Thursday, 7 November 2013

Cathay Pacific ~ The Good, The Not Bad and The Ugly

I’ve been very fortunate to have holidayed a few times throughout my life, but it’s a very rare occasion that I’ve flown somewhere alone. The only other time I flew to another country by myself was when I travelled to Spain. It was my first time and I picked a budget airline called EasyJet which flies predominantly around Europe. I was quite impressed with the flight and at the time, I had a VISA Electron card which meant I got the flight discounted but the real challenge for me would be to fly alone on a long haul flight. I don’t think I was nervous about it nonetheless, but it was really important for me to find a decent airline as I knew I would be up in the air for quite some time. So the first thing I did was set my criteria.

I wanted an airline that was reasonably priced, that had in-flight entertainment, that would allow me a lot of luggage, that would ensure a short stopover – there were no direct flights to Nagoya - and that held decent reviews. The first airline I came across was China Eastern Airlines. They were cheap and they permitted two huge suitcases in addition to hand luggage. I would have gone with them had it not been for the monster reviews I’d seen online for their long haul flights. Therefore, I opted for Cathay Pacific instead. I sacrificed luggage as they only permit you a 20kg suitcase (yet hand luggage and laptop) but I liked their reviews; there was a stopover in Hong Kong which would only entail a three hour wait and I had confirmation from a colleague that they were decent. They also, had on-flight entertainment including a lot of movies that I wanted to watch. So with my airline chosen, I made my way to the airport and waited with baited breath to see if I’d made the right choice.

My biggest concern initially, was my suitcase. It was overweight and Cathay Pacific indicates that if you are one kilo over, you will have to pay $60 which amounts to roughly £40. I spent a couple of days taking things out and putting things in, in order to get it to weigh correctly. In the end, my big suitcase was over by a kilo and my hand luggage was over by half a kilo, but the lovely man behind the counter didn’t mention it at all and so I had no problems there. I think it might have had something to do with the fact that I was early and I had checked in online already. Or maybe the guy was in a good mood because I’m sure some of the other airline staff might actually impose the rules. All I can say is I was very fortunate there.

Getting onto the plane was easy enough. I arrived in the waiting lounge just as they were asking people to board. I located my seat with ease (aisle seat for the win) but was annoyed that some selfish idiot had decided to place his hand luggage, laptop and coat in such a way that it took up the entire compartment above me. In the end, both my hand luggage and laptop were separated from each other but I settled in my seat and realised that nobody in my row (there were four) knew each other. We were all in the same boat.

Take-off took thirty minutes as there was a queue at the runway (we still arrived in Hong Kong early however) but we took off and when the plane stabilised, I launched into my entertainment. I watched three movies and an episode of The Big Bang Theory. I realised a little too late that I could have plugged in my laptop and played some games. I slept for roughly an hour as they provided a towel and pillow (the pillow was warm but uncomfortable when placed behind my head). We were fed and watered throughout the entire flight – two big meals, a couple of rounds of snacks and a couple additional rounds of drinks – these could also, be requested nonetheless. When I needed to access my hand luggage, the air stewards made an effort to help me without me even asking.

As Cathay Pacific is a Chinese airline, there were more Chinese passengers than anyone else. One was sitting next to me and had a bad habit of getting up constantly and disappearing for long periods of time and then coming back – especially when I was tucking into a movie. I found it interesting however that he did not use his on-flight entertainment once but found it just as interesting to peer at my screen from time to time and see what I was getting into. He wasn’t a bad guy however. He was very helpful and polite to me (especially when we were due to get off the plane and I had nowhere to put my hand luggage. We even spoke briefly).

On my connecting flight at Hong Kong (Hong Kong have free internet at its airport by the way, which is awesome), I found my chair a little more cramped than in the long haul flight (not an aisle seat this time). I felt incredibly uncomfortable and even moreso when they served yet another meal. Had I known this, I probably wouldn’t have filled up on water and sweets beforehand so I promise you that as soon as I rolled off this flight, I felt like I was gonna explode. This was a perk however – good for people with big appetites and the food across both flights was okay. (I would not recommend the Congee  however. What’s more, during my first meal on the previous flight, the piece of bread they gave me was tough as nails). Once more, there was entertainment on this flight also, which I found shocking for a short haul flight (it was a little over 3 hours) but also, a perk. I was too tired to engage however so slept for most of it and then watched what I could of Happy Feat while I ate.

What I found quite interesting about both these flights however was that a lot of the passengers had no regard for the rules. Sometimes the seatbelt sign would still be on or would switch on and passengers would be up and about getting their hand luggage or popping to the bathroom. Even after the air stewards would ask them to sit down, they would continue to queue. Both English and Chinese were used on both flights (and even Japanese on the second one) so it wasn’t the fault of a language issue or anything. Simply put, people just didn’t want to comprehend that when it’s time to switch off your phone because it could affect the mechanisms on the flight, that one should switch off their phone and not put it on silent. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have an issue with flying but I do have an issue with people playing with fire – especially when there’s a chance that it could affect me.

Overall, it was a pretty smooth experience. There were no major issues on the flight; no delays and as promised, my luggage went straight through from air craft to air craft so I didn’t have to check in more than once. In fact, my suitcase came out pretty much as soon as I set foot in the collection area in Japan and I had to run to catch it before it disappeared. Staff were relatively friendly and I never went hungry. I would definitely consider flying with them again, only this time, I got a discount as I went through an agent. If you go through their website and I suspect, going through some agents as well, it’ll be a little on the steep side if you’re flying from the UK.

To conclude, however, I would give Cathay Pacific 4 out of 5 stars.

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