I needed to be in the UK, and took this flight out of necessity. Our team at Young Travelers of Hong Kong does not endorse recreational air travel during this period.
I don’t remember the last time I’ve gone five months without being on a plane, though air travel definitely wasn’t a top priority in 2020. While reviewing a variety of useful airline products is my passion, it wouldn’t be fair to my loved ones if I continued to be in pursuit of new airline reviews at the expense of my safety, and the time I spent with them during quarantine. Instead of finding the way to tackle most cabin products, my preference in the meantime has shifted to flying direct.
That being said, while the pandemic has shifted everyone’s priorities in regards to air travel, I still find merit in flying new airline products whenever I can. In this case, I’d long wanted to find the best premium economy product between Hong Kong and London:
- in July 2017 I flew Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy from Hong Kong to London
- in January 2020 I flew British Airways’ premium economy from Hong Kong to London
The third and final airline that runs a direct flight from Hong Kong to London is Cathay Pacific, so this review completes the comparison. Well, mostly – all three airlines have currently scaled down their services to varying degrees due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and Cathay Pacific’s running most of their flights with A350-1000s in the meantime, whereas they normally operate their Heathrow route with 777s. That being said, based on other reviews I’ve read, Cathay Pacific scaled back their premium economy product relatively lightly, and I’ve flown Cathay Pacific’s older premium economy seat before. With that in mind, here’s my full review of Cathay Pacific’s A350 premium economy, with a comparison post to follow in the coming weeks.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Hong Kong Airport
Booking Cathay Pacific’s A350 Premium Economy
As part of my travels between Hong Kong and the UK, late last year I’d booked myself an Asia Miles redemption from London Gatwick to Hong Kong for this June in Cathay Pacific’s A350 premium economy. Of course, this plan went awry when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK harder than Leonard slapped Sheldon after he won a Nobel Prize in The Big Bang Theory, and I scurried home to be with family. I was able to refund my ticket without issue, though that left me with 28,000 Asia Miles expiring at the end of the month.
I booked a tentative premium economy ticket in August from Hong Kong to London on Cathay Pacific metal for 40,000 Asia Miles and HK$330 in taxes. I wanted to try out Cathay Pacific’s premium economy anyway, as I’d never done them longhaul – though on top of that, booking a ticket on Cathay Pacific metal also means that I could change my flight date online if need be, as I sure didn’t want to be entangled in an airline call center fiasco in the middle of a pandemic (you’ll be surprised to find out that Cathay Pacific’s call center response times are actually quite fast now, though I certainly didn’t expect this to be the case).
I was keen to try out Cathay Pacific’s 777 premium economy, as I’d never done their premium economy longhaul – though Cathay Pacific soon scaled back their August premium economy schedule from five daily 777s down to one A350. I was automatically rebooked onto that flight, and ended up taking it to get back to London.
I didn’t consider the equipment swap a loss, as I’d never tried Cathay Pacific’s A350 premium economy either.
Cathay Pacific A350 Premium Economy Review
I arrived Hong Kong Airport at around 10 PM, ahead of my flight at 11:55 PM. Cathay Pacific offers a separate line for those flying premium economy during check in, but there was no one manning the counter – I was third in line, though nothing happened for around 10 minutes, before the lady in front of us flagged down a staff member and informed him that we’d been patiently waiting for quite a while.
Cathay Pacific Check-in Experience Hong Kong Airport
I was 20kg+ over the baggage limit, as I’d brought everything home when the pandemic started. This could be resolved either with a HK$6,947 baggage fee or 105,600 Asia Miles. I could’ve just called it a day and hopped onto British Airways for 70,000 Asia Miles (where I was actually within their baggage limit), but my parents had Asia Miles expiring this season that they didn’t quite know what to do with anyway. So we waved goodbye to a longhaul first class ticket’s worth of Asia Miles.
Let me explain myself. In normal life, paying 105,600 Asia Miles in place of HK$6,947 for excess baggage fees is something you should never do. However, when there was no way we could use our points for recreational air travel, we didn’t think this was too bad of a transaction, and outside of a pandemic I would’ve packed lighter in the first place.
So yeah, in reality this ticket cost 145,600 Asia Miles and HK$330 in taxes.
