Introduction: Roman Holiday
Qatar Airways A350-900 Business Class KUL-DOH
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DOH-KBP
Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalieri
St Regis Florence
Interlude: When interlining goes wrong
Cathay Pacific A350-1000 Business Class FCO-HKG
After my little (mis)adventure with my Turkish Airlines flight, I had a fun little time in the Plaza Premium Lounge calling up two different frequent flyer programs to cancel three different tickets. I also had the fun time of calling up the Milelioness to explain that she would now be flying solo for reasons that were absolutely, positively, 100% not my fault.
I didn’t really have much time to explore the lounge properly because of all this, but it seemed a pleasant enough place to wait, with numerous hot food options, a bar with complimentary basic alcohol (cocktails and premium wines were chargeable), and six shower rooms.
Boarding for CX 292 had started by the time I arrived at the gate. Business Class, Marco Polo and oneworld Elites were given priority to board, as usual.
One silver lining in this great big mess up would be that I’d get to fly the A350-1000 (aka A35K) for the first time.
Cathay Pacific took delivery of the first of 20 A35Ks in June 2018, becoming the second operator of these jets after Qatar Airways. B-LXA made its first flight to Washington DC on September 15, and these aircraft can now be found on selected routes to Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane), the USA (San Francisco, Seattle, New York) and Asia (Singapore, Bangkok, Manila).
The A35K is a larger variant of the A350-900 (A359), sporting a fuselage that’s 7 meters longer, a maximum take-off weight that’s 28 tons heavier, and an additional two wheels on the main landing gear.
The larger size allows the A35K to accommodate 54 more passengers than the A359, with the same three cabin configuration.
|Premium Economy Class||28||32|
On the inside, the main difference between Cathay Pacific’s A359 and A35K is how the Business Class cabin has been segmented. On the A359, the Business Class cabin is split into a forward and rear section, with 30 seats in the front and 8 seats in the rear. On the A35K, all 46 Business Class seats are in one long section.
Cathay has kept the central overhead bins in the cabin (as well they should), so you don’t get the same high ceiling effect as you do on some other aircraft. That said, it didn’t feel any more cramped than your usual reverse herringbone Business Class layout.
As a last-minute booker, I was consigned to the last seat in the cabin, 23A.
Cathay Pacific uses the Zodiac Aerospace (since acquired by Safran) Cirrus III seat on its A359 and A35K aircraft, configured in a 1-2-1 layout with all-aisle access. These seats had numerous teething problems when they first launched on the A359s, but fortunately the A35Ks have avoided such pitfalls.
If you can’t get a solo seat, the middle seats are very private too. So private they’re probably not good for travelling couples, as you can’t really talk to your seat partner without leaning very far forward.
The privacy “ears” of this seat are good in shielding you from the aisle.
I found the foot area to be more than sufficient. This isn’t one of those seats that dramatically narrows towards the bottom, and even those with big feet will find this comfortable.
Hidden beneath the legrest area is a storage compartment for shoes and smaller devices. It can still be accessed when the seat is in full flat mode, as there’s a latch on top.
The seat has a modern touchscreen IFE remote, a reading light (the brightness of which can be adjusted with the nob beneath it), and intuitive seat controls with presets for full flat and full upright. A small storage cupboard was also available.
The tray table pivots out from under the side table. Thanks to its design, it doesn’t block your ingress/egress from the seat.
However, it was extremely small for a Business Class tray table, possibly one of the smallest I’ve ever seen. It wouldn’t be out of place in Premium Economy Class.
A small water bottle was already placed in the holder beneath the armrest facing the aisle.
It’s no secret that airlines try to trim weight wherever possible, and menus have unfortunately been one such victim of this cost cutting (and let’s be honest, it’s cost cutting, not “environmental awareness”). That said, I am a fan of the direction Cathay’s taking.
Instead of a flimsy single sheet of paper (that SQ has switched to on some short haul routes), Cathay presents its menu like a newspaper, with stylish photography and nice design.
It almost reminds me of the menu at Roast in Bangkok, for those of you who’ve been there.
This no doubt helps the airline save some weight, but at the same time it doesn’t feel cheap or flimsy. A win-win, as far as I’m concerned.
Cathay offers pretty competent noise-cancelling headsets in Business Class. The fit was good, as was audio quality. The IFE system on the A350 allegedly allows you to connect your own Bluetooth headset, but that’s something I only read after the flight. I’ll need to test that out the next time round.
