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Trip Report: CX J from a BA Gold perspective

Trip Report: CX J from a BA Gold perspective

Old Apr 16, 14, 10:18 am
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Trip Report: CX J from a BA Gold perspective

Part 1: Overview, PHX-LAX (AA), and LAX TBIT
Part 2: LAX-HKG (CX)
Part 3: Exploring Hong Kong
Part 4: HKG-LAX (CX) and LAX-PHX (US)

Overview

As a BA Gold card holder, I often read on FlyerTalk about how amazing Cathay Pacific business class is when compared to BA Club World. I recently had my first trip to Hong Kong, and being based in Phoenix, it did not make sense to fly via LHR, so I gave CX a try. I also had a pair of short flights on AA and US to/from LAX to position for the trip to Hong Kong.

This trip report tries to take a fairly impartial look at the experience in comparison to typical BA Club World.

The overall route for this trip was scheduled as follows:

PHX-LAX
Mar 28 06:05-07:25
AA 2629

LAX-HKG
Mar 28 12:25-19:15 (+1 day)
CX 885

HKG-LAX
Apr 5 16:30-14:05
CX 882

LAX-PHX
Apr 5 17:55-19:17
US 736

This was purchased as two separate tickets, which AA handles more favorably than most airlines. The tickets were fairly expensive as they were purchased less than a month prior to departure, and the first weekend was the Hong Kong 7s, a popular rugby tournament. The separate tickets were needed to save $3000 off the cost of a combined ticket.

To minimize the possibility of a missed connection, I took the earliest flight on March 28. On the return, I knew that both AA and US offer a friendly MoveUp program for passengers with status, so if my CX flight was early, I could switch to an earlier US or AA flight. I'm still surprised that this is not something BA offers its Gold members for shorthaul routes.

Due to the relatively late booking, there was a fairly limited selection of seats, and I wanted to try the famous mini-cabin on CX, a section with 8 seats directly behind business class. While I checked daily, the best seats I found were 11D and 11G, both middle seats but with direct aisle access. While you could argue that BA's approach of charging for seat assignments to non-status holders might have benefited me, the section I was seated is generally restricted to status holders until 72 hours before the flight, so presumably everyone in this section also had status. Also, on my last BA flights, even a few weeks in advance, the upper deck was completely full to and from the US, so even BA's approach to selling seat assignments isn't a guarantee of a preferred seat.

PHX-LAX
06:05-07:25 (scheduled and actual)
AA 2629 (CRJ)
Seat 9C (exit row)


For this early morning departure, I departed from home at 4:00 am via the Execucar service and arrived at Sky Harbor around 4:30 am. American has recently moved into Terminal 4 at Phoenix, the terminal that US and BA both occupy. This is a huge upgrade, as terminal 3 is very limited in the amenities of the terminal (no lounge access, very limited restaurant options). There is a bit of confusion of passengers as to whether they are flying on AA or US given the large number of codeshares currently in place, but I was quickly through to the AA first class line.

For reasons that are not clear, I could not retrieve my CX boarding pass online, and neither could the AA agent. That said, they were able to check my bag all the way through to Hong Kong. I asked about lounge access, and was told that the new lounge in the B concourse was now open.

I had TSA PreCheck as part of the global entry program, but it wasn't open this early. Instead, I went through normal security with the equivalent of a fast track lane, and they said to not take off my shoes or belt and show them my boarding pass as part of PreCheck. I was through security within 10 minutes without a body scanner or groping.

The new lounge near B4 is finished, but it doesn't open until 6 am. I guess the counter agent didn't really consider how early it was when suggesting I visit the lounge.

Terminal 4 has a variety of new restaurants, with a good mix of local favorites. Unfortunately, most were not open at this early hour, even though AA has a bank of flights departing before 6 am. I missed out on having Matt's Big Breakfast, a popular local restaurant that offers an excellent breakfast or lunch service. Instead I found Press Coffee and ordered a breakfast sandwich, which was reasonably good.



