My Favorite Flight in the World: Cathay Pacific First Class, Hong Kong – New York JFK

Cathay Pacific has such an all-around good first class product, that it’s my favorite.

  • They don’t have the best food, but they have good food and good snack options.
  • They don’t have the best service, but they have good service.
  • I used to like their Shanghai Tang pajamas best, their new ones are still very good though not quite as good. Other amenities are good, and wines are as well (Champagne is Krug).
  • Similarly, I don’t like their new caviar presentation (in a tin) as much as the older version that also included Balik salmon. But it’s still quite a good high-end offering.
  • They don’t have the best lounges — or the best ground service — but their Hong Kong lounges are good, and the Wing’s first class side has the best showers in any airport (‘the cabanas’).
  • Most of all they have the best seats. No true suites with doors but 3-across seating when competitors offer 4 means very spacious seats. And the video on demand system is great, too.
  • Plus award space on Cathay Pacific is quite available, at least when schedules load and considering that their 777-300s have only six first class seats. And Cathay is fairly reliable about releasing unsold seats within days of departure as well.

New York JFK is Cathay Pacific’s longest distance route, and that makes Hong Kong – New York JFK my favorite flight (and with ‘The Wing’ on the ground instead of the British Airways first class lounge at JFK, Hong Kong – JFK as favorite rather than the reverse).

Previous trip report installments

I arrived at the gate for my 6:45pm departure to New York around 6:15pm. They were nowhere ready to board, and didn’t offer any explanations. The crew was simply milling about.

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Most of my US flights have left from gate 1, which allows TSA contractors to set up a designated area at the end of the terminal and re-screen everyone entering the gate area.

Hong Kong airport doesn’t participate in the War on Water, but all US flights have to be screened for liquids hence the extra screening. That means you cannot buy a bottle of water inside the terminal and bring it on a US flight. I cannot imagine flying United coach, Newark – Hong Kong, relying on United flight attendants to keep me hydrated. But that’s how US dictates work.

It’s nice when that secondary screening it done prior to boarding, because the whole process goes more smoothly.

We were departing gate 16. And as in past departures from gates other than at the end of the terminal, this screening gets done on the jetway.

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Boarding finally commenced around 6:35pm.

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The business class and priority queue was quite long, but they had a separate sign for first class and top tier elite priority.

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Once boarding passes were checked we proceeded down to have carry on bags searched for contraband.

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Once through that process, I boarded the plane that would be home for about the next 13-14 hours.

And home it is.

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This is just the widest and most spacious seat. There are no overhead bins in the cabin, but there’s a closet at your seat (much bigger than the Etihad closet, it fits a small rollaboard and clothes) and you can use the space underneath the ottoman as well.

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Service began almost immediately. Predeparture drinks were served. I opted for a glass of Krug.

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The new first class service standards include an amuse bouche served on the ground, something I experienced for the first time in early February (the amuse bouche started February 1).

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Pajamas were distributed.

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And amenity kits:

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We were running a bit behind but still looking at an early arrival in New York. The first class cabin had only one other passenger (so we were full to 3 of 6 seats).

And then there was a delay. A business class passenger reported washing her face in the lavatory, and having an allergic reaction. The crew took a report, and brought in a service manager from inside the airport. After some consultations they decided to offload her. She didn’t like the soap in the bathroom, all seemed fine, but we’d be in the air a long time and didn’t want to take any chances that something would develop that’s actually wrong. No one wanted to divert!

We had to wait while they located and offloaded her baggage. All in all we pushed back a little over an hour late.

Once in the air dinner service began quickly. I had initially thought I might wait to take my first meal, but decided to start right away so I could get to sleep sooner.

Here was the menu (click to enlarge).

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I began with the new caviar service, and I admit I miss it served with salmon.

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A nice touch on the table is always a handwritten welcome card from the crew.

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I had the cold plate, that’s almost always my favorite item from the Chinese menu.

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.. even though I was going to be eating the steak. Cathay Pacific’s steaks used to be a disappointment but I’ve been much happier with them on my last two first class trips this year.

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After dinner I changed into pajamas while the crew made my bed.

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I watched a few shows on the CXWorld entertainment system and then slept for about five hours. I woke up and watched some TV I had downloaded to my laptop and then after a couple more hours I decided to order a snack. I almost always do the hot pot.

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At this point I realized I had made a real strategic blunder. I thought about falling asleep right away, and then making myself get up in a couple of hours. That way I would be a little rested but mostly re-acclimated to the time in New York on arrival. Instead I slept too much and was getting up in the early afternoon New York time.

I watched shows for the bulk of the rest of the flight, and then ended with breakfast (oddly served at dinner time in New York).

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Even though we arrived late into New York we had to wait for a gate to become available. There was a British Airways flight parked in our spot. After about 15 minutes we were able to pull in and disembark.

Immigration was quick with Global Entry, though lines weren’t long for anyone. I picked up bags, used Global Entry to cut the customs line, and headed to the Hilton JFK to spend the night before taking the 11am American Eagle flight back to Washington National airport the next day.

Having slept too much and too late on the flight, I didn’t sleep much at all on arrival, and it took me a solid 2-3 days to recover from the time change.