The maze of duty free shops at Hong Kong Airport were all barricaded off, and the terminal was desolately quiet, as Hong Kong’s US$36.7 billion tourism industry was stripped back to bare-bones, essential travel.
Eerie Hong Kong Airport during Coronavirus Pandemic
Boarding began at 11:15 PM, and it was 10:45 PM by the time I reached the gate. Instead of wandering around, I stayed put by gate 2, so I could be onboard as soon as possible.
Sure enough, boarding started shortly after 11:15 PM, beginning with first class passengers and oneworld Emerald members, then business class passengers and oneworld Sapphire members. I’m quite disloyal when it comes to airlines, so I waited to board with premium economy passengers and Marco Polo Green members – economy followed.
Cathay Pacific Flight 251
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Origin: Hong Kong (HKG) Gate: 2 Dep: 23:55 (23:55)
Destination: London Heathrow (LHR) Gate: B33 Arr: 05:40 (04:55)
Duration: 12 hr 45 min (12 hr)
Aircraft: Airbus A350-1000 Reg: B-LXB
Seat: 33K (Premium Economy)
Since I wasn’t first to board this time round, here are a couple of photos I took of Cathay Pacific’s A350-1000 premium economy cabin on a flight from Taipei to Hong Kong last year:
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy
Cathay Pacific’s premium economy cabin on their A350-1000 is super intimate, consisting of 32 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration. After being used to cavernous premium economy cabins on British Airways, I found myself taken aback by how small this cabin was. The colour tones are slightly on the sterile end, while still proudly bearing the airline’s signature sea green hues.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Cabin
The seats were well padded, though not amazingly so. I’d assigned myself seat 33K, a window seat in the last row of the premium economy cabin. This is typically my preference, as I can shamelessly keep my seat reclined from takeoff until landing.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Seats 33H and 33K
Speaking of recline, the seat featured a more-than-decent amount of it, with an extra supportive legrest to support the feet.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Recline
Cathay Pacific’s A350 premium economy seat pitch stands at 40 inches, which is above the 38″ industry standard for premium economy. This culminated in an abundance of legroom when my seat was upright.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Legroom
However, the same couldn’t be said for when my legrest was fully deployed and extended – my feet couldn’t fit between the end of the legrest and the seat in front of me. This was quite easily rectified by just deploying the legrest up halfway, though it somewhat defeated the point of optimising a comfortable lazy-Z position.
No space for my feet in Cathay Pacific A350 Premium Economy
As the cabin filled up, I decided to have a look around my seat. To my left were the seat controls, which were really intuitive. The three buttons controlled the recline, legrest angle, and legrest length respectively.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Seat Controls
In front of me was a very large 12.1-inch TV screen (I didn’t bring a ruler, so I’ll take Cathay Pacific’s website’s word for it). Cathay Pacific’s A350s consistently have very responsive IFE, and this flight was no exception.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy TV Screen
In case things went awry with the touchscreen function, there was a remote control next to the seat controls.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Remote Control
Each seat also featured a 110V universal power port and a USB port, located under the armrest.
There’s no denying that Cathay Pacific leads the way in introducing storage space to their economy and premium economy seats – last year I was super impressed by the amount of storage they introduced to their new 777 10-abreast economy seat. This flight was no exception – there was a large bin for storing small items from a phone up to a water bottle, and additionally there was space below the armrest (which I forgot to photograph, but it had enough space for a phone). The former storage compartment lay below a tablet holder that could hold a phone or tablet upright, in case the industry leading StudioCX entertainment system has nothing of your fancy.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Tablet Holder and Storage Compartment
Also on the seatback was a coat hook (I found this very useful as a camera strap hook, as I otherwise had nowhere to put it).
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Coat Hook
My bi-fold tray table folded up from the right armrest. I liked the touch of faux wood, though most importantly, it was incredibly sturdy. A smaller but still sturdy cocktail table folded out from the left armrest (though I wouldn’t recommend using it – it’s easy to spill any drinks that you put there).
