A Royal (dis)HHonor: Cathay Pacific Lounge San Francisco

We took a shuttle from the Aloft to the airport at around 10:30PM, and made it there about 10 minutes later. I’ve gotta say as far as US airports go, I don’t think there are many that are nicer than San Francisco’s Airport, especially the international terminal.

Terminal exterior

Airline signage

Terminal interior

We easily found the Cathay Pacific check-in area, which was fairly empty given that most people had already checked in.

Cathay Pacific check-in

There was no one ahead of us in the first class queue, and we were helped in a matter of seconds.

Cathay Pacific first class check-in

Cathay Pacific has among the smallest first class cabins on their 777s, with only six seats. When the cabin is full I’ve found it’s like musical chairs to ensure everyone sits together. There are two rows of seating with three seats per row. The two center seats open towards the right aisle, meaning if you’re traveling together you want to sit in either 1D & 1K or 2D & 2K (or if you prefer windows you can do 1A & 2A or 1K & 2K).

In this case we had seats 1A and 2D given how late we booked, and the cabin was full. I wasn’t even going to ask for them to swap our seats, though there was a couple traveling in first class and the check-in agent asked if we would mind swapping seat 2D for 1D, as the couple in first class had seats 2K and 1D assigned. Of course we didn’t mind since that would give us seats 1A & 1D, and at that point I inquired if it would be possible to ask the person seated in 1K whether they’d be willing to switch to 1A. If you’re traveling alone 1A & 2A are the best seats since you don’t have anyone else sharing the aisle with you, so it seemed like it would be a win-win. He said they’d work on it, and that I should check-in again at the gate.

We headed towards security, and while it wasn’t very busy on the surface, they only had a single lane open.

Heading towards security

Below is a picture of how my boarding pass looked after the security agent (it’s not TSA in San Francisco, but rather “Team SFO”) checked it. I’m not trying to be an ass, but can someone please explain to me how that’s even remotely necessary? Seriously, what is this, kindergarten? And are those testicles?

Boarding pass after the check

I find “Team SFO” to be among the rudest security “team” in the US, and today was no exception. They were only using the full body scanners and not the metal detectors, which I suppose is fine, except the queue for entering the full body scanner was about 20 people deep. The agent working the line kept yelling “don’t get in line until all your items are inside the x-ray.”

That’s great, though there’s a slight problem. You’re not allowed to leave your items unattended, but you’re also not allowed to get in the line for the full body scanner until your items are in the x-ray. The line for the full body scanner was about five minutes long, and from the full body scanner line you couldn’t see the other side of the x-ray belt, where your belongings are. So I asked the agent “excuse me, how am I supposed to be able to keep an eye on my belongings when I can’t see them from here?” He gave me a blank stare, mumbled a bit, and said, “they’ll be fine, we’ll make sure other passengers don’t touch them.” I responded with “it’s not other passengers I’m concerned about,” but that seemed to go over his head. Good thing I wasn’t transiting Heathrow, where the standard security question is “have you been in possession of your bags the whole time?”

Anyway, once through security we turned left towards the area with the lounges and took the elevator up to the second level, where the Cathay Pacific lounge is located.


Second level lounge corridor

Cathay Pacific opened their new lounge in San Francisco a little over a year ago, so I was curious what it was like. Last time I took this flight they used the British Airways lounge, which was pretty mediocre.

From the moment I spotted the lounge it felt like a generic Cathay Pacific lounge at one of their outstations, which they seem to be pretty consistent with.

Lounge exterior

Upon entering the lounge we were welcomed and informed there would be a boarding call for our flight.

Near the entrance was a business center with a handful of Mac computers.

Business center

While the lounge is a good size, it was packed. There was hardly an empty seat, and there’s not a separate first class section, so it really doesn’t feel like all that premium of a lounge. It basically has four partitioned off seating areas, each with maybe a dozen seats, as well as a bar area.

Lounge seating

Lounge seating

Lounge seating

The bar area consisted of several communal tables.

