Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A350-900 premium economy experience pairs the airline’s newest seat with modern favourites such as inflight Internet access, a lower ‘cabin altitude’ to help you arrive feeling better-refreshed, and LED mood lighting to set the scene for the journey ahead.
It’s also the plane you’d book to guarantee a proper leg rest at every premium economy seat – something not all of Cathay Pacific’s other aircraft provide – and with that in mind, Australian Business Traveller took the A350 for a spin on a return trip between Brisbane and Hong Kong to bring you this review.
- Frequent flyer program: The Marco Polo Club + Asia Miles. As a Oneworld alliance airline, travellers can also earn points and status credits in other programs like Qantas Frequent Flyer when booked on eligible fares.
- Checked baggage allowance: 35kg total weight (maximum of two bags), increased to 45kg total for Marco Polo Club Silver frequent flyers. Marco Polo Club Gold members and other Oneworld Sapphire frequent flyers (including Qantas Gold) instead enjoy a 50kg allowance over a maximum of three bags, while Marco Polo Club Diamond and Oneworld Emerald (including Qantas Platinum and above) get 55kg over three bags also.
- Carry-on baggage allowance: 1x115cm bag plus one small item such as a laptop bag, briefcase, handbag or backpack, at a combined total weight of 7kg as standard; 10kg for Marco Polo Club Silver and Gold members, and 15kg for Marco Polo Club Diamonds. This bonus doesn't apply to other Oneworld frequent flyers: only Marco Polo members.
- Airport fast-track: Priority check-in and boarding, although Express Path access isn't provided as you'd get in business class. Australian travellers would also be wise to enrol for Hong Kong eChannel access to save time at passport control and to avoid completing a landing card: as a current member and with no checked baggage, I was straight out of the airport upon landing, ready to begin my day.
As is standard of most premium economy experiences, lounge access isn't included by default with Cathay Pacific – but that doesn't necessarily mean you're stuck sitting out in the terminal.
For Marco Polo Club Gold and Diamond members, along with Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald frequent flyers (including Qantas Gold and Platinum), Brisbane's Qantas international business class lounge awaits.
Failing that, an AMEX Platinum Charge Card, AMEX Centurion Card, Diners Club card or Priority Pass card opens the doors to Brisbane's Plaza Premium Lounge, which closes at midnight, shortly before CX156 is called for boarding.
AusBT review: Plaza Premium Lounge, Brisbane Airport
On arriving in Hong Kong, those same cards prove useful for accessing the Plaza Premium Arrivals Lounge, although Marco Polo Club Gold and Diamond members enjoy access to Cathay Pacific's own arrivals lounge: as do Qantas Platinum members (and above) and other Oneworld Emerald frequent flyers arriving on Cathay flights.
AusBT review: Cathay Pacific's The Arrival Lounge, Hong Kong Airport
Before your return or onward flight, the lounge options in Hong Kong are practically endless with MPC Diamond and Oneworld Emerald members enjoying access to Cathay Pacific's The Wing First Class and The Pier First Class lounges...
... MPC Gold cardholders and Oneworld Sapphire frequent flyers gaining entry to Cathay Pacific's The Wing, The Pier, The Deck and The Bridge business class lounges, plus the Qantas Hong Kong Lounge under Oneworld rules...
... and MPC Silver flyers receiving entry to those same business class lounges, except for the Qantas lounge.
Joining those many facilities, the American Express Hong Kong Centurion Lounge welcomes Platinum Charge Card holders from Australia and around the world...
... while for actual Centurion Card members, there's a private Centurion-only dining room and relaxation space within the general 'Centurion Lounge':
Several Plaza Premium Lounges here also accept Priority Pass, Diners Club and other cards for access: so whatever your circumstances, there's a good chance you'll have access to one lounge or another!
Out of Brisbane, Cathay Pacific's daily Airbus A350 flight (CX156) departs the Queensland capital at 12:50am, touching down in Hong Kong at 7:30am – handy as you can enjoy a 'normal' evening out or at home, while still flying overnight and arriving before the business day begins, thanks to Brisbane Airport having no curfew.
