Cathay Pacific's A350 Premium Economy is a solid way to get from London to Hong Kong. The hard product is excellent and the soft product is decent. However, the airline has lost a lot of its pre-pandemic shine.
I recently flew with Cathay Pacific from London to Hong Kong in their Premium Economy cabin. As Cathay Pacific continues to rebuild their international flight network, questions have arisen over whether the airline is maintaining their pre-pandemic levels of service. With that in mind, I wanted to write a brief review of my recent experience.
Booking My Flight
I needed to fly from London to Hong Kong in early June. Initially, oneworld competitor British Airways had significantly better fares across all cabin classes than Cathay Pacific for the route. However, I stumbled on a one-way fare in Premium Economy for approximately GBP650. Considering that an Economy ticket for the exact same flight was (rather inexplicably) priced at GBP800, I pounced on the ticket. I’m not sure if this counts as a mistake fare, but it was definitely a great deal.
My ticket booked into Cathay Pacific’s “E” fare class, which didn’t allow for the chance of an upgrade. If you’re looking to upgrade your Cathay Pacific Premium Economy ticket with Asia Miles, be sure that your ticket is booked in the “W” or “R” fare classes.
The Ground Experience
I checked in at Cathay’s counters at Heathrow Terminal 3 and was helped by a friendly agent. After making it through Fast Track security – which I was eligible to use as a Cathay Gold/oneworld Sapphire member – I made a beeline for the Cathay Pacific Business Class lounge, which Alvin has reviewed.
Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge London Heathrow (pinched from Alvin’s review…)
I made my way to our boarding gate which was at the very end of the terminal. My documents were checked by a rather unpleasant gate agent, who barked at passengers in Cantonese and English to “wait if [their] group isn’t being called because [they’re] not boarding”. I can appreciate that gate lice is annoying – especially as a gate agent who sees this every day – but there’s gotta be better ways to make this point.
The ground experience got weirder as I arrived at the aircraft door only to find that it was closed. As it turns out, the ground agents had forgotten to open the door, and the crew inside were unwilling to do anything until a ground agent arrived. While most passengers were patient, a very frustrated passenger started banging on the door and screaming at the crew inside the aircraft. This certainly ranks as one of the more interesting boarding experiences I’ve had…
Cathay Pacific Flight CX238
Monday, June 5th, 2023
Origin: London Heathrow Airport (LHR) Dep: 17:00 (17:42)
Destination: Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) Arr: 12:15 (12:41)
Duration: 11 hr 59 minutes
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900XWB Reg: B-LRN
Seat: 30C (Premium Economy Class)
I was welcomed aboard by the Senior Purser and made my way to the Premium Economy cabin.
Cathay Pacific A350-900 Premium Economy Cabin
Alvin’s already reviewed Cathay’s A350 Premium Economy seat extensively, so I’ll only give some brief thoughts in this post.
- Even almost 6 years after the seat was initially introduced, it’s still industry leading. The padding is decent, the adjustable headrest is comfortable, and the stowage options are excellent.
- The full leg-rest and very generous recline make for a very comfortable position for sleeping or lounging.
- However, the fact that some of these seats are 6 years old means that they’re showing their age a bit. There was some wear and tear around the cabin. For example, my tray table wouldn’t stay in the storage compartment in the armrest.
A large bottle of water, a basic amenity kit (stocked with eyeshades, socks, a toothbrush, and earplugs), noise cancelling headphones, and a menu were pre-set at the seat during boarding. Also on the seat was a large, fluffy pillow and a thin duvet. Both the pillow and the comforter were much better than the tiny pillow and scratchy blanket on offer in Economy.
Cathay Pacific A350 Premium Economy Cabin Television
I appreciated that Cathay Pacific included a small storage area directly under the personal television. The television itself was large and responsive via touchscreen and a remote. I didn’t use the entertainment system throughout the flight, but was impressed by the variety of movies and television shows on offer. There was even a small section of HBO Max shows.
As passengers streamed on the aircraft, a small metal bar attached to the bulkhead (seen in the following picture) fell off. The helpful flight attendant serving our section immediately flagged the issue with maintenance and got it repaired.
Pre-departure drinks were also offered, with a choice of champagne from Business Class, as well as water and juice. I selected a glass of champagne.
Cathay Pacific Premium Economy Pre-Departure Champagne
Unfortunately, while hot towel service has been restored to Business Class, it seems like this has been cut in Premium Economy. I did, however, take the opportunity to do a bit of seat cleaning with some wet wipes, as the cocktail table had a few questionable stains on it.
The captain and Inflight Service Manager made announcements welcoming passengers onboard. Afterwards, the safety video was screened, which I found myself lip-syncing along to. We were delayed at the gate for 40 minutes before we finally pushed back. This flight’s on-time performance is – in particular – pretty abysmal, so make sure to pad some extra time if you’re connecting in Hong Kong.
First Meal Service
Interestingly, while Cathay Gold members historically received a greeting from a flight attendant upon boarding, I didn’t get one on this flight. While I didn’t mind this – especially since the greetings tend to be pretty awkward – it does speak to how elite recognition at Cathay Pacific has worsened.
After take-off, I briefly read through the inflight menu. Premium Economy passengers have a choice from a separate selection of main dishes that are different than what’s served in Economy – or Business for that matter.
