Flight Report: ICN-HKG on Cathay Pacific Flight CX 417 (28 January 2020)

In one of my recent Flight Reports, we got a good look at Cathay Pacific’s current long-haul Business Class seat aboard a new A350. This time, we’ll fly back from Seoul on an older A330 fitted with the airline’s previous-generation hardware. The equipment might be a little less than cutting-edge, but it’s still more than capable of delivering a premium onboard experience.

Welcome aboard Cathay Pacific flight CX 417.

Note: The details presented here are only for the specific flight reviewed. This information might not hold true for previous or future flights, even if operated by the same airline on the same route and/or under the same flight number.

For the sake of brevity, IATA airline and airport codes have been used throughout this report in place of full names (e.g., “CX” instead of “Cathay Pacific”; “ICN” instead of “Incheon International Airport”).

This review covers the initial segment (ICN-HKG) of the return leg of a round-trip MNL-ICN-MNL journey, where HKG was the transit point on both legs. Please click on the embedded links to read my reviews of the first (MNL-HKG) and second (HKG-ICN) flights. A separate review of the final segment (HKG-MNL) will be published in due course.

IMPORTANT! This report does NOT reflect operational changes introduced after my January 2020 flight as a result of the ongoing global health emergency. Additional check-in requirements, pre-boarding procedures – such as temperature checks – and modifications to in-flight service and amenities should be expected.

ROUTE MAP

OVERVIEW

Note: All times are local. Seoul (GMT+9) is one hour ahead of Hong Kong (GMT+8).

Flight details

Airline and flight number : Cathay Pacific (CX) 417
Route : Seoul-Incheon, South Korea (IATA code: ICN) to Hong Kong, China (IATA code: HKG)
Ultimate destination : Manila, Philippines (IATA code: MNL)
Route type : International
Date : Tuesday, 28 January 2020
Scheduled departure time : 10:10
Actual departure time : 10:28
Scheduled arrival time : 13:15
Actual arrival time : 13:07

Equipment and cabin

Aircraft : Airbus A330-300
Manufacturer : Airbus
Registration number : B-LAM
Passenger capacity : 39 Business, 223 Economy (262 total)
Cabin configuration (seat maps) : Official Site (note: select the variant “33E” from the drop-down menu on that page)
Travel class flown : Business Class

Here’s a picture of B-LAM on the tarmac at HKG, taken shortly after our arrival from ICN. It’s not the newest plane in the CX fleet, but it does sport the airline’s current livery.

B-LAM was delivered at the end of July 2011, which puts its age at about 8.5 years on the day I walked aboard for flight CX 417. As we’ll see later in this report, the aeroplane was fitted with the previous generation of CX’s long-haul Business Class hardware.

Both interior and exterior appeared to be well maintained, but there’s no avoiding the little scars that years of active duty will inflict upon any aircraft.

Even though the HKG-ICN route is quite short, CX occasionally rotates its long-haul aircraft into this and other regional routes. In fact, my original booking placed me in long-haul cabins for 2 flights out of 4, and a change for the return leg bumped that up to 3 out of 4. Needless to say, CX’s long-haul Business Class seats are far superior to its regional product, so experiencing them on these brief flights was a great way to start off – and in this case, wrap up – my Korean holiday.

BAGGAGE

CX’s baggage allowances depend chiefly on your travel class, but there are also different rules for specific routes. Limits on dimensions and piece weight must also be followed. For example, no single bag can weigh over 32 kg (70 lb) no matter what allowance you’re entitled to. For detailed terms, refer to the fine print on your ticket and to the details published on CX’s official website.

My Business Class ticket came with a complimentary checked baggage allowance of two pieces totalling 40 kg (88 lb). I was also permitted to bring one piece of cabin baggage and the usual small item on board, weighing no more than 10 kg (22 lb) all together.

At ICN, the check-in agent tagged my luggage all the way through to my final destination (MNL). She also attached a Business Class priority label before sending the bag on its way down the conveyor.

AT THE AIRPORT

Origin

CX flights out of the Greater Seoul area are based at Terminal 1 (T1) of Incheon International Airport (IATA code: ICN).

Check-in

Separate lanes were provided for different passenger classes. Interestingly, there were no lanes explicitly marked “Economy Class”; all of the non-premium counters were simply labelled “Bag Drop”.

My ticket was originally for a later flight, but this had been rescheduled to a different time – one that didn’t suit my post-arrival plans. I decided to turn up early at the airport and enquire if I could be accommodated on an earlier service. A fair bit of waiting followed, taken up mainly by the duty manager calling their head office regarding a possible fee waiver (since my fare type was on the restrictive side of the Business Class scale). Fortunately, my patience was soon rewarded: the change request was granted at no extra cost.

