CX504 HKG-NRT 24/JUL B747-400, 2A, First

Having made my way through the separate C/F jetway down to the plane, I was greeted by a flight attendant who had a quick look at my boarding pass, then (and ever thereafter) immediately addressed me by name and led me to my seat in the nose of the plane. Before I even found the time to settle in and stow my things, she had already brought me my choice of paper (the Morning Post) and welcome drink – a Cathay Delight of course. While boarding continued, I played around with the seat a bit and got a general impression of it as well as of the entire F cabin, which was full but for one seat in row 1. It feels a lot less luxurious than the one of Singapore Airlines, mainly because of the seats using more cotton fabrics instead of leather as on SQ, and also because of the smaller screens (same size as in economy on the LX A340) and the discrete use of wood appliances. Even if it did not look quite as refined, the seat was very comfortable indeed, offering plenty of space for storage, a hard-wired and quite effectively noise-canceling headset and four windows to enjoy the view from. Seat 2A, along with 2K on the other side, is really the best seat in the house for solo travelers as it offers a lot of privacy (the only other pax that can see you is in 2K, far away), tons of room and a nice view of the little bar / service area between seats 2A and 2K. This allows you to make eye contact easily with the crew working there if you need something – or to just gaze at the goodies that are spread out in this area during your flight. Another thing I noticed (and later confirmed on the other CX flights, even in Business) is that Cathay foil-wraps their inflight magazine “Discovery” and the duty free catalogue before putting it into the seat pocket. As I have never encountered a set with the plastic foil torn apart, I must assume that the magazines are being replaced after being used once. If true, then that’s a remarkable difference from other airlines (including LX, LH, AA to name a few) that leave torn and dirty magazines in the seat pockets, even in premium cabins.

But I digress. While there was no canapé offered, I had at least one refill of Cathay Delight, which, as I had found out by that time, is also an excellent source of vitamins and therefore excused me from eating healthy stuff on other occasions. We pushed back a bit behind schedule and taxied to the runway while the video was again shouting “Brace, Brace!” and stuff. Feeling the thrust of the four mighty engines during takeoff while at the same time hardly hearing them because they were so far down in the back was an experience I start to get used to – my geeky stats tell me that out of the seven flights I have so far taken on a 747, five were in First class. While the American captain did his little post-flight exposé about the route, weather and what not, “my” charming flight attendant handed me the menu and wine list. They had a promotion going in collaboration with the Peninsula’s Spring Moon restaurant, aiming at bringing passengers “the best Chinese food in the air”. Here’s what I had to chose from:

menu cover Spring Moon brunch Kaiseki
drinks wine cover wine p1 wine p2

As you can see, Cathay offered the traditional Japanese Kaiseki meal on this flight, which reportedly costs them over USD100 per head. Being afraid of making a fool out of myself by eating it the wrong way etc. , I opted to go with the other choices instead and ordered the chicken dish – I wanted to see how good that Peninsula food was anyway. My flight attendant sheepishly asked whether I’d like to have an appetizer first (yes), followed by the soup (yes), rice and vegetables with my main course (yes), maybe some cheese after that (yes), and what about dessert (guess…). She seemed quite happy to have such a hungry person in her custody and suggested a glass of Champagne to start my meal. You don’t really think I could have resisted her, do you? Shortly afterwards I sipped on my flute of Deutz cuvee 1996 which was very good, even if it’s not up to the Krug and Dom f4free and I tasted on SQ a year ago. My glass was refilled while I looked at the clouds below and listened to the on-demand music courtesy of StudioCX, and then my table was laid and the bread basket made the first of many appearances. I really like the wide variety of bread that Cathay had on offer, and initially had some garlic bread before switching to dark rolls. Not yet having had much food (and this only being 10:30am or so), I decided to refuse a further refill when my appetizer was served and asked for sparking water instead. The flight attendant asked for my preferred way of serving it (no lemon, no ice please) and then remembered that for the rest of the flight. Unfortunately, she forgot about the sparkling part later on and filled my glass with Evian at one point. The mistake was quickly resolved though once I mentioned it, a new glass was brought along with several apologies, one of which was made by the ISM who came by to introduce herself, hand out the immigration forms for Japan and wish me a pleasant flight. I did not see her for the rest of the flight, but there was no need for it anyway.

