I recently had the chance to fly on Cathay Pacific’s service from Hong Kong to Vancouver to New York. While I ordinarily would have chosen a non-stop service straight to New York or Newark, I needed to take advantage of the late departure time of the flight as well as the early morning arrival to catch a bus to my summer school.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER Hong Kong Airport
While we’ve extensively reviewed Cathay’s long-haul Business Class product on the Boeing 777-300ER, I thought I would only report on the Vancouver connection experience and talk a little bit about the ways in which the experience was different from taking a non-stop flight.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER Business Class Cabin
Ground Service: In Hong Kong
All passengers to the United States are required to undergo a security interview and a secondary security bag check at the boarding gate, both of which add considerable amounts of time and stress to the overall travel experience. However, since the flight stops in Vancouver, there is no need to undergo these security checks, meaning that the ground experience in Hong Kong is going to be identical to any other non-U.S. bound Cathay Pacific flight. I really like this, since flying to the United States can often be a hassle.
Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Airport Boarding Gate (taken prior to a different flight)
Of course, as a business class passenger, you have access to a few amazing lounges as well. Being short on time I made a beeline to the Pier, which we’ve ranked here at YTHK as one of the best
Ground Service: In Vancouver
I was a little unsure about what the connection experience was going to be like in Vancouver airport. As it turns out, the experience wasn’t nearly as stressful as I thought it was going to be. Prior to landing, passengers continuing on to New York are instructed to deplane in order to allow for a security sweep as mandated by U.S .regulations. Passengers continuing onwards to New York should keep their boarding pass with them throughout the security checks.
After deplaning in Vancouver, the jetbridge is divided into two sections: one for passengers arriving in Vancouver and the other for passengers continuing to New York. From there, passengers continuing on to New York are ushered into a secure holding pen where a security area was set up, which I didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures of.
There were two lines set up for men and women. The process started with a quick document check, where passenger checked off a list of names of those proceeding onward to New York. Afterwards, passengers are directed to a screener corresponding to their gender for a manual bag search and are screened by a metal detector wand. The process was slightly annoying but I found the screeners to be friendly, courteous and transparent about the process. After the check, passengers were let into the holding area.
Vancouver Airport Holding Area
This was my biggest irk of the whole experience: passengers aren’t allowed to leave the holding pen after being re-screened. This meant that I wasn’t able to visit the lounge during the connection despite having an invitation printed along with my boarding pass in Hong Kong. I was disappointed to not have the chance to shower and eat up, especially considering the fact that I would be spending four hours in a car after arriving in New York.
The holding area itself was your average airport departures lounge. There were bathrooms which I used to freshen up as well as a couple of vending machines that only accepted Canadian Dollars. While the holding pen also featured a coffee kiosk it was unfortunately closed.
After around 15 minutes of waiting, an announcement was made that there were complimentary bottles of water for transit passengers, which I thought was a nice touch. I just wish that they would offer some light snacks to nibble on.
Complimentary Bottled Water!
Thankfully, Vancouver Airport has WiFi. Unfortunately, it was extremely slow and barely usable for anything but texting. After failing at calling my parents to let them know that I was alive, I spent the rest of the connection time trying to take a nap. Shortly after the plane was cleaned and screened, boarding was called starting with all elite members and premium passengers. As a quick side-note, all passengers originating in Hong Kong must board before passengers originating in Vancouver are allowed to board.
A Couple Of Other Things…
During the stop in Vancouver, a new set of cabin and flight crew will take over. These flights are typically operated by a mix of either Vancouver-based or Hong Kong-based flight attendants. Many regard Vancouver-based crews to be inferior to their Hong Kong-based counterparts when it comes to how polished the service is. However, Vancouver-based crews also tend to be friendlier and less reserved. While it’s largely a function of a passengers preference, you won’t have bad service either way (most of the time).
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 Business Class Seat During Landing
If you continue all the way to New York, the flight will generally be loaded onto the airline booking system as just another non-stop flight from Hong Kong to New York. This means that there shouldn’t be any major price differences between choosing the one-stop and the non-stop service. In addition, you get the same frequent flyer points as anyone flying non-stop, which is a little bit of a bummer. However, from a service standpoint, these two flights are treated separately, meaning that you will receive two amenity kits and three meals (two on the first sector and one on the second).
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 Business Class Dining (Hong Kong-Vancouver)
One last thing to note is that you are required to get a Canadian Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) before leaving Hong Kong for Vancouver in the event of irregular operations that may require you to leave the restricted area of the airport. Cathay Pacific will deny boarding to you if you don’t have an ETA. However, the application process is quick and efficient, so if you forgot to apply for one, it’s super easy to get one before checking in. You can apply for your ETA here.
While taking slightly longer than a non-stop flight from Hong Kong to New York, Cathay Pacific’s one-stop service is a convenient alternative for those who either wish to take advantage of the flight’s timing, or indulge in one more meal, or even just skip the complicated screening procedures for non-stop flights to the United States in Hong Kong Airport. The Vancouver connection is relatively seamless and not actively unpleasant, but I wish Cathay would try harder and make it a more comfortable experience (free snacks wouldn’t have hurt). Either way, this is a fantastic choice that I would have no qualms about picking in the future. If only Cathay would hurry up with installing WiFi on their fleet…