Reviews

Review: Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 premium economy (Brisbane-Hong Kong)

Overall Rating

By Chris Chamberlin, August 22 2018
Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 premium economy (Brisbane-Hong Kong)
Route

Brisbane - Hong Kong

Aircraft Type

Airbus A350-900

Airline

Cathay Pacific

Flight

CX156 + CX157

Cabin Class

Premium Economy

Seat

30K

Notes
The Good
  • Comfortable seat with 40-inch pitch
  • Live satellite television, WiFi, and power at every seat
  • Plethora of lounge options for eligible flyers
The Bad
  • Meal presentation more 'economy plus' than 'business minus'
X-Factor
  • Swing-up leg rests now for all passengers
Service
Meals
Seating
Overall

Introduction

Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A350-900 premium economy experience pairs the airline’s newest seat with modern favourites such as inflight Internet access, a lower ‘cabin altitude’ to help you arrive feeling better-refreshed, and LED mood lighting to set the scene for the journey ahead.

It’s also the plane you’d book to guarantee a proper leg rest at every premium economy seat – something not all of Cathay Pacific’s other aircraft provide – and with that in mind, Australian Business Traveller took the A350 for a spin on a return trip between Brisbane and Hong Kong to bring you this review.

Check-in

  • Frequent flyer program: The Marco Polo Club + Asia Miles. As a Oneworld alliance airline, travellers can also earn points and status credits in other programs like Qantas Frequent Flyer when booked on eligible fares.
  • Checked baggage allowance: 35kg total weight (maximum of two bags), increased to 45kg total for Marco Polo Club Silver frequent flyers. Marco Polo Club Gold members and other Oneworld Sapphire frequent flyers (including Qantas Gold) instead enjoy a 50kg allowance over a maximum of three bags, while Marco Polo Club Diamond and Oneworld Emerald (including Qantas Platinum and above) get 55kg over three bags also.
  • Carry-on baggage allowance: 1x115cm bag plus one small item such as a laptop bag, briefcase, handbag or backpack, at a combined total weight of 7kg as standard; 10kg for Marco Polo Club Silver and Gold members, and 15kg for Marco Polo Club Diamonds. This bonus doesn't apply to other Oneworld frequent flyers: only Marco Polo members.
  • Airport fast-track: Priority check-in and boarding, although Express Path access isn't provided as you'd get in business class. Australian travellers would also be wise to enrol for Hong Kong eChannel access to save time at passport control and to avoid completing a landing card: as a current member and with no checked baggage, I was straight out of the airport upon landing, ready to begin my day.

Lounge

As is standard of most premium economy experiences, lounge access isn't included by default with Cathay Pacific – but that doesn't necessarily mean you're stuck sitting out in the terminal.

For Marco Polo Club Gold and Diamond members, along with Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald frequent flyers (including Qantas Gold and Platinum), Brisbane's Qantas international business class lounge awaits.

AusBT review: Qantas international business class lounge, Brisbane Airport

Failing that, an AMEX Platinum Charge Card, AMEX Centurion Card, Diners Club card or Priority Pass card opens the doors to Brisbane's Plaza Premium Lounge, which closes at midnight, shortly before CX156 is called for boarding.

AusBT review: Plaza Premium Lounge, Brisbane Airport

On arriving in Hong Kong, those same cards prove useful for accessing the Plaza Premium Arrivals Lounge, although Marco Polo Club Gold and Diamond members enjoy access to Cathay Pacific's own arrivals lounge: as do Qantas Platinum members (and above) and other Oneworld Emerald frequent flyers arriving on Cathay flights.

AusBT review: Cathay Pacific's The Arrival Lounge, Hong Kong Airport

Before your return or onward flight, the lounge options in Hong Kong are practically endless with MPC Diamond and Oneworld Emerald members enjoying access to Cathay Pacific's The Wing First Class and The Pier First Class lounges...