Bar area

There was a self serve buffet which was okay. It consisted of four hot dishes, salad, finger sandwiches, and packaged snacks.


Buffet menu

Hot options

Cold options

There was also a modest open bar.

Self serve bar

Self serve bar

As is pretty standard in Cathay Pacific lounges, there was also a made-to-order noodle station. If you’re going to eat in the lounge, that’s probably the place to do so.

Noodle station

Noodle station menu

Since I hadn’t eaten all evening I had the wonton noodles, which were quite good.

Wonton noodles

It’s worth noting the Wi-Fi in the lounge was excruciatingly slow. I realize the lounge was full and usage was probably high, but I still think this is unacceptable in a brand new lounge in the US.

Wanting to check on the status of my seat swap, I headed to the gate about 10 minutes before boarding was called, at around 11:20PM.

Walking to gate

Our departure gate was A3, which is located down the escalator from the main concourse.

Escalator to departure gate

While the flight was completely booked, the gate area was surprisingly empty. I’m guessing everyone was in the lounge based on how full it was.

Departure gate

I headed up to the podium to see if they were able to switch my seat, and before I could finish my sentence they handed me a new boarding pass for 1K. Cool.

At around 11:45PM boarding was called, starting with first and business class.

777 taking us to Hong Kong

777 taking us to Hong Kong

Filed Under: Awards, Cathay Pacific
  1. A bit bit picky to complain that the circles weren’t drawn tight enough for your liking

  2. I’m really puzzled by the SFO Cathay lounge. It is about a year old and the first CX branded lounge in the US yet it is absolutely _terrible_. Easily the worst lounge at SFO and, by far, the worst CX lounge anywhere. Even the MNL are TPE ones are better and that is saying a lot.

    Really makes one wonder why they decided to open their own one in the first place. While the BA Terrance lounge isn’t great it is much larger, has _much_ better food and beverage options, friendlier staff and allows for boarding directly from the lounge. Similarly, the JAL lounge, while old, dark and cramped is much better than the brand new CX one. Sadly neither are open for the midnight CX departures.

    The last couple of times I’ve flow SFO-HKG I haven’t even bothered going to the lounge, even the barren concourse is better than the overcrowded and loud CX “lounge”. Really wish they’d close it and go back to using the BA Terrace lounge.

  3. As SFO is one of my home airports (along with OAK), I have to agree and validate all of Ben’s comments. The airport itself is very nice (new Terminal 2 for AA and VX is even better than the International terminal) but “Team SFO” are mostly incompetent and I always get the funny drawings on my boarding pass. TSA staff at OAK is much nicer but flight options are obviously limited compared to SFO.

  4. Wow that lounge made me wonder: ” why bother going there?”
    The corridor looked like a hospital and there is nothing appealing about that lounge. Food selection is worse than supermarket buy-by-the pound. The bar, what bar?

    Thanks for the heads-up.

  5. Lucky: I thought both of the CX flights from sfo-hkg were 747, not 777. Has that change?

  6. My home airport is also SFO. I’ve never had any issues with Team SFO or thought of them as the “rudest” in the country. They’re definitely not the friendliest bunch, but I’ve had worse experiences at LAX and even BOS. I also find them relatively efficient, unlike some the BP checkers at JFK which seem to take forever and a day to check people’s BP. Btw, during my last trip thru MIA, security also scribbled all over my BP.

  7. I had a good experience at the CX Lounge in SFO, but it was just after they opened last yearand we also arrived early from a connecting flight. Wasn’t busy when we arrived, but was packed by the time we left. But i enjoyed the noodle bar and the staff was nice.

  8. @ Kiddad

    eff 02JAN14 Daily Boeing 747-400 operation on CX870/879 will be reduced to 3 weekly. The remaining 4 weekly operates with 4-class Boeing 777-300ER
    CX872 HKG0100 – 2105-1SFO 77W D
    CX870 HKG1405 – 1000SFO 744 357
    CX870 HKG1405 – 1000SFO 77W x357

    CX879 SFO1150 – 1850+1HKG 744 357
    CX879 SFO1150 – 1850+1HKG 77W x357
    CX873 SFO2305 – 0600+2HKG 77W D

  9. CAS (Covenant Aviation Security) is no better/worse than TSA. OK, maybe better just because they’re not TSA. However I’d agree that the screeners at the international terminal act like prison guards during rush hour.

