Cathay Pacific Lounge- The Pier- “Less Than the 1%” (2012)
Updated: Jan 4
Cathay Pacific Flight CX829- Toronto Pearson International to Hong Kong International Airport
Let’s face it- some things in life are just plain disappointing. No news here, it is just part of our human condition…so while I was pretty excited about my upcoming first class flight on Cathay to HK, a little voice kept saying: don’t set the bar too high, you’ll be disappointed….
I do not like flying in the USA. International flights can also be brutal but at least some of the old standards remain intact; check a bag or two for free, meals and alcoholic beverages included on the flight, the service level is competent often rising to excellent. And it usually means you are traveling somewhere exotic, far from home, so there is the excitement factor.
In the travel industry, there are several airlines that consistently rate as the best. Singapore Air has long been touted as number one in the world; we flew with them to Asia in 1996 and the flight featured individual tv sets behind each seat, still a new thing. Well ahead of the curve. Other names make the list include Thai Airlines, Quantas and Air New Zealand, among others.
And Cathay Pacific. So imagine the thrill in being able to travel halfway around the world on points in First and Business Class.
Lucky for us, we have done a bit of flying in our lives. But not so much since we had the kids. I was cured of my wanderlust for years after our Malaysian misadventure in 1996, in our attempt to move from BC to SE Asia with a six and two year old…yikes!
It seemed that Cathay's first class could be one of those bucket list experiences. It had taken some discipline to rack up the points through our business and personal expenses over the years. I became a points junkie in the mid-nineties, and we had used them to travel to BC, Puerto Rico, and more, had brought a friend in from out west and even sent our son Jon to BC and back.
There has been a huge movement on the internet regarding information on the collection of points, a veritable treasure trove of information- my personal favourite being One Mile At A Time. Mostly geared towards Americans who have a ridiculous amount of tricks to create point stashes.
Conventional wisdom for budget travellers back in the days when we travelled, before the Internet, faxes, email, blogs, YouTube, FaceBook, et al. went something like this- “the harder the journey, the greater the reward at the end of the trail.”
It was a tough road, backpacking on the cheap. But it also was a hell of lot of fun, we were young, there were so many kindred souls out there doing the same thing, and it was a great time. Places along the “old hippy trail” as it was known were hard to reach-slow decrepit buses, overcrowded boats, donkey carts, stuffed bemo taxis- few travelers flew between destinations as there weren’t many cheap[ airlines and everyone seemed to be on the low budget. Goa, Kathnandu, Srinigar, Phuket, Koh Samui, Lake Toba, and at the end of the line, Bali.
We did ours backwards, flying up from Oz to Bali, and then across SE Asia.
Twenty five years on and here I am in a whole new dimension of time and space, the digital twilight zone. Which reminded me of the most excruciating flight on our round the world trip was Delhi India to Rome with stop over in Bombay- what a trip. Hopefully this doesn’t come across like racist prick (yeah-whatever), but we did observe at that time that the only difference with the crowd on that flight versus the ones on the ground was they didn’t allow livestock and open fires on board.
All of this is a rather long way of saying that I was really looking forward to my flight this time. My itinerary out of Toronto featured the famous turn to the left after boarding the Boeing 777er into the First Class section.
Realistically, flying is an elitist sport. In the bad old days everyone dressed up and flying was an adventure. Due to economies of scale the entry point for flying has dropped and almost anyone can afford to fly with a bit of financial discipline. Spirit Air promotes $9 flights and the Internet in rife with deals.
When one travels at the top of the food chain everything changes. Some airline provide ridiculous perks to their first class travellers, such as limos to the airport or stop offs at swanky restos. One airline in Germany has chauffeur driven Mercedes to get you from one terminal to the other. Every international airline has the dedicated line, the snap to attention when you present your ticket, the access to the high end lounges with food, drink, reading materials et al…
KLM Lounge, Toronto Pearson- MEH...
And thus it began- into a special bubble created for the high rollers. I could play the part. No waiting, straight through check in, guided to the lounge, hang out until board (cattle) call. The KLM lounge at Pearson was loaded with goodies, free food, booze, Heineken on tap- but I wasn’t wasting any colories in here. I
t was 11 pm and I had 15.5 hour flight ahead of me.
Eventually we were called to board.
Pass right by the long queue of Asians waiting to board, and once inside, the magical turn left instead of right.
Past the rows of business class pods which are wonderful in their own. Into the first class zone.
Only six seats- well you can’t really call them seats- more like space pods- with a ridiculous amount of space. Here be show business, a private lounge with dedicated staff catering to every whim.
Menus procurred, but at 1:30am the last thing on my mind is food or drink. Buttons pushed, seats folding into a long bed, gift bag featuring Shaghai Tang pygamas which are oh so comfy, including slippers and eyeshades. Another bag filled with goodies, the first class travel kit replete with balms, mists, dental and lip amenities.
My First Class Cocoon
I look around at my travel partners- there won’t be any dialogue as we are sheltered in our separate cocoons. My game plan is to sleep for 7 hours or so, wake up, work on my new book, eat, nap, eat some more, and chill, which I follow to perfection.
Normally a 15.5 hour flight would be akin to having wisdom teeth pulled. Not so now – I don’t want this flight to end. This is how I want to travel. But then again maybe it would all get boring, familiarity breeding contempt.
I could become a travel snob, sneering my nose at anyone who tries to cut into the first class line. Interloppers!
Cut off from travellers, living a surreal existence.
The food was amazing- the Caviar and Salmon a classic. Dim Sum four ways for breakfast (or whatever you call it at this point). Lamb chops with mash for lunch. Fruit salad. Lots of Jasmine tea. I even indulged in some French wines, of course now I am paying for it with my allergies.
Caviar and Salmon Heaven
First Class Lounge in Hong Kong Airport
I could go on and on regarding the amenities- way cool headsets listening to Herbie Hancock, the private tv, the down filled pillows, cushions, duvet spread, the spectacular service, the full moon out the window, various oils and balms with the porcelain sink.
It was a great experience but I was ready to deplane after 15 hours. I lost a day somewhere over the polar cap. I left on Monday at 1:30am landed Tuesday 6 am! That is how it goes in the less than 1% crowd- sitting in the HK lounge and while everything is free all I want is tea- enough is definitely too much. Still, I am not sure how I can travel long distance in steerage again.
As the saying goes, it is tough to keep them down on the farm after they’ve been to Paris!