Cathay Pacific's The Pier First Class lounge
Cathay Pacific's The Pier First Class lounge

... MPC Gold cardholders and Oneworld Sapphire frequent flyers gaining entry to Cathay Pacific's The Wing, The Pier, The Deck and The Bridge business class lounges, plus the Qantas Hong Kong Lounge under Oneworld rules...

Cathay Pacific's The Deck business class lounge
Cathay Pacific's The Deck business class lounge

... and MPC Silver flyers receiving entry to those same business class lounges, except for the Qantas lounge.

Read: The business traveller's guide to Cathay Pacific's Hong Kong lounges

Joining those many facilities, the American Express Hong Kong Centurion Lounge welcomes Platinum Charge Card holders from Australia and around the world...

... while for actual Centurion Card members, there's a private Centurion-only dining room and relaxation space within the general 'Centurion Lounge':

Several Plaza Premium Lounges here also accept Priority Pass, Diners Club and other cards for access: so whatever your circumstances, there's a good chance you'll have access to one lounge or another!

Flight

Out of Brisbane, Cathay Pacific's daily Airbus A350 flight (CX156) departs the Queensland capital at 12:50am, touching down in Hong Kong at 7:30am – handy as you can enjoy a 'normal' evening out or at home, while still flying overnight and arriving before the business day begins, thanks to Brisbane Airport having no curfew.

Running during the day on the return leg, CX157 is wheels-up at 12:45pm ahead of an arrival into Brisbane just before midnight, at 11:20pm.

Other Brisbane flights (CX146/147/150/155) are instead served by Airbus A330s, some detouring via Cairns and others running non-stop, while Cathay Pacific also flies to Hong Kong from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth using a mix of Airbus A350s, A330s and Boeing 777s, all of which feature premium economy.

Seat

Arranged in a 2-4-2 layout, Cathay Pacific's Airbus A350-900 premium economy offers 28 seats, spread across a cosy cabin of three rows in the centre, and four rows along the sides.

The middle group of seats are offset from the others, making things feel just a little bit more private.

While that's a similar layout as on the airline's Boeing 777s flying to Sydney, it's notably different from the more favourable 2-3-2 configuration Brisbane flyers may be accustomed to on Cathay's Airbus A330s: so if you're flying solo, select your seat as early as possible to avoid getting stuck in the middle 'E' or 'F' seats.

But unlike Cathay’s other aircraft, on the A350, every premium economy passenger is guaranteed a swing-up leg rest – not just those at the bulkhead seats.

Combine that with a height-adjustable, fold-out extension panel at the base for better customisation…

… a nine-inch recline and 40 inches of pitch, and on the eight-hour overnight journey from Brisbane to Hong Kong, I was able to sleep for around five hours: waking only when the passenger behind me used my seatback for stability when accessing the aisle, given there’s not a great deal of standing space when the passenger in front tilts back, even though knee room is more than adequate.

You’ll find the seat controls to your side – ditto the headphone outlet…

… although as Cathay’s A350 premium economy seats offer just 18.5 inches of cushion width compared to a more generous 19.3 inches on the Boeing 777, it can feel a little tight if your own headphones are connected to the system, such as via the standard cable supplied with Bose QC35s (no airline adaptor required, pictured), although the airline-supplied noise-cancelling headphones use a vertical adaptor that doesn't take up as much space:

Nearby is a storage compartment suitable for smaller items like smartphones, passport wallets and arrival cards…

… and for larger items like tablets, the seat pocket in front houses these comfortably. It’s also semi-transparent, to help prevent forgotten items at the end of the flight.

Below that, another storage pocket…

… although passengers seated at the bulkhead (row 30) have to cram almost everything into a single large pocket in front (or that slim side pocket), including the pencil case-style amenity bag…

… and while there’s a small storage shelf underneath the bulkhead inflight entertainment screens, it’s not within easy reach when seated, so mine went unused on both flights:

Bulkhead seats can also be very hit-and-miss when it comes to legroom – or more specifically, space to stretch your feet out – but even at over 6ft/180cms tall, I had plenty of room to move:

Need to recharge your phone and/or laptop? Unlike some premium economy offerings which require nearby passengers to share a single power outlet, Cathay provides both a USB port and an international-style AC outlet for every passenger, found at the front of the centre console:

Above that is a communal cocktail table, but if you need extra space for your drinks or snacks, you can instead swivel out a personal drinks shelf:

You can also retrieve a larger tray table from within the armrest, first opening in snack mode...

