There are currently no direct flights between Manila and Okinawa, but we’re not short of options if a transit stop is added to the mix. We eventually settled on Cathay Pacific for this short holiday in Japan’s southernmost prefecture, and the airline would bring us to its bustling hub in Hong Kong before taking us to our final destination.
Welcome aboard CX908.
Note: Schedule/route information, equipment type, and other details are accurate only for the specific flight reviewed here. This information may not necessarily apply to previous or future flights, even by the same airline under the same route and flight number.
This report covers the first leg (MNL-HKG) of a MNL-OKA journey, with HKG as the transit point. Click here to read my separate review of the second leg (HKG-OKA).
For the sake of brevity, I’ve used the airline’s IATA code (CX) throughout this report, instead of the full name “Cathay Pacific”.
Airline and flight number : Cathay Pacific (CX) 908
Route : Manila, Philippines (IATA code: MNL) to Hong Kong (IATA code: HKG)
Final destination : Naha (Okinawa), Japan (IATA code: OKA)
Date : Saturday, 05 May 2018
Scheduled departure time : 0605
Actual departure time : 0639
Scheduled arrival time : 0815
Actual arrival time : 0820
EQUIPMENT AND CABIN
Aircraft : Airbus A330-300
Manufacturer : Airbus
Registration number : B-HLV
Passenger capacity : 24 Business Class and 293 Economy Class = 317 total
Cabin configuration (seat maps) : Official Site (select “33P” on the drop-down menu to view the layout for this particular aeroplane)
Travel class flown : Economy
I couldn’t snap a decent picture of our aeroplane before take-off, but here’s a distant shot taken at MNL during boarding. That’s B-HLV on the right, with fellow A330-300 and CX fleet member B-HLD on the left.
At close to 15 years old, B-HLV wasn’t the youngest bird in the CX flock, but it was in pretty decent shape both inside and out. Interestingly enough, B-HLV was still wearing the previous version of the CX livery, whereas the much older B-HLD – turning 23 in a few weeks – was already sporting the new colours introduced in November 2015. (Then again, it makes sense for the older plane to require a fresh lick of paint sooner than the newer one.)
Now for a closer image, snapped through a window on the aerobridge.
Allow me just one quick bit of planespotting with the next shot, taken as B-HLV was taxiing towards MNL’s primary runway 06/24. The bird on the left is B-HLD (which we’ve said hello to earlier), scheduled to jet off to HKG at 0825 as flight CX912. The one on the right is a Boeing 767-300 operated by Delta Air Lines, N192DN, getting ready to work flight DL180 to NRT at 0810.
We paid USD 497.29 per passenger for the round-trip flight from MNL to OKA via HKG, plus an extra USD 10.00 each for optional travel insurance. It’s a little expensive for the route – especially when one considers the rather frequent availability of special fares – but this was a holiday planned on relatively short notice, with inflexible schedule requirements that left us unwilling to choose flight times available at lower rates. The amount was all-inclusive, save for the travel tax of PHP 1,620.00 that Filipino citizens (with certain exceptions) must pay when flying out of the country.
On this route (MNL-OKA via HKG), Economy Class passengers are entitled to a free check-in baggage allowance of up to 2 pieces, weighing a total of 30 kg. The carry-on allowance is 1 piece, plus an additional small item such as a handbag or briefcase, with a total combined weight not exceeding 7 kg. There are also limits on the dimensions of each piece of luggage, whether checked or carry-on.
For the fine print and other details, read the guidelines on CX’s official website.
Since our HKG-OKA leg was on CX’s wholly-owned subsidiary Cathay Dragon (with the entire itinerary booked via CX under a single reference), our luggage was checked all the way through to OKA at the MNL airport counter. This freed us up for a smooth transit later in HKG, since we didn’t have to reclaim our bags and check them back in for the second flight.
AIRPORT, CHECK-IN, AND BOARDING
Our flight departed from Terminal 3 of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (IATA code: MNL). Despite being the largest and newest of MNL’s three main international terminals, T3 is still regrettably typical of this airport’s ill-equipped, ill-maintained, and increasingly overtaxed infrastructure.
