamless and successful check-in, I proceeded like a stuffed chook to the newly renovated Perth departures lounge where I was met with the gorgeous (and shapely) figure of a female security guard who I felt was, in stature, facial features, manner and of course width, perfectly suited to a role as matron in a hospital during Hitler’s reign in the late 1930s and early 1940s. In actual fact, this lovely lass reminded me of the matron from that great old classic, Drop Dead Fred.
Meandering around the tiny Perth International terminal there is little to do if you are a big beastly male. To enjoy the Perth Airport’s retail outlets, a gender change is required along with the mandatory brain reprogramming so that hopefully an interest can be taken in perfume. Regrettably, looking at perfume really doesn’t do it for me on a sunny Saturday morning.
The terminal was relatively quiet with Qantas 737-400 VH-TJF operating QF75 to Denpasar and Royal Brunei 767-300 RBH operating BI66, a 1230 flight to Bandar Seri Begawan carrying the usual complement of riffraff on their grand tour of just about every city on the way to Europe.
At 1215 the call came to board B-HLT, one of the newer A330-300s in the CX fleet. From my friends in CX I had heard that this was probably a good thing given that the newly released Economy Class seats on HLU onwards are woefully hard. Trudging down the aerobridge I had a word to the CX airport manager again who said that because the Captain and First Officer didn’t know each other, a visit prior to takeoff would be out of the question, instead having to wait until the latter part of the flight. By no means surprised at the outcome, I was still impressed at her efforts.
The In-flight service Manager (ISM), dressed as if she were off to a funeral in that oh-so-ardent colour of black, was at the door to welcome passengers. The welcome was efficient and professional, but hardly worthy of winning the famed warmth award for warmest welcome which Air New Zealand so proudly proclaims. Trudging through the remotely comfortable Business Class incensed at my 5’2 mother occupying the extra legroom, I noted the cabin was fitted with the old-style Business Class and the AVOD system similar to that aboard the A340-600s. I eventually made it through to seat 66K on the starboard side of the aircraft, in fact the second last row of this Airbus A330-300.
First impressions of the cabin were good – gone is the hideous light tone of green which fades famously in favour of a far more soothing and welcoming darker shade. (don’t I sound like a queer interior decorator?) Unfortunately, this aircraft was still fitted with the antiquated entertainment system lacking the acronym that is music to any airline geek’s ears: AVOD. Nevertheless, it wasn’t a particularly big problem. Taking my seat it was apparent that the improved aesthetics of the cabin hadn’t translated into enhanced comfort. Instead, I found myself in probably the most uncomfortable airline seat I have ever sat in – the pitch was woeful – felt more like 31” than 32”, the in-built lumbar support poor, no footrest, no separate drinks holder and the most ridiculously limited recline. The only redeeming feature of the seat was the fixed side wings which are good for sleeping. Nevertheless, I was optimistic that the in-flight service would make up the difference.
Welcome aboard from the captain came around 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure of 1250, a South African chap. Didn’t hear much of his address given that I was talking to my neighbour, a lovely twenty-something Australian teaching in Glasgow. Pushed back five minutes ahead of schedule and safety video played even before the commencement of the pushback after an incomprehensible announcement from the ISM. The Trent 700s were fired up and gave their characteristic whir, flaps were deployed and we were off for a runway 21 departure after a painfully slow taxi. Oh those CX pilots, wow, they’re so cautious! 45 second takeoff and we were airborne into relatively smooth Aussie skies, quite surprising given the amount of wind I had endured whilst trying to get my cases out of the ridiculously high boot on our X5. Major power decrease at around 1500ft prior to commencing a right turn which gave passengers on the starboard side a fantastic view of the Perth city skyline. To those of you who have taken the liberty to visit Perth, I am sure you can empathise with my excitement. Oh enough of the sarcasm you say!
Made another right turn and we were on track along the WA coast for Hong Kong. Continued our climb to 36,000 feet passing over Geraldton, Shark Bay, Bali, Jakarta and Manado.
Now as a man who loves attention to detail, there were a few frightening realisations on this flight shortly after takeoff: No menus. No hot towels. Indeed it is a poverty pack on Cathay these days if you’re up the back.
The flight attendants burst into life around 25 minutes after departure to begin what would become an enchanting dash from front to back like headless chooks trudging from fore to aft in a state of disarray. Interestingly, the ISM came through the Economy cabin to welcome aboard personally the Emerald frequent flyers. Our funeral director looked awkward and she read from her folder as she welcomed aboard the blessed passengers and it was very obvious that this wasn’t coming from the heart but rather from protocol. As good as these personal welcomes are for their most frequent travellers, they are embarrassingly poor PR when they are done poorly, as in this case. I looked to the green carpet and cringed.
