Regional Running: Trip Planning
Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge Terminal 3 MNL
Singapore Airlines B777-300 Regional Business Class MNL SIN
Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge SIN Changi Terminal 4
Cathay Pacific A350-900 Business Class SIN BKK
Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge BKK
Cathay Pacific B77W Business Class BKK SIN
Although SIN BKK is a short hop at just over 2 hours, I was really, really looking forward to this flight. Having tried most of the SQ premium products, I was naturally excited to venture beyond the familiarity of our national carrier for the first time. It is difficult to undo a whole childhood of brainwashing regarding the quality of Singapore Air; I can still clearly remember an 8 year old me sitting innocently at the counter of a travel agency and overhearing: ‘Don’t worry, this package very good one! See the flight, it’s on SQ some more leh!’, and seeing my mother nod approvingly. Well, I’m much older now, and all ready to spread my wings. What better place to start than with CX?
Cathay Pacific was founded in 1946, just a year earlier than SQ’s predecessor, Malayan Airlines Limited (MAL). Since then, it has grown in tandem with Hong Kong’s emergence as one of the Asian Tigers and is definitely counted among one of the best airlines in the world.
As with most large carriers, there are 2 kinds of Business Class on CX – the regional and international iterations. Their newest Regional business class was introduced in 2012 and is in a dismal 2-2-2 configuration which only reclines to a ‘Lazy-Z’ position. That is seen on their 777-200s and -300s. On the other hand, the international configuration, seen on their 777-300ERs and A350-900, sports the ‘Cirrus’ reverse herringbone seats in a 1-2-1 layout, manufactured by Zodiac Aerospace. SIN HKG sees CX flying a mix of both products over 8 daily flights, so checking and ensuring you’re booked on the right plane to avoid getting the ‘lousier’ product is essential, as it is with SQ.
Reverse herringbone is constantly touted as one of Lucky’s favorite business class product (it has since dropped from first place with the introduction of Qatar’s Q-Suites). However, when you look at pictures alone, it can be difficult to understand why. If you compare stock photos of CX and SQ’s international products side by side, the reverse herringbone looks cramped and uncomfortable. Does the real experience really live up to those high standards?
Hard product aside, I also thought it would be interesting to experience the in-flight service on another Asian carrier; I have always wondered whether the exacting and precise service philosophy in SQ is shared by other Asian airlines. There’s only one way to find out!
CX actually flies 2 versions of the ‘Cirrus’ seats – the older one is seen on their 777-300ERs, whereas the mid-cycle refresh is seen on the relatively new A350s. They are very similar, so the difference in terms of experience is minimal. My flight home was on a 777-300ER, so I was able to make a good comparison.
Singapore (SIN) – Bangkok (BKK)
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
Seat: 18K (Business Class)
SIN BKK is an interesting 5th freedom flight which CX operates. It is a loop service, with CX 712 flying HKG – SIN – BKK – HKG, and CX 619 operating the opposite direction (HKG – BKK – SIN – HKG). These flights alternately sees the A350s and B777-300ERs, so you should be getting the international business class seats reviewed here. As with most 5th freedom flights, the fares tend to be lower as the airline flying it needs to compete with the carriers operating out of their own hubs.
I had managed to snag these tickets at a promo fare of S$650 on the UOB Travel website. Normally, I wouldn’t have spent so much on a short regional flight, but it was a work trip and I was to be reimbursed up to S$560 for airfare. That, and the fact that SQ was charging over S$1k for the same route on their old regional product, I thought I had a great deal.
My visit to the new CX lounge at Changi T4 was excellent and enjoyable. I stayed there as long as possible to get some work done before making my way to the gate. T4 only has 4 contact gates for wide-body aircraft (G18 to G21), and these are found all the way at the far end of the terminal, so it does take about 5-10 minutes to get there if you’re walking at a leisurely pace.
Despite being late, I surreptitiously made my way to the front of the queue and was one of the first to board the plane. The J Cabin was beautiful – sleek and modern. There’s just something about the CX color scheme that adds an air of sophistication. It helps that the plane is relatively new; I had just flown on yet another dated SQ B773 with the old regional business class earlier in that week, so this was a welcome contrast.
As I was trying to fit my carry-ons into the overhead compartments and slide into my seat, one thing that struck me was how cramped the aisle was in this layout. I may be tall, but will definitely not be considered a passenger with generous body habitus, so I was surprised to find myself having to squeeze in and out and bumping my head on the overheads as I was trying to get photos of my seat.