Things weren’t so bad landside; in fact, I rather liked the monumental scale of the check-in area. But it’s a different story over in the secure airside zone (past immigration), where the interior design seemed far better suited for use in a hospital rather than in a major transportation gateway.
Note the glass-and-steel barrier splitting the terminal into two sections. Although designed for purely international use, T3 was pressed into service as a dual-purpose facility, with half of the building (the area beyond the glass) utilised for domestic flights. It’s a similar story to that played out in MNL’s T2, although in that case, a structure designed only for domestic routes was modified to also serve international flights.
There are now plans in place to rectify this appallingly absurd scenario, with T3 finally going all-international and T2 all-domestic, but the realignments have yet to materialise.
Right, enough about that. Let’s head back landside and look at how the check-in experience went.
Passengers checking into Economy Class were marshalled into a single snaking queue that would gradually distribute itself between several counters. Separate queuing points were set up for passengers who had already checked in online, as well as for high-tier loyalty club members and Business Class passengers.
Segregated arrangements were also imposed airside. In the waiting area, the seats closest to the gate were cordoned off for the exclusive use of premium passengers (and, presumably, those requiring special assistance such as wheelchair users). Economy Class passengers were seated further away.
I suspect this set-up had more to do with controlling the boarding process than with offering better seats to top-end jetsetters – most of whom were probably relaxing up in CX’s splendid MNL lounge anyway.
Boarding was organised along the usual lines: priority and premium passengers first, Economy Class afterwards. Row numbers didn’t really come into play here, as those of us in cattle class were invited to queue all at the same time, regardless of where in the aeroplane we would be seated.
As of this writing, CX operates three variants of the Airbus A330-300. Type 33K is fitted with the CX long-haul, lie-flat Business Class product (four seats to a row), with a small Premium Economy section (seven to a row) followed by regular Economy (eight abreast). Type 33E also has the long-haul Business cabin, but no Premium Economy seats.
The bird that flew us to HKG was of a third type, 33P, with 24 regional Business Class seats (six to a row) and 293 Economy Class seats (eight abreast). We shall have a brief look at Business Class later – for the moment, let’s dwell on Economy since it was the cabin I actually travelled in.
These are CX’s older “shell seats”, whose fixed backs do not move when the occupants wish to recline. Instead, the bottom cushion slides forward whilst the back cushion slides down and out, creating the effect of reclining without actually doing so. The presumed advantage of this design was that one’s personal space wouldn’t be intruded upon when the person in front tries to lean back. However, the simulated “recline” can be torturously uncomfortable on long-haul flights (I speak from personal experience). In due course, CX changed tack and reverted to conventional reclining seats, which are now being rolled out across its fleet.
That said, the previous model will continue to see service for some time on aeroplanes working regional routes (such as B-HLV), especially since the shells aren’t really that bad on shorter flights. Despite my awful experience with the seat on a couple of trans-Pacific long-hauls some years ago, I found it quite comfortable indeed for the quick hop from MNL to HKG.
I pre-booked our seats (no extra charge for certain fare classes) at the point of purchase, selecting 39A by the window and 39C on the aisle. There are no seats labelled “B” on this particular type of plane, so A and C form a pair.
Row 39 was next to the forward bulkhead and offered plenty of extra legroom. In addition, we found that our seats were in a sort of mini-cabin just aft of Business Class and forward of the main Economy Class section – roughly where the Premium Economy area would be if the plane were so equipped. With just four rows, this section presented a veneer of privacy and exclusivity that the main cabin lacked, even though the seats themselves were no different from those further behind.
Just bear in mind that the nearest lavatory is aft of the mini-cabin on the starboard side, next to the galley. Needless to say, penetrating the forward curtain into the rarefied world of Business Class would be a huge faux pas.
Now for a closer look. Let’s pull up one of the cabin images I posted earlier…
…because it shows some of the features fitted into the non-bulkhead Economy Class rows. Touch-screen IFE display at the top, with a tethered remote control mounted just underneath, and a pull-out coat hook off to one side. In-seat power is supplied through an outlet concealed behind the tray table, which must be unfolded should one wish to charge any devices. The black panel attached to the outer surface of the tray table is a folding cup holder.
