My body feels like it’s time to wind down and get ready for bed, but my brain is saying, “Perk up, buster! You need to get to the airport and catch a 13-hour ride on a shiny new plane to Hong Kong.”
That’s how I’m counting down the hours approaching the 12:55 am departure of Cathay Pacific flight 893 to Hong Kong. This new Airbus A350 takes off in the wee hours of Friday night/Saturday morning and arrives in Hong Kong at 8 am on Sunday.
My flight is one of three daily SFO-HKG flights Cathay now offers, but it’s the only one that’s an A350. The others, which depart at 11:45 am and 11:00 pm, use Boeing 777s.
Cathay added the new Airbus A350 to its fleet in June 2016 but did not deploy any in the US until October 30, 2017, when one landed at San Francisco International and another at Newark Liberty International on the same day. The carrier now has 19 A350s in the fleet with 29 more on order.
To celebrate the arrival of the A350-900 to US shores, Cathay invited a group of media to fly from San Francisco to Hong Kong and back, including a two-day stay at the Peninsula hotel in Kowloon. (Check out my pushy post about the Peninsula here.)
Current fares on Cathay’s SFO-HKG nonstops for January trips are about $700 round trip in economy, $2,000 in premium economy and $5,900 in business class. First class fares (only available on B777 flights) are about $15,000 roundtrip.
- Mishap at security
- Planespotting the A350
- Flecks of bright red
- Photos of knee-room in all three classes
- Charting an unusual course across the Pacific
- How many hours of sleep did I get? My secret stash of sleep aids.
- A posh pick up at HKG
Friday, 10 pm: Since I know that Cathay has such a stellar lounge at SFO, I decided get to the airport early and spend an hour or two soaking it up. I also had a hankering for a bowl of noodles made on-the-spot, and wanted to snap some photos of the lounge and the A350 as it arrived in the darkness.
Check-in for the flight was quick and easy due to my early arrival, and the airport was remarkably busy at 10:30 pm. The only holdup was at security. Cathay Pacific is a recent inductee into the PreCheck club, but unfortunately I did not get it this time. No probs, I thought; this is one of those times I’ll take advantage of my CLEAR membership. Regrettably I discovered that CLEAR lanes at SFO’s international terminal close at 10 pm, which makes little sense because so many flights depart around midnight and early morning.
Once I cleared security, I took a nice long walk through the entire Boarding Area A, and then watched the the A350 roll in from Hong Kong. It looks smaller than some of the giant B777s nearby, but holds about the same number of seats: A Cathay A350-900 holds 280 passengers (38-business, 28-premium, 214-economy) while the larger B777 holds 275 (6-first, 53-business, 34-premium, 182-economy).
Cathay’s lounge at SFO is one of my favorites for its design (rich Carrara marble, Solus chairs) and nice tarmac views. Now that there are two Cathay flights departing around midnight (11 pm and 1 am), the lounge is busy, but I had no problem finding empty seats. There’s a full bar, and a hot and cold buffet, but the most popular stop is the steamy noodle bar. A bowl of noodles at 11 pm sure is a nice way to slip into an overnight transpacific journey.
When invited on trips like this, I always try to arrange an early boarding so I can get some good shots of the interior of the plane before passengers board. I get on with the wheelchairs, which gives me about five minutes to shoot all three cabins on this big bird. Phew!
First impression when you walk on board is the cool, calm and collected green, cream and beige color scheme, with flecks of bright red. For example, some (but not all) flight attendants wear bright red blazers or skirts. In business class seats, the interiors of in-seat storage bins are also bright red (a color that symbolizes good luck and happiness in Chinese culture). The green and red combo is almost Christmas-like to me.
There’s no first class section on Cathay’s A350s, but business class is almost as good an many first class seats I’ve seen. All seats in this reverse herringbone layout have aisle access. High side walls and blinders make the in-seat experience very private. If you are traveling with a companion it might be smarter (and easier to communicate) sitting across the aisle from each other due to the barriers between the middle seats.
Business class seat configuration is 1-2-1. Premium economy is 2-4-2. Economy is 3-3-3.
In business class, the seats to avoid are the first two center seats (oddly, the first row is Row 11, seats D&G). Noise and traffic from the galley is a factor, and when the curtains are pulled, it appears nearly impossible to get out of your seat without ruffling them.
At the back of the business class section, rows 20 and 21 are separated from the main business class cabin by a galley and lavatory area. This is where I sat, in seat 21D–the last row just in front of premium economy. I really liked the cozy feel and quiet of that small aft cabin. The bulkhead seats are not as exposed to the galley area as they are on row 11.
