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My worst flight experience ever: Cathay Pacific A33 business class Doha to Hong Kong

My worst flight experience ever: Cathay Pacific A33 business class Doha to Hong Kong

Old Apr 30, 15, 7:32 am
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My worst flight experience ever: Cathay Pacific A33 business class Doha to Hong Kong

On April 2nd 2015, I flew Business Class in an Airbus A330-300 of Cathay Pacific from Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Qatar to Hong Kong (HKG). While the flight itself was ok (with a great cabin crew, excellent seats, but unimpressive and economy-like food), I will remember it as my worst travel experience ever (so far), because of the total incompetence that Cathay Pacific displayed when we had to deal with an unexpected and very frustrating 24 hour flight delay.

- I took a lot of photos during the flight. You can find them here: http://theluxurytravelexpert.com/201...-to-hong-kong/
- I also made a Youtube clip of the flight. Hope you like it:

- Trip: DOH-HKG
- Airline: Cathay Pacific
- Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
- Flight Number: CX640
- Date: April 2nd, 2015
- On time departure: no (24 hour flight delay; 1.30 am)
- On time arrival: no (24 hour flight delay; 2.40 pm)
- Miles: 3935
- Flight time: 7:10
- Seat: 17A
- Class: business (D)

1. HOW A FLIGHT DELAY TURNS INTO A 24 HOUR TRAVEL NIGHTMARE

The Cathay Pacific flight CX640 from Doha to Hong Kong, that was due to depart on April 2nd at 1.45 am, was initially delayed by 15 hours because of a huge sandstorm at Doha (which caused the inbound aircraft – as the only one that night – to divert to another airport in the region). The flight was then delayed again for another 2 hours (reason unclear). Finally, the flight was delayed another 7 hours to 1.30 am on April 3rd for operational equipment reasons (as the crew legal flying hours had expired). This made a total delay of 24 hours. While it is not always possible for an airline to eliminate all of the factors that lead to a flight being delayed, it is crucial that there is no compromise in both communication and service for the passengers in such situation. And this is exactly where Cathay Pacific failed, not once, not twice, but multiple times.

- The way the multiple delays were communicated to the passengers was astonishing. There was no communication at all: there was no information on the airport screens, and the ground handling staff did not communicate at all. We had to find out everything ourselves (most information was retrieved by some passengers who were in touch with Cathay Pacific’s headquarters in Hong Kong).
- I am a Oneworld Emerald member (highest tier) and I flew business class on this particular flight. I would expect some priority when things go wrong and flights are delayed (as I experienced in the past on several occasions). That was not the case here. I identified myself to the ground staff, but I was asked to stand in the row behind all Economy Class passengers to get a hotel voucher.
- When it was my turn to get a hotel voucher, I asked whether I could be put on an earlier flight since Qatar Airways has 3 flights a day to Hong Kong and since my whole trip (that started in Brussels) was booked under a Qatar Airways flight number. The agent did not even check these options, and said I had to comply with the hotel arrangement. I could not believe that I was confronted with a total lack of effort to help me.
- It took me 4 hours from the moment the delay became clear until the moment I passed customs at Doha Airport. That huge amount of time was due to the totally incompetent ground handling staff that first collected the passports of all passengers, before returning them all after two hours (nothing had happened with them), and then ordering all passengers to pass the border individually.
- Next, I was put in a taxi van with around 20 other passengers, and then we had to wait again for 30 minutes in the van before the driver arrived. Meanwhile, the sand storm blew all the dust inside the car.
- I was dropped at a hotel in the early morning. At check in, it turned out the hotel staff was not aware of the fact that it needed to accommodate me and the other passengers. The airline could not be reached anymore, so it took another 30 minutes before the hotel staff could check us into the rooms. It was 6 am when I finally got to go to bed.
- The hotel itself was disgusting beyond words! I cannot understand that Hamad International Airport has one of the most luxurious Business Class lounges in the world (see below), but that they drop their Oneworld Elite members and Business Class passengers at this kind of very poor and filthy accommodation when things go wrong.
- At the airport, I was guaranteed that I would be lodged at a nicer hotel than economy passengers, because I was flying Business Class. Turned out this was not true, since more than 20 economy class passengers stayed at my hotel. I cannot understand why I was not told the truth nor why I did not get a better accommodation.
- The hotel had no food, no minibar, NOTHING! I had to “survive” on 2 bottles of waters for more than 12 hours before the van picked me up again to drive me to the airport at 2 pm (new flight time was scheduled at 4.50 pm by then). This was utterly shocking. I felt so sorry for all those families with young children. Shopping outside the hotel was not possible because of the sandstorm and because the hotel was located outside the city center (with no shops in the area).
- When I arrived at Doha airport for the new check-in, the Cathay Pacific counter was not open. More than 200 passengers were getting very angry now, and finally, one hour later and after some phone calls from the passengers to the Cathay Pacific headquarters, 3 counters were opened to start check-in. Again, the Cathay Pacific staff at Doha Airport excelled in total absence.
- The delayed flight was now due to take off at 4.50 pm, but was then delayed again by 2 hours, and then another 7 hours (until 1.30 am), without explanation, without any information. We later found out that this was because the crew legal flying hours had expired (again, this information was obtained by some passengers who had their contacts within the Cathay Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong). By this time, I could not believe anymore that I was flying Cathay Pacific, one of the world’s most celebrated airlines.
- Passengers were getting so angry at this time, that finally, for the very first time in the whole ordeal, a representative of Cathay Pacific showed up to give food vouchers but did not share any further information nor did she show any empathy. The airport police had to cool down some desperate passengers who were on the verge of lynching her.
- To make things even worse, our flight was now delayed to 1.30 am on April 3rd, but the screens in the airport showed that another Hong-Kong bound Cathay Pacific flight with the same flight number was scheduled for 1.35 am at the neighboring gate. I can tell you it caused chaos and confusion amongst passengers of both flights, hence delaying once more the boarding process.