... and folding out to form the complete table at meal time, or to use with your laptop or tablet:

You’ll find a personal reading light overhead, along with another light tucked away in the side of the headrest which can be adjusted to suit. However, because it’s kept out-of-sight, it’s easy to forget about – I only remembered it existed when writing this very sentence on the flight home, when I put it to use.

Meal

For me, overnight flights are all about maximising rest for the busy day ahead, so while supper is available from Brisbane to Hong Kong, I enjoyed a pre-departure drink (Piper-Heidsieck Champagne) and went straight to sleep soon after.

But if I’d wanted to indulge, the following options were available:

  • Main course: Stir-fried chicken in black pepper sauce with kalian, carrot and steamed jasmine rice; or beef short ribs with carrots and herb parsnip; or ricotta and spinach ravioli with tomato, green olive salsa, broccolini and Grana Padano.
  • Side: Small grilled chicken breast and bean salad
  • Accompaniments: Bread and butter
  • Dessert: Movenpick ice cream

Fast forward to breakfast – served around 90 minutes before landing – offering seasonal fresh fruits, yoghurt, a croissant with jam and butter on the side, tea and coffee, and one of the following mains:

  • Cheddar cheese and tomato omelette with pork fennel chipolata, spinach, peperonata and Lyonnaise potatoes
  • Stir-fried noodles with seafood, kalian and carrot

The omelette dish sounded pretty standard, so I opted for the noodles with a Hong Kong-style milk tea for an early taste of the destination, and wasn’t disappointed:

The return leg from Hong Kong to Brisbane departs around lunch time and touches down late evening, so as you’d expect, lunch is served after take-off, with a refreshment course closer to arrival.

After the usual pre-departure drink, there’s a bar service before the meal: I opt for a simple Coke Zero, which comes served with almonds…

… with lunch providing the following choices:

  • Main course: Steamed black cod with mushroom, red dates, mixed vegetables and steamed jasmine rice; or lamb shoulder rack confit with baby carrot, garlic, shallot, green pea mash and lamb jus; or truffle tagliolini with porcini and forest mushroom sauce.
  • Side: Marinated chicken with Pommery mustard sweet corn salad
  • Accompaniments: Bread and butter

While the overall presentation was really more like an economy meal than something served in a premium cabin, the chicken salad was nice and fresh, and the truffle pasta was also quite tasty, despite looking pretty messy on the plastic plate.

On the side, a glass – well, cup – of red: The Vinologist Syrah 2017, with other selections including white wine, Chivas Regal 12yr, Courvoisier VSOP, Finlandia vodka, Gordon’s gin, Bacardi rum and an “international selection” of beer.

Cabin crew come around to offer Movenpick ice cream for dessert after most people have finished eating, to save it melting in the meantime – and pleasingly, it arrived defrosted just enough to eat, not rock hard:

Around two hours before arrival, the evening refreshment packages seasonal fresh fruit and pineapple crumble cake with either of the following mains:

  • Braised pork rib, abalone sauce, mixed vegetables and steamed jasmine rice
  • Grilled Prime Steer beef tenderloin, spinach, carrot, potato and thyme sauce

I went for the tenderloin, which came medium-well, if not a little hard to cut using the aircraft-safe butter knife, but went beautifully with the sauce.

Tea and coffee follows, but given the flight lands close to bed time, I decline.

Entertainment & Service

In front of each passenger sits a 12.1-inch inflight entertainment screen loaded with movies, TV shows, games and music…

… along with access to the aircraft’s external cameras, which I always find makes for a nice backdrop when working on a laptop…

… and, live satellite television, with CNNi, BBC World News and Euronews at your fingertips, which worked reliably on my flights, aside from the occasional drop-out and reconnection:

Except at the bulkhead seats, passengers can also make use of a tablet shelf to watch content on their own device without relying on the regular meal tray – but for travellers in the front row, the meal tray it is.

