Friday, April 25, 2014

CTS-HKG-SIN in Cathay Pacific economy class

As my 2-year tenure as an American Airlines Executive Platinum member came to an unfortunate close, it was time to reap the benefits one final time: no close-in award ticketing fee, no phone agent booking fee, no cancellation fee, and, of course, unparalleled first class lounge access, even when flying in lowly coach class.  I redeemed for Singapore to meet up with a handful of friends.  AA charges 20k each way for Y and 30k for biz.

CTS international terminal

Much of Japan is about saving face, particularly to the international community.  This is evident in the way they treat tourists compared to their treatment of Japanese nationals.  More so than in any other sector, nothing reflects that better than domestic vs. int'l travel.  ANA and JAL both act like LCCs for domestic flights, but they go above and beyond for the int'l product.  If Skytrax had taken ANA's domestic product into consideration for their airline rankings, there's no way on earth ANA would have scored 5 stars.  However, CTS int'l terminal is one exception that is in desperate need of a facelift.  With rude service, long lines, and an unoriginal terminal, you'd honestly think that you're in LAX or ORD.  Perhaps there is an obvious reason as to why the Japanese government hasn't invested a whole awful lot into improving CTS int'l as they have with HND and NRT: the lack of western biz travelers.  Most passengers are leisure travelers from China, Korea, and Southeast Asia, which, as most of us know, tends to be looked down upon in Japan.

Economy class check-in line that spans past the duty-free shops

Not a first class passenger or a Cathay Pacific Diamond, but being a oneworld Emerald pulls the trick.

Due to the overfill of int'l leisure travelers checking bags on widebody jets, check-in lines at CTS int'l can be more horrendous than any airport in the U.S.  Even the B737 that I flew on with Air China en route to PEK had a line that spanned the length of the terminal.  So this is actually where being an elite alliance member comes in huge; not because of any special offerings, but simply in the form of entitled premium check-in lines.

Cathay Pacific CTS-HKG-SIN

During the winter, CX operates daily service to HKG on rotating B772s and B744s.  The 6-hour flight is one of the farthest destinations out of CTS, short of only Honolulu.  CX utilizes their updated regional economy class product, which is identical to their int'l product.

The slimline seats have zero actual recline as your bottom seat cushion moves forward for a reclined feel.  The advantage of this configuration, which is being slowly adopted worldwide, is that you'll never have to worry about the passenger in front of you.  The disadvantage, of course, is that you thoroughly crippled your pitch space when in the "recline" position.  Every seat is equipped with AC power, USB connection, personal AVOD, a cup holder, and a coat hanger, which is the best you'll ever get in coach.

The food and service was what you'd expect in coach from a 5-star carrier: marginally better than United and American, and in-line with JAL and ANA.

CX First Class Lounge - The Wing

Fortunately, having an abbreviated meal on the plane was no problem because I'd be visiting the best lounge in Asia on landing: the CX Wing first class lounge.  As always, the service and complimentary food were phenomenal at the Haven, which is a restaurant catered by the iconic Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon.

Buffet seafood menu: smoked salmon, chili squid, and roasted cod

Made-to-order menu: seabass grilled to perfection

For a full review of the Wing and why it stands above the rest in Asia, see my prior trip to HKG.

Bottom line

Despite what anyone might say, economy class will always be economy class.  Having elite status does mitigate the pain with priority check-in, boarding, baggage handling, and lounge access.  However, that doesn't change the fact that you'll still be cramped into a 32" shell for 6 hours.  Four hours into the flight, I began feeling claustrophobic and attempted to sleep, but that wasn't about to happen in an uncomfortable seat.  By the time I landed into HKG, it was obvious that the extra 10k miles would be well worth the upgrade to business class, so I called AA and confirmed an upgrade for my return.

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