I have flown Cathay Pacific 20 to 25 times since 2015. I enjoy Cathay not only for its first-rate products and service, but I also occasionally get upgraded to business class or premium economy for free when flights are full. That is what happened on this flight from Seattle to Hong Kong in August 2019.
Cathay Pacific is a top-rated airline based in Hong Kong. Cathay and American Airlines, my primary airline, are partners in the oneworld airline alliance that includes 11 other airlines. Airline alliances strive to generate additional business for their members by implementing agreements such as code sharing and frequent flyer program reciprocity that make it advantageous for travelers to fly airlines within the alliance.
For example, American Airlines Executive Platinum status bestows oneworld top-level Emerald status. A major perk of oneworld Emerald status is access to first class lounges of other oneworld members whenever flying a oneworld airline regardless of the class of service flown. Accessing the outstanding first class lounges of Qantas, Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, British Airways and Malaysia Airlines when flying in economy feels like winning. Some of those lounges are destinations in themselves. Many of them include free a la carte restaurants and spas. That perk makes me it advantageous for me to fly oneworld airlines.
But the reason for this post is to commend Cathay Pacific for going above and beyond what is required by the letter of the law in oneworld. Although I haven’t kept precise stats, I’d say that 20% to 25% of the time I’ve purchased a ticket in Cathay Pacific economy or premium economy, Cathay has upgraded my seat to a higher class of service for free!
Cathay sees advantages to this when it oversells one of its cabins. It makes sense to upgrade someone to make room in the oversold cabin rather than incur the costs and potential ill will of bumping someone from the flight voluntary or involuntary. When picking the lucky one(s) for upgrade, picking an airline’s best frequent flyers has some merit. Cathay is one of the few airlines I know of that, when necessary, also selects for upgrade top level oneworld elites from other airlines.
Usually the upgrade is just one step from economy to premium economy or premium economy to business class. Occasionally upgrades from economy have been directly to business class skipping premium economy. That was the case in August 2019.
I purchased a round-trip economy ticket on Cathay for a flight from Seattle to Bangkok with a connection in Hong Kong. I’m always a little nervous in the gate area before Cathay flights waiting to see if this is one of the lucky times when a free upgrade will fall into my lap. That anxiety is the only downside. In this case, shortly before boarding the gate agent informed me that I had been upgraded to business class.
Cathay Pacific Flight CX 857
The equipment for CX Flight 857 was an A350-900, a model that first entered the Cathay fleet in 2016.
Business Class Cabin And Seat
Cathay A350-900s have 38 seats in business class in two cabins. The forward cabin has 30 seats in seven rows arranged 1-2-1 in reverse herringbone pattern and one row with two seats in the middle section. The rear cabin is aft of a galley and lavatory and contains two rows, 1-2-1.
My seat was 19D, an aisle seat on the port side of the center section of the forward business class cabin. I prefer window seats, but last minute beggars can’t usually be choosers. This seat was just fine. In fact, while the last row is near the galley which some might find annoying, I liked the location because of a flat ledge behind the seat that can be used for setting things like blankets and pillows in flight. Plus I’m never bothered by galley noise when wearing noise-cancelling headsets and watching a video or listening to music.
Cathay provides a large pillow and blanket, an amenity kit, bottled water, and noise-cancelling headsets. Wifi is available for purchase. The in-flight entertainment system provides movies, TV programs, games, music, flight following, and instructions for use of WiFi. I watched a two or three movies on this 13-hour flight.
This flight was a red-eye that pushed from the gate just after 01:00. Meal service was more than adequate but limited since many passengers prefer to sleep. The steak entrée for the departure meal was excellent. The flight attendants also served snacks mid flight and an arrival meal.
Loo With A View
Having a window in the lavatory is a feature that is becoming more common on newer models like the A350 and 787. I like it.
Cathay Pacific and many other airlines equip newer widebody aircraft with external cameras. I very much appreciate that when I’m not sitting in a window seat. External cameras provide great views of taxi, takeoff and landing. Another benefit of external cameras is in certain situations cameras could help pilots identify and assess problems on the exterior of the plane such as icing or damage to wings, engines or control surfaces. It is a shame that no US based airline puts external cameras on their planes.
During the six-hour layover in Hong Kong, I enjoyed a nice meal in the first class Wing lounge a la carte restaurant, a shower in a Cabana, the world’s best airport shower, and relaxing and working near the one of the champagne bars.
Cabanas are bigger than some hotel rooms I’ve stayed in and have bathrooms, daybeds, and soaking tubs and separate showers as well as robes, slippers and personal hygiene amenities.
Even when oneworld Emeralds don’t get an upgrade, the head flight attendant always locates them in coach or premium economy before takeoff or just after and asks if there is any way to make the flight better. I’ll usually say nothing or ask for a bottle of water. But one time asked for a scotch from business class and the attendant brought one to me! This is another example of Cathay Pacific going above and beyond for passengers who are primarily customers of other airlines.
As you can tell, I really like Cathay Pacific but worry about its future. In 2019 Hong Kong and its economy were rocked by protests over meddling in Hong Kong affairs by the Chinese government. The communist government in Beijing is a minority owner of Cathay Pacific. It demanded that any Cathay employees who participated in the protests be fired. When the CEO didn’t do it, he and a few other senior leaders were replaced and a few dozen employees were fired.
Then in 2020, the pandemic inflicted severe financial losses on Cathay, an airline that only flies international routes. In June 2020, it received $39 billion from the Hong Kong government in exchange for a 6% stake in the company and other consideration. With Beijing and a Beijing dominated Hong Kong government as important shareholders, it seems that Cathay Pacific’s outstanding workforce (and the entire city of Hong Kong) will be forced to toe the line politically as dictated by the Chinese communist party.
That probably won’t affect the level of service Cathay provides but it is sad for Cathay employees and the people of Hong Kong.