The boarding area was updated for American (new signs, AA priority boarding lanes, etc.) at the end of the B concourse. Our gate display wasn't operational, which seemed to give the gate agent something to worry about, as about 50% of the passengers approached her asking if this was for the flight to Los Angeles.

Boarding commenced on-time, though why AA fly a CRJ to LAX is beyond me. The only benefit of the exit row was that there was no passenger seated next to me. These planes are truly awful, but again, I took this flight to have plenty of connection time in Los Angeles. The flight attendant was very friendly, especially for such an early morning departure, and we had an on-time departure and arrival. Nothing on BA has seats this uncomfortable, even the old BMI planes, though I have not yet tried the BA CityFlyer service.







LAX layover

We arrived at Gate 44, which is really a bus gate to a remote terminal near terminal 8. To leave this terminal, you must take a bus to the real gate 44 in terminal 4. Given the early hour, this took much less time than during my last trip through Los Angeles in December

Consistent with the theme so far on this trip, it was too early to retrieve my CX boarding pass, so I popped into the AA Flagship lounge in terminal 4. It's nothing special, though better than a normal Admirals Club and not very crowded at 8 am. I had a couple of bites of food and stopped as it was very bland. The Evian water is a nice touch for a lounge in the US. It's somewhat funny to use a hotel key card to sneak into a different lounge within a lounge. The most redeeming features in this lounge appear to be the views, reduced crowds, and some very bad free food.





I stayed in the Flagship Lounge just until the CX flight opened for boarding, as I'd rather see more of the new Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT), even if the new OW lounge is not yet open.

At 9:30 am, I took a short five minute walk from the lounge, exiting security, and over to the CX counter. CX was a few minutes late opening check-in, and I waited a few minutes until they were ready. CX seems to treat OneWorld Emerald members quite well, and even though I had queued in the business class lane, they quickly reminded me that I was eligible for first class everything (except a seat on the plane). After a quick document check, and getting a reference to my luggage tags, I received my boarding pass and lounge invitation.



I was through security (no PreCheck option, and it was too early for the priority lane to be open, so I opted for groping over the body scanner) and was in the lounge within 20 minutes. They have not yet completed the renovation of parts of TBIT, and the security area is still part of the old terminal setup.

This process was almost too efficient, as the first class lounge wasn't open yet. I was told they would announce when the first class lounge would open, and I popped into the business class lounge which was nearly empty. I had a small tabbouleh salad, and then the other lounge opened.

I enjoyed being the only passenger in the lounge for the first 30 minutes before a few more guests entered. Oddly, the first few guests all chose to sit near me, rather than making use of the space. I think this lounge is underrated and the Flagship Lounge overrated, as the food selection in here was far superior. Given the current renovations at TBIT, this lounge has no windows, which makes it a bit dark and boring. The wifi was reasonably fast, the service was attentive, and the food was decent to pass the time. Power outlets were limited, but with my early arrival, I had no issue finding a good location.





At around 11:30 am, I was ready to stretch my legs, and the flight was supposed to depart on-time. I walked around the terminal for a while. Larder at Tavern looks like a great restaurant, with a good selection of organic meal options. It's a very nice terminal, comparable in style to many of the major airports around the world, and probably the nicest terminal in the US now, though I've not seen the new SFO terminal 2 or the new renovations at JFK. That said, it is relatively small, but much more spacious than the old TBIT. One thing that is odd is that it is difficult to get views of the actual planes as there is so much retail space obstructing the views.

This terminal was built right next to the old terminal which they are slowly tearing down, so parts of the old terminal are still in use for their boarding gates. It provides for an interesting contrast.











Coming next: LAX-HKG on CX in J!

Last edited by dylanks; Apr 18, 14 at 8:57 am Reason: Add link to part 4
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Old Apr 16, 14, 10:44 am
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Nice report, keep it coming!
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Old Apr 16, 14, 10:47 am
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Be careful what you wish for with the much heralded mini cabin - on a recent flight to HKG (detailed in an as yet unfinished TR), I was in there with Mr Farty. It did not make for a pleasant journey
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Old Apr 16, 14, 11:18 am
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Originally Posted by darthlemsip View Post
Be careful what you wish for with the much heralded mini cabin - on a recent flight to HKG (detailed in an as yet unfinished TR), I was in there with Mr Farty. It did not make for a pleasant journey
Ha, I was fortunate to not have that experience!
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Old Apr 16, 14, 11:23 am
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Originally Posted by dylanks View Post
The Evian water is a nice touch for a lounge in the US.
It's funny how this is seen as a bit of a luxury in the US. To me it's just the same as any other mineral water, but kudos to Evian for their marketing!