Wireless Internet is available at an additional cost – US$9.95 for one hour or US$19.95 for the entire flight on Australian routes, both without data limits.

AusBT review: Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 inflight Internet

Service on my flights was friendly and efficient, although to request anything outside of normal meal times, you’ll need to use the call bell, as crew don’t routinely wander the aisles during the flight, with one exception – to ask passengers to close their window shades on the daytime journey home.

That’s great if you want to sleep during the day and arrive in Brisbane just before midnight wide awake and completely jetlagged, but most savvy travellers would instead choose to stay awake during the day and go to bed after returning home (or reaching their hotel room) for a solid night’s sleep.

There’s also room for improvement on the dining front, which is currently more ‘economy plus’ than ‘business minus’ in both style and presentation, but overall, there’s a lot to like: a comfy seat for sleeping, ample space and facilities to get work done and plenty of inflight entertainment to choose from, all of which add up to an enjoyable flight: even if the wine does come in a plastic cup!

Chris Chamberlin travelled to Hong Kong as a guest of Cathay Pacific.

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

ratrace

ratrace

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Apr 2018

Total posts 14

The A350 is a marked step up in comfort from the A330 and the 777-300ER on CX in PE, having flown all these options. Same sentiments on the food.

Rkwm

Rkwm

23 Mar 2012

Total posts 88

The F & B needs vast improvement not only in terms of quality but choice and presentation . I have taken this flight several times each year since its introduction and the product needs to be considerably improved and upgraded it is basically economy with better seating ( including the plastic cups) .I just compared the product with QF and discovered the F&B presentation and quality superior including the service. Was surprised !

BatteryBen

BatteryBen

08 Aug 2017

Total posts 37

I think Qantas F&B in PE is good. It is certainly considerably different/better than Y ... and better than CX IMO. Whenever I have flown Cathay in PE, the F&B has been almost identical to the Y service ... food especially - look at the plastic sectioned tray in Chris' photos and the plastic cup for the red! Even QF serves its beverages in glass. (FWP, I know.) ~10 years ago, Cathay were amongst the worlds best IMHO, I think that while the Chep Lap Kok lounges remain the pinnacle and their seats in J and PE are pretty good, their soft product these days really lets them down.

iM

iM

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Jul 2016

Total posts 50

On the subject of premium economy service, in Air New Zealand’s much vaunted “best premium economy in the world” You don’t get a pre-takeoff drink of any sort, and once in flight, wine is served in plastic cups. Seriously disappointing and not a patch on Qantas PE product.

Rav

Rav

18 Aug 2017

Total posts 40

They have dropped that much, 2 years ago ANZ was brilliant service, with pre drinks and washers the whole bit. So disappointed.

Dale

Dale

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Dec 2011

Total posts 90

Having flown PE in both CX and CI, I consider the CI shell type seats are much better. Also the service on CI is far better than CX. Just my opinion.

elchriss0

elchriss0

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Jan 2015

Total posts 581

Having tried JAL's hard shell seats on their 787s with 2-3-2 and 42inch width I have to agree that the hard shell design is better. When I wanted to get up I would return my seat to upright position and get the full legroom to get out. Also JAL provide lounge access and with probably the most amount of personal space of any W seat worldwide I would say they offer the best premium economy package of any airline.

Eli

Eli

30 Jul 2015

Total posts 90

Norwegian offers an insane but delightful 47" in their 787 Y+ cabins, although are reducing to 44-45" out of London...still generous. Not to compare with the likes of major carriers since this is their top cabin, but as far as personal space they have everyone beat.

elchriss0

elchriss0

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Jan 2015

Total posts 581

Yea I wasn't 100% sure if there was maybe more room offered by an airline that we don't get down here...for me the real bonus with JAL is the lounge access...I think ANA are the only other to offer it to W pax but then they ruin it with 38inch pitch.