One of the benefits of a reverse herringbone layout is that every seat is almost identical. The bulkhead seats do not offer any additional legroom, and every window seat faces out, so seat selection shouldn’t cause too much of a quandary. Flying alone, I had selected a window seat at random, and 18K was to be my cocoon of comfort for the next 2.5 hours.
Now even at this point, I was still not convinced that this hard product was better than the straight-facing product that we are all familiar with at SQ, and the initial squeezing around in the aisle did nothing to help that perception. However, I slipped in, sat down, stretched my legs out, and immediately started to see the reason behind those rave reviews.
Immediately, I was stuck by the amazing view I had. Because of the angle at which the seats are placed, almost all the window seats had 2 full windows each. Only rows 14, 15 and 19 have misaligned windows. Sitting at an angle also means that you can look straight out without having to turn your head. It feels very different when compared to SQ, where the frame of the seat usually partially obscures one window. Also, the window with the SQ product is usually relatively anterior, and requires one to lean forward in order to look out.
At just over 6′, legroom is always one of my chief concerns. Economy is always absolute hell, and even when using the leg cubby lounging in SQ J, my feet always end up mashed together. No such problem here. Even when sitting at a comfortable recline, the leg room was absolutely unbeatable. I don’t have a picture of the seat fully flat, but again because of the angle the seat is placed, the bed stretches to a very generous 190cm. In fact, it feels almost as long as First Class on SQ! The width around the shoulders did feel a tad bit tight, but it does not subtract much from the overall comfort.
Privacy is not an issue as well, with the extended privacy shells ensuring that you will be spared unnecessary human contact, if that is not your thing. That being said, the extension is also one of the main reasons why getting in and out of the seat feels tight.
The rest of the seat was nothing much to shout about. Seat and IFE controls are found to your immediate right, and the noise-cancelling headphones are found in a small compartment just next to the control panel, together with USB and power sockets.
There is also a large storage compartment along the floor, which can easily fit a fairly sized backpack or handbag.
The 18.5 inch IFE screen swivels out from the back of the seat in front. My only criticism of the hard product (if it can even be counted as such) is that the angle towards the window causes glare, and the screen does not go bright enough to allow watching a show on the IFE screen without closing both windows. A minor inconvenience at most.
By this point, no less than 3 aircrew, including the purser, have come by to introduce themselves and offer their assistance. I do not have that much experience on CX, so I wonder if those who fly Cathay more often would share this observation, but I notice that the service philosophy is a little less structured than with SQ.
If you’re flying on SQ J, as certain as the sun will rise, the aircrew serving your aisle will appear, greet and offer you a welcome drink. It didn’t feel that way on this flight, but in a good way. It seemed that whenever a member of the crew walked passed my seat and noticed that they had not introduced themselves, they would pause to do so, offering any help at the same time. This included the purser on the flight, which I was particularly impressed by as that’s not something I’d expect in Business Class. While this lends a more informal feel to the service, I do feel that it comes across as a more authentic welcome. There’s certainly no right or wrong way to do this, and I’m sure everyone will have their preference, but it was a refreshing change for me.
Now, there’s only one way I know to kick off a flight, and that’s with some celebratory champers! CX offers the delicious and zesty Piper Heidsieck in J. Some think this label is too sweet, but its just right for me. In fact, this is one of my favorite mid-range champagnes. I sipped on and took the opportunity to read through the rest of the menu.
Meal service began soon after take off. On CX, the table isn’t set; rather, a tray covered with a white table cloth is used.
I chose the fish, and did not regret it. While the plating could be better, the photo really does not do it justice. The meat was fresh and done just right to a QQ consistency. I absolutely loved it. Dessert was a small tub of Haagen Dazs ice cream.
I briefly considered trying out the in-flight Wifi available on the plane to continue with work, but with only about 1.5 hours of flight time remaining I decided to just chill out and enjoy the rest of it. Cathay charges for Wifi based on the time used, and I thought the published rates were very reasonable.
Before I knew it, we were descending into Bangkok, and the crew came around distributing express immigration passes. It was such a short flight I didn’t even have the time to go to the toilet! Of course, it goes without saying that there was no amenity kit on this short journey.
I now fully understand why this product has held the honor of the ‘best business class product’ for such as long time. It may not be the most aesthetically impressive, but it is tough to beat in terms of the practical stuff like leg room, comfort and privacy.
That being said, the in-facing middle seats are one of the few disadvantages of this product if you’re travelling with a partner (which I normally do). Even the middle seats are designed to give a high degree of privacy, so it can be difficult to have a quiet conversation without leaning forward.
Overall, it was a great first experience on Business Class with CX. With the Asia Miles program offering long haul flights at better value since the KrisFlyer devaluation, I hope to be able to make some long-haul redemptions with them soon.