Drinks cart came out and an apple juice was consumed. My god, I had hit the hardcore stuff right from the start! At around 2:15pm the dinner trolleys began their pilgrimage, this time from the back to front which appealed to me. Choice was between fish, pasta and chicken – the normal Economy offerings for those of us travelling in the undignified aft cabin. Given my past experience with steerage food, chicken was the choice and came served on rather agreeable bamboo-style trays. The only word that expresses the quality of this food is GARBAGE. Unmitigated garbage. Never before have I had such dry, flavourless and stringy chicken so lacking in flavour. The prawn appetiser was good, and so was the chocolate and cherry cake for dessert relatively speaking, but the chicken was an absolute disgrace to Cathay Pacific and also to Qantas catering in Perth. Where the blame lies I do not know but for flip’s sake, for someone whose life revolves around food, what a horrifyingly traumatic experience!
As a ravenous seventeen year old living under the age-old principle of greed, I took it upon myself to cure the unsavoury taste of the chicken and ask for something else. Call button depressed, no action. Is this Cathay Pacific? Flight attendant made another mercy dash from front to back so I tapped her on the shoulder and was met by two shocked rabbit eyes as I am sure she had lapsed into a state of pure astonishment at being disrupted from her 25 metre sprint and then asked whether there was anything available for this poor deprived individual, also known as yours truly. Pleasant in her demeanour, she smiled and eventually came back with the pasta which was light years ahead of my first choice so at least I finished the meal on a higher note than it had started. But alas, this wasn’t a particularly difficult task
The entertainment system was on but my mind wasn’t – for the choices were dismal at best. Thinking Johnny English would be amusing was a mistake, and I decided that Rowan Atkinson should run and hide before I chase after him and peg him with an assortment of rocks. Thus, airshow on channel 48 was selected. Mind numbing yes, and I suppose it reflects the dreary nature of Johnny English and the entertainment options in general.
Flight attendants distributed landing cards for Hong Kong but obviously they were secretly trying to keep me onboard after arrival for secret business in the loos as they decided mysteriously not to give me one. After trying to crassly call out and receiving no answer, the call button was again depressed. 20 minutes passed and still there was no answer and this was to be the story for most of the flight. This really was not a good service day. I gave up after that time and again delved into conversation with my lovely seatmate connecting to London on another Cathay flight. For those of you who subscribe to the proclamation by Airbus that the A330 and A340 have the quietest passenger cabins, sitting in 66K on this flight would have them in court for making false claims. Whilst the aircraft is blissfully quiet forward of the wings, up the back my impression was that they are noisier than the 777, although just a personal observation.
The cabin crew did work hard throughout the flight and they were always in the aisles working but everything was so rushed, unrefined and curt that it was so apparent that this lot weren’t having fun and that serving was a tough task, which I fully appreciate is probably the case. This crew was most certainly lacking in organisational skills and this cost them dearly. I estimate that the disorganisation of this crew led to them probably doubling their workload which made it exasperating for the passengers, and I’m sure also for them too and it was exceptionally surprising for me, especially after my truly excellent experience with them in 2000 in Business Class – a flight let down on that occasion by the hideously worn out cabin of B-HLI.
As the drinks cart came down yet again, I asked for an apple juice and was met with the response of: “Would an orange juice be okay?” Being the genuinely friendly, charming, doting and wonderful individual I am, I did as I was told. What perturbed me however was that a couple of rows on, a passenger who asked for orange juice was asked whether he would like apple. God only knows what was going on. I was perplexed.
Lights dimmed around 5pm and passengers were asked to close their window shades so the cabin progressively lapsed into a state of lethargica and not wanting to be left out, I obliged and did the same. Wanting to purchase some perfume from the in-flight catalogue for my girlfriend, I pressed the call button, being unfamiliar with the Cathay duty-free procedures. For thirty minutes I received no response and when the refreshment carts came out, I figured it was not a good time to pester the cabin crew so I delayed my request. The refreshment came around and it was a choice of beef and noodles or a chicken pie. Not thinking, I chose another chicken dish with the pie which actually wasn’t too bad. Accompanied by a rather delectable mango ice-cream, it wasn’t a bad refreshment, especially when compared to the foul lunch, but it was served virtually 10 minutes prior to commencing descent into Hong Kong on a 7 hr 45 minute flight. The cabin crew were in the aisles like eagles waiting to prey in order to get the trays cleared prior to landing. The meal should undoubtedly have been served earlier and I felt that again, it was a showing sign of the disorganisation of this particular crew. Still wanting to purchase some perfume, I again tried and actually received a response “I’m sorry it is too late as we are descending”. To say I was incensed would be an understatement as this was purely the making of a ridiculously disorganised “team”.