One a positive note: the cabin crew on the flight from Doha to Hong Kong was excellent, and the head of the cabin crew (I believe her name was Leila) was the very first person I met during the ordeal that showed genuine empathy and shared disbelieve with what had happened. She should get credits for coping so well with the utterly frustrated and disappointed passengers, and for apologizing in the name of Cathay Pacific.

I understand that safety comes first and that there was an initial delay of 15 hours because of a sandstorm. However, the further delay of 9 hours is totally the fault of Cathay Pacific. The incompetence of the ground handling staff was beyond words. The lack of information was inexcusable. And the way I was treated as a Oneworld Emerald member flying Business Class was scandalous!


2. BUSINESS CLASS CABIN

Business Class on Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A330 is spread over 2 cabins: a large Business Class cabin in the front of the plane with 28 seats, and a smaller Business Class with just 11 seats in front of the Premium Economy cabin. Thanks to the herringbone layout in a 1-2-1 alignment, all Business Class seats have direct aisle access. The Business Class seats on the sides are angled toward the window (about 2 windows per seat, offering great views), while the seats in the middle are angled towards each other. The herringbone layout is also great for privacy, so even if you’re traveling solo for business and end up in the middle seats, there’s nothing to worry about, since you’ll barely see your neighbor. Curiously, the front row starts with number 11.

3. THE BUSINESS CLASS SEAT

The Business Class Seats are identical to the ones on American Airlines’ Boeings 777-300ER. It’s evident a lot of thought has gone into the design of the seat, which is comfortable and functional. Each seat has plenty of storage space for all your personal items. A side cabinet houses a headset and a vanity mirror with enough room for a smartphone, pen, passport and other bits and pieces. Next to the seat, at eye level, are the seat and entertainment controls, reading light and power port. Seats have a universal power supply outlet and a multi-port connector with an RCA port, an iPhone/iPod connector and a USB port. The RCA and the iPhone/iPod connector allows you to connect their own devices and watch video through the TV screen. The seats feature a large tray table in addition to a work surface so you can eat and work at the same time. There’s a large footrest in front of every seat. When tired, you can recline the seat into a very comfortable, fully flat-bed.

What are the best Business Class seats on Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A330-300?

- Solo travelers should go fo the window seats.
- Travel companions should go for the middle seats. However, due to how private they are, they really don’t lend themselves all that well to traveling with a partner.

What are the worst Business Class seats on Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A330-300?

- I suggest to avoid the very front row, row 11, due to its proximity to the galley and lavatories and also beacuse it has designated bassinet seats for 11A and 11K (so you may end up being close to young children).
- I suggest to avoid row 18, which is also close to a galley and lavatories, and the last row of Business Class, row 21, which is close to Premium Economy bassinet seats.

4. AMENITIES

Each seat comes with a nice blanket and a decent pillow. The Business Class amenity kit contains Jurlique products (lip balm & hand cream), socks, eyeshade, toothbrush, toothpaste, and earplugs.

5. MEALS

Before takeoff, we were offered a choice of welcome drinks: orange juice, water, or a sunrise hued drink. I had the orange juice. A refreshing hot towel was offered as well.

