Airline review: Cathay Pacific A350 premium economy, Hong Kong to Dublin

THE PLANE

Airbus A350-900, the newest aircraft in Cathay Pacific's fleet (its first A350-1000 left Toulouse for Hong Kong on June 19).

THE ROUTE

Hong Kong to Dublin, inaugural flight, connecting Australia – via Hong Kong – to Ireland (thus avoiding Heathrow or Gatwick). It takes us across Mongolia and the Gobi Desert, Siberia and Lake Baikal (the deepest freshwater lake in the world), the Baltic countries, and on to Ireland – avoiding known trouble spots.

CLASS

Premium economy – a total of 28 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration.

LOYALTY

Asia Miles has arrangements with 26 other partner airlines, including Air New Zealand, Aer Lingus, Qantas and British Airways, with members able to earn miles on 1000 destinations worldwide.

DURATION

Twelve hours, but landed 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

FREQUENCY

Four days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday).

THE SEAT

30G (centre aisle, one row behind business class) and the middle two seats in my row of four are unoccupied, so there's plenty of room to spread out. The seat width, 18.5 inches (47centimetres), is less than the Boeing 777's 19.3 inches but the recline angle, at nine inches (23 centimetres) is superior to its rival.

BAGGAGE

Two check-in pieces, total weight 35 kilograms. One cabin bag, seven kilograms.

CHECK-IN

Painless. Hard to believe Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok island is celebrating its 20th birthday in 2018. Now the eighth-busiest passenger airport in the world, it always seems so spacious and efficient – especially at this time of night. The flight leaves at 1am so a 10pm check-in not only leaves time to enjoy an early dinner in the city but means the airport is queue-free.

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COMFORT

As this is the inaugural flight to Dublin, the Airbus is brimming with expatriate Irish heading homeward. Two – Moira and Keira – don't know each other before take-off but are best friends by the time we disembark.

At the end of the flight, both proclaim themselves entirely satisfied with the comfort of the premium economy seats they'd paid for – except for one thing: like me, Moira and Keira find the positioning of the entertainment control panel awkward and frustratingly difficult to access.

It's a First World (if not first class) problem, of course. But given the amount of research that goes into making your airline's seat better than its competitors, that really shouldn't happen.

SERVICE

This is one of four CX flights I take within a week, and the service on the other three flights is professional, friendly and efficient: exactly what you'd expect. On this inaugural flight I'm seated across the aisle from middle-aged Moira, decked in an Irish flag and she is something of an airline aficionado. Moira has left a dozen commemorative "aerograms" celebrating this inaugural flight to be signed by the entire flight crew so she can send them to fellow flight nerds. Before take-off, our Australian captain comes  all the way back to premium economy to chat with Moira for five minutes and invites the three of us to the flight deck for a photo when we've landed in Dublin. Now that's service!

ENTERTAINMENT

I find the entertainment system hard to navigate with poorly-designed control panels. The 12.1-inch screen is large enough and the airline's Studio CX system offers around 40 movies, 60 TV programmes, 100 CDs, 20 audio channels, plus Nintendo games. There are 

AC and USB points and a book-reading light (although I don't discover it until the last hour or two of the flight).

FOOD

Appropriately, given we're flying to Ireland, there are plenty of potatoes on the menu. Potato salad with chives and crumbed bacon is one of the starters for supper, while the stout beer beef stew (one of three choices for main) comes with green beans and colcannon potatoes (an Irish dish: mashed potatoes with either cabbage or kale).Breakfast is a choice of Irish – parsley omelette, Dingley Dell pork sausage, bacon and artichoke parsnip gratin – or a dim sum selection. Strangely, there's no vegetarian option.

ONE MORE THING

As this is an inaugural flight (and a substantial coup for the Irish economy), the Dublin media is waiting to greet the first flight CX301. What happens next is what Moira and Keira describe  as "a truly Irish welcome".

Despite arriving 30 minutes early, we remain  on board for a further hour. Our arrival has been signalled for weeks; after all, the A350-900 is the largest aircraft to have landed in Dublin for yonks – and it has  come halfway round the world. Yet, according to Moira, no-one has thought to check whether Dublin Airport can handle an aircraft this big: the initial land bridge is too low, and attempts to raise it high enough to meet the Airbus doors end in failure. Needless to say this  is a charming teething problem and all will have been sorted by the time you read this.

THE VERDICT

Cathay Pacific remains a world-leader, with excellent connections between Australia and Europe.

RATING OUT OF FIVE

★★★★

Steve Meacham was a guest of Cathay Pacific.

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