Cathay Pacific first class — never disappoints, though so consistent that it rarely delights

Regarding the title, hear me out…

Hello from Asia! I just flew Cathay Pacific first class from San Francisco to Hong Kong and have three quick(ish) comments before I write my actual trip report (I’m a bit backed up on trip reports, so it’ll be a couple of weeks before I get to this particular sector):

Cathay Pacific’s meal service blows Singapore’s out of the air water between San Francisco and Hong Kong

In January I flew Singapore Suites Class from San Francisco to Hong Kong, and while the seat and service were nothing short of spectacular, I called the food underwhelming. Some of you called me names for that observation, though I stand by what I said. Cathay Pacific’s nighttime flight departs and arrives at virtually the same time, and the meal service is on a different level.

Woodya look at that, Singapore? Cathay serves caviar, salmon, and dessert on a 15 hour flight!

Cathay Pacific is possibly the most consistent airline in the world, almost to a fault

Even though Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines are both considered among the word’s top airlines, I find the two airlines take a completely different approach to onboard service.

Cathay Pacific is consistent. Really consistent. In first class the flight attendants perform the service efficiently, address you by name a good portion of the time, and disappear between meal services. They’re not disappearing because they hate you and don’t want to hear from you till the next meal service. Rather their approach to service is simply that they’ll leave you alone unless you want something, and when you push the call button they’ll cheerily show up in a matter of seconds. So the service is more reactive than proactive, but not necessarily in a bad way, because you always know what to expect. That’s not to say that there aren’t some inconsistencies in how service is performed, including with how friendly and polished the crew is.

But Singapore Airlines is the exact opposite. I’m pretty sure it’s in their flight attendant handbook to monitor the first class cabin in 37 second intervals, even throughout a 15 hour flight. They’re literally always in the cabin seeing if anyone wants anything, which some find bothersome and over the top. I don’t, because I find most crews manage to monitor the cabin extremely discreetly.

I find the way that Singapore flight attendants interact with passengers leads to more inconsistencies. I’ve had okay crews and I’ve had amazing crews (including on this flight, this flight, and this flight), and it’s easy to tell the difference between the two. Meanwhile on Cathay Pacific I find that I consistently have good/great crews, though don’t think I’ve ever had an “okay” crew or an “amazing” crew. Am I the only one that feels that way?

I still find Cathay Pacific to have among the most comfortable seat and bed in the sky, which is what matters most for a 15+ hour flight.

The (new) Wing is awesome!

Cathay Pacific has been renovating the first class section of The Wing seemingly forever now, and it’s finally open. Well, I was supposed to have a two hour connection in Hong Kong this morning, though due to extremely strong headwinds over the Pacific we arrived about 50 minutes late, making for a 70 minute connection. That meant I only had about 20 minutes in the lounge after clearing security and walking between gates, which was just enough time for a shower.

And boy am I happy I showered. The new Cabanas in The Wing are hands down the nicest shower rooms at any airport. Yes, even better than those in the Lufthansa First Class Terminal.

And that’s all I have for you guys for now. Lots more on my journey tomorrow, as I fly an airline for the first time!

Filed Under: Awards, Cathay Pacific
  1. Loved the new cabanas at the wing but I still think the Concorde Room’s cabana’s are better as they are a complete little room and you can nap if you like.

  2. Also, since you asked, I really like the CX F service and find it delightful. I don’t find the things that delight you on SQ as delightful for me.

  3. I’ve really been underwhelmed by my SQ crews. I’ve had 6 long haul segments in First in SQ in the past 12-months and the crews have been OK, but never great. I’ve flown little more with CX over the same period and have never had anything other than a great crew. I do give the edge to SQ on the food front, the CX food doesn’t excite me much. Is the new airline PG?!? 🙂

  4. I cant wait to finally compare in person in May. I wish i had read about using the call button on CX before my flight in 2011 as it explained why i didn’t get many visits.

  5. I’ve done 3 F One-ways on the JFK-HKG (or vv) sector the last couple of months (with an F Ord-HKG OW on UA as well).

    My thoughts…I find:
    -CX is waaaay better than UA (did I really need to say that)
    -The new F Wing is Great! Love the dining, and the cabana (wish there was a way to get Champagne in there). Top notch.
    -I’ve found the CX F service slightly sub par. The JFK-YVR sector was really just ‘ok’ in terms of service.
    -I am finding they seem understaffed frankly in F for the second meal service(typically Breakfast) into JFK. It appears there is often just one person cooking eggs, taking orders and serving. I’ve noticed the same thing on two recent occasions. Perhaps CX need to rethink their F rest schedules for FAs on the ULH flights.