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Tray Table and Cocktail Table
Finally, on the seat was a headrest and a reading light. The headrest itself was supportive, though the wings didn’t “lock” in place (so I couldn’t sleep resting my head there), whereas the reading light had a few adjustable brightness levels, which I appreciated.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Reading Light
At my seat was a large pillow and blanket. The pillow was very sturdy, but I found myself most impressed by the soft, lavishly quilted blanket. British Airways has a similar blanket in premium economy, though this blanket felt even smoother and softer.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Blanket
In the seat pocket we were provided with an amenity kit. The amenity kit was pretty bare bones, though included all the basics, including a toothbrush, lip balm, eyeshades and socks. Mostly, I found myself admiring the design that the pouch the amenities were delivered in.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Amenity Kit
While the cabin was showing as W9 (at least 9 seats available in premium economy) on ExpertFlyer prior to boarding, it actually ended up being completely full, much to my surprise. Face masks are compulsory, and I myself wore an ASTM Level 3 mask switching to an N95 respirator when we reached Heathrow; though I didn’t see many people donning PPE in the premium economy cabin, though I did see quite a few seated in economy. Next to me was another university student seated behind her sister, and in front of me was an accompanied minor (I believe his mother was in business class, as she gave him something during the flight). The entire premium economy cabin was mostly seated with students returning to the UK.
During boarding, presumably to avoid face mask removal, no pre-departure beverage was served in premium economy. The crew were very friendly, particularly a male flight attendant serving my aisle, though they mostly went through the motions.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Cabin
Boarding was wrapped up at around 11:45 PM, and we pushed back bang on time at 11:55 PM. The safety demonstration showed, followed by the cabin lights dimming.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Cabin with Lights Dimmed
We had a very quick taxi (we were leaving from gate 2), so only passed a few aircraft, including a Hong Kong Airlines A330, which I’ve flown before in the past. I’ve always loved the airline’s enthusiasm, though sadly 2019 and 2020 really hit the airline hard.
Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A330 Hong Kong Airport
We took off on runway 25L at 12:05 AM, and went out over the ocean, so I couldn’t grab any particularly good photos.
After around 10-15 minutes of climbout, I connected to Cathay Pacific’s WiFi. Panasonic provides Cathay Pacific’s inflight WiFi onboard their A350s, and charges by time instead of by usage, which I love. The WiFi pricing was as follows:
- US$9.95 for one hour
- US$19.95 for the full flight (US$12.95 for flights below 6 hours)
I purchased a full flight package, which was so worth it – I worked for a few hours on the flight, didn’t sleep incredibly well, and the WiFi was also fast enough to upload photos onto WordPress (though interestingly trying to run on a speed test on it returned an unsuccessful result). Cathay Pacific allows you to switch between devices when using a WiFi plan, which was very useful and the interface was easy to operate – though the system didn’t remember the devices each time I logged off, which meant I had to put in my login details every time.
The seatbelt sign stayed on for a good while, though at around 12:25 AM some mild orange mood lighting was turned on in preparation for the meal service. The inflight service manager came onto the PA, and announced our flight time of 11 hours and 51 minutes, as well as wishing we’d enjoy the flight.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Cabin during Meal Service
At around 12:45 AM the crew rolled a trolley through the premium economy cabin. We were given a choice of drink, though not a choice of meal (in my understanding there are normally three options, though this was understandably scaled back to minimise crew contact during the pandemic). For drinks, soft drinks were provided, as well as white and red wine; hoping to catalyse some alcohol-induced sleep, I got myself some red wine.
I was thrilled by what I received – it was beef in a black pepper sauce served with rice and bok choy. Albeit a tad simplistic (I wouldn’t be surprised if economy was offered the same meal), it was so flavourful and tasty. The bread roll was also much moister and had much more “bite” than your typical airline bread roll, which I wasn’t expecting.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Meal
The side salad was smoked salmon and egg on top of peas, corn, and carrots, mixed in a mayonnaise-style sauce. It was also delicious, and I was thrilled this wasn’t your typical leafy green airline salad.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Meal Side Salad
In my experience Cathay Pacific’s catering is either delicious or questionable, and this fell squarely in the former category. It was extremely tasty and I finished all of it.
While I know some people have sworn against eating on a plane since March, most people seated in premium economy ate on my flight. While it’s important to stay vigilant, eating on a plane is no riskier than eating in a restaurant or shopping mall – additionally, the people I was surrounded with were all from Hong Kong, so I felt comfortable eating.