Running during the day on the return leg, CX157 is wheels-up at 12:45pm ahead of an arrival into Brisbane just before midnight, at 11:20pm.
Other Brisbane flights (CX146/147/150/155) are instead served by Airbus A330s, some detouring via Cairns and others running non-stop, while Cathay Pacific also flies to Hong Kong from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth using a mix of Airbus A350s, A330s and Boeing 777s, all of which feature premium economy.
Arranged in a 2-4-2 layout, Cathay Pacific's Airbus A350-900 premium economy offers 28 seats, spread across a cosy cabin of three rows in the centre, and four rows along the sides.
The middle group of seats are offset from the others, making things feel just a little bit more private.
While that's a similar layout as on the airline's Boeing 777s flying to Sydney, it's notably different from the more favourable 2-3-2 configuration Brisbane flyers may be accustomed to on Cathay's Airbus A330s: so if you're flying solo, select your seat as early as possible to avoid getting stuck in the middle 'E' or 'F' seats.
But unlike Cathay’s other aircraft, on the A350, every premium economy passenger is guaranteed a swing-up leg rest – not just those at the bulkhead seats.
Combine that with a height-adjustable, fold-out extension panel at the base for better customisation…
… a nine-inch recline and 40 inches of pitch, and on the eight-hour overnight journey from Brisbane to Hong Kong, I was able to sleep for around five hours: waking only when the passenger behind me used my seatback for stability when accessing the aisle, given there’s not a great deal of standing space when the passenger in front tilts back, even though knee room is more than adequate.
You’ll find the seat controls to your side – ditto the headphone outlet…
… although as Cathay’s A350 premium economy seats offer just 18.5 inches of cushion width compared to a more generous 19.3 inches on the Boeing 777, it can feel a little tight if your own headphones are connected to the system, such as via the standard cable supplied with Bose QC35s (no airline adaptor required, pictured), although the airline-supplied noise-cancelling headphones use a vertical adaptor that doesn't take up as much space:
Nearby is a storage compartment suitable for smaller items like smartphones, passport wallets and arrival cards…
… and for larger items like tablets, the seat pocket in front houses these comfortably. It’s also semi-transparent, to help prevent forgotten items at the end of the flight.
Below that, another storage pocket…
… although passengers seated at the bulkhead (row 30) have to cram almost everything into a single large pocket in front (or that slim side pocket), including the pencil case-style amenity bag…
… and while there’s a small storage shelf underneath the bulkhead inflight entertainment screens, it’s not within easy reach when seated, so mine went unused on both flights:
Bulkhead seats can also be very hit-and-miss when it comes to legroom – or more specifically, space to stretch your feet out – but even at over 6ft/180cms tall, I had plenty of room to move:
Need to recharge your phone and/or laptop? Unlike some premium economy offerings which require nearby passengers to share a single power outlet, Cathay provides both a USB port and an international-style AC outlet for every passenger, found at the front of the centre console:
Above that is a communal cocktail table, but if you need extra space for your drinks or snacks, you can instead swivel out a personal drinks shelf:
You can also retrieve a larger tray table from within the armrest, first opening in snack mode...
... and folding out to form the complete table at meal time, or to use with your laptop or tablet:
You’ll find a personal reading light overhead, along with another light tucked away in the side of the headrest which can be adjusted to suit. However, because it’s kept out-of-sight, it’s easy to forget about – I only remembered it existed when writing this very sentence on the flight home, when I put it to use.
For me, overnight flights are all about maximising rest for the busy day ahead, so while supper is available from Brisbane to Hong Kong, I enjoyed a pre-departure drink (Piper-Heidsieck Champagne) and went straight to sleep soon after.
But if I’d wanted to indulge, the following options were available:
- Main course: Stir-fried chicken in black pepper sauce with kalian, carrot and steamed jasmine rice; or beef short ribs with carrots and herb parsnip; or ricotta and spinach ravioli with tomato, green olive salsa, broccolini and Grana Padano.