Looking forward to the rest of the report.
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Old Apr 16, 14, 11:54 am
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Originally Posted by darthlemsip View Post
Be careful what you wish for with the much heralded mini cabin - on a recent flight to HKG (detailed in an as yet unfinished TR), I was in there with Mr Farty. It did not make for a pleasant journey
yikes...

nice start OP.

I seem to recall you can just phone up CX and they should be able to seat you in 11 and 12 - in fact, i think with your status you could have access to the same. they tend to be rather accomodating in my experience.

it would suck to not have a window since i would pretty much be up the whole flight and then power through to 10 or 11 pm local to be on time as soon as possible....i can see them wanting the cabin dark but personally, sleeping on this flight is the worst thing you can do. don't want to be wide awake when you land....

....I have sat in the mini cabin a few times and I am statusless…maybe things have changed but since we have no F out of YYZ, its moot...
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Old Apr 16, 14, 11:59 am
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Originally Posted by mkjr View Post
yikes...

nice start OP.

I seem to recall you can just phone up CX and they should be able to seat you in 11 and 12 - in fact, i think with your status you could have access to the same. they tend to be rather accomodating in my experience.

it would suck to not have a window since i would pretty much be up the whole flight and then power through to 10 or 11 pm local to be on time as soon as possible....i can see them wanting the cabin dark but personally, sleeping on this flight is the worst thing you can do. don't want to be wide awake when you land....

....I have sat in the mini cabin a few times and I am statusless…maybe things have changed but since we have no F out of YYZ, its moot...
Normally I would not sleep at all, but with the early 4am departure, I decided I could sleep 3-4 hours since I'd only had about the same the night before. It worked out pretty well.

Regarding the seating, it was a full flight, so 11D was the only seat that was available. It worked out better than I would have expected. I've started to appreciate the middle seats a bit more since my trip to India last year, where I managed to get a pair of middle seats on both flights to BOM on BA. On a trip planned for this summer with the wife, kids, and infant on the low J 747, we're taking 20DEFG.
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Old Apr 16, 14, 12:00 pm
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Part 2: LAX-HKG on CX J

LAX-HKG
Mar 28 12:25-19:15 (+1 day)
CX 885 (77H)
Seat 11D

I arrived at the gate, and the flight boarding was delayed 20 minutes due to a late inbound arrival. After walking around the airport some more, it was time to queue for the flights. CX first calls passengers that need extra time to board, and while that occurs, they have First/One World emeralds in one queue, and business class passengers in another. I have no idea what they do after that.



At gate 134, they were using two jet bridges, with business class passengers walking through the small 6 seat first class cabin to arrive at their seats.

11D was a decent seat, basically the same as the US Airways envoy seat or AA 77W seat, with some subtle refinements, e.g. a bit extra storage space and a better tray table. It's a decent seat, and offers more personal space than a typical Club World seat, but I still objectively like the Club World seat a bit better, which I'll explain shortly. As usual, I also bring my own neck pillow, which I can also use to sleep face first if necessary as I find side sleeping on a hard seat to be a bit challenging.





A pre-flight drink was offered (I chose orange juice and still water), and we departed about 30 minutes late.

With a flight this long, they really took their time to serve the first meal (probably 2+ hours total).

First, they pass out the menus and amenity kits (aka wash bags) after takeoff, then they bring a drink and warm cashews. Then they start the service.





For starters, they provided marinated prawns with squash, red quinoa and ricotta salata. It was a nice dish. This was followed with a garden salad that was very ordinary.