My tray was taken by 1:05 AM, less than five minutes after I was done – I really admired the efficiency of Cathay Pacific’s meal service in premium economy.
Shortly after I checked out the economy cabin, as I haven’t explored Cathay Pacific’s A350-1000 economy product in detail before. Cathay Pacific’s A350 economy cabin is laid out in a standard 3-3-3 configuration, and outfitted in similar colours as premium economy.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350-1000 Economy Class Cabin
I was excited when I first saw photos of these seats, as they looked very plush and comfortable. I had a chance to sit in one of the empty rows of seats (economy was about half full on this flight, and many people got their own set of 3 seats, especially in the rear cabin), and they were indeed very well padded. The padding on these seats is similar to the padding on Cathay Pacific’s old A330 economy class (which I openly love), and marginally better than the padding on Cathay Pacific’s new 10-abreast 777 economy class. My seatmate somewhat rightly commented “I love premium economy, though those seats look way too comfortable for economy” (if a Cathay Pacific executive is reading this, please don’t get any ideas).
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350-1000 Economy Class
Seat pitch is a standard 32 inches, which translates to an ample amount of legroom in this seat. I believe the recline is similar to what you’d get on Cathay Pacific’s other economy seats, though it did look very comfortable for economy.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350-1000 Economy Class Legroom and Recline
The headrest had four joints and was very adjustable, which I’m sure I’d enjoy if I was seated here.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350-1000 Economy Class Headrest
There was also quite a bit of innovation done to the seat backs. Under a responsive 11.1-inch screen (once again nicked off Cathay’s website) was a bi-fold tray table, which I found sturdy…
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350-1000 Economy Class Seatback and Tray Table
…though the real innovation was the storage space in between. There was enough space for a phone with a “slot” to insert a charging cable, and the compartment lid also featured a flip-out tablet holder and a cup holder.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350-1000 Economy Class Tablet Holder and Storage Compartment
I also needed the lavatory before heading off to sleep, which featured Nobility amenities as well as clear, unbranded handwash – Cathay Pacific has a dedicated lavatory in premium economy on their A350-1000, which looks identical to the economy lavatories, though it’s on the left side.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Lavatory
At around 2:15 AM Hong Kong time (two hours after takeoff) we hit some chop, which lasted for 5-10 minutes. During this time I did some work on my computer, and eventually when we were somewhere above North China I decided it was time to get some rest. Despite the comfortable seat and blanket I only managed a solid three hours of sleep, and woke up to a sunrise over Russia.
Sunrise above Russia
I alternated between sleeping and staying connected with my friends over the WiFi, and eventually managed to get a couple more hours of sleep. The crew passed by the cabin a few times and were always friendly, though they didn’t proactively offer anything (which isn’t a complaint, since I don’t exactly expect proactivity when you’re also serving economy).
Around an hour and 45 minutes before landing the crew turned on some sunrise mood lighting, in preparation for the breakfast service. I found it interesting, and quite smart, that economy was served first, to maximise rest for premium economy passengers.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Cabin during Breakfast Service
Once again, there was a choice of drink, but no choice of meal. Drink choices included tea, coffee, and a variety of juices – knowing I’d need it, I chose coffee.
We were given an English-style breakfast consisting of frittata, sausage, hash brown, mushroom and roasted cherry tomato, with a side of fruit. I didn’t have the yoghurt or croissant that came with it, though I was surprised by how tasty the rest of the breakfast was. For those of you used to overcooked airline eggs, soggy bland potatoes with a joke of an airline sausage, this wasn’t that – the eggs were fluffy and light, the hash browns were cooked well (though not really crispy) and the sausage was great as well, and the mushrooms were well-seasoned and herbaceous. The side of fruit was cold as well the way I liked it.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Breakfast
Once again, trays were cleared less than 20 minutes after they were served, which I appreciated – the crew also made rounds past the cabin a couple times to take the trays of anyone who wasn’t quite done during tray collection time. While I love a friendly crew, it makes such a big difference when crewmembers work quickly and efficiently during mealtimes, especially on a redeye – it truly does maximise rest and productivity, especially in premium economy, when there’s enough space to work comfortably but not quite enough to move around.