- Side: Small grilled chicken breast and bean salad
- Accompaniments: Bread and butter
- Dessert: Movenpick ice cream
Fast forward to breakfast – served around 90 minutes before landing – offering seasonal fresh fruits, yoghurt, a croissant with jam and butter on the side, tea and coffee, and one of the following mains:
- Cheddar cheese and tomato omelette with pork fennel chipolata, spinach, peperonata and Lyonnaise potatoes
- Stir-fried noodles with seafood, kalian and carrot
The omelette dish sounded pretty standard, so I opted for the noodles with a Hong Kong-style milk tea for an early taste of the destination, and wasn’t disappointed:
The return leg from Hong Kong to Brisbane departs around lunch time and touches down late evening, so as you’d expect, lunch is served after take-off, with a refreshment course closer to arrival.
After the usual pre-departure drink, there’s a bar service before the meal: I opt for a simple Coke Zero, which comes served with almonds…
… with lunch providing the following choices:
- Main course: Steamed black cod with mushroom, red dates, mixed vegetables and steamed jasmine rice; or lamb shoulder rack confit with baby carrot, garlic, shallot, green pea mash and lamb jus; or truffle tagliolini with porcini and forest mushroom sauce.
- Side: Marinated chicken with Pommery mustard sweet corn salad
- Accompaniments: Bread and butter
While the overall presentation was really more like an economy meal than something served in a premium cabin, the chicken salad was nice and fresh, and the truffle pasta was also quite tasty, despite looking pretty messy on the plastic plate.
On the side, a glass – well, cup – of red: The Vinologist Syrah 2017, with other selections including white wine, Chivas Regal 12yr, Courvoisier VSOP, Finlandia vodka, Gordon’s gin, Bacardi rum and an “international selection” of beer.
Cabin crew come around to offer Movenpick ice cream for dessert after most people have finished eating, to save it melting in the meantime – and pleasingly, it arrived defrosted just enough to eat, not rock hard:
Around two hours before arrival, the evening refreshment packages seasonal fresh fruit and pineapple crumble cake with either of the following mains:
- Braised pork rib, abalone sauce, mixed vegetables and steamed jasmine rice
- Grilled Prime Steer beef tenderloin, spinach, carrot, potato and thyme sauce
I went for the tenderloin, which came medium-well, if not a little hard to cut using the aircraft-safe butter knife, but went beautifully with the sauce.
Tea and coffee follows, but given the flight lands close to bed time, I decline.
Entertainment & Service
In front of each passenger sits a 12.1-inch inflight entertainment screen loaded with movies, TV shows, games and music…
… along with access to the aircraft’s external cameras, which I always find makes for a nice backdrop when working on a laptop…
… and, live satellite television, with CNNi, BBC World News and Euronews at your fingertips, which worked reliably on my flights, aside from the occasional drop-out and reconnection:
Except at the bulkhead seats, passengers can also make use of a tablet shelf to watch content on their own device without relying on the regular meal tray – but for travellers in the front row, the meal tray it is.
Wireless Internet is available at an additional cost – US$9.95 for one hour or US$19.95 for the entire flight on Australian routes, both without data limits.
AusBT review: Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 inflight Internet
Service on my flights was friendly and efficient, although to request anything outside of normal meal times, you’ll need to use the call bell, as crew don’t routinely wander the aisles during the flight, with one exception – to ask passengers to close their window shades on the daytime journey home.
That’s great if you want to sleep during the day and arrive in Brisbane just before midnight wide awake and completely jetlagged, but most savvy travellers would instead choose to stay awake during the day and go to bed after returning home (or reaching their hotel room) for a solid night’s sleep.
There’s also room for improvement on the dining front, which is currently more ‘economy plus’ than ‘business minus’ in both style and presentation, but overall, there’s a lot to like: a comfy seat for sleeping, ample space and facilities to get work done and plenty of inflight entertainment to choose from, all of which add up to an enjoyable flight: even if the wine does come in a plastic cup!
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Hong Kong as a guest of Cathay Pacific.