Fifteen minutes after take-off (2.30 am), dinner was offered, with all food (starter, main course, and desert) served at once on a single tray (which was kind of odd). Food was actually quite delicious but presentation was far from being inspirational. The starter consisted of freshly prepared savoury dips with mini pita bread. As an entrée, I choose the Nile Perch with lemon dill cream sauce, parsley mash and roasted pumpkin. Desert was a fresh note of mixed berries.

90 minutes prior to landing, a continental breakfast was served, with a mixed berry and banana smoothie, freshly brewed coffee, seasonal cut fruit, Bircher muesli, and a selection of bakery items. There was no hot dish to choose from. Very weird.

Food was totally unimpressive and more economy class alike. I expected so much more from Cathay Pacific.

6. ENTERTAINMENT

Each seat in the business class of the Cathay Pacific A330-300 has a 15-inch TV screen. There’s a library of 100 movies, 500 TV shows, CDs, radio channels and games in nine languages. A noise-cancelling headset assures a more enjoyable listening experience.

7. OTHER INFLIGHT EXPERIENCES

# CREW: the cabin crew on this flight was great, despite having to deal with a very frustrated and tired group of passengers. The head of the cabin crew (I believe her name was Leila) was the very first person I met during the ordeal that showed genuine empathy and shared disbelieve with what had happened. She should get credits for coping so well with the utterly frustrated and disappointed passengers, and for apologizing in the name of Cathay Pacific.

# LAVATORY: The Business Class lavatory design is very simple. Lavatories were kept clean during the flight.

# INTERNET: onboard WiFi is currently not offered by Cathay Pacific.

8. VERDICT

- Seat : 9/10
- Food: 6/10
- Inflight entertainment : 8/10
- Service: 8/10
- Cabin: 8/10
- Overall experience: good but not excellent: 7,8/10 (flight only; not taking into account the mishandling of the 24 hour flight delay)

Last edited by theLuxuryTravelExpert; May 15, 15 at 4:58 am
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Old Apr 30, 15, 7:53 am
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Sounds like a fairly poor extended-delay experience, but you come across as a bit of a DYKWIA.

Last edited by arlflyer; Apr 30, 15 at 8:11 am
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Old Apr 30, 15, 9:12 am
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Why the reliance on DOH ground staff to sort things for you?

Did you try reaching CX via phone to find someone more empowered to change flights, authorize better ground arrangements, etc.?
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Old Apr 30, 15, 9:21 am
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Why not take matters into your own hands? For example, as simple as taking a taxi to/from the airport rather than the free bus? Or just go buy a ticket on a different flight with miles or cash, and sort it all out later? As a OW Emerald, you should be a seasoned traveler and know how to think outside the box.
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Old Apr 30, 15, 9:52 am
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Originally Posted by work2fly
Why the reliance on DOH ground staff to sort things for you?

Did you try reaching CX via phone to find someone more empowered to change flights, authorize better ground arrangements, etc.?
I once tried that for a CX F award downgraded to J because of a late CX inbound. Phone agents said they couldn't do anything and it'd have to be sorted out in HKG.
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Old Apr 30, 15, 10:59 am
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Originally Posted by theLuxuryTravelExpert View Post
- When it was my turn to get a hotel voucher, I asked whether I could be put on an earlier flight since Qatar Airways has 3 flights a day to Hong Kong and since my whole trip (that started in Brussels) was booked under a Qatar Airways flight number. The agent did not even check these options, and said I had to comply with the hotel arrangement. I could not believe that I was confronted with a total lack of effort to help me.
Presumably the sand-storm affected all of the flights? Having worked out of BAH and DOH for a year, at least IME, a storm meant every-thing was grounded/diverted. Moreover, if the flight was booked with Qatar and your flights had Qatar flight numbers, why not go directly to Qatar via telephone? I would always call/talk to the airline I booked with immediately, not the one I'm flying with especially when it comes to international travel.

EDIT: Reading through the complaints again, it seems like the issue you had was actually with Qatar ground handling, not Cathay, so it seems a bit un-fair to attribute all of the hostility to Cathay.

