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Cathay Pacific First Class : A Very Deluxe Upgrade

In an era of cost cutting and economic downturn, many airlines are removing First Class from their international long haul airplanes.  Not so with Cathay Pacific, who in order to compete as one of the world’s most deluxe airlines, recently introduced a new First Class product.  Does it live up to Cathay’s reputation?

You might be wondering how I am flying first class.  On my trip to Vietnam and HK, I was using frequent flyer miles to book my ticket, and I was told that there were no more Business Class seats available, how would I like First Class?  I jumped at the opportunity to experience First Class on Cathay Pacific, the airline that first brought me to Asia and my love of international travel.

Cathay Pacific recently introduced this entirely new First Class cabin in December of 2009.  Cathay is in a tough competitive position at this level as Singapore and Emirates, both have what is largely regarded as the best First Class cabins in their A380’s.  Due to the size limits of Cathay’s 777’s a fair comparison can’t actually be made, but I do think it can compete with any other 777 First Class cabin.

There are only six First Class seats, actually more appropriately called suites, in the very front of this Boeing 777-300ER.  My first impression was “wow, this isn’t a seat, it’s a living room cubicle.” The amount of space each passenger in First receives is equal to about six Economy seats.  The width of the actual seat is huge, with enough space for two people to sit snugly next to each other.  This scenario isn’t even necessary as on the opposite end of the suite is a small guest seat, where a companion who must also be seated in First can sit and dine with you “table for two” style.  I do like the layout of the suite.  It has a curved, free form, feel to it.  Many other airlines 777 First Class suites feel like a larger version of the claustrophobic “coffin style” business class seat.  The curved asymmetrical layout of Cathay’s is quite pleasing.  It feels more like a small living room instead of a well appointed mummy coffin.  In addition to the two head level LED reading lamps, there is also the standard airplane overhead light, which was amusing to me since due to the size of the suite, it acted like an overhead light fixture in a room, as opposed to the disturbing spotlight/reading light that it feels like in other airplane cabins. The color and surface schemes aren’t the greatest in my opinion.  Too many different things happening, beige plastic, faux wood, brown leather, silk pillows, orchids, and brushed aluminum.  It feels like someone put the interiors of Mercedes, Audi and BMW into a blender and put it on an airplane.  It’s not ugly in any way, I just think it could have been better coordinated.  The TV screen is a 17 inch HD 16:9 HD screen which can pop out and be turned at different angles for easier viewing.  There is a small closet behind your TV where your mattress pad is stored, and for hanging any jackets or shirts.  The remote control looks similar to the Economy remote except for the color LCD screen on the face.  Noise cancelling headphones are provided in a small compartment in the armrest.  And a button panel for the various functions of the seat is also located here.  The buttons control recline, legrest, massage functions, and also convert the seat into a fully flat, horizontal bed.  I wrote in a previous article about my discontent with the lack of standardization of terminology for sleeper seats.  These seats are true fold flat and lie flat seats, folding completely flat into a bed and being perfectly parallel to the ground.   The male amenity kit is Acqua Kappa branded, and Shanghai Tang designed the flannel pajamas and slippers for bed time.

Bed time is a special time in First as the flight attendants line your flat folded seat with foam mattress pad and a fluffy down duvet and pillow.  This is done as you change into your Shanghai Tang flannel pajamas in the bathroom and hang your day clothes in your closet.  I never thought I would enjoy sleeping on a plane more than my own bed.  The bed is comfortable and spacious, with enough room to curl up sideways and stretch out.  Breakfast is served in bed, but I chose to convert my bed back into a seat, and not get fresh fruit and pastry crumbs on my nice bed.

This being Cathay Pacific, the food is, of course, outstanding.  And First Class on Cathay is no slouch.  I’m having the braised lamb as my main course.  And even more special is the caviar course, which many other carriers don’t offer anymore.   And while I may have been a fan since my first flight of the instant cup noodles in Economy, the snack offerings are real hot food offerings such as quiche, rice dishes and noodles.  The wines are decent, my favorite on this flight being a featured Austrian wine.  This may be hard to believe to those who know me well, who know of my appetite, but I found myself getting too full for the dessert course, or snack courses a few times throughout the flight.

I can’t personally compare Cathay’s new First cabin to the other top names in luxury airlines, such as Emirates and Singapore, but I can say that if you are headed to anywhere Cathay flies, you will not be disappointed by their First Class offering.  This may be the first time I enjoyed getting to the destination more than the destination itself.

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