With brilliant levels of service and a world-class product, Cathay Pacific’s arrival on the Hong Kong-Maldives route will put real pressure on existing airlines flying to one of Asia’s favorite playgrounds.
Celebrating its sixth month flying direct between Hong Kong and the Maldivian capital Male, Cathay Pacific is the first true full-service airline connecting the Fragrant Harbour with the Indian Ocean archipelago, doing so with a state-of-the-art aircraft and levels of service that are bound to worry the competition.
Departing from Hong Kong, I checked in my luggage at the Hong Kong Island Airport Express Station, meaning I could make my way to the airport, boarding pass in hand, in my own time. Cathay’s business and Marco Polo Club members were served in a designated counter, which made things much faster. The check-in staff noticed a maintenance message on my preferred seat and managed to find me another window seat without any fuss – always better than finding out the hard way when I boarded.
Cathay Pacific’s business and first-class passengers are spoilt for choice at Hong Kong International Airport, with several signature lounges to choose from. As my flight was departing from gate 16, I used the G16 lounge located on the mezzanine above the concourse. Although it perhaps lacks some of the flashiness of the likes of The Wing and The Cabin, G16 is a hidden gem; it’s never crowded, the soaring ceilings of the airport above give a sense of space and light, and its proximity to the departure gates below couldn’t be better. Cheerful staff welcomed me in and I quickly found a corner overlooking the airport apron, a Gin and Tonic, and a plug for my laptop.
With the departure gate directly below, I was able to time my departure from the lounge perfectly and walked straight onto the air bridge. More cheerful staff greeted me at the aircraft door and escorted me to my seat, 12A.
I was surprised to find Cathay Pacific operating an A330-200 with its newest generation business class on this predominately leisure route but it was a welcome sight nonetheless. The new-look business class seat really is a perfect example of intelligent design; every passenger gets access to the aisle and window lovers get three to themselves. There is ample privacy without a sense of being trapped, plenty of storage space, including a little cupboard for smaller items and one specifically for shoes; great connectivity with USB, iPod, and AC points; noise-canceling headphones, and a brilliant 15-inch personal touch screen.
Smiling, happy staff served chilled glasses of Billecart-Salmon Brut Champagne, piping hot towels, and amenity kits (which is impressive for such a short flight) in preparation for the 5.45 pm departure, which was only slightly delayed by the late arrival of the aircraft. A senior attendant confirmed my request for a special meal (organized by an overly zealous travel agent – I’m allergic to quails eggs of all things!) and generally made me feel like the only passenger in the 36-strong cabin. The captain gave a clear and concise briefing for the six-hour flight ahead, and I sat back to let one of the world’s top airlines do their thing.
I fly business very regularly, on an assortment of aircraft and airlines, and have to say the crew on this particular flight to Male were the best I’ve ever encountered. Attentive, intuitive, approachable, and efficient, they worked well as a team and as individuals, serving diligently, working the cabin in sweeps, and never hiding behind the curtain as others have been known to do. They generally epitomized what modern business class service should be – clean, warm, and intelligent.
On our night flight to Male, we were offered a Cajun-spiced prawn and green mango salad, which was light and zesty, followed by a choice of steamed halibut with spiced termite mushroom, jade melon with deep-fried garlic, medlar seeds, and jasmine rice; roasted lamb chop with polenta mash, fava beans, roasted tomato, and lamb jus; Tandoori spiced chicken with murg, pulao and vegetable korma; and spinach and saffron tortellini with tomato and roasted pepper sauce. The tandoori chicken was succulent and perfectly spiced, and the portion was well measured. Dinner was matched with Cathay’s signature wines, which include a sensational Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and a Zonte’s Footstep Chocolate Factory Shiraz from Australia. The mains were followed by a series of New Zealand and French cheeses and a rather indulgent blueberry swirl cheesecake with mixed berry compote.
With a great pre-flight product, a fantastic inflight product, the youngest and most modern jets on the route, and some of the best crews flying the skies today, Cathay Pacific seems very comfortable in their position as a regional leader with global reach.
Note: The author flew on a fully paid-for business class ticket without the knowledge of the airline mentioned.
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