Today (April 29, 2015): Trip report: Cathay Pacific Airbus A330-300 Business class Doha (DOH) to Hong Kong (HKG), my worst flight experience so far.
On April 2nd 2015, I flew Business Class in an Airbus A330-300 of Cathay Pacific from Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Qatar to Hong Kong (HKG). While the flight itself was ok (with a great cabin crew, excellent seats, but unimpressive food), I will remember it as my worst flight experience ever (so far), because of the total incompetence that Cathay Pacific (and the Qatar Airways ground staff) displayed when we had to deal with an unexpected and very frustrating 24 hour flight delay at Doha.
- Trip: DOH-HKG
- Airline: Cathay Pacific
- Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
- Flight Number: CX640
- Date: April 2nd, 2015
- On time departure: no (24 hour flight delay; 1.30 am)
- On time arrival: no (24 hour flight delay; 2.40 pm)
- Miles: 3935
- Flight time: 7:10
- Seat: 17A
- Class: business (D)
In this review (more information & photos below my Youtube clip and slideshow):
- How a flight delay turns into a 24 hour travel nightmare
- Al Mourjan business lounge at Hamad International Airport: best lounge in the world!
- Business Class cabin
- Business Class seat (& what seat to choose)
- Other inflight experiences (crew, lavatory, WiFi)
- My verdict (score)
*** Read my tips for getting a flight upgrade without paying for it ***
1. HOW A FLIGHT DELAY TURNS INTO A 24 HOUR TRAVEL NIGHTMARE
Cathay Pacific flight CX640 from Doha to Hong Kong, that was due to depart on April 2nd at 1.45 am, was initially delayed by 15 hours because of a huge sandstorm at Doha (which caused the inbound aircraft – as the only one that night – to divert to another airport in the region). The flight was then delayed again for another 2 hours (reason unclear). Finally, the flight was delayed another 7 hours to 1.30 am on April 3rd for operational equipment reasons (as the crew legal flying hours had expired). This made a total delay of 24 hours. While it is not always possible for an airline to eliminate all of the factors that lead to a flight being delayed, it is crucial that there is no compromise in both communication and service for the passengers in such situation. And this is exactly where Cathay Pacific failed, not once, not twice, but multiple times.
- The way the multiple delays were communicated to the passengers was astonishing. There was no communication at all: there was no information on the airport screens, and the ground handling staff did not communicate at all. We had to find out everything ourselves (most information was retrieved by some other passengers who were in touch with Cathay Pacific’s headquarters in Hong Kong).
- I am a Oneworld Emerald member (highest tier) and I flew Business Class on this particular flight. I would expect some priority when things go wrong and flights are delayed. That was not the case here. I identified myself to the ground staff, but I was asked to stand in the row behind all Economy Class passengers to get a hotel voucher. Booking a hotel myself and leaving the airport on my own initiative was not possible, since the airport staff had ‘confiscated’ the passports of all passengers, including mine for visa purposes (see below).
- When it was my turn to get a hotel voucher, I asked whether I could be put on an earlier flight since Qatar Airways has 3 flights a day to Hong Kong and since my itinerary (that started in Brussels) was booked under a Qatar Airways flight number. The agent did not even check these options, and said I had to comply with the hotel arrangement. I could not believe that I was confronted with a total lack of effort to help me.
- It took me 4 hours from the moment it was obvious that the flight was going to be delayed until the moment I passed customs at Doha Airport. That huge amount of time was due to the totally incompetent ground staff that first collected the passports of all passengers (for so-called “border purposes”), before returning them all after two hours (nothing had happened with them), and then ordering all passengers to pass the border individually.
- Next, I was put in a taxi van with around 20 other passengers, and then we had to wait – yet again – for 30 minutes before the driver arrived. Meanwhile, the sand storm blew all the dust inside the car, and the airline’s representatives were gone.
- I was dropped at a hotel in the early morning. At check in, it turned out the hotel staff was not aware of the fact that it needed to accommodate me and the other passengers. The airline could not be reached anymore, so it took another 30 minutes before the hotel staff checked us into the rooms. It was 6 am when I finally could go to bed.
- The hotel itself was disgusting beyond words! I cannot understand that Hamad International Airport has one of the most luxurious Business Class lounges in the world (more on that below), but that they drop their Oneworld Elite members and Business Class passengers at this kind of very poor and filthy accommodation when things go wrong.
- At the airport, I was told that I would be lodged at a nicer hotel than economy passengers, because I was flying Business Class. Turned out this was not true, since more than 20 economy class passengers stayed at the hotel as well. I cannot understand why I was not told the truth nor why I did not get a better accommodation (I don’t want to sound arrogant, but if you pay Business Class, you expect to get a better service).
