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Birthday joyride on the Cathay Jumbo - with a two class upgrade!

Birthday joyride on the Cathay Jumbo - with a two class upgrade!

Old Jul 20, 16, 2:46 am
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Join Date: Jun 2014
Location: Hong Kong, occasionally in London
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Smile Birthday joyride on the Cathay Jumbo - with a two class upgrade!

CX543 Tokyo Haneda (HND/RJTT) - Hong Kong (HKG/VHHH) B747-400 Business Class

Hello FT!

The Northern summer has officially made its presence, and I was finally able to take a short break from work and will hopefully be zipping around the region for the coming months. Today I bring you a report on the first of my summer travels, which saw me flying from Tokyo back home to Hong Kong. As you will see in the report below, this flight has been truly special to myself personally: not only am I flying the soon-to-be-retired Cathay 747-400, but I was also doing that on my birthday! So without further ado, here it is!

For a recap of my recent reports, click the following link:

[First Flight] Asiana Airlines Inaugural A380 service to Hong Kong (JCL)
Lady Luck by my side -- CX251 HKG-LHR B77W J
Cathay's New Manchester Service: CX358 J Class
Cathay from Paris: CX278 CDG-HKG B77W J Class
Iberia IB3179 LHR-MAD A340-600 J - Coming Soon!
Trying out CX's latest European destination: CX320 MAD-HKG B77W J


Japan has always been one of my favourite countries, and I have visited the country no less than 15 times with my family since I was a toddler. But since the earthquake in 2011, health concerns has prevented me from visiting the country that I love so dearly. So when the opportunity came this summer that I have a week off work, I immediately booked myself on the earliest possible flight to Tokyo.
I have always had this goal of flying Cathay's 747 for one last time before they retire in October 2016. I have fond memories of the Jumbo - long haul flights in my childhood were almost exclusively operated by 747s - the 77Ws/787s/350s of now were still very much vague ideas on the designers' drawing boards then. From her most glorious days when Cathay operated in excess of 20 Jumbos, it is now all down to a fleet of three remaining. And the only regular route the 747s operate on is - as you probably have known by now - the afternoon flight to Tokyo Haneda.
So for the sake of flying the 747 on both the outbound and inbound flight, I ignored the fact that the flight pair did not offer the most attractive times from a tourist point of view, and booked myself onto CX542/543.


My original plan was to use my Asia Miles to redeem the tickets for this flight. However, I miscalculated the popularity of these flights and when the deadline came round, my waitlist for Business Class still has not cleared. But don't forget that was already less than a week before my departure date, and the prices for all classes were pretty much sky high - well all but Economy, which still had rather competitive V class fares available. A few calls to my agent later, the ticket was issued and I was good to go. I must admit I was slightly disappointed for not being able to fly on J, as I would have liked a seat on the all-J class upper deck. Nevertheless, a flight on the Jumbo is still a flight on the Jumbo, so I'm not really complaining.

On the day

The outbound flight was a nice, ordinary flight on Cathay's Y class. It was on one of the two Rolls Royce powered 744s - B-HUI. Having spent a few days in Tokyo pampered by the food, the people and the atmosphere in general, it was sadly time for me to head back home. During my time in Tokyo, I stayed in the Hotel Century Southern Tower which is conviniently located above the massive Shinjuku station. I have stayed in this hotel many times over my past visits to the city, and it appears that the property has once again undergone some renovation giving it a clean, modern look. Officially it is a 4-star hotel, but I was told it was not given 5-stars for a lack of swimming pool. Personally, I would say it is a very good value for money having paid less than HKD$2000 (approx Ģ195) per night, and it's hard to beat its location - just a 3 minute walk from Shinjuku station, and 15 minutes from Tokyo station by train.

