Every loyalty scheme has its stand-out redemptions, and prior to the April changes, one of the stars of the BA award chart was this: the chance to spend six hours in a Cathay Pacific business class cabin for 25,000 avios (and a mere £25 in taxes). Better still, it linked an easy US entry point – New York JFK – to a city I’d long wanted to visit, Vancouver.
Whilst economy redemptions on domestic US services represent great value for avios, two-class services tend to have the better seats marketed as first, meaning triple the rate. As JFK-YVR is actually the first leg of flight 889 all the way to Hong Kong, this is a fully-fledged international 777-300 in four-class config. So it prices up at the business class rate (2X economy), but arguably out-classes domestic first class seating. An oddity of layout on the triple-7 means a 2 row mini-cabin sits between first class and the rest of business; and with Cathay opting for 1-2-1 seating, maximum occupancy is therefore just eight people. Thanks to free seating reservations (if you use the CX website), I was thus able to secure myself a spot in the most exclusive aircraft environment I’m likely to encounter for a long time – many of BA’s first class cabins are potentially busier!
It turned out to be one of the most comfortable, too – admittedly, it departs fairly late and I was still jet-lagged from arriving in New York the previous day, but the quick version of this review would be that this was easily the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had on a plane. Still, I bravely fought to stay awake long enough to enjoy the meal service (and grab some photos), so here’s a more detailed look!
JFK’s terminal 7 is the only airport terminal on US soil to be operated by a foreign carrier, namely British Airways; I’d arrived there the previous day on the BA1. But it’s also home to a variety of other niche services (Ukraine International Airlines, anyone?), including Cathay Pacific’s. Their presence doesn’t extend to a dedicated business class check-in lane, but nor was there anyone queuing for the regular desks. I was swiftly equipped with boarding pass, priority tags for my hold luggage, and directions to the (BA) lounge; security was also quick thanks to some excellent staff pre-emptively explaining the rules. Altogether, from approaching check-in to foraging for biscuits in the lounge took just fifteen minutes.
The boarding call went out at 21:30, and with T7 not having many gates, it was a short walk from the lounge which saw me arriving just in time to join the back of the priority queue, briefly mingling with a few families with small children before a rare turn left to take my seat in business. Ten minutes from the lounge, I’m settled in, with a pre-departure drink and having taken a few snaps before stowing my camera.
I’m immediately impressed – for a solo traveller, the individual window seat (thanks to the 1-2-1 config) seems ideal. You still have aisle access, but the angling outwards plus the wing to the seatback/headrest gives even more privacy, and better line of sight down the pair of windows you get. It’s not as wide as a British Airways seat – partly because of the console – but in no way cramped.
Having clearly not done the research, I was pleasantly surprised to be issued with a menu pre-departure, detailing a full three course dinner. I’d imagined options would be light to enable folks to get to sleep – fortunately I hadn’t grabbed much in the terminal, as the dining options in the BA lounge are restricted to their Club World passengers.
Our departure was delayed by 20 minutes or so to load cargo then make our way to the front of the queue, and a storm which had broken earlier in the evening meant a turbulent takeoff. Continued choppiness meant the seatbelt signs stayed on and so the dinner service couldn’t commence until 11pm. I’m glad I opted to eat rather than immediately try to sleep, though: the main was decent, but the raspberry sauce in the dessert was the star of the show.
I was impressed by the level of presentation throughout – the menu itself is beautiful; a tablecloth was set out on the table and followed by a second one on the tray (which is all BA opted for); the meals are brought out by hand and although served as a single tray, the roll selection is carefully transferred with tongs from a basket; and there are hot towels before and after. Staff were also impeccably polite, always greeting by title and surname. This is perhaps not so hard if you can check just before delivering a drink or food item, but also occurred whenever I moved around the cabin: I’ve no idea how they pick names up so fast.
About my only interaction with the (promising looking) IFE system was checking the moving map to identify what I could (suprisingly, given we were at 36,000 ft) see out the window. This led to the discovery that Cathay has a camera feed from the underbelly of the plane too, although in the dark this was just a mess of static noise. Instead, once dinner was complete I decided it was best to call it a night (despite the hours I was winning back by flying west). Dimming of the cabin lights suggested that the crew had similiar feelings, and so I unbundled the very cosy blanket/duvet, set the chair to full bed mode (tip: take care the seatbelt doesn’t get trapped, as a side section lifts up to create extra width), donned socks and earplugs from the amenity kit, and buckled in to avoid being disturbed should the turbulence return.
and that’s all I can report for the next 3 hours and 40 minutes – I was out like a light, and didn’t stir until, apparently, 40 minutes shy of arrival at (to my mind) 3:35am. That meant we hadn’t regained a half hour lost on the ground at JFK, but in an environment like this, who’s going to complain?
I manage to beat the crowds for the impressively sized bathroom, try the “refreshing mist”, then claim a glass of water from a ready prepared tray of various beverages in the galley (later, as the cabin was being prepped for landing, these were again offered). Ten minutes after my return the seatbelt sign is engaged, and the procedure explained for those passengers continuing to Hong Kong – they stay on the plane and a security check comes to them.
Wheels down then at 1:15am (local), a process I get to watch from the belly cam, albeit at a jaunty angle with the IFE screen stowed safely for landing. Vancouver airport is spacious and attractive, which is good as we seem to traipse through the bulk of it (via an elevated walkway) en route to landside. Nonetheless, despite that and a fairly thorough grilling from immigration officials (where am I going, where am I staying, which hotel, do I have any friends here…) by half past I am at the carousel. Priority tags seem to do their thing as mine is the third case out, and so – thoroughly confused about what time zone I should be in, but otherwise very happy – I made my way landside.