The meal itself was pretty great, except for the main course. They serve the mains from a cart, so you get to see all of your options. I was originally considering a cod dish, but the beef looked a lot better. Unfortunately it had the same issues that BA has, in that it was overcooked.



I was then offered a cheese and fruit dish, and a sesame creme brulee tart that was nice. Service was finished with tea and pralines.



When they brought the menu, they were very clear that lunch would be served early, snacks throughout the flight, and then dinner about 2 hours before landing, contrary to the recent CX thread where many flights serve the second meal about 5 hours into the flight.

I had decided that I would sleep a few hours on this flight, but at 3 pm Pacific time, I was not tired, so I watched some movies on the IFE while working on my laptop. The location of the power outlet is a bit more convenient than on Club World.

The IFE feels very similar to what you would get on a newer BA 777, but with CX branding and what seemed to be a wider selection of movies and shows. For example, there was the entire first season of Tom Baker as the Doctor.

I enjoyed the shrimp and pork wonton noodles for the snack, which really were probably the best main course option on the flight.



The route map works well, including the live map from below the plane (I have some photos from that on the return flight). While there often seems to be a wait for the toilets on Club World, there was never a wait for the toilets on this flight. The amenity kit itself is not very useful beyond the bag which my daughters will enjoy, but it actually made the elemis products seem inspired.



I managed to sleep about 3-4 hours at this point, and woke up as we were flying over Japan.



About 90 minutes before the end of the flight, they started the second meal service which was not great. After starting with fresh fruit, they were offering trofie pasta with pesto sauce, one of my favorites from Cinque Terre. Sadly it was really not very flavorful. We were then offered a pistachio tart with raspberry coulis. There was a fair amount of turbulence during the meal service that delayed the delivery of the main course.



I don't consume alcohol as it just makes me tired, so I cannot report on the quality of their wines or champagne.

Here are some other stray thoughts about other factors of the flight:

People had reported that 11D was a loud place to sit because there is a linen bin in front of the seat. While I did notice this a few times, it never bothered me as I was wearing my headphones or sleeping. What was more annoying was the passengers in 11A and 12D were collaborating on a presentation, and the reflection of the light from his seat off of his laptop was directly on my face. The eye mask solved this problem when I was ready to sleep. In general, the mini-cabin was very quiet (not quite a 787 or A380).

The flight attendants pretty much leave you alone between meal service unless you ask for something, and then they are immediately attentive. This is to reduce the cabin noise, but I had to remember to ask for things instead of wondering why my water was empty. That said, I was welcomed to my seat by name, and frequently addressed by name, and while this is something that matters to many on the BA forum, it really does not matter to me at all.

While the seats are spacious, I still have several complaints about them, and would still rate them below Club World. The comfort of the upright position during takeoff and landing is very upright, whereas Club World has a comfortable gentle tilt that is much better. The cushions on the seat are fairly firm, more so than I prefer. And while there are several small places to put personal items, there's no drawer for your laptop. On our initial decent there was turbulence, and it was a while before I could access my laptop.

Finally, there's somewhat of a OneWorld formula. Much like the BA jingle during the safety video and landing, CX has their own jingle they play as well. This was fairly pronounced upon landing in Hong Kong, as the taxi was at least ten minutes until our arrival at what I believe was gate 3 or 4.

We arrived about 30 minutes late. Immigration was very quick (2-3 minutes), and they no longer stamp your passport. Instead they give you a small piece of paper with your name and details on it. Luggage took about 15 minutes. I then found a SIM card at Relay for the week







I then made my way to the Arrival. It's great that CX keeps their arrivals lounge open until late at night. It is a very tiny lounge, with seating for maybe 25 people. It was not crowded on a Saturday evening, and provided a good place to wait while my colleague arrived on a flight from Chicago. The shower facilities were nice. They have a buffet, as well as a short menu to order, , and I had another noodle dish. There are plenty of photos online showing the arrival, and other than it being really quite small (not much larger than a first lounge at an outstation such as PHX), the pictures accurately reflect the lounge.



We then found the Airport express train to Kowloon station, and took a short taxi ride to the Langham Place hotel. The door to door trip was about 26 hours, and I arrived ready to sleep, but reasonably refreshed.