The hotel is one of the stops for the Airport Limousine, with a bus leaving the hotel for Haneda every hour. Advance booking is available, but for reasons I cannot explain, I somehow did not book myself a seat on the 6:55 bus to the airport. By the time I rang front desk the night prior, the bus was already full. I also tried to book on the bus leaving from the Shinjuku Bus Terminal (which is inside Shinjuku station) but they were all fully booked up as well. That left me with no choice but to take a taxi to the airport, but finding a taxi proved to be a difficult job - so kudos to the hotel staff for managing to snatch one off the street. Unfortunately though - as I later found out - the taxi he hailed was a luxury cab, and it costed me 7000yen for my 30 min ride.

Clean taxi driven by a very polite gentleman:

We arrived at Haneda just before 7:30am, and the check-in counters were not due to open until 7:35, so there was a short wait.


Cathay has its own check in aisle in Haneda, and counters serving all four classes of travel that the airline offers (since the two daily flights are operated by a 4-class 77W and a 4-class 744)

Self service check in:

Business Class check in:

This is where things got interesting - I checked in without thinking much that it was my birthday - afterall Cathay is not famous for its generousity towards its customers, and who am I to even dare dream for an upgrade. So I just handed the lady my passport just as I normally would, expecting a boaring pass in Economy. Soon after swiping my passport, the lady stood up and said:

"Argh Mr Fong, I see it is your birthday today! Happy birthday!"

Ok, no surprise there, my DOB must be in the system. But then came this:

"Mr Fong, since it is your birthday today, we would like to invite you to BUSINESS class!"

Wait! Something isn't quite right here, did she just say Business Class? Wouldn't an upgrade be to Premium Economy? Thinking she might have made a mistake, I immediately checked the BP she just handed me, and it says "Business - seat 91A". I just could not believe my eyes! Not that the herringbone J class is anything special, but the fact that I receved not one, but a two class upgrade on one of Cathay's most popular routes is mind-boggling.

My prized BP:

After containing my excitment, I had my bags checked through to HK, and I'm out of the check in area in no time.

Pre Flight

There's a reason why I arrived at the airport so early: Haneda (as with many airports in Japan) has a very spotter friendly observation deck. Japan really puts most airports in the world to shame in this regard. The observation deck is only a short walk from the check in area:

A big display cabinet showing the airlines that fly to HND:

Model of the CX 77W in new livery:

The extremely civilized observation deck, complete with sitting areas and vending machines. Full marks!

Overview of the International Terminal tarmac:

I was maybe fortunate that it was an overcast day (strange for me to say that) as the spot would normally be backlit in the morning.

ANA B787-981 JA877A, a new Dreamliner which is only 4 months old, seen here being towed in from a remote stand:

Close up shot of ANA B777-281ER JA716A. ANA operates both the 772 and 77E, with the ER variant flying to regional destinations:

ANA B787-881 JA829A, one of the later 788s that ANA received. Note that it no longer sport the large "787" sign as seen on earlier examples.

The pushback and taxi of JAL B787-8 JA823J, as she was about to head to Seoul Gimpo as JL91:

Before long, it started raining so I left the observation deck for immigration.

A few snaps of the terminal building:

The departures board:

Immigration - fortunately the queue for going through security and immigration was rather short by Japanese standards so I was through to airside in 15 mins.

The International terminal at Haneda is in a "T" shape, so it was quite a walk to get to the CX lounge.

Passed a few souvenier shops packed full of Mainland Chinese tourists doing their last minute shopping:

And here it is finally, the much talked about new Cathay lounge, located on the 6/F

The entrance:

The lounge in Haneda is of considerable size, and since Cathay only operate 2 daily flights out of the airport, it is not at all crowded.

Finding a seat in the dining area is easy and I soon sat down for some breakfast. Hot food had to be ordered from the long bar.

The breakfast selection today. Note that the food in this lounge is provided by Hotel Okura, one of the most prestigous hotels in Tokyo having hosted many US presidents in the past. Contrast that with the recent "downgrade" in the Hong Kong lounges from the Peninsula to being provided by Plaza Premium. Still can't get round the thinking behind that decision.

