Airline review: Cathay Pacific A350-900, Brisbane to Hong Kong, Economy

 THE PLANE

A350-900; Cathay has 22 of these in its fleet and six more on order, plus 10 A350-1000s in operation and 10 of those on order.

THE ROUTE

Brisbane to Hong Kong

CLASS

Economy, aisle seat 44G

LOYALTY SCHEME

Marco Polo Club, part of oneworld

DURATION

8 hours, 10 minutes; we arrive 15 minutes early

FREQUENCY

Cathay has 11 flights a week from Brisbane to Hong Kong

THE SEAT

The seats have comfortable green tweedy covers and bendy headrests that also tilt and slide up and down (goodbye, inflatable neck pillows) and are in a 3-3-3 configuration. They're 18 inches (46cm) wide with a pitch of 32 inches (81cm). There's a nifty storage shelf and USB port under the screen for charging your phone and a tablet stand/holder on the tray table.

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BAGGAGE

The checked baggage limit is a generous 30 kilograms, the cabin baggage limit a standard seven kilograms.

COMFORT

Departing just after midnight, this new A350 makes it relatively easy to sleep: the cabin is quiet, the seats are comfortable and it's surprisingly dark (I almost need a torch to find my seat after going to the bathroom). There are cream cloth-covered pillows and soft blankets, but it's BYO eye mask, socks and toothbrush. The bathrooms seem more spacious than usual and there's face and hand moisturiser, a nice touch.

ENTERTAINMENT

The 11-inch (28cm) touchscreens have a user-friendly interface with large tiles for easy movie selection and it's ready to go as soon as you take your seat. Over-ear headphones are provided, in a biodegradable plastic wrapper. There are 208 movies, more than 600 TV programs and 3500 movie tracks. You can bookmark movies to watch later in the flight and search by genre, language or category (Western Classics is a good first-stop, including such greats as The Graduate, Stand By Me and The Big Lebowski). The inflight magazine, Discovery, is refreshingly slim and there are three live satellite TV channels: BBC, CNN and Euronews. There's also in-flight Wi-Fi for $US9.95 an hour capped at $US19.95 for the entire flight.

SERVICE

Cathay emails passengers 48 hours before departure regarding online check-in, which makes the actual check-in process remarkably speedy. All I had to do at Brisbane airport was print my boarding pass and bag-tag at a check-in kiosk then head to the bag-drop desk. Done, in less than 10 minutes. On-board, the cabin crew is faultlessly hospitable. All the announcements are in English and Chinese, so be prepared for a few long interruptions to the in-flight entertainment.

FOOD

My pre-ordered vegetarian meal includes a warm bread roll, a fresh green salad, a delicious vegetable stew with couscous, rice pudding, a tiny plastic bottle of water and a surprise dessert: the flight attendants bring everyone little tubs of Movenpick chocolate ice-cream. Other meal options include smoked duck, barbecued pork, pan-fried fish and a penne pasta vegetarian option (if only I'd known). Two hours before landing, gentle "sunrise" lighting wakes us for another tasty meal; mine is vegetable patties with chickpeas, celery with dried fruit and walnuts, fruit salad and another warm bread roll, this time with jam and butter.

ONE MORE THING

Cathay really uses technology to enhance customer service (despite recent glitches offering business-class seats for economy prices). Before your flight you can ask its website "chatbot" about baggage limits or flight status. Pre-departure emails include helpful tips such as the weather and power outlets at your destination and which movies are screening on your flight; you can also download newspapers and magazines to PressReader and use the Cathay app to track flight status and gate numbers.

THE VERDICT

The Airbus A350 has enhanced the Economy experience with its spacious cabins, slightly wider seats and low aircraft noise. Add Cathay's great service, which begins before you even board, and this is one of the best Economy flights you can take.

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

★★★★½

Reviewed by Louise Southerden who flew courtesy of Walk Japan.

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