I was issued two boarding passes: one for my initial ICN-HKG leg on CX 417, the other for my succeeding HKG-MNL leg on CX 919. Lounge invitations for both ICN and HKG were also provided.

Needless to say, the ongoing global health emergency has led to the introduction of additional screening procedures and documentary requirements at many airports, ICN included. Since this flight took place before pandemic-related restrictions were introduced, and because of the very fluid situation around travel bans and border checks related to the emergency, I won’t attempt to describe the changes here. Please refer to the official websites and/or verified social media channels of your origin and destination airports, your airline, the relevant government agencies, and other reliable sources to collect up-to-date information that’s accurate for your specific circumstances.

Lounge

Click here to read my (mini-)review of the Asiana Business Class Lounge (West) at ICN T1, where I waited in pampered comfort before CX 417’s stated departure time.

Please be aware that as of this writing, the above lounge is closed until further notice due to pandemic-related flight reductions. In any event, CX has temporarily halted service between HKG and ICN because of the ongoing crisis, so the issue of lounge access isn’t relevant at this time.

Boarding

After whittling down the pre-departure wait in the Asiana Lounge, I picked up my hand luggage and moved closer to our assigned boarding gate.

Separate doors were provided for Business Class and Economy Class passengers. The boarding pier was likewise fitted with two aerobridges, one for the Business cabin and another further aft for Economy.

ONBOARD EXPERIENCE

Cabin interior and seating

The spacious 39-seat Business Class cabin in CX’s A330-300 (type 33E) occupies the entire section between the forward and second doors, with three additional rows just aft of the second door. All told, there are 10 rows in a 1-2-1 configuration (numbered 11-21 sans 13), but row 19 lacks a starboard seat to make room for one of the lavatories.

Both old and new generations of CX’s long-haul Business Class cabin employ a reverse herringbone layout, where the seats along the edges of the cabin are angled towards the windows. This arrangement – working in tandem with the shell that wraps around the back – offers a remarkable degree of privacy from the aisle and nearby passengers.

A little peek into the cockpit. 🙂

I’m not one of those confident travellers or well-known bloggers who’d boldly request a tour of the flight deck, so this timid glance from a couple of rows back is as near as I’ll get.

Right, let’s take a closer look at those seats.

My last two flights with CX (read more about them here and here) were both on new A350 aircraft fitted with current-generation long-haul Business Class equipment. Before those journeys, I hadn’t flown CX Business since 2013 (see here), when I sat in the airline’s then-new – but now previous-model – premium cabin.

Now what was that line Yogi Berra once said…

It’s déjà vu all over again.

Mm, I suppose it’ll do. 😉

Seriously though, even this no-longer-cutting-edge hardware is in a totally different league from the tight cattle class seats I usually fly in.

There’s plenty of legroom, as one might expect…

…and all that space coalesces into a comfortable bed when the seat is switched over to its lie-flat position.

ICN-HKG may be a short route, but I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to do a proper nap-in-the-sky (which isn’t really possible when I fly in cattle class).

In contrast to CX’s new long-haul Business seat, there’s no cushioned ledge running along the wall below the windows (or below the centre partition for the middle seats). The end result is a little less “bed” space around the shin area, although I personally didn’t notice much of a variance.

You’ll also observe other differences between the older and newer seats in the aisle-side armrest.

There’s no flip-up bed extender like the one fitted on the current generation seat, and the armrest base lacks a concealed bottle holder.

But one thing these older seats have that the newer seats don’t is a small storage bin under the armrest.

Perhaps it was designed to serve as a shoe locker, although it seems a bit undersized for that purpose (speaking from direct experience).

Let’s swing our gaze higher now, towards the bits and bobs fitted next to the side table.

There’s a storage compartment as on the current long-haul seat, except that this one is both narrower and deeper. No USB port, but we do have a standard charging point for normal plugs. Similar reading light, similar seat controls. Old-fashioned IFE remote, as opposed to the larger game-console-like unit that the new seats are equipped with.

The tray table is berthed in a slot under the side table. Swung out, it then needs to be unfolded to reveal its full size.

The hard-walled seat pocket is located near the floor, by the aisle. Though less convenient for storage purposes, the pocket isn’t really needed in this type of seat, given all the extra places where one might keep small articles. You’ll also find a coat hook higher up, on the aisle-side wall of the seat.

Now for the obligatory glance up at the overhead instrument panel…

…which is quite short of instruments in this case. Of course, that’s because the usual switches and buttons have been relocated to the side panel next to the seat itself.