Cathay Pacific Premium Economy Menu
The meal service started as soon as the seat-belt sign was switched off. Special meals came out first, followed by a meal and drinks cart. Cathay Pacific used to offer a drinks service in addition to the main meal service, but this appears to have been cut down to a single meal and drink service. I wonder if this has something to do with reduced staffing levels on flights.
Cathay Pacific upgraded the presentation of its Premium Economy meals early this year. While the food itself is the same as it previously was, the starter, main dish, and bread are now served on porcelain. As part of the upgrades, Premium Economy passengers also get an additional fruit bowl, which was pretty sad on this flight.
Anyways, a flight attendant came through asking for my meal choice. I ordered the steamed cod with mui choy sauce and rice, which was served with a prawn salad starter.
Cathay Pacific Premium Economy Lunch Service
The starter appeared to be a larger version of what was served in Economy, which was delicious. Meanwhile, the main course was pretty flavourful, but the dish was definitely left in the oven for too long. The rice was a bit dry, the vegetables were mushy, and the fish was overcooked. Definitely not the best thing I’ve been served on Cathay Pacific, but definitely not the worst.
I also ordered a glass of white wine with the meal which was delicious.
The meal service finished off with an ice cream run (which I turned down) by a flight attendant who came around the cabin muttering “ice cream… ice cream… ice cream…”
Service during the meal was fine, but frankly, not to the level I’d expect from Cathay Pacific. The crew were well-intentioned and (mostly) friendly, but avoided speaking in full sentences. Interestingly, coffee or tea was not proactively offered after the meal.
The food quality on this particular flight left something to be desired. However, both the presentation and the food itself was a nice upgrade from Economy.
The meal service wrapped up around 2 hours after take-off. At this point, I had been travelling for 14 hours, so I reclined my seat and fell asleep for 5 hours – which must be some kind of personal best for me. I woke up with around 5 hours until landing feeling well rested, and spent some time staring at the tail camera.
Cathay Pacific A350 Tail Camera
Later, I took a trip to the galley, where a very enthusiastic flight attendant gladly filled up my water bottle and proactively offered cup noodles. Disappointingly, Cathay Pacific has cut back on its mid-flight snack selection, which used to include Joe&Sephs caramel popcorn. The current snack selection included some pretzels, granola bars, nuts, and cookies.
Eventually, I took the flight attendant up on her offer of some cup noodles, which were served in a Cathay-branded holder. The noodles were about as comforting, delicious, and unhealthy as you’d expect.
Cathay Pacific Premium Economy Cup Noodles
While Cathay Pacific previously offered Premium Economy passengers an additional hot snack option (usually a warmed pizza wrap or a burger), this was removed during the pandemic. It’s cost-cut-o-clock at Cathay City!
Purple mood lighting was switched on approximately two hours before landing in preparation for the breakfast service. As was the case with the first meal, there was no additional drinks service before food carts were rolled out.
Cathay Pacific A350 Moving Map
I ordered the “stir fried egg noodle with pork and vegetables”, which was served alongside a warm mini-croissant, jam, a pot of yogurt, and fresh fruit. In addition to the food, I asked for some apple juice and coffee.
Cathay Pacific Premium Economy Breakfast Service
Truthfully, I was a little confused when I lifted the lid to my meal. The main dish looked pretty bad – I’m convinced that they swapped out the egg noodles listed on the menu for spaghetti and called it a day. The noodles were mushy, and the pork was dry. I was not impressed by this showing from Cathay Pacific’s catering team. Thankfully, the side dishes were pretty good, which tided me over until landing. Once again, coffee or tea was not proactively offered as the trays were cleared.
Descent and Arrival
The captain made an announcement 30 minutes before landing. Shortly afterwards, the seat-belt sign was switched on and the crew came through with their pre-landing checks.
Cathay Pacific A350 Moving Map (yes, I’m practicing my German…)
I’m definitely not an aviation safety expert, but I got the feeling that the pre-landing checks were a little… relaxed. For example, some passengers in the bulkhead row still had their shoes off during landing, and there were pillows and blankets strewn on the floor. I seem to recall that Cathay’s standard practice was that the bulkhead area needs to be completely cleared for take-off and landing.
We arrived at our gate 45 minutes behind schedule. It appeared that quite a few passengers on our flight had – unfortunately – misconnected with our arrival delay.
As a Hong Kong-based aviation geek, Cathay Pacific has a very special place in my heart. I’ve had some kind of loyalty to them for my entire life, and am genuinely rooting for the airline to do well. Unfortunately, Cathay has struggled through some very tough times recently.
Even cutting through everything (pun not intended), I’m still not sure what to think of my recent experience. Objectively — even with visible cost cutting — Cathay Pacific offers a solid Premium Economy experience. The seat is excellent, the amenities are pretty good, and the catering is (usually) fine. However, I came away from the experience feeling slightly disappointed.
I think my disappointment comes from how much Cathay Pacific has lost its polish. Flying with Cathay Pacific was – in the past – consistently seamless. Yet, this time around, the experience was rough around the edges. Everything from how the ground staff forgot to open the aircraft door for boarding, to the poor cabin maintenance and cleanliness, to the uneven service, all gave the impression of an airline that’s not really holding itself together.
Yet, just because I was disappointed doesn’t mean you will be. I don’t intend for this to be a negative review. For the price, the flight was objectively a comfortable way to get from London to Hong Kong. However, for travellers who have flown with Cathay in the past, don’t expect this to be the same airline that it was before the pandemic.