- The hotel had no food, no minibar, nothing. I had to “survive” on 2 bottles of waters for more than 12 hours before the van picked me up again to drive me to the airport at 2 pm (new flight time was scheduled at 4.50 pm by then). This was utterly shocking. I felt so sorry for all those families with young children. Shopping outside the hotel was not possible because of the sandstorm and because the hotel was located outside the city center (with no shops in the area).
- When I arrived at Doha airport for the new check-in, the Cathay Pacific counter was not open. More than 200 passengers were getting very angry now, and finally, one hour later and after some phone calls from the passengers to the Cathay Pacific headquarters, 3 counters were opened to start check-in. Again, the Cathay Pacific staff at Doha Airport excelled in total absence.
- The delayed flight was now due to take off at 4.50 pm, with all passengers waiting in the enclosed gate area. But then the flight was delayed again by 2 hours, and then another 7 hours (until 1.30 am), without explanation, without any information. We later found out that the multiple, additional delays happened because the crew legal flying hours had expired (again, this information was obtained by some passengers who had their contacts within the Cathay Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong). By this time, I could not believe anymore that I was flying Cathay Pacific, one of the world’s most celebrated airlines.
- Passengers were getting so angry at this time, that finally, for the very first time in the whole ordeal, a representative of Cathay Pacific showed up to give food vouchers but she did not share any further information nor did she show any empathy. The airport police had to cool down some desperate passengers who were on the verge of lynching her. Only at 7 pm were we allowed to leave the enclosed gate area to have diner (since by then it was clear the flight would leave at 1.30 am instead of 6.50 pm).
- To make things even worse, our flight was now delayed to 1.30 am on April 3rd, but the screens in the airport showed that another Hong-Kong bound Cathay Pacific flight with the same flight number was scheduled for 1.35 am at the neighboring gate. I can tell you it caused chaos and confusion amongst passengers of both flights, with people boarding the wrong plane, hence delaying once more the boarding process. It was 3 am when we took off.
One a positive note: the cabin crew on the flight from Doha to Hong Kong was excellent, and the head of the cabin crew (I believe her name was Leila) was the very first person I met during the ordeal that showed genuine empathy and shared disbelieve with what had happened. She should get credits for coping so well with the utterly frustrated and disappointed passengers, and for apologizing in the name of Cathay Pacific.
I understand that safety comes first and that there was an initial delay of 15 hours because of a sandstorm. However, the further delay of 9 hours is totally the fault of Cathay Pacific. The incompetence of the ground handling staff was beyond words. The lack of information was inexcusable. And the way I was treated as a Oneworld Emerald member flying Business Class was scandalous!
I have to travel a lot, so I have experienced multiple flight delays in the past, including a couple that exceeded 12 hours (British Airways, Lufthansa, Emirates, Swiss). Without exceptions, all of those flight delays were dealt with in a very competent way, with excellent communication and service to all passengers (despite the fact that flight delays remain very frustrating experiences). I remember a 24 hour flight delay with Swiss a couple of years ago in Dar El Salaam, and they dealt with it superbly (despite the fact that this a remote outpost for them). Here, the delay affected Cathay Pacific but the Qatar Airways ground staff dealt (not) with it, in their very own hub and with plenty of decent hotels in the nearby city. And yet, they failed to offer service and refused to communicate, making me think twice to fly through Doha again or to fly Cathay Pacific again.
2. AL MOURJAN BUSINESS LOUNGE AT HAMAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Cathay Pacific Business Class passengers have access to Qatar Airways’ Al Mourjan Business Lounge, located on level 3 at Hamad International Airport. Offering a luxurious experience rivalling a five-star hotel, this is the best Business Class lounge that I ever encountered during my extensive travels. It simply outclasses all the current competition out there.
From the moment you enter the physically stunning lounge with its high ceilings, you are treated to a refreshing resort-like ambience. The massive space – about 10 times the size of an Olympic size swimming pool – is adorned with marbles, designer furniture, and bronze walls featuring traditional Arab calligraphy. One corner of the lounge has large floor-to-ceiling windows, offering great tarmac views. There’s tons of seating spread across all kinds of environments; the blue seats were the best ones as they all came with a power outlet, touchscreen monitor (displaying flight and airport information), packed cookies, and a bottle of water.
The lounge offers a variety of dining areas. The main restaurant is one level up from the mezzanine floor, boasting nice views of the lounge. In addition to an extensive buffet, this restaurant also has a la carte menu. Food is simply delicious! Then at the far end of the central lounge space, there is another eatery, where guests can choose between a continental or oriental brasserie, a global deli and a patisserie. In addition, the lounge also features other facilities, such as fully equipped business centres, private workstations equipped with personal display screens, shower rooms, prayer rooms, and game rooms (all of them state-of-the-art and incredibly well designed).
From the lounge, it was a ten minute walk to gate A7 where the Airbus A330-300 was finally ready for boarding.