My appetizer was nicely presented and good in both quality and quantity. The coriander pesto was surprisingly tasty and I made a mental note to try to do it at home as well. Wanting to truly enjoy this meal, I ate slowly and so by the time they cleared away my plate, the soup was ready and served without delay. Just like on SQ last year, the soup was again the weakest part of the meal as it tasted just like any canned soup you can get at your local Walmart. But then again I guess there’s only so much you can do with soup. Next up, again pretty much immediately after the last course had been cleared away, was the Peninsula-inspired main course. The meat and vegetables were served on a large plate, along with a separate bowl with sticky rice. In what I think was an attempt to save me from an embarrassing situation, the flight attendant served this course along with a new set of fork and knife, and I had to ask her for the chopsticks that I wanted to use. She looked a bit surprised at first, but then gladly handed them to me and later on commended me on my “very skilled use” of them. Hey, I passed the Lonely Planet chopstick proficiency test years ago (see my Feb 02 trip report)! Anyway, the food was good, but nowhere as exceptional as it was made sound on the menu. The serving was generous though and I “worked” on it for quite a while – I watched the flight attendants offering the cheese tray and desserts to other passengers while I still enjoyed my main course. As for the drinks, the flight attendant asked me whether I’d like to have a glass of wine with my main course, but with consideration of the champagne I already had, the time of the day and the fact that I could still try the Lynch-Bages and/or the Tiganello on the return flight, I declined. She then suggested Chinese tea instead, which I found to be a wonderful idea and stuck with for the rest of the flight. It was always presented in a nice, covered bowl and had a delicate, yet excellent taste. (Back in HKG, we later found the tea store that supplies Cathay.) Once I was finished with the main, the flight attendant brought in a tray containing four large cheeses (French Brie, Swiss! Gruyère, English Blue Stilton and a Cheddar I think) and asked me if I wanted to have anything in particular or just a selection. I opted for the latter but requested a 15 minute “break” as I felt stuffed already and needed to digest for a while. The crew obliged and returned with a large cheese platter including crackers, crudities, grapes and almonds precisely 15 minutes later – they could’ve been Swiss! Knowing how much I love port, it was clear from the beginning that I’d have a glass of this exquisite liquid with the cheese, and here I was surprised and silently disappointed with Cathay: They serve port in a proper small port wine glass, unlike LX who just use a regular wine glass. This choice obviously impacts the amount of port that is poured, and I already thought about how to phrase my request for a refill when I realized that I didn’t overly like this port anyway. In the end I just finished the one glass I got and enjoyed the cheese, served at the right temperature as it had been out of the fridge for a while already thanks to the faster eating pax.

I really wasn’t hungry anymore after the cheese, but I was still curious about the bread and butter pudding, something not familiar to Swiss taste buds. When it was served to me, I found it to be both unremarkable and ugly-looking. After the first couple of bites though the flight attendant serving the other aisle walked up with a little bowl filled with vanilla sauce and told me that her colleague had forgotten to pour this over my pudding. She apologized and gave me a very generous serving, continuing to put stuff on for a while after I signaled it to be enough by saying “thank you”. The result of this exercise that the pudding was not soaked in vanilla sauce, not making it any healthier, but a lot tastier! Yes, I did finish it. (At this time, the captain had probably adjusted the aircraft’s trim several times already to compensate for the increased weight in the front cabin… )

My table was cleared, and with just over two hours to go, I decided to put my seat into the “lounge” position and to watch a movie. To my big surprise, their “original cut” selection was “Les invasions barbares”, a French-Canadian film I had seen on the big screen a year earlier in Montréal, and that I watched again now, high above the South China sea. It really was an unedited version, including heavy swearing in Québécois French, footage of the AA plane flying into the twin towers on 9/11, and a long flyby shot of an LX A330 at the end of the movie – impressive that all those scenes were shown. By the time the movie had ended, we were already descending into NRT, and I switched to the airshow channel. This was when I noticed that StudioCX has one feature that I really like – it allows you to listen to the audio channels while at the same time displaying the airshow. The LX IFE is the only other system I know that allows you to do that. When a steward (who I assume worked “down in the back” as I had not seen him before) walked through the cabin touting duty free items, I decided that I wanted to try my luck and asked for a set of salt and pepper pebbles. They were promptly delivered to my seat, along with the reader for my credit card. Damn! It seems only ausTXhiker can successfully charm the Cathay crews into giving him the things for free… .

We touched down at Narita roughly 30 minutes behind schedule, and while we taxied to the gate, a flight attendant passed through the cabin with a box of pralines. By the time she made it to my seat, there was just one single praline left, and I took it. In general, these pralines seem to be rather elusive, they were on the menu on every flight I took, but this was actually the only praline ever offered to me on Cathay. Do I really have to request them or what? When I got up to leave the plane, I noticed these three guys seated in row 3 that talked about miles and stuff at a rather proficient level. One guy was just about to explain to the ISM why he’d rather stay with AAdvantage instead of switching over to the Marco Polo club. I said goodbye to “my” CX crew and then followed the group on the way to immigration, eavesdropping on their conversation that was all about miles. “These guys are clearly a case for Flyertalk” I thought, eventually catching up with them and asking them whether they knew that there’s a site dealing with airline loyalty programs. They laughed, and it turned out that I had just shared a ride with Flyertalk’s eastwest1k and two of his buddies! As Disney put it in their signature ride: “It’s a small world after all”….

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