Cathay Pacific’s Business Class amenities kits are designed by Seventy Eight Percent, a Hong Kong-based design company. These are unisex kits; only First Class has gender-specific items.
Inside you’ll find a sleep mask, socks, a toothbrush kit, earplugs, and skincare products from Jurlique. There’s also a single shot cup of mouthwash.
The IFE screens on Cathay’s A350 aircraft are much improved over those on the A330. They’re sharper, and more importantly, brighter than older gen screens, allowing them to be crisp even in bright sunlight.
The captain came on the PA to announce today’s flight time, weather and conditions in Hong Kong. After which we pushed back from the gate, and joined the very long queue to take-off from FCO.
Fiumicino airport is located to the South of Rome, near the coast, and you get some nice views as you climb out.
There was some turbulence as we leveled off, but while the seatbelt signs were kept on, I browsed the IFE selection. Studio CX may not have as large a selection as KrisWorld or Emirates ICE, but it was more than sufficient for a long flight. The entire season of Cernobyl was available (apt, given my recent Ukraine trip), as well as other recent movies.
There’s even a live sports channel, where Southampton and Liverpool were playing. As a longtime Arsenal fan, I notice that my feed always encounters technical difficulties whenever my team play- the ball only seems to go sideways or backwards.
All A350 aircraft (A359 or A35K) have Wi-Fi. Cathay Pacific has two price tiers, based on time used:
- US$9.95 for 1 hour
- US$19.95 for the entire flight
It’s obviously much better value to just go for the full flight, which I did. Unfortunately, the system was extremely buggy, and the login screen kept hanging. I managed to use it for brief spurts, but in the end gave up. The crew noted my difficulties and issued a refund.
Drinks were served after take-off, together with warm nuts. Cathay’s champagne of choice is Champagne Deutz Brut Classic NV, a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
The menu for today had the following offerings:
Proceedings opened with a starter plate of marinated pork with chinkiang vinegar, pickled daikon and carrots. This was borderline inedible, and I saw many people passing their uneaten plates back to the crew.
I really wanted to try the mezze maniche pasta with amatriciana sauce and pecorino cheese, but unfortunately they had run out by the time my order was taken. I had to settle for the much more boring fried cod with mushroom oyster sauce.
I wasn’t really feeling this, so I asked the crew to prepare the ham, mozzarella cheese and mushroom calzone with arancini and crocchetta potatoes. Zero marks for plating, but no one can say you didn’t get what you bargained for…
Dessert was a very simple (but good) Movenpick vanilla ice cream.
I wasn’t too impressed with service during meal times. The stewardess took my drinks order before the meal, but after serving the first few rows was distracted by another matter and never finished. I asked about my drink, then waited another 15 minutes before this came:
No, this isn’t the glass after I took a few sips. This was supposedly a standard pour. Perhaps there’s a champagne shortage?
I paid my customary pilgrimage to the loo before settling down for a rest. A350 bathrooms are always a bit of a lottery- sometimes you get the nice fancy ones with contactless trash receptacles, others you have the primitive ones you need to push like a common neanderthal. Cathay unfortunately hasn’t sprung for the fancy ones, although they still had sensor taps.
I loved the fact that the bathroom came with a view. There’s nothing like taking a whizz while looking at the rolling plains below.
I returned to my seat and put it into bed mode. Cathay introduced mattress pads in Business Class in October 2019, so I just missed out on it by a few weeks. Nonetheless, the seat was comfortable enough for resting, and being at the rear of the cabin had some advantages as passengers head to the washrooms up front.
I slept for about four hours, woke up and did as much work as I could without Wi-Fi, and at the two hour mark before landing, the crew came around to serve breakfast.
The breakfast menu read as follows:
I went for the Western breakfast, which featured scrambled eggs, luganega sausage and baby potatoes. Cathay may have fantastic eggs in First Class (they’re freshly prepared), but in Business Class it’s just the usual mass-produced, zapped to death stuff.
The crew then prepared the cabin for landing, and we touched down in Hong Kong slightly ahead of schedule.
The hard product on Cathay’s A35Ks is really more or less the same as what you’ll find on the A359s, with the main difference being that Business Class is now one long section. That’s not necessarily a bad thing- it’s a very comfortable seat, with a good amount of privacy and wide IFE selection.
However, I wouldn’t consider Cathay Pacific’s Business Class to be market-leading. These new seats basically have the same DNA their older generation ones, and there’s nothing to suggest they’ll be challenging the hard products of Singapore Airlines or Qatar Airways anytime soon. The overall experience is good quality, but not something you need to actively go out of your way to try.