The KLM lounge in Toronto was disappointing to say the least. They did announce boarding, at least, and walk around letting everyone know it was time to head off. I couldn’t help thinking, though, that they were really just shooing us out of the lounge so they could close down rather than being helpful.
So off to the gate where things were a bit of a madhouse. We lined up for boarding (boarding call was made rather prematurely in the lounge) and finally made it onboard. All the unpleasantness and stress melted away upon entering the aircraft. A flight attendant walked us to our seats, showed us the closet for our carryons, and began service.
I kept looking around the cabin because the day before the flight was showing full up in first, but eventually only one other passenger boarded. We weren’t alone but the cabin was only full 3 of 6. Clearly this should be a good flight.
But my seat was acting strangely. Sitting on the ground it kept shifting itself, one jerk at a time, towards bed mode. I’d move it back. And it would jerk forward again. I thought I must be bumping something, but no, the seat was possessed. With as many open seats as there were in the cabin I wasn’t worried, but thought this strange. As soon as we took off, though, my seat must have exorcised itself, perhaps the ghost went back into business, because it stopped behaving strangely.
Shortly after takeoff we were asked for our dinner selections. I asked in return if it would be alright if I dined with my wife. They understood perfectly — I wanted to sit across from my wife in her suite, dining opposite from each other as though in a proper restaurant.
Caviar and Smoked Salmon
Caviar and Balik salmon “Tsar Nicolaj”
Leek and potato soup with fried leeks
Mesclun salad with marinated bocconcini, pine nuts, kalamata olives, and lemon herb vinaigrette
Grilled beef tenderloin with red wine demi glace, gratin potatoes and oven roasted vegetables
Mushroom ravioli with tomato vodka sauce, grilled portabello mushroom and Parmesan cheese
Chicken with young coconut soup
Cold plate – snow cabbage with soy beans
Sauteed prawns with kung po sauce, steamed rice, stir-fried choy sum, carrots, and mushrooms
Cheese and Dessert
Mini Oka, Goat Herb Cheese, Cheddar, Cambozola
Fresh seasonal berries with citrus syrup
Chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream and berry coulis
Black sesame dessert
Tea and Coffee
When they were ready they invited me over to her seat. Once properly situated on the ottoman, they installed a table extender which locked in perfectly. It would have been a bit tight for me to excuse myself during the meal, and the buddy seat/ottoman is narrow, but it’s a really lovely way to enjoy a meal with a companion in-flight, and especially because the seats themselves are so private. One minor note about the ottoman, because it’s so narrow, it’s really quite difficult for someone as wide as me to manipulate the seatbelt. So after this first meal together, future meals where we dined together I sat unbelted.
A little Krug to begin.
Lovely caviar presentation. Though for my tastes the portions are modest. Still, at this time of night I wasn’t hungry enough for more and didn’t ask for seconds, which they would have gladly provided.
I went with the Chinese option, as is always advisable on Cathay.
For dessert, the chocolate lava cake was fine but initially served too cold (the chocolate center solid) and needed to be reheated.
My wife went with the warm black sesame soup, which I tasted and ordered later in the flight.
After dinner I headed into the really quite lovely larger of the restrooms in the cabin (the restrooms are different sizes and one larger one has upgraded décor in the 777). I changed into my PJs — a large, which I had asked for, which worked fine with the top but the pants were exceptionally long. Mental note for later, the medium would work much better.
Upon returning to my seat I found that my bed had been made.
This was perfect for lounging for awhile before I was ready to sleep. I watched a couple episodes of Entourage and then tried to watch Couples Retreat. Even the Bora Bora scenery, which brought back memories — nor my fondness for Jon Favreau — could make that dog watchable, and so I retreated to an old favorite, Before Sunrise (Before Sunset on the other hand remains an all-time favorite).
I slept for four hours and woke up a bit puckish, so I had a look at the snack menu.
Frankly the choices were a bit limited:
Crab cakes with tartar sauce and rocket
Braised beef brisket with noodle in soup
From our series of classic Signature dishes
Hot pot rice with pork spare ribs with black bean, served with chicken broth
I had the soup, and followed it with a bowl of the black sesame dessert, pictured earlier.
That kept me in good stead until breakfast, which was good but a bit modest compared to what I’m used to on a transpacific flight. Better than a United breakfast, and certainly more interesting than what I’ve had transatlantic with BA or Air France. But it wasn’t really a substantial multi-course affair.
I much enjoyed the Strawberry, kiwi and banana energizer. I had another glass of orange juice, which I had enjoyed on boarding — fresh squeezed, not too acidic, just the right amount of pulp. I didn’t go in for the fruit, yogurt, or cereal. And opted for the dim sum over the eggs or congee.
Ok, with all of the choices one certainly could have had a bit of everything. And I wasn’t particularly hungry after the late dinner and midflight snack.
The dim sum was excellent – chicken glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf, chive and pork dumpling, shrimp dumpling, and siu mai. And I am a fan of the sirachi sauce, or similar spicey sauce, served alongside soy sauce with the dim sum.
Oddly, Cathay Pacific won’t seem to prepare or serve coffee while the seatbelt sign is on. Which meant that I couldn’t have my cappuccino with breakfast, while sitting back in the buddy seat of my wife’s suite. So I wound up having to wait until returning to my own seat for my morning pick-me-up. And I stuck with cappuccinos, which were fine. Interestingly, unlike the other better Asian carriers I’ve flown, they don’t market particular gourmet coffees (e.g. Jamaican Blue Mountain).
Ultimately I do have to say that this was the most comfortable seat I’ve ever slept in. Cathay’s inflight entertainment system is outstanding. The food was all high-quality, though the options and portions not nearly as myriad as the first class offerings on some carriers. The seat is hardly ideal for couples traveling together who actually like each other and want to spend the flight together although the seat itself is actually wide enough for most couples to spend a bit of time side-by-side if they really wanted, and the option to dine together is magnificent.
Service I’m a little bit vexed by. It was certainly friendly. It was precise. Every time utensils were placed before me, they were done so with care. Cathay Pacific logos faced me. They never forgot truffles when their procedures called for delivering them. And we were even gifted an unopened box prior to landing (the glory of a half-empty cabin and overnight flight).
But Cathay service standards seem to be to stay out of the cabin. The pilot announced after his takeoff announcement that you wouldn’t hear from him again until close to landing, which was true and appreciated without actual need for mid-flight announcements of grave import. The flight attendants similarly didn’t circulate, either. I’d hit the call button and they’d be there instantly, but they weren’t so proactive as to notice when you needed something before coming to the conclusion that you needed their help. Service in that way really wouldn’t be considered ‘anticipatory’ — something that carriers like Singapore certainly do better. Don’t get me wrong, all of my needs were met, and it was nice not to have the aisles cluttered or constant activity when trying to sleep. But the best carriers don’t swing in that direction either, they seem to notice from an unobtrusive spot exactly when they’re needed and to appear only when it’s helpful for them to do so, without being called. Cathay didn’t hit that sweet spot.
Also another minor bit, not a complaint mind you but just a difference. Whenever I’ve entered the lavatory in All Nippon’s first class, it’s been freshly cleaned with the toilet paper folded over. That’s not something you could imagine on a United flight, of course! And it happened once or twice on Cathay but not consistently. Still, the lavatory itself was beautiful and again no complaints.
A marvelous in-air experience, my 15 hours absolutely flew by, and I was thoroughly refreshed on arrival just before 5 am local time. They held disembarkation while the three of us in first class exited the plane. And then it was off to transit security and the Wing to freshen up in a cabana…