    (First world problems…I know).

  6. @CDKing,

    Don’t give it a second thought – use it.

    Also don’t be shy about letting them know if the cabin is hot….they lowered it 3 times upon request.

  7. does the high portion by the passenger’s head make it difficult to talk to a fellow passenger? Say I’m with my wife, she might like to talk to me somewhere along the flight and not only by sitting on the ottoman…

  8. will be traveling to BKK via Hong Kong on Cx F on April 15th and will have a 4 hour layover. How late is the wing open until and do i need to reserve a cabana ahead of time or is it first come first serve?

  9. Hi Lucky, great blog! In 2 weeks, I am flying CX F ORD-HKG, then continuing on in CX business class HKG-KIX. Would I be able to use the Wing cabanas even though my departing flight will not be in F?

  10. The cabana’s in the wing are mostly about showering. A spouse and an infant might be the max for comfort (and staying dry, the shower isn’t enclosed).

  11. Are you allowed access to the wing arriving in F then departing in J? Many Asian carriers base it on departing flight. Thanks.

  12. Can’t say that is seems special anymore. Time to go in business class. It can only be an “aspirational” awardtrip so many times.

  13. i’ve done CX F on JFK-YVR roundtrip once, and end of this year scheduled to do JFK-HKG roundtrip.

    I’d definitely agree with the statement – CX is very consistent, and it’s true across all cabins. But i also had amazing ground and crew service on LH F, so it’d be very hard for me to pick a winner between those 2.

    TG F, on the other hand, is superior to all J service i’ve tried but distinctly inferior to CX F.

  14. A quick OT Question (and thanks for posting this BTW): I am flying Thai BKK to SYD. I have friends traveling on same route. Will I be able to bring one into the first class lounge in BKK as a guest? Cheers!

  15. I think you should give up flying premium class. You are too spoiled at this point. Go back to the cheap seats.

  16. Only flown CX F once. HKG-LAX departing 4:35pm. Meal service was painfully slow. 2.5 hours until finished. Is that normal?

    This was with only six pax in F and at least 2 went straight to sleep.

  17. @ Lawrence — Yes. Unless you want to yell you won’t be able to talk to anyone not seated in your ottoman.

    @ mw — Nope, this was a 777.

    @ dawk — The Cabanas are first come first serve. The Wing is open till the last departure.

  18. @ Nelumbo — I don’t think there’s a strict limit.

    @ PK — If you’re connecting same day you should get first class lounge access. If not, you wouldn’t.

  19. @ Ed — Yes, I believe you should be able to access it if connecting same day in business class.

    @ TK — 67,500 AAdvantage miles in first class between the US and Asia 2.

    @ Levi Flight — Yes, you can bring one guest.

    @ Jon — I find that to more or less be the norm. Don’t really mind it personally on such a long flight. Next time if you want to eat faster I’d suggest letting the crew know as I’m sure they’d be happy to accommodate.

  20. I think Cathay has the most reliable first class product to Asia. specially for those of us that like to be “left to our own devices.” I find SQ service to be overwhelming and annoying.

    Glad you showed the differences, flight-to-flight , and I think that CX is a winner as well. ( and not that difficult to book as an award )

  21. @Michael If Ben goes back to economy, then why bother reading the best blog on the web?

    Hands down Ben, get more miles and keep on flyin’ first!

  22. @ Dan — Ouch, that was a typo! Can’t believe it took someone that long to call me out on it. Should have read “never disappoints.” That’s what I get for writing a post in the middle of the night while jetlagged. Not sure what I was thinking. Probably something similar to those that people that “could care less” about things.

  23. I agree, a solid coach trip report would provide nice balance. Maybe something like a LONE5 RTW itinerary with about 15 stops. 🙂

  24. I flew CX J out of HKG and wasn’t happy about the lounge at all. Can’t remember which one it was-the view? The Cabin? It was *packed* and virtually impossible to find a seat. So much for the tranquility of the lounge!

  25. Last time I was in the renovated Wing, on the F side, my wife and I couldn’t sit together. Lot’s of folks take spots for two, one for their bag and one for them.

    I do it as well when things aren’t crowded but try and be sensitive to it.