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About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Glad to hear you had a great trip, Gary, and I fully agree that Cathay Pacific First is great. But you might well change your mind on your favorite flight after trying the Singapore A380 first class suites, particularly if you take it on a trip with your wife and can have the middle two suites to yourselves. (I’m curious about how the new Etihad apartments will stack up as well.)

  2. The way that the FA is handling the pouring of the Krug bothers me. It is in no way the proper way to pour champagne.

  3. Good flight. Good availability. Nice cabin.

    Two words.


    Please hear me CathPac.

  4. Gary, great report, thank you for posting. It looks like you flew “old” cabin that they are in process of refurbishing, do you have a preference of updated vs this one? Have you tried new updated cabin yet?

    Also, thank you for taking your time and posting larger pictures of the menu, as I am taking this exact flight in two weeks — it’s nice to know food options ahead of time.



  5. Am I missing something or is availability terrible when they first load it? I don’t see any availability within the window where you can book with aa miles on ba’s website. I see some availability closer in for this summer for 1 seat on a few flights but availability has dropped off a lot compared to where it was a year ago.

  6. I am Chinese so I would be naturally biased for Cathay’s Chinese food offerings, but having flown F four times and C countless times, it is not at all the top three first class in the world. I’d give that to JL, NH and LH in that order. Their food is just way, way better.

  7. Gary
    I have a soft spot for CX but still the JFK-HKG trip is far better
    One is asleep at once and awkens to a meal

    On the HKG-JFK, one is wide awake and it is hard to sleep and get rest

  8. @Ken Y:
    I am also Chinese and sorry I could not agree with you. Having flown all the first class you listed, and I could say CX is still superior.

  9. I took same flight HKG-JFK this past Tuesday June 24, similar issue at check in nobody at counter till about 6:00 but once they got there everyone was boarded and ready to go by 6:45 departure time with wheels up of 7pm. My flight took all 16 hours so we arrive JFK at about 10:45pm, I did manage to sleep a full 8 hours so when I arrive JFK could not sleep, still adapting to the Jet lag. I also flew CX first on June 19 MXP to HKG on new equipment, really NO difference between new and old, both excellent products. On the MXP to HKG me and my wife were the only people in F so we had private service for the 11 hours 🙂 🙂 For people trying to book with miles the HKG to JFK did not open till June 21 for a flight on June 24, I had originally booked C class but was waiting for F to open which it did

  10. forget to say that when I got ticket on June 21 only 1 seat had been sold, when I checked in at 2:00pm 1 seat was left and by departure time June 24 all 6 seats were taken

  11. I just flew Hong Kong – Chicago on Cathay Pacific. It seems like this would be a longer flight than JFK – Hong Kong. And it’s my favorite flight too! Their business and first class are the best on this flight!

  12. @GaryLeff, what is the type of caviar? Is it a farm raised sturgeon (what I usually eat); or a Caspian Sea sturgeon?

    Curious minds want to know.

  13. Gary, were you able to book 2 F seats right off the bat, or did you have to book 1 and hope for the second to open? I’ve had a hard time locating 2 F seats HKG-JFK.

  14. @Ian – right off the bat, they are tighter when schedules open than they used to be and more likely to offer 1 rather than 2, the jfk flights open 2 more often on flights that do not connect well to or from..

  15. My favorite first class as well, after trying out MH and SQ. Did the HKG-JFK back in May and am aiming for the ORD-HKG if I can get an open seat later in the year.

  16. Gary, did you use Asia Miles to beat the “queue” or were you able to book this with American, BA or some other?

    I’ve been having more trouble getting good availability when not using their Asia miles. What I’m saying is they seem to open a LOT more space for their own Asia miles than for AA or BA.

  17. @Gary Leff, do you remember how many days out you booked it(was it like 330 exactly or?)

  18. Hi – what are the differences between a Cathay Pacific first class and a business class seat between Hong Kong and JFK flights?

  19. I find OZ F suite hard product and food superior to CX, still enjoyed it immensely though. Can’t imagine a better service than CX, although my F experience is limited. Still can’t imagine!

  20. Gary,

    Given AA’s award routing rules, can you book a 1-way flight in F class on CX from TPE-HKG-ORD-DCA/IAD? It seems like the TPE-HKG-ORD segment would definitely price for 67.5K miles 1-way, but I am having a hard time figuring out if the ORD-DCA/IAD leg would require extra miles (because it may not be published fare) or if it could be included in the 67.5K miles on one award. Was unable to figure this out on ExpertFlyer. Thank you for your help!

  21. @Charlotte should not be a problem, You can route through Hong Kong coming back from Taiwan since both are in Asia 2. And there’s a Cathay fare Taipei – DC so the final segment is no problem as well.

  22. Cathay service in first class is unobtrusive, in that they leave you alone; respect your privacy; unless you ask for something.

    I prefer this to the hovering robots of Singapore Airlines or ANA.

    Just my 2c, and of course YMMV.

  23. Just took this flight last week. We originally had 3 biz class seats hkg-bos-jfk but 3 first class seats opened up on the direct hkg-jfk flight about 3 days before departure. We used the Wing lounge to the left of immigration but there is a new lounge near the higher numbered gates. In that lounge you can get foot massages. We read about the new lounge in the in flight magazine but unfortunately did not get a chance to experience it.

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