At this hour of the night, passengers are boarding quickly with yawns and stretches. The flight is 100% sold out. Once we are all seated, I notice how eerily quiet everyone is. It’s late. You can tell that nearly everyone just wants the lights to dim so they can nod off.
All passengers are yawning except for me, of course. I’m someone who gets energized about being on a new plane no matter what the hour!
In my seat, I quickly I unload the contents of my briefcase into the two roomy in-seat storage bins. The lower one is big enough for my Macbook. Nice!
As we taxi and take off (in my aisle seat I can’t look out the window), I’m completely absorbed by the robust inflight entertainment system and the big bright touch screen. It can be controlled by touching the screen or via the corded tablet mounted on the wall next to my seat. There are way too many movies and TV shows to scroll through, so I just go to the inflight moving map, which is hypnotic to a geek like me.
This modern bird also has exterior cams– one on the tail and the other on the front, and you can toggle between views from your seatback. At night it’s not much of a show, but I look forward to seeing more when we get to HK in the morning!
At about 1:35 am we are climbing up and straight out over the Pacific. Most flights to HKG take a northerly route toward the Aleutian Islands and then down over Japan. Tonight it’s a direct shot over the middle of the ocean, over the top of Taiwan and straight into Chek Lap Kok. The map says it will be 13 hours, 5 minutes. I jump up and go to the lavatory to change into a long sleeve t-shirt to lounge and sleep in. (Pajamas are not provided.) Flight attendants hang my shirt so I’ll be fresh as a daisy Sunday morning in Hong Kong.
Since this flight is so late, flight attendants offer a quick light meal shortly after takeoff. Since I’ve had my noodles in the lounge, I pick at the smoked duck salad, but polish off the hearty butternut squash soup served in a mug. Nice touch. (Main course selections included stir fry pork or beef tenderloin.) I watch “Rough Night” on the big screen for a few chuckles. (See current movie selections here.)
There is wi-fi on Cathay’s A350 (but not on its B777s or A330- but it’s coming soon via Gogo) but I only used it on the return flight. It was very fast and very cheap–just $13 for the whole flight.
Shortly thereafter the lights dim. The plane gets very quiet. I look at my watch and it’s 3:30 am in San Francisco and about 6:30 pm in Hong Kong. Everyone except me is snuggled in for the night in my mini-business class section. I take a melatonin and a big chug of water. My 6 foot body fits just fine in this lie-flat seat. I put in my Mack’s earplugs, wrap my puffy Dream Essentials mask around my head, flatten the seat. Like a light, I’m out. Gone. Deep in dreamland. Zzzzz.
Later, deep in my sleep cocoon I wake up and wonder, “Hmmm I wonder what time it is?” I feel like I’ve slept well, had some good dreams and feel rested. But should I look at my watch? What if I’ve only slept hard for about two hours and there are seven more to go? I pull my mask up and drink the entire bottle of water a flight attendant has kindly left by my seat. It’s still dark and quiet in business class.
Okay. Time to look at the watch. I have not yet re-set it to HK time. I look and it says 1:00 pm. I shake my head and do a double take and look again. Yes, 1 pm in San Francisco. I fell asleep at about 4 am PT. That means I just slept on a plane for NINE hours. Wow. That must be a record for me. My combination of a lie-flat seat, ear plugs and eye mask has done the trick. I will conquer my first day in Hong Kong with gusto!
We still have about two hours to go, so I get up, stretch and go to the lavatory to freshen up, splash some water on my sleepy face, brush my teeth. Back at my seat flight attendants see me stirring and scurry over with more water and a hot towel.
I look at the inflight map and see that we are flying over the southernmost island of Japan (and wonder if those are the ones that China claims and is building a military base there). Then we fly right over the top of Taipei.
Other passengers begin to stir. The lights come up. God, I wish they’d open the windows so we could see the sunrise but they stay shut. Luckily the tail cam is working so I can see the morning sunrise over the South China Sea. It’s gorgeous out there.
Breakfast comes in three courses: first coffee or tea, and next a delicious fresh fruit plate and a selection of bread or pastries. Then cereal or yogurt. Then the hot meal. I always go native and chose the breakfast dim sum. But I could have had a shitake mushroom omelet or seafood congee.
Wow! What a way to fly to Hong Kong. And once we land, there are two dark green Roll-Royce limos waiting to pick up our group and whisk us to the Peninsula. Cars are stocked with water and wi-fi and lined in plush caramel leather.
Hello Hong Kong! Stay tuned for more about my stay and return flight.
How do you fly to Hong Kong? Have your flown Cathay? Please leave your comments below.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Cathay Pacific Airways and the Peninsula Hotel for this trip.