  26. I was on a CX flight in F last week from HKG to SFO that DID disappoint — the flight attendants were DEFINITELY subpar. I fell asleep immediately after takeoff — didn’t even have time to ask if my bed could be made. Woke up several hours later (I had slept through dinner service). Asked if I could have dinner at this time (as I didn’t care for any of the snack or breakfast selections) and was told I couldn’t, because none were left. Asked if my bed could be made so I could sleep a little longer, told “so sorry, but it might wake other passengers.” I ended up going back to coach and asking for a cup of ramen noodles. Coach flight attendant said they would have to bring the noodles to the first class flight attendants. Coach flight attendant brings it to the F flight attendant — and nothing — the F flight attendant NEVER brings me the noodles. Went back to coach several times to get a coke (never asked by the F flight attendant if I wanted something to drink). Nearly 12 hours without food is NOT my idea of a good first class flight experience — but I agree that the seat/bed is the most comfortable in the air. My previous CX F flights have always been great, so I am certain this one was an aberration — but bad service on CX in F is a DEFINITE possibility, depending on the crew. There ARE bad crews in CX F.

  27. I recently flew SFO HKG on CX in F and SIN ICN SFO on SQ. Having a hard time deciding which one I liked better. I’ve flown CX several times a year recently, and hadn’t flown SQ in 15+ years.

    In terms of the seat (in sleeping position), I think I might give SQ the nod. In terms of food, I think they are pretty much on par. I do think that the mid-flight snacks on CX are much better. I have to say, I wish CX would mix up their caviar service and present it differently over time, perhaps that’s why I preferred the SQ service recently.

    I thought that the Private Room in SIN was better for pre-departure meals and service than the CX lounges in HKG. Didn’t try the showers in SIN.

    SQ16 SIN ICN SFO is a long trip, as you get the full meal service twice over the course of the journey (only one caviar service, but the rest the same) — perhaps a little too much.

  28. After having flown SQ and CX in F on Asia trips over the past 5 years, I have to give a nod to ANA F. Have had SQ crews disappear into the galley after the meal service and inconsistent crews on CX flights. Never had either happen on ANA in F — crews and food have been consistently outstanding and the new F beds (well, not so new now) are a big improvement over the older pods. ANA crews in F have never ceased to amaze as they seem to “intuit” your needs/wants and always seem to be there without you noticing or ringing the call button. When I say consistent, I’m talking about at least 10 transpacs in ANA F over the past 3 years. Just my opinion, but amongst the 3 in F(CX, SQ and ANA), I’ll pick ANA whenever I can.

  29. Ben, I have to get from Asia to London at the end of the week. What do you think would be a better experience between Cathay first or malaysia first on a380?


  30. So if I booked a first class redemption on Cathay and have an overnight layover in HKG with business to PKT the next day there is no first class on that flight) I will not get access to the first class lounge on the day of the business class flight to PKT?

  31. Can you send some suggestions for what to do in Hong Kong, or your favorite restaurant? We are in Bali right now (from your recommendation) and we are headed to Hong Kong next. Thanks!

  32. @ Vik — Tough to say, they’re both good products. I’d say Malaysia probably has a slightly better hard product, while Cathay Pacific has slightly better service and food. Though I think they’re both worth trying, as they’re both excellent airlines.

  33. Agree with Ben that SQ F = Okey or Excellent, CX F = good or great.

    According to what Julianne said here… wow I can’t believe… that seems to be really bad!!

    And thanks Ben to put this new CX F wing pic up cuz I will stop by tomorrow and check it out 🙂

  34. Ben, you are spot on, on what you just wrote about CX versus SQ. I agree with each and every point.

  35. Lucky, I was two weeks ahead of on same flight and was wowed by the new cabanas. Agree that long haul CX F is consistently good/great, but beyond HKG, there is a big drop off when it comes to CX regional J – no Studio CX unless you get the new regional configuration, not much legroom because the seat motor is in the way, and not the same attention to detail in the soft product

  36. If I fly LHR to HKG on BA F then connect to SYD on CX Biz will I be able to access the wing first class lounge?

  37. Dang, @Lucky, were we at the Wing at the same time?!? I was there 3/23 from 5 am to 9 am, and was going to post pix today, for you. I was so proud to at the prospect of posting something for you, for once! LOL

    Anyway, having just got off the JFK – HKG overnight nonstop on CX, I came away with a very different feeling about the FA’s, which is to say they couldn’t have been more proactive.