    I don’t notice it much since I always clear security in terminal 3 and take the walkway to the G gates in international. Obviously doesn’t work for the A gates though.

  10. Emil: CX lounge is the worst at SFO? Are you freakin’ kidding me? Have you even been to many lounges at SFO? Please, go enjoy the SQ, DL, KE and CI lounges and leave CX more space for others.

  11. You obviously haven’t been the hobbit sized nook that is the Delta SkyClub at SFO…it makes that CX lounge look amazing.

  12. Hi Ben,

    looks like some kids got a hold of your boardingpass 🙂 tell me, have you ever flown Egyptair (MS) Business class? They have a great fare for 800EUR one way to BKK. On their website I could not find any pics of the seats.

  13. I have first class seats on CX from HKG to ORD in Feb. When and how can I choose my seats? Thanks!

  14. Ken: Yes, I’m pretty sure I’ve been to all of them (domestic and international terminals) and yet the CX one is the only one where you cannot get a seat or a drink. At last the domestic clubs allow you to buy a beverage and have some sort of seating.

  15. ” And are those testicles?”

    still better to get a test tickle than a real tickle ( body search) “)

  16. @ Jeff — You can select seats six months out on the Cathay Pacific website under the “Manage Booking” section (though it requires having their confirmation code). You can also call them if you prefer.

  17. @ Karl — Haven’t flown EgyptAir business class, though that’s a very good fare. I believe their seats on the 777 are fully flat.

  18. @ Jeff and Lucky – While the website says you can only reserve seats 6 months out I have had luck reserving seats almost a year out through their call center.

  19. “Team SFO” is the worst. I got so fed up with their incompetence (over the same issue – couldn’t see my belongings when I opted out of the naked scanner) that I told them that I would not let them do anything else unless the police were present.

    Police arrived (very nice btw.) and a few weeks later I got a letter from TSA saying that I was facing fines for “interfering with the screening process”. What an abuse of power. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t take more than a strongly worded reply threatening a libel suit for them to go away. Idiots.

  20. I wonder why the entrance says “First and Business Class Lounge”. I mean sure, first class (and OW Emeralds) have access along with Business Class (and OW Saphire) but not as confusing as UA BusinessFirst and UA GlobalFirst seem to be for people.

  21. I think people here are getting a bit too jaded if they’d rather hang out in the terminal rather than stay at this lounge. Yes, at the end of the day, it’s more of a business class lounge, but let’s get real, it beats not having lounge access.

  22. @wwk5d, its not matter of having a lounge access or not. It’s just matter of Cathay failing to meet their “usual” expectation. Try to compare this to the wing at HKG… heaven and earth…

  23. @ Josh — Have flown out of there many times and it is a dump. But terminal three is fairly nice, and terminal two and the international terminals are *awesome* Compare that to most other US airports where all terminals are dumps.

  24. I booked CX SFO-HKG r/t in F via AA awards. I also booked HKG-BKK r/t on BA – how do I get seat assignments for both flights – go to CX website or have to confirm thru AA/BA?

  25. @ Paul — You’ll need the Cathay Pacific record locator (which is the same as the British Airways record locator). Once you have it you can go to the Cathay Pacific website to select seats.

  26. Lucky – thanks. Had to call AA to get the CX record locator. Same for BA.

    Why the H they don’t include that as a matter of course on their reservations is beyond me.

    Can book 180 days out online at CX. If you aren’t a Marco Polo member, just log in as a non member and go to manage bookings and enter the CX Record Locator #.

  27. @ Paul — Agree it’s annoying. United lists partner record locators on the reservations, so I wish it’s something American would do as well.

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