Airbus A330-300. Cathay Pacific has 42 of this aircraft model in its fleet.
Melbourne to Hong Kong.
Three daily flights from Melbourne to Hong Kong: early morning, mid-afternoon and 11.30pm. There are also four daily flights from Sydney.
THE LOYALTY SCHEME
The Marco Polo Club is linked to oneworld alliance airlines, meaning points can be earned on the likes of Qantas and British Airways.
Premium economy, aisle seat 30H. It's the immediate row behind the pods of business class which, at least until the curtains are drawn after take-off, is a bit of a tease.
Nine hours, about 35 minutes shorter than the scheduled flight time.
The configuration of premium economy seating is 2-3-2, as opposed to 2-4-2 in economy, with 21 seats in total. The seat is like old-school business class, with a full leg-rest (only in the front row; other premium economy seats have a three-position footrest) and a good 20cm recline. Seat pitch is 38 inches (96cm), which is six inches (15cm) more than in economy.
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The movie selection includes a broad-ranging selection of 50 new releases, plus classics such as Star Wars and Australia. There's also a dedicated art-house channel, plus channels of Asian movies. The audio channel contains an interesting collection of more than 100 Western albums – a bit of classic rock, modern gospel, cheesy pop – plus the likes of K-pop and Cantopop. Noise cancelling headphones provide sound quality above the airline norm, and take the earache out of a movie marathon.
Premium economy allows checked baggage up to 25kg, or 5kg more than economy. Carry-on is one bag up to 7kg.
I have a bulkhead seat, allowing me to stretch my legs as far as they'll go, plus some, and the leg-rest reaches past my heels, making this as comfy as it gets in economy – I can almost sprawl. An amenities bag designed by Hong Kong company Goods of Desire contains compression socks, eye mask, earplugs, toothbrush and toothpaste.
The service is unobtrusive and unfailingly polite. There's champagne to welcome premium economy passengers aboard and regular – but not too regular – checks from attendants to see if snacks or drinks are wanted.
Lunch is a choice of three main courses taken from the business class menu. I order the grilled beef fillet with broccolini, tomato and kipfler potatoes, and it's a meal I could happily have ordered from any restaurant menu. There's a choice of two South African chardonnays or a Chilean cabernet sauvignon to help things along. A lighter meal is offered late in the flight, with a choice between a lamb and rosemary pie and satay chicken skewers on nasi goreng.
Cathay Pacific has won Skytrax's annual "world's best airline" award more than any other airline, so it's unsurprising that the experience is as efficient and smooth as economy-style travel can hope to be. If your budget doesn't want to stretch to business class, but your legs do, this is a very restful compromise. I've rarely stepped off a nine-hour flight feeling as fresh.
Tested by Andrew Bain, who flew courtesy of Cathay Pacific.
See also: World's safest airlines for 2016 named