    My wife and I were in C, and my 87-year-old mom was in F. This is her first big trip since my dad died, and she was/is both excited and scared. I kept bringing little pre-wrapped presents up to her (a piece of her favorite Sees candy; a tiny package of Kleenex; an individual Pepto-Bismol; a coloring book; etc. Anything to make her smile.) And the FA’s got into it, looking to see what the next item was, smiling and laughing, and constantly checking with me to see if I needed anything, or to tell me how my mom was doing.

    When Mom felt a sharp pain in her leg, that she was worried might be a blood clot, the FAs found a hematologist onboard, whose specialty happened to be Deep Vein Thrombosis, and who reassured my mom that she was ok. Then the FA’s checked on her even more — not out of company policy, but out of deep caring. They even made sure she walked around the cabin every 60 minutes, to make sure she wouldn’t get a DVT.

    They were so wonderful, that when I saw them — as passengers, and out of uniform — board our connecting flight to BKK, I went back to the Y cabin during the flight to serve THEM orange juice. I felt it was the least I could do after they served our family so well.

  38. Julianne- Just hit the call button if you want something or walk up to the first cl galley. No need to walk back to coach for a coke!

  39. I too was in the renovated F section of the Wing last week. The cabanas were the best part, but the rest is very underwhelming.

  40. @ Jeff — If the connection is same day I believe you would.

    @ Tom — Happy to hear you had a great experience! Yes, sounds like we were there at the same time. Sorry I missed you!

  41. @lucky

    New to the site…thanks for all the great writing. Typical credit card question – I have a business importing textiles….I spend a lot on inventory, etc. on my credit card and pay in full every month. I currently have a Chase ink cash back card, but seems a travel card would be better for me. If I aim to travel first r/t from JFK to Asia which card do you advise? Amex Plat, Citi AA, etc… Thanks again!!


  42. @ Jonathan — Welcome and thanks for reading! I’d say hands down the best two cards for you would be the Chase Ink Bold and Chase Sapphire Preferred. You can earn the 50,000 point sign-up bonus on the Chase Ink Bold and the 40,000 point sign-up bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The former offers 5x points on office supply stores, cable, internet, phones, and 2x points on gas and hotels. Meanwhile the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers double points on dining and travel, and both cards have no foreign transaction fees.

    These two cards would accrue Ultimate Rewards points, which I consider to be the most valuable currency for travel to Asia, given that the points can be transferred to United.

    Hope that helps and let me know if you have any other questions, please.

  43. @lucky – Thanks for the advice…really appreciate your expertise. A couple quick questions….boiling it down between Chase (Ink Bold/Sapphire Preferred) vs. Citi American Airlines card.
    1) Which is better to fly to Asia – United First Class or American (via Cathay Pacific) First Class? (Assuming I can accrue enough points). I.E. newer fleet, more space, food, accommodations, etc?
    2) Which is less points for r/t intl first class usa/asia? It seems United is ~320,000 (160 per leg) while American’s chart seems to show ~270m000 (135 per leg).

    Thanks again!

  44. @ Jonathan — They both have great partners, and in either case you’d want to fly their partners rather than on American or United, given how much better quality the partners are.

    United charges 140,000 miles for a saver first class roundtrip while American charges 135,000 miles for a saver first class roundtrip. Keep in mind though with the Ink Bold and Chase Sapphire Preferred you’d be earning miles much faster thanks to the bonus categories, of which the Citi Visa has very few.

  45. @lucky

    I’ve done more and more research on this….i’m a newbie so got caught up on all of United’s partners. Is there any secret to getting First Saver Award flights to show up? I.E. a specific day of the week or certain number of months advance notice? Just wondering as i’m not seeing too many and thought you may know some quirks to get a better hit rate. Thanks!

  46. @ Jonathan — Sadly not really a secret — if there’s first class availability it should show up. Keep in mind that many of United’s partners are two cabin and don’t have a first class, so it’s not always possible to redeem for it. That being said ANA, Air China, United, Thai, and Asiana all release first class award space, and Lufthansa releases first class award space within two weeks of departure.

  47. @lucky

    Thanks! Lastly, and then I will leave you alone! Chase Ink Plus/Chas Bold…I read up about people purchasing purchasing amex/visa everyday expense gift cards at office supply stores to get 5x points ($50k per yr max = 250k pts), however I then read of people going on the Ultimate Rewards site and using these gift cards to buy other gift cards…i.e. to Sephora or a restaurant which would give your initial purchase 10x points… this valid?

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