Flight Review - Cathay Pacific Premium Economy
Brisbane to Hong Kong, October 2018
Coming home from a recent trip to Australia, I took the opportunity to try out the newest addition to the Cathay Pacific fleet, the Airbus 350-900. I used 60,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles to book Brisbane-Hong Kong-New York, with the 9-hour first leg in Premium Economy and the 15-hour second leg in Business (review of the Business leg is here!).
Departing from Brisbane was a bit of a drag off the start. I had arrived with friends departing on an earlier flight direct to LAX, and as Cathay only operates one flight a day out of Brisbane, their counters were closed until 3 hours before departure, so I was stuck outside security until I could check my luggage.
After a long, unplanned wait outside security, it was a welcome touch to be handed a pass for Qantas' business lounge. This is not normally offered with Premium Economy, but the agent explained it was given to me as I was connecting to a Business flight.
Qantas have done a nice job at Brisbane, the lounge is modern, spacious and well-appointed. Aside from a full, staffed bar, they offer a decent selection of food and drink, certainly enough to have a proper meal before your flight.
Boarding was right on time, with Premium Economy passengers welcomed aboard in between Business and Economy, through a dedicated boarding lane.
The 350 is the most beautiful airline on the market today. There, I said it.
Cathay's newest Premium Economy offering is a definite step up from previous PE cabins, offering a well-designed, comfortable experience including one of the only PE footrests I've ever encountered that felt sturdy to this 200-pound guy.
I chose the bulkhead seat, which is narrower than the other rows as the tray table is located in the armrest, but as I can't sleep sitting up even on overnight flights, I find it really annoying in most PE cabins to have the seat in front of me reclined into the space I want to use for my laptop.
Legroom is ample, even at 6'1" I had room to spare. In the bulkhead row, the in-flight entertainment screen is a bit inconvenient, and the storage folder seems unnecessarily small, but I'll trade this for legroom any day.
The flatscreen TVs located at each seat were well-stocked with a mix of Western, Asian, classic and modern movies and TV shows, as well as my favourite nerdy feature, a camera mounted in the tail of the plane, great for watching takeoff and landing.
Each seat is equipped with a set of decent over-the-ear headphones, a fairly firm pillow, and a blanket that was just the right weight for the purpose.
Premium Economy is an odd balancing act on any airline; they want to make it enough better than Economy that you want to shell out the extra money, but not so much better that you decide to skip the added cost of Business Class, usually ending up as a sort of halfway point between the two.
On this flight, I really felt Cathay Pacific fell well short of the mark. No pre-departure beverage, which is a staple on Qantas PE, and a meal service that looked exactly like it had come off the Economy cart. The food was fine, but definitely lacked any sort of 'premium' feel that you might think would accompany the 80% price bump up from Economy seating. The Tuscan pork was fine, just awkwardly presented.
Dinner service was prompt, beginning 40 minutes after takeoff, and taking less than half an hour from first service to dessert.
As you'd expect from an overnight flight, the cabin was darkened immediately after the dinner service, and I think I was the only one in the PE cabin who didn't sleep the whole flight through. Lucky sods!
The cabin crew were polite and friendly, but perhaps out of a desire to let people sleep, they were mainly absent from the cabin between dinner and breakfast. When I popped back to the galley mid-flight for a bit of a stretch, they were happy to offer food and drinks brought to my seat.
Breakfast service came through shortly before we started our descent into Hong Kong. As I've never once had decent eggs on an airplane, I opted for the char siu pork with noodles, and it was about as good as you'd expect from a downtown food truck. Oddly enough, it was served alongside a prepackaged yogurt, and surely the saddest-looking croissant I've ever seen.
Through the years I've come to expect Cathay to set the standard to which all other airlines aspire, and in this case I felt a bit let down. When thinking of comparable products and routes nearby, I would place this experience well below my Johannesburg-Sydney flight in Qantas Premium Economy this time last year, and honestly right on par with my Singapore-Sydney flight in Singapore Economy a few months ago. Both offered equally-comfortable seating and considerably better in-flight service.
Fortunately, Cathay earned their reputation on my next flight, but that's another story altogether!