As for our seats on row 39, the power points were located close to the floor under the centre armrest, whilst the IFE displays were mounted on the bulkhead wall in front.
In my seat, the pop-out remote control was fitted into the centre armrest. I didn’t make much use of the device, preferring to navigate the extensive menu options using the touch-screen interface.
The folding tray table was concealed within the right-side armrest, which has to be flipped open if one needs to pull out the surface. This wasn’t a problem in my case, since the person beside me was a travelling companion. It might, however, present a complication when one happens to be seated next to a stranger – or worse, an irritable and ill-humoured stranger – as one must ask them to move their arm aside when unfolding or stowing the table.
Now then, for that promised “brief look” at Business Class. All passengers were funnelled through the front door after we landed at HKG, giving me a few precious seconds in which to visually document our bird’s premium cabin.
The cabin was fitted with CX’s current regional Business Class seats, introduced in 2013 to replace the ageing armchair recliners I experienced on the same route several years ago. Granted, these don’t feature the same level of privacy and comfort offered by the CX long-haul product, which is occasionally fielded on regional routes as well; see here and here for example. Nonetheless, lie-flat bed-seats aren’t a necessity on these short flights, and don’t make much economic sense for the local or regional market in view of the larger onboard floor space they’d consume (at the expense of additional fare-earning seats).
CATERING, AMENITIES, AND SERVICE
CX908 may have been a short flight, but I was counting on CX – as a full-service carrier with a premium image – to offer at least some form of refreshment. I’m pleased to report that they didn’t disappoint.
The light meal was packed into a small paper bag with CX-green ribbon handles.
The contents of the bag, unpacked. Today’s breakfast-snack consisted of a meat-filled pastry (in the wrapper on the left) and a cookie for dessert, served with bottled water to wash the lot down.
Not a full meal-on-a-tray with side dishes and choice of beverage, but certainly more than adequate for the brief MNL-HKG run. (Besides, I’d already tucked into a hearty breakfast at the airport prior to boarding.)
No amenity kits were supplied. Then again, I wouldn’t expect any airline to hand out amenity kits in Economy Class on short-haul services. No pillows or blankets were distributed, though I’m not certain if these were available on request.
As for the cabin crew – well, I don’t usually have much to say about that side of things, and this flight is no exception. I’m a fairly undemanding and mildly anti-social passenger who tends to avoid speaking with the flight attendants, so it’s hard for me to gauge their performance. That said, from what I could overhear and observe, I’d say their service was thoroughly polite and professional.
The usual basic cattle-class headphones (not noise-cancelling) were stuffed into the seat pockets ahead of take-off, rather than being distributed by the cabin crew.
The airline’s IFE suite – branded as StudioCX – offered an almost bewildering choice of entertainment options. Both Asian and Western films were available, with fresh releases alongside older videos. Alas, the flight was a mere two hours long, not even sufficient for the one full-length movie I started playing after take-off.
A selection of newspapers was laid out on a table in the boarding bridge at the airport, so that passengers could help themselves to whichever broadsheet they desired before entering the plane. Needless to say, every seat pocket carried the usual reading material: CX’s in-house Discovery magazine and Discover the Shop duty-free catalogue.
I’m a regular user of LCCs, but flying on a full-service airline does have its perks, and this positive experience with CX908 proves that point conclusively. Better seats, IFE, generous baggage allowances, complimentary refreshment, complete packaged fares that don’t require fiddling around with various add-on services – these are just some of the things that can help tilt the balance. One must be willing to pay quite a bit more, true enough … but the difference isn’t always massive, especially if one enjoys some flexibility in choosing one’s travel arrangements (unlike ourselves on this particular occasion).
In addition, for routes such as this that aren’t served directly out of MNL, CX offers smooth single-booking connections through its HKG hub that are potentially a far better experience overall than self-stitched budget airline itineraries. (Good luck trying to deal with transfers and baggage reclaim on point-to-point LCC tickets.)
Of course, I shall continue to fly direct whenever possible, whether on LCCs or full-service carriers. But for northbound routes from MNL with no direct options, CX will likely remain my first choice.