I decided to try out the Japanese breakfast, and the noodles - as it turned out, the food did live up to its name and was very delicious. Definitely one of the better dining experience I've had in a lounge.

Full Japanese breakfast complete with Salmon, rice and soup:

Noodles: Dan Dan Noodles and Wanton Noodles. Personally I'll give the edge to the Dan Dan since the soup is very thick and full of flavour, but I can imagine some that would find it overpowering and perhaps too heavy.

After being spoilt by the good food, I walked around the lounge to take a few pictures.

In total, I spent a good hour in the lounge, taking in the beautiful view of the tarmac. I left the lounge at around 10:15am, in time for boarding.

Our gate today is gate 145, which is just a few mins walk from the lounge. When i got there, general boarding has already begun.

My ride today, B-HKT. She is the last remaining ex-SQ 747 left in the passenger fleet.

After I had my BP scanned, I walked to the downstairs area where I got a better view of the beautiful Queen of the skies. I'm very lucky that the weather has cleared up as well.

I then walked down the air bridge connecting door L1:

A wide range of Chinese, Japanese and English newspaper on offer.

The ISM and SP were already there to welcome me:

The "identity plate" next to door L1:

I walked up the 747's iconic staircase to reach the upper deck.

Shortly after I was seated, the FA came around to offer drinks and warmed nuts.

Here it is: seat 91A, the second last row on the upper deck.

The Flight

Loading today appears to be rather healthy, with Y and PEY completely full. There were probably 3 empty seats on upper deck J and 5-7 down on the maindeck.
We made taxi parallel to runway 16R/34L for runway 05. Soon after takeoff, we made an immediate right turn to head Southwest.

Since the old lady was not too heavy, it did not take long to reach our initial crusing altitude of 38,000ft (FL380). We would later climb to FL400 as we near Taiwan.

As lunch was not yet ready, I went downstairs to door 2 for some pictures of the equally iconic wing view.

As I headed back upstairs, the SP came over to take my lunch orders. This is quite different practice to what they do in long-haul flights, where FAs push out the meal selection on a trolley.

The menu reads as follows:

Wine list - nothing special there:

Soon enough, the crew brought over the starters, as well as offering some drinks:

Starters - Serrano Ham, tomato mozzarella timbale, glazed figs and basil sauce, with a salad and cold Japanese noodles. Interestingly, I was also served a timbale on my recent Madrid flight with Cathay. I definitely prefered the crab timbale served on that flight. The garlic bread, was nice and warm as usual.

Mains - out of the choice of three, I went for the Hokkaido style seafood, miso sauce, seasonal vegetables and aona Japanese rice. The dish was nice, and it also nice to see seafood served at 38,000. My only complaint would be the small portion size.

With lunch cleared up, fruits and desert was served. Rather than serving some kind of cake/pudding as on long haul flights, only a cup of HD ice cream was given. Seriously Cathay, how much would, say, three cakes have costed? But it would at least have looked better to those with a sweet tooth.

After the meal service, I wasted no time to tour the plane:

Main deck Business Class cabin - never a big fan of the herringbone design:

Going back upstairs:

Sign reminding passengers to do their shoulder strap:

And of course, the loo, which is now showing its age:

Overall, the cabin of the 747 is really looking very old and tired, with most of the panels around the seat threatening to fall off.

A good portion of the crew serving the J section then came over with champagne and a birthday card. Very nice gesture by the crew!

And before I knew it, we were on descent to HKIA. Weather was not brilliant so we had to hold as we were about 30 mins out.

The cloud starting to build up:

The slight delay did not prevent us from arriving ahead of schedule.

Since I was conviniently seated on the upper deck, I asked for a visit to the flight deck. The captain was kind enough to allow a few shots to be taken. As I once said: no flight experience is complete without a visit to the cockpit - I'm a happy man!

So with that it marks the end of a truly amazing flight.