GregXL

GregXL

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 402

Interesting CX have extended the pitch to 40. At 2m tall I find the 38 pitch PE seats tight when reclined, with QF 787 being the worst.

StudiodeKadent

StudiodeKadent

20 May 2015

Total posts 584

The 40" pitch is probably to compensate for the fact that these are relatively narrow PE seats (18.5"). Upping the pitch makes the personal space a bit closer to Cathay's wider-but-less-legroom PE product.

CBR boy

CBR boy

12 Feb 2015

Total posts 86

I recently had a family holiday with four sectors on CX 77Ws from SYD to Europe and vv via HKG. Sitting each time in the small forward economy cabin, I was astonished to see that while Premium Economy passengers were offered different meals, we were being served the same (decidedly unpremium) wines.

russh7

russh7

22 Sep 2017

Total posts 10

I hope Cathay takes note regarding allowing window shades up during daytime. I hate being drowsy in the dark on daytime flights, especially with WiFi available for getting some work done. This seems to be driven by desire to minimise customer service requests rather than passenger wellbeing. In contrast, Qantas for example touts its research into minimising jet lag through lighting and meal timing.

Traveller14

Traveller14

17 Sep 2015

Total posts 391

Many airlines do this, although only on Qantas have I ever had apassive-aggressive response from cabin crew 'annoyed' if one raises the shades. Good point by you and ChrisCh: annoying to have them down when it's daylight hours.

docsimonm

docsimonm

29 Mar 2017

Total posts 14

Just some feedback to the editor - regarding the section on lounge access, I don't understand the addition of lounges including photos that are not included in the fare. There's plenty of great content on the website that covers this nicely and I just find it unnecessary. A brief mention of the lounges available to FF tiered members would be ok, but I don't think it needs anywhere near the detail or the alternates. Distracts from an otherwise great review. My two cents worth.

THR

THR

20 Sep 2012

Total posts 59

Entirely agree with this comment. It's also listed as a 'What's hot' factor, despite it not generally being available to people who book this fare.

 

Worth a brief mention, but the majority of flyers - economy and premium economy - would not have access to lounges through status.

Bernoulli

Bernoulli

21 Apr 2017

Total posts 35

Well there are many of us who do. I do Aus/HKG every 3 weeks or so plus a lot of intra-Asia in a combination of J and PE but mostly PE on the Aus/HKG legs. In fact IMO this is a big benefit of CX over SQ, that loyal flyers who do serious mileage with the airline can reach DM without necessarily traveling in J all the time (whereas for SQ only J and F count for PPS). A large portion of CX's Asia customer base would be in the same boat ie they fly a combination of classes depending on route, business vs leisure etc.

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2951

Hi docsimonm (and THR), thanks for sharing your feedback on this. As you say, lounges are something we cover extensively on this site: and that's because around half of our readers hold either Gold or Platinum frequent flyer status. In addition, as a premium travel and lifestyle publication, many of our readers also have Platinum Charge Cards (some even Centurion Cards), or subscribe to Priority Pass, either on its own or as included with a range of other top-tier credit cards. Combined, the vast majority of our readers would receive lounge access on a journey like this, so including the relevant detail serves that audience.

We always welcome feedback, but as our comment policy asks, please send this by email in the future so keep discussion under articles about the topic itself. :)

David

David

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2337

Doc: that's a good point to raise, and I'll just add to Chris' comment that as premium economy (especially to Asia) is often booked by 'business travellers on a budget', we felt it was useful to flag the lounge options available to those frequent flyers and cardholders. This isn't something which would be done on a mainstream (eg print masthead) travel site which talks to a largely-economy audience, but for our audience I felt it was a useful value-add.

THR

THR

20 Sep 2012

Total posts 59

Fair points in response. A minor comment on an otherwise good review :)

Stephen D

Stephen D

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

12 Nov 2017

Total posts 15

Probably worth mentioning that there are no dedicated toilets in PE and it is a trek down the back. Other airlines have toilets in PE.