As for the lavatories (or rather, the one lavatory I bothered to visit) – mm, standard-issue equipment for the most part. Nothing to write home about.

Right, so much for the hardware. Time to have a look at the soft product.

In-flight service and amenities

Thanks to priority boarding, those of us in Business Class had time to settle in whilst the rest of the plane was being loaded. This also gave the cabin crew a chance to start service.

First, a choice of welcome drink. I could have asked for an alcoholic beverage or some juice, but plain water suited me just fine.

About fifteen minutes after boarding, I was offered the customary moist hand towel.

Next came the menu card, which we’ll have a closer look at shortly. (Always useful for distracting passengers from any ground delays, haha.)

Now for a peek at what’s in the seat pocket.

As for in-flight comfort, a pillow and plastic-wrapped blanket had been laid out on the seat ahead of boarding.

At some point during pre-departure service, a cabin attendant offered to take my jacket away for closet storage. It was safely restored to me shortly before our arrival.

Catering

At last, we come to my favourite part: the in-flight meal. 🙂

Let’s flip through the menu and see what’s on offer.

About a quarter of an hour after departure, cabin attendants walked down the aisles serving nuts and beverages.

Meal service began a few minutes later with a cabin attendant spreading a starched linen sheet over my dining table.

Here’s the initial table setting. The starter and salad arrived first, with a choice of bread offered shortly afterwards.

The seasonal mixed salad with balsamic vinaigrette was…well, precisely what it said on the tin. The thing is, I’ve never been keen on leafy salads so I tend to just force them down without comment.

Ah, but the starter – now that’s a different story. Beef carpaccio with tartar sauce and some refreshingly sweet, crunchy Waldorf salad on the side. I smack my lips in admiration even as I recollect the flavours.

For my beverage, a drop of red wine – and more water of course. This was pretty much my only dip into the flight’s well-stocked cellar.

The empty starter dish was swiftly cleared to make room for the main course. Out of three choices – fish, meat, and poultry as usual – I settled upon the beef bibimbap.

As expected for this do-it-yourself Korean classic, the dish arrived on my table as separate components. A bowl filled with beef and vegetables, a freshly microwaved container of cooked rice, and a pouch containing the necessary condiments.

Now for some delicate assembly work…

…which involved dumping everything together and mashing the lot up with fork and spoon.

A dog’s breakfast in appearance, but a proper palate pleaser in the mouth. I’ll take simple, hearty meals like this over pretentious gold-flecked morsels of nothingness any day of the year.

That said, I’m not above appreciating the art of elegant plating, which the cabin crew ably demonstrated in the course that followed.

A selection of cheese, accompanied by crackers and fresh seasonal fruit.

And to close off the meal – as well as satisfy my caffeine needs – I ordered a cup of good, strong coffee.

That wasn’t quite the end of meal service, however. About fifteen or so minutes later, before the last table linens were cleared away, I accepted the offer of ice cream for dessert.

Let’s end this bit with a final observation regarding the in-flight meal. On CX 417 (ICN-HKG), the service format involved distinct courses, where each element was brought out in sequence and the previous course’s empty dish would be cleared away to make room for the one following. This was similar to the format used on my previous flight CX 438 (HKG-ICN). In contrast, on the shorter flight CX 934 (MNL-HKG), all courses were served at about the same time and accumulated together on the tray, with brief gaps for bringing out the main course and offering a selection of bread to choose from.

In-flight entertainment

I’m not one to demand a full IFE suite on a regional flight…but I’m not one to refuse it either.

And CX’s wide selection of movies, television shows and other media was certainly nice to have, even on the short ICN-HKG route.

OVERALL IMPRESSION

Both current and former generations of Cathay Pacific’s long-haul Business Class cabin still coexist in its fleet, and I doubt that this arrangement will end anytime soon. After all, the previous-model seats and the aeroplanes on which they’re fitted aren’t even a decade old yet, so it’s reasonable to assume that they’ll remain in service for a few more years (with proper maintenance and possibly a refresh). My experience on CX 417 also demonstrated that the older long-haul cabin is still a great place to fly in, with the seat design holding up remarkably well even after the rollout of an improved version. Add to that the professionally delivered onboard service, and the end result is one well satisfied passenger.

Stay safe, everyone. 🙂

Cheerio.

2 responses to “Flight Report: ICN-HKG on Cathay Pacific Flight CX 417 (28 January 2020)

  1. Pingback: Flight Report: MNL-HKG on Cathay Pacific Flight CX 934 (22 January 2020) | Within striking distance·

  2. Pingback: Flight Report: HKG-ICN on Cathay Pacific Flight CX 438 (23 January 2020) | Within striking distance·

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