3. BUSINESS CLASS CABIN
Business Class on Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A330 is spread over 2 cabins: a large Business Class cabin in the front of the plane with 28 seats, and a smaller Business Class with just 11 seats in front of the Premium Economy cabin. Thanks to the herringbone layout in a 1-2-1 alignment, all Business Class seats have direct aisle access (no jumping over people’s feet here). The Business Class seats on the sides are angled toward the window (about 2 windows per seat, offering great views), while the seats in the middle are angled towards each other. The herringbone layout is also great for privacy, so even if you’re traveling solo and end up in one of the middle seats, there’s nothing to worry about since you’ll barely see your neighbor.
Click here for the seat map of Cathay Pacific Airbus A330-300. Curiously, the front row starts with number 11.
4. THE BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
The Business Class Seats are identical to the ones on American Airlines’ Boeings 777-300ER. It’s evident a lot of thought has gone into the design of the seat, which is comfortable and functional. Each seat has plenty of storage space for all your personal items. A side cabinet houses a headset and a vanity mirror with enough room for a smart phone, pen, passport and other bits and pieces. Next to the seat, at eye level, are the seat and entertainment controls, reading light and power port. Seats have a universal power supply outlet and a multi-port connector with an RCA port, an iPhone/iPod connector and a USB port. The RCA and the iPhone/iPod connector allows you to connect to your own devices and watch video through the TV screen. The seats feature a large tray table in addition to a work surface so you can eat and work at the same time. There’s a large footrest in front of every seat.
When tired, you can recline the seat into a very comfortable, fully flat-bed. The flat-bed is just over 2 metres (82 inches) long. A bed extension increases its width by 16.5 cm (6.5 inches) to provide additional hip support, while the side storage compartment offers extra knee space for sleeping on your side. For sleeping, you may choose to leave your armrest up for more privacy, or down for more space.
What are the best Business Class seats on Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A330-300?
- Solo travelers should go fo the window seats.
- Travel companions should go for the middle seats. However, due to how private they are, they really don’t lend themselves all that well to traveling with a partner.
What are the worst Business Class seats on Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A330-300?
- I suggest to avoid the very front row (row 11) due to its proximity to the galley and lavatories and also beacuse it has designated bassinet seats for 11A and 11K (so you may end up being close to young children).
- I also suggest to avoid row 18, which is also close to a galley and lavatories, and the last row of Business Class, row 21, which is close to Premium Economy bassinet seats.
Each seat comes with a nice blanket and a decent pillow. The Business Class amenity kit has been created by Seventy Eight Percent, a Hong Kong-based design company that creates high-quality bags for globetrotting professionals. The wash bag contains Jurlique products (natural lip care balm, balancing day care dream, and citrus hand cream), anti-skid socks, eyeshade, toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs and monitor-cleaning cloth.
Before takeoff, I was offered a welcome drink: I could choose between orange juice, water, or a sunrise hued drink. I had the orange juice. A refreshing hot towel was offered as well.
Fifteen minutes after take-off (2.30 am), supper was offered, with all food (starter, main course, and desert) served at once on a single tray (which was kind of odd). Food was actually quite delicious but the presentation was uninspiring. The starter consisted of freshly prepared savoury dips with mini pita bread. As an entrée, I choose the Nile Perch with lemon dill cream sauce, parsley mash and roasted pumpkin (tasted very good). Dessert was a fresh note of mixed berries.
90 minutes prior to landing, a continental breakfast was served, with a mixed berry and banana smoothie, freshly brewed coffee, seasonal cut fruit, Bircher muesli, and a selection of bakery items. There was no hot dish to choose from. Very weird. I expected more from Cathay Pacific.
Each seat in the Business Class cabin of Cathay Pacific’s A330-300 has a 15-inch TV screen. There’s a library of 100 movies, 500 TV shows, CDs, radio channels and games in nine languages. A noise-cancelling headset assures an enjoyable listening experience.
The entertainment control panel also includes a Multi-port Connector that lets you connect your own electronic devices, including the iPod and iPhone, and stream audio and video content to your personal TV display – which you control through your own device.
8. OTHER INFLIGHT EXPERIENCES
# CREW: the cabin crew on this flight was great, despite having to deal with a very frustrated and tired group of passengers. The head of the cabin crew (I believe her name was Leila) was the very first person I met during the ordeal that showed genuine empathy and shared disbelieve with what had happened. She should get credits for coping so well with the utterly frustrated and disappointed passengers, and for apologizing in the name of Cathay Pacific.
# LAVATORY: The Business Class lavatory design is very simple. Lavatories were kept clean during the flight.
# INTERNET: onboard WiFi is currently not offered by Cathay Pacific.
9. MY VERDICT
- Seat : 9/10
- Food: 6/10
- Inflight entertainment : 8/10
- Service: 8/10
- Cabin: 8/10
- Overall experience: good: 7,8/10 (flight only; not taking into account the mishandling of the 24 hour flight delay)