Prahran

Prahran

21 Jun 2018

Total posts 2

Yes, this is a real turn-off for travelling PE with Cathay.

Dale

Dale

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Dec 2011

Total posts 90

There was some in the early days of PE, but most airlines no longer have toilets in their PE. A couple allow the use of business class, if travelling in PE.

alecfabio

alecfabio

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Jun 2018

Total posts 8

As an Australian living and working in HKG and travelling frequently on CX/KA regionally mostly in J (I prefer QF to/fm AUS ) I noticed a lot of attention recently on CX in ABT, some directly sponsored by the airline. I am delighted that CX are introducing the A350s - the PE looks good and the planes are fresh.On the down side, their service has deteriorated probably as a result of cost cutting (3rd year into losses). I had to ASK for peanuts in regional J the other day with my Scotch. The crew are nice but I find them sometimes demotivated or absent-minded. As an example, I asked for a straight malt, it came with ice; she took the glass back, took the ice out with a fork I guess, returned it back ... it still had some small pieces of ice. Their meals (in J) in most cases are inedible and messy , some pieces over cooked others under-cooked - I posted a few on social media and got agreeing feedback. Sadly, I have relegated my CXKA flights only to China where they compete with local airlines, but find SIA, EVA, JAL, ANA far more superior in service, catering. CX J long haul seats are still excellent but if you get the regional J - its like PE. The First Class Pier lounge is still excellent and quiet but the Wing is too exposed and noisy with all the flight announcements in nearby gates 1-5. My ten cents on Cathay. I hope they review the catering soon and address crew issues

Dinkydee

Dinkydee

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Jan 2016

Total posts 4

I flew CX PE Brisbane to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Heathrow and return last year. I am sure that we weren’t offered Piper-Hiedsieck champagne before takeoff, nor were we offered spirits before or after meals. Having said that, the seats were very comfortable and the meals OK. Luckily there were no babies in the bulkhead seats or in the front row of the economy section behind, unlike in both of the long haul legs where screaming babies made it impossible to sleep. I begrudge paying a premium to travel in a bit more comfort only to have my flight ruined by screaming or badly behaved children. If an airline introduced child-free flights I would gladly pay a premium for a quiet, comfortable flight.

John Radcliffe

John Radcliffe

22 Aug 2018

Total posts 1

Just finished trip Melb /Hong Kong/ Copenhagen. 3 on this plane. Biggest minus was lack of dedicated toilet.Only 4 in business class on leg HK to Melb. Some got thru the "security" .Had cabin lighting waxing and waning whole trip.TV's on bulkhead too small. One failing. Altogether ,other 2 legs on craft GREAT. One leg was new Boeing ..not as good..I thought .Will use again after "little annoying" tasks improved

Bernoulli

Bernoulli

21 Apr 2017

Total posts 35

I agree that dedicated PE toilets would be great. But realistically how many airlines offer this for PEY? I assume if valuable real estate was given over to PEY toilets this would be reflected in the ticket price. As for the self-upgraders who wander into J for the lavs, actually I think this is poor form and I along with many other CX FFs (see FT boards) would like to see CX police this better...

elchriss0

elchriss0

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Jan 2015

Total posts 581

At least with JAL they use the toilets/galley to separate Y and W cabin so, even though the toilets are shared, you don't need to walk down the back

LesleyHK

LesleyHK

29 Aug 2018

Total posts 1

I flew PE on the new A350-1000, last night on CX734 from SIN to HKG. Seats are very good, but service and food were abysmal. Firstly the catering was IDENTICAL in style and content to economy, no difference for the extra fare paid. The meal served (supposedly stir fried pork with rice) was disgusting. The pork and sauce were an off pink colour, smelt and tasted like week old food. When I handed it back to the crew, she smiled and said “yes, it looks bad to me, I would not eat it”. I sought out and complained to the cabin manager, who apologised and said she would report it, but nothing more. The CX PE product has the potential to be great, the cabin, aircraft and seat are excellent ... BUT, serving disgusting food is a deal breaker for me, so I’m back to SQ PE for future trips.

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