Parts 3 and 4 are going to take a bit longer, as I still need to write them... thanks for all of the feedback so far!
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Old Apr 16, 14, 12:33 pm
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Nice TR so far, glad to see you having a good trip.

It does amuse me how precious BA folks are about their Club World Seat! This seat is supposedly voted world best, and many agree it is miles ahead of the BA seat which is really last generation now.. I personally can't bare having to crawl over someone, and hate how the whole seat creaks about when the other passenger moves. Anyways each to their own!
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Old Apr 16, 14, 12:50 pm
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Thanks a great TR subscribed
John
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Old Apr 16, 14, 1:01 pm
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Originally Posted by CX828 View Post
Nice TR so far, glad to see you having a good trip.

It does amuse me how precious BA folks are about their Club World Seat! This seat is supposedly voted world best, and many agree it is miles ahead of the BA seat which is really last generation now.. I personally can't bare having to crawl over someone, and hate how the whole seat creaks about when the other passenger moves. Anyways each to their own!
To be fair, I've never had to crawl over someone (I've always been fortunate enough to snag 62/64 A/K, or either an aisle on the first row or a window in the last row, or the pair of middle seats in the last row), but even then, not a huge deal really compared with what it must be like to fly in Y.

I'm probably the last person to defend BA, and the BA seats definitely are tired in places: small IFE screens, creakiness on older seats, bad footrest design (though it is nice to adjust the height), not much personal space besides the drawer except for upper deck window seats, bad location for power cable, etc. I just find the actual BA CW seat to be a bit more comfortable for a long flight than the CX seat, but also, not everyone has the same body type/shape/height!

I think I actually complain more about BA F though as I expect more from F. I really find the non-adjustable IFE screen to be a bad flaw in that you cannot rotate it when you want to lay back.
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Old Apr 16, 14, 4:17 pm
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Just a couple of comments on the OP's experience at PHX. First, about AA's CRJ service to LAX, they just started this service a couple of years ago to connect PHX to their LAX focus city. Before that, there were NO flights to LAX. So, a CRJ is much better than nothing at all. I'm sure that, as AA and US combine, the aircraft will be mainline (or at least the larger regional jets with F).

Second, AA/US does not have a bank that departs before 6am. They have a few flights which depart early, but by no means is it a "bank" of flights. The first bank arrives around 6:30am or so and departs around 7:30am or so (perhaps flights were running a bit early that day).
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Old Apr 16, 14, 6:04 pm
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Originally Posted by formeraa View Post
So, a CRJ is much better than nothing at all.
Not in my book.

dylanks, nice start to your report. Looking forward to the rest.
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Old Apr 16, 14, 6:23 pm
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Originally Posted by formeraa View Post
Just a couple of comments on the OP's experience at PHX. First, about AA's CRJ service to LAX, they just started this service a couple of years ago to connect PHX to their LAX focus city. Before that, there were NO flights to LAX. So, a CRJ is much better than nothing at all. I'm sure that, as AA and US combine, the aircraft will be mainline (or at least the larger regional jets with F).

Second, AA/US does not have a bank that departs before 6am. They have a few flights which depart early, but by no means is it a "bank" of flights. The first bank arrives around 6:30am or so and departs around 7:30am or so (perhaps flights were running a bit early that day).
I think they had ORD, DFW, and LAX all leaving at ~6am, so this may be a recent change. It was a Friday morning fwiw, and I believe all of the planes had been sitting overnight.

And yes, I do expect this to be the first thing they consolidate in PHX when the merger is finished, because the flight times aren't staggered by much, so in some cases you have AA and US flights on this route leaving at the same time.
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Old Apr 16, 14, 6:25 pm
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Originally Posted by SFO777 View Post
Not in my book.

dylanks, nice start to your report. Looking forward to the rest.
Wow, the legendary SFO777 is commenting on my TR! I've really enjoyed reading your reports. My wife especially enjoyed the recent Paris one (we got engaged near Sacré-Cśur two years ago) as it brought back some great memories and gave us some places to try next time.
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