Cathay Pacific celebrates 40 years of non-stop flying to Sydney

By David Flynn, October 17 2014
Cathay Pacific celebrates 40 years of non-stop flying to Sydney

This month Cathay Pacific celebrates 40 years of non-stop flying between Hong Kong and Sydney, beginning with the CX101 service which touched down on 22nd October 1974.

When CX101 landed for the first time at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith airport on 22nd October 1974, Iris Lim was in her early 20s and just two years into her glamorous career as a flight attendant for Cathay Pacific.

She was part of a carefully chosen eight member crew hailing from Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Some of the inaugural CX101 crew, with Iris Lim second from the left
Some of the inaugural CX101 crew, with Iris Lim second from the left

The job was the envy of many young women and difficult to attain, as a second language was mandatory as well as perfect English - along with style, grace and impeccable grooming.

Lim wore the red 'Tung Hoi' or Eastern Sea uniform which Cathay Pacific had introduced earlier that year, designed by celebrated French couturier Pierre Balmain. It featured a wave-patterned blouse topped by a smart black hat.

And the duties were quite different from those of today, Lim says, with no inflight entertainment – not even one channel, let alone the hundreds of on-demand movies, TV and audio programs which Cathay Pacific passengers now take for granted.

But there were packs of playing cards, while cigarettes and fans were handed out freely, Lim recalls.

In the Boeing 707's First Class cabin, a la carte meals were served under silver, with roast meats elaborately carved in front of each of the eight passengers.

“Rack of lamb was always particularly tricky,” Lim smiles. “We had to add little white frills – you never see them these days – to the lamb rack before carving and serving."

Salads were dressed and tossed, soup served from a silver tureen, coffee and tea were poured from shiny silver pots, and use of silver trays was mandatory.

Meals were served with a popular bar service and champagne, cocktails and wine – mostly French in those days.

In Economy (Business Class had yet to be invented) passengers were also served two meals over the course of the daytime flight, along with peanuts, drinks and cigarettes.

In 1974 smoking was a popular pastime for many airline passengers, with the front row of First Class and a section of Economy reserved for nicotine fans, before the airline banned inflight smoking in 1993.

“There really was barely any difference between being seated in smoking or non-smoking,” Lim admits, "and little hope of avoiding the smoke wherever you were."

Even the flight attendants could not escape the fumes.

Unlike today’s modern airliners, the Boeing 707 did not have a rest area for crew and the best available spot for flight attendants to take a break during the long and busy flight was a seat in the last row of Economy.

“It was very tiring,” Lim confesses. “You were really on your feet for almost all of the time on board – we pretty much walked from Hong Kong to Sydney! And you had to do it as stylishly as possible."

That first packed flight into Australia carried 150 passengers – mainly travellers from Australia, Japan, the UK and Hong Kong. In the first years of CX101 Cathay Pacific also brought many Greek and Italian migrants to our shores.

When the Boeing 707 touched down in Sydney at 9am the pilots, flight attendants and passengers were met by a regiment of Hong Kong Gurkhas on the tarmac before being whisked off to Sydney's fanciest hotel at the time, The Hilton.

But this was only a small respite for Lim and her colleagues, who had already spent the weeks prior to the CX101's inaugural on a promotional tour of Australia with Cantonese pop superstar of the day, Frances Yip.

That roadshow began in Perth (which was in fact Cathay's first Aussie destination, in 1970) and visited Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, Brisbane before ending in Sydney and involved a concert, fashion shows and a host of other promotional duties.

40 years on from that first flight into Australia, Iris Lim is still working at Cathay Pacific.

Having moved up through the ranks to senior crew roles, and then on to grooming and recruitment of cabin crew, today Lim manages the airline's uniform projects and the "Walking on Air" fashion show celebrating Cathay Pacific uniforms through the decades.

Note: while October  1974 saw the first non-stop Cathay Pacific passenger flight between Hong Kong and Sydney, Cathay's first ever commercial flight to Australia took place in 1946 when the airline's founders – an Australian named Sydney de Kantzow and American Roy Farrell – flew its DC-3 named Betsy to Sydney, carrying among other items several boxes of day-old baby chickens!

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

10 Nov 2011

Total posts 131

Great article! I've never flown CX but would love to. The airline holds a special place in my mind - I think it was the ads in the early 90s (that I thought wre very exotic) when I was young and dreaming of travel, and all of those amazing shots of flights coming in over Kowloon and into Kai Tak. I feel quite sad that I never got to experience the famed checkerboard landing!

26 May 2012

Total posts 149

I'm based in HK until December. Loving zipping around Asia on Cathay. Certainly not the cheapest but by far the best. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Apr 2011

Total posts 47

Yes, flying over Hong Kong, and coming into land at Kai Tak was one of the great aviation experiences.  I have never forgotten that feeling of almost being able to put your hand out of the window and collect the laundry off the clothes lines!!

I only got to do two landings at Kai Tak, but so glad I was able to experience it.

Have only had one flight on Cathay, and that was from London to Hong Kong in 1989 as I recall.  First Class as well!  Those were the days.  Wonderful service.  I even had a chauffered car to take me to Gatwick for the flight.  Now all I can afford is Air Asia!!

05 Dec 2013

Total posts 36

I'm absolutely loving this and other recently "anniversary"/historical articles that you've been publishing.  Any chance of doing one for Emirates? Would be interesting to see how far they have come :)

23 Mar 2012

Total posts 99

Been traveling relentlessly with CX since 1988 however disturbingly just to coincide with their aniversery they have released a notice on their website advising of a surcharge on all tickets for travelers departing Australia on a Friday , Saturday and Sunday . Not a very positive 40 year celebration for Australian supporters .

Seeing the Union Jack on the tail fin of the Cathay Boeing 707, made me wonder if the new (since '97) Hong Kong flag is painted on current CX aircraft.

I don't recall if they are... anyone knows?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1378

Think the only logo's on the plane nowadays are for Swire, and Hong Kong (with a Asia's world city tagline)

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1245

Only logo is Swire's.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 526

The flag was removed from the tail as 1997 loomed and the tail only had the green stripes. As others have stated, there is no longer any flag apart from the Swire Group flag on the rear of the fuselage.

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1245

What a lovely introspective.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Jun 2013

Total posts 366

Great article David thanks

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Jul 2013

Total posts 204

Great story! Absolutely love CX and miss my many trips into and around Asia with them.

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