POST SCRIPT I did a mini side trip to Omiya during my stay stay in Tokyo - to try out the newest (H5 Series Hokkaido Shinkansen) and one of the oldest and most iconic (E4 Series) bullet trains. Here are a few snapshots for those who are interested.

Thank you very much for reading and I look forward to seeing you soon!


Last edited by freakinflyer001; Jul 23, 16 at 12:55 pm
freakinflyer001 is offline  
Old Jul 20, 16, 2:53 am
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Originally Posted by freakinflyer001 View Post
Overall, the cabin of the 747 is really looking very old and tired, with most of the panels around the seat threatening to fall off.
Itīs really tired and the whole concept of J simply misconceived. Only flew it on a 2 1/2 hour flight so it was OK, for a long haul flight you had to pay me.... But as a free upgrade itīs great of course
offerendum is offline  
Old Jul 20, 16, 6:48 am
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i'd love to travel CX 744, an amazing turn up for the books with the birthday upgrade.. .I hope you had a great time
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Old Jul 20, 16, 10:43 pm
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Originally Posted by offerendum View Post
Itīs really tired and the whole concept of J simply misconceived. Only flew it on a 2 1/2 hour flight so it was OK, for a long haul flight you had to pay me.... But as a free upgrade itīs great of course
Beggers can't be choosers I guess!

No but flying the 747 is a special experiemce anyway.
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Old Jul 20, 16, 10:44 pm
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Originally Posted by aidy View Post
i'd love to travel CX 744, an amazing turn up for the books with the birthday upgrade.. .I hope you had a great time
I sure did! It was an amazing few hours in the air with the Jumbo.
freakinflyer001 is offline  
Old Jul 21, 16, 5:15 am
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Love this Adrian - thanks for sharing. Don't like the look of those seats, like you say they are rather dated. Great quality and quantity of photos - superb it really is a beautiful aircraft
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Old Jul 21, 16, 8:00 am
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nice TR. that is a new CX lounge is it not at HND? Looks great. Food looks very nice. The JAL lounge is equally nice at HND.

i have never understood the criticism of the CX J seats...perhaps since i am a skinny guy and like privacy but given they are going on 9 years old, they do seem to be pretty decent. but hey, i am easy to please.
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Old Jul 21, 16, 10:43 am
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Really glad they let you see the cockpit!

I flew my first 747 three weeks ago (EVA, YVR-TPE), and after we landed I asked and was told no. ANA and JAL also told me no saying company policies, so glad to see that at least one pilot/airline was accommodating for you.
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Old Jul 21, 16, 4:27 pm
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good pix and thanks for sharing.
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Old Jul 21, 16, 7:12 pm
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Really enjoyed your report and clear enthusiasm for the trip
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Old Jul 21, 16, 8:40 pm
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Very nice TR and of course a nice surprise on your birthday!!
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Old Jul 22, 16, 8:58 am
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Dont feel bad about the taxi in Tokyo, there are no luxury or standard meter taxis in tokyo, only luxury are private hire cars. 7000 yen is a reasonable price from Shinjuku. Cheper by far would have been Yamanote line to SHinagawa and then Keikyu to Haneda, about 100 yen
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Old Jul 22, 16, 9:53 am
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Happy birthday! Would that every day be our birthday when it comes to upgrades.
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Old Jul 23, 16, 12:49 pm
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Thanks guys for all your kind comments! Much appreciated
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Old Jul 23, 16, 12:55 pm
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Hardcore train-geek alert!

For those who might be interested in Japanese transportation - I've added a small subsection at the end of the report which contains snapshots of my side trip to Ōmiya (大宮), about 30 mins by the Bullet Train Shinkansen from Tokyo station. I wanted to try out the new H5 train that runs only twice daily out of Tokyo (essentially identical to the more common E5 series, the main difference being the purple strip in the exterior and owned by JR Hokkaido), and the older E4 type double decker, which is scheduled for retirement in the coming years.
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