With the meals cleared, and around 100 miles out of HKG, we continued our descent, with no form of wing illumination whatsoever making for somewhat of an eerie atmosphere. The lights of the taxiways became clear and we touched down rather smoothly to the comment of my seatmate “that was fairly smooth”, at which point we landed again, obviously having bounced famously like a kangaroo. Now, now, bouncing is reserved only for Garuda, Cathay, don’t steal their thunder! Took a long time to slow down with full reverse thrust, spoilers and lots of brake, but we made it, parking at gate 61 next to a United Airlines 747-400 after yet another incomprehensible landing announcement from which I had gathered only one bit “thankyou for flying Cathay Pacific, a member of oneworld alliance, we hope you enjoy Hong Kong”
Disembarkation commenced and I asked the ISM whether I could visit the flight deck to which the flight crew kindly agreed to. Although very pleasant, neither crewmember seemed particularly enthusiastic about their aircraft, their jobs or flying. Asked the question of whether they like the A330, “oh it’s just another aeroplane” was the rather lacklustre comment. Whether they were tired, hated this uncouth geek in their office or just aren’t interested in flying, it was clear that this pair wasn’t particularly great aviation company for all you aviation geeks. Evidently, I wouldn’t admit to such a flaw in my character!
Flew through Chek Lap Kok for the most part which was a breeze, suffice the extremely long immigration queues for foreign passport holders. What I noticed initially upon arrival was the young age of the airport staff who all looked around 16 to my ignorant Anglo-Saxon eye. Near the immigration counters, I saw one of these young male staff members appearing to be having great fun with a pole. I kid you not, it was quite odd. Obviously the pole was feeling horny and needed some TLC. Oh how uncouth! My eyes were, at that point, popping out of their sockets! Had I arrived in Bangkok?
After that rather interesting interlude and having passed through immigration and collected baggage, we entered into a chilly 14C evening and straight into Kowloon, marking an end to my first flight on Cathay Pacific since 2000 and my first experience flying with them in Economy.
In a nutshell, I wasn’t impressed and certainly won’t be rushing to board another Cathay aircraft any time soon. In line with some of our trip report connoisseurs (oh how I aspire!), I will provide some scores and a breakdown on the individual criteria.
Excellent. Handled by Qantas and the Cathay airport manager was also excellent in fulfilling requests. Couldn’t complain at all. Probably the best part of the trip.
Couldn’t complain. Done in an orderly fashion and handled politely by the staff. Perth lacks dual aerobridges so they did the best with what they had.
Crew pleasant enough but disorganised leading to curt interactions with passengers, running up and down the aisles like headless chooks and an inability to fulfil service calls within an elephant’s life span. Not good enough Cathay.
Pitched at 32”, I found these some of the most uncomfortable Economy Class seats. Headrest design was good with fixed wings but let down by low and intruding armrest and the lack of a slimline seat design which meant as a 6’2 freak, I was painfully uncomfortable
System worked flawlessly but unfortunately the options weren’t fabulous but that’s probably beyond the control of CX and they can’t please everyone. System easy to use given how simple and antiquated it is but hey, it’s better than an inoperative MAS 3000.
Toilets appeared clean when I used them. I’m so sorry I was (just a little) too conventional to carry out a sanitary napkin test but will try my hardest next time I fly (I wouldn’t want to impinge on your specialty Khoa!) Cabin was looking fresh. Very good amenity kits handed out.
Main chicken meal was positively disgusting. Need to pick up those green socks in terms of food ex Perth.
Arrival in Hong Kong
Facility is nice to meander but lacking in Singapore efficiency says the arrogant traveller. The live sex show was entertaining.
= 59% overall rating.
Well there you have it ladies and gentlemen, a long ramble about a very disappointing Cathay Pacific flight. I have to say that based upon this one flight, I’m in no hurry to fly Cathay again in Economy. In many respects, that score would be a lot lower without the stellar services at Perth. Having spoken to several people who have travelled recently aboard Cathay flights out of Perth, the feedback seems to be relatively similar.
To all of you Singapore Airlines aficionados, I hope you can sleep straight in your batik sheets even though I’m sure some of you are queer because based on this experience, you have very little to worry about. In actual fact, this is the worst flight I’ve had in many years and based on my last flights with Qantas, they’re light years ahead in terms of Economy service.
Unfortunately the feather didn’t brush my back nicely enough and instead by body has turned blue and gold.