Last edited by CHOPCHOP767; Apr 30, 15 at 11:11 am Reason: EDIT
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Old Apr 30, 15, 1:29 pm
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Originally Posted by theLuxuryTravelExpert View Post
The Business Class Seats are identical to the ones on American Airlines’ Boeings 777-300ER.
Not quite. They're smaller than the ones on the Boeing's, and it's noticeable if you transfer straight off of a 77W on to an A333

And I have to say, as others have, for someone who claims to be an expert, it's incomprehensible to me that you wouldn't take matters in to your own hands and sort it out afterwards
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Old Apr 30, 15, 1:31 pm
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Sounds like a pretty poor show from CX.
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Old Apr 30, 15, 6:39 pm
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Originally Posted by akersnl View Post
Why not take matters into your own hands? For example, as simple as taking a taxi to/from the airport rather than the free bus? Or just go buy a ticket on a different flight with miles or cash, and sort it all out later? As a OW Emerald, you should be a seasoned traveler and know how to think outside the box.
Would like to know as well. I know I would have been proactive as you suggest.
Checking on the hotel they were trying to put me in for one. If it looked like a dump I would figure it out myself.

Last edited by apodo77; May 1, 15 at 7:42 am
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Old Apr 30, 15, 6:40 pm
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Sounds normal for many outports, especially ones that handle only one flight a day or less for CX.
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Old Apr 30, 15, 7:10 pm
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1. If a one-day delay that included a hotel and food voucher in a non-third-world country is your "worst travel experience ever," then I've gotta say you've either had pretty sheltered travel experiences or are easily ruffled or both.

2. This is confirmed by the fact that (1) you chose to stand in a long line for a hotel at what sounds like 3 a.m. (!) instead of just going to a normal food-bearing hotel; (2) you apparently sought out a special business class line at the airport when one didn't exist (who does that? if there isn't one there isn't one, just do something else instead of waiting in line); and (3) you stood in a line waiting for a van in a dust storm instead of getting your own ride.

I read your complaint because I thought there would be some really gnarly story (flight attendant punched you in the jaw, plane diverted to remote island with only rancid coconut juice to consume, etc.). How disappointed I am.

Edited to add: "The taxi fare from the airport to any destination in Doha should not exceed QR25 (US$7)." (http://www.qatartourism.gov.qa/en-us...ound/taxi.aspx) You gotta make your own way, bro.
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Old Apr 30, 15, 9:03 pm
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The more I read this the more I'm scratching my head.
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Old Apr 30, 15, 9:16 pm
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My worst flight experience ever: Cathay Pacific A33 business class Doha to Hong Kong

I'm more perplexed as to why most of your report has been copied and pasted from airline websites about the lounges, seats and on board offerings. Word for word.
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Old Apr 30, 15, 9:26 pm
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Originally Posted by theLuxuryTravelExpert View Post
... since Qatar Airways has 3 flights a day to Hong Kong and since my whole trip (that started in Brussels) was booked under a Qatar Airways flight number...
Where did you get that information? QR operates one flight (QR816) and codeshares as QR5801 on the CX640 flight... Last time I checked that made TWO and not three, and one of them, as you point out, has been delayed


Originally Posted by theLuxuryTravelExpert View Post
... At the airport, I was guaranteed that I would be lodged at a nicer hotel than economy passengers, because I was flying Business Class. Turned out this was not true, since more than 20 economy class passengers stayed at my hotel.
Perhaps they too were oneworld emerald and expected better accommodation than everyone else We all know how many elites there are nowadays... and how many DYKWIA-types out there
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Old Apr 30, 15, 9:35 pm
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Regardless of whether you agree with the OP's POV, it is clear that Cathay Pacific has failed in the service recovery. There is definitely a combination of weather related and mechanical and crew related delays. I don't know if OW Emerald/Sapphire should receive priority, but business class passengers should at least be treated differently and put in a higher tier hotel. That is just basic common sense especially given the fare differentiations between J and Y on the ME markets. One of the major issues with ME3 carriers is the lack of ability to recover during irregular operation, and since CX uses QR ground handling, the problem seems to be ten times worst. I am also surprised that J pax were not put in the hotel right at the airport, but I guess the sand storm possibly creates many similar flight delays. Anyway, CX definitely fails in the customer recovery and communications, which I am no longer surprised on an airline that focuses on cutbacks.

I always say the greatest measure of an airline is during irrops, and so far in my thankfully limited experiences, only the Japanese airlines, operations in and out of Japanese airports, Singapore Airlines and Qantas pass the irrop test.

Another thing that I notice is that there are some catering cuts in business class on ME services. DXB to HKG midnight departure used to have a supper service (one tray dinner or cold meal service) and a hot breakfast prior to arrival (abbreviated version but still a choice of two hot entrees), and I guess CX has cut back once again. CX seems to be going back and forth. Since CX F/As always start that breakfast service 90 minutes prior to arrival anyway, a hot breakfast makes more sense.

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