After the meal service I looked at the flight map and was surprised to see how close we were to the UK. Cathay Pacific’s interactive flight map is a pleasure, as you can easily seek out the airplane’s speed, altitude, and time left until landing. While I didn’t take note of the aircraft’s speed, we were cruising at a very high 40,000 feet.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Position After Premium Economy Meal Service
Cathay Pacific’s A350s also feature a high-definition tail camera, though unfortunately since there wasn’t much to see at night, I had issues taking great photos of it.
Speaking of the entertainment system, I had a quick scroll through the plethora of movies and TV shows available. On top of that, live TV such as BBC can be accessed during the flight.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Entertainment System
TV show watchers and/or light airplane sleepers will be delighted to know that Cathay Pacific loads entire seasons of TV shows onto their entertainment system.
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 Premium Economy Entertainment System
At around 4:15 AM London time the captain came onto the PA for the first time. He had an American accent, and announced the 16°C temperature in London, as well as our approximate arrival time of 4:55 AM. He ended the announcement with the signature “cabin crew, 30 minutes until landing”.
We hit some more chop around 10 minutes after that, so the crew were quickly called to prepare the cabin for landing. While we flew north enough to see a bit of sunrise during the flight, it was dark again by the time we landed into the UK. We flew over the city, though the combination of darkness and being seated right over the wing impeded great photo opportunities.
Landing into London Heathrow Airport
We were wheels-down into Heathrow Airport at around 4:45 AM, and made a slow taxi to Heathrow’s Terminal 2, where Cathay Pacific had moved operations during the pandemic. We parked at gate 33, and all deplaned through door L1, which meant passing through the 46-seat business class cabin before getting off the plane.
Immigration was a disaster – I don’t hold an EU passport, and the non-EU line was around 40-50 people deep when I first arrived, as a Virgin Atlantic flight (also from Hong Kong – I’ve taken this flight multiple times) had landed before us. Sure enough, the line continued to pile up with economy passengers from our flight – though there were only 4-5 agents at the counters, and they were taking their sweet time. All passengers arriving in the UK have been asked to fill out a passenger record locator form within 48 hours before arrival, where we had to provide our contact and arrival details. I also had to declare that I was exempt from self-isolation, as I’d only been to Hong Kong over the past 14 days, which is on the travel corridor list; despite that, the immigration officer that stamped me in definitely missed the memo, as only after checking with a colleague did he agree that I was exempt from self-isolation (which, in retrospect, is especially deplorable considering the only passengers in the arrival hall at this time were all arriving from Hong Kong). Despite the fact that Heathrow mandates face coverings, the airport staff had their face masks on their chins – pathetic!
It took a good hour for me to get through immigration, and I imagine it’d have taken another hour for the last economy passenger on this flight to get through. Despite arriving an hour early, I actually ended up being late for my airport transfer to my new flat in London. Immigration took so long that by the time I went out to collect my two (hugely overweight) suitcases, all of our bags had been taken off the belt and assembled in rows to accommodate for the next arriving flight.
There were a couple of agents standing around baggage claim, and they greeted me, and sympathised with the sad immigration situation.
Bottom Line: Cathay Pacific’s A350 Premium Economy
All three airlines operating direct flights between Hong Kong and London offer an impressive premium economy product. Cathay Pacific’s premium economy product is on a level playing field with both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic on this route. Admittedly the A350 isn’t the aircraft Cathay Pacific normally operates on the route, but I’ve flown Cathay Pacific’s premium economy on their A330 before, and the seats share the same traits of being comfortable and well thought out. Although the meal services had been scaled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I appreciated how tasty both meals were, which speaks volumes to Cathay Pacific’s usual food quality on this route; on top of that, the pillow and blanket provided were excellent, WiFi was reasonably priced and very fast, and the crew were also friendly.
I need to think about which airline operates the best premium economy product between Hong Kong and London, though Cathay Pacific is a strong contender. This was, all in all, a very solid premium economy class product, and I wouldn’t hesitate to fly it again.
Have you flown Cathay Pacific’s premium economy before? How was the experience?