Review: Cathay Pacific Business Class Vancouver to JFK
This all started when I needed to fly from Seattle to Grand Rapids, Michigan for my family’s Thanksmas party. And yes, if you’ve read our blog before, you’d know we’re known for not taking the most direct routings to get to our destinations…
I had been excited about flying Cathay Pacific ever since I booked us on Cathay to Hong Kong and then had an event come up on those dates. I knew I couldn’t make it but procrastinated on cancelling the reservation while wishing my other commitment would go away. Alas, it didn’t, so here I am at La Guardia gate C20 waiting for my flight to Grand Rapids after my Cathay Pacific flight.
It started with a very uneventful flight from Seattle to Vancouver on an
Alaska Horizon turboprop. I now correct my description of uneventful since after a-la-cart-ing my carry-on for that flight (Horizon ERJs’ bin space is minimal) it came out the other end with a broken handle.
At check-in I was assisted by Tess, who was lovely. I tried finagling my way into first class instead, since I knew for a fact the cabin was absolutely empty. She informed me she’d be happy to if Alaska were to make the changes. Alaska of course couldn’t make any changes since Cathay hadn’t released the inventory.
Why, you ask? Since this is a Fifth Freedom flight, the government allows Cathay to sell a specific amount of seats on this YVR-JFK leg, and once those are gone, they’re gone. This means that unless those flights are booked all the way from Hong Kong to JFK, seats go empty. I cried internally knowing all those first class seats, as well as all those other business class seats would go unused (as it turned out, I was the only passenger in business).
Yes, you DO have to clear customs and immigration twice
I was flying from the US, so I had to clear customs and immigration at Vancouver, which took all of five minutes. Once past that, I walked through the airport toward the check-in counters.
As everyone who’s flown from Vancouver into the US knows, YVR airport has pre-clearance for US bound flights. This means you’re stamped into the US while still in Canadian soil, only to land at your destination without going through CBP again (huuuuge time saver). This is, however, a Fifth Freedom flight and there is no pre-clearance for it. The plane is loaded with passengers from the incoming Hong Kong leg who are continuing on their way to JFK, and hence do not transit Canada. You will go through CBP upon landing at JFK.
I went straight to the Cathay Pacific Lounge as I had about 3 hours before my flight departed. More on how I fell in love with their lounge here, but all I’ll say for now is Signature Noodle Bar – must visit.
Boarding time came too quickly so I went to my gate and approached the front of the line. As it usually happens, I was asked to go back to the end of the line as this was only for first and business. Before I could do my usual spiel, Tess (from check-in) saved her coworker from my rant and scanned me in. As I attempted to turn left after boarding, I was greeted by a flight attendant who wouldn’t move out of my way and simply pointed to the back of the plane. While I understand most people can’t tell what is left or right, up or down inside a plane, there are other ways to communicate directions that are less unprofessional.
After I got situated on my seat and took about a million pictures, I was offered champagne which I gladly accepted. I sat there for a very long time. Remember this flight is mostly filled with incoming Hong Kong passengers, and with limited tickets sold from Vancouver onward, boarding the very few passengers takes virtually no time. Just after the aircraft door was closed, a family of six was upgraded to business class, taking seven of the eight seats in the cabin. Four of them were kids under eight years of age so I thought I would have a hard time sleeping but they didn’t say a word all flight, so kudos to those parents.
I figured I’d start watching something as soon as we took off to kill some time while waiting for dinner service. I was kinda blown away by the wide selection of movies and shows available. Plenty of Asian and Indian options, as well as movies grouped by language. Of course also Hollywood movies galore and I even managed to find an Argentine movie that was funny enough.
I even found this gem, which taken out of context sounded incredibly funny:
I had declined to have
seconds thirds at the lounge in YVR so that I would have some room for the in-flight meal. Seeing as how tasty and well presented the food was in the ground I had very high expectations.
Big mistake. I was offered a pre-dinner beverage by three different flight attendants, and after I told the second and third I had already been taken care of, I naturally ended up with three glasses of tonic water that took twenty minutes to arrive. When I turned around to check if I was being attended to last, I noticed the family I was sharing the cabin with were all very fast asleep already.
Of the three options on the menu -pan fried cod, stir fried chicken, spinach paneer- I had originally decided to go with the fish since I don’t eat chicken and didn’t feel like spicy food. Cathay Pacific does not do individual tray service and instead they roll out a cart down the aisle with all the options. The cart was FULL. As in there must have been at least 16 dishes on the cart. Considering that there was a total of seven passengers, six of which were snoring and opting out of the service, I thought it would have been much less wasteful to ask for my preference before heating them all up.
I am glad they didn’t, though. The cod option looked the least appetizing of all, and since I don’t eat chicken I ended up getting the paneer. I have had better paneer but at that point I was hungry and disappointed – not a good mood for me. I didn’t manage to finish the dish as it was just not worth the calories and opted instead to fast track a cheese platter.
Another twenty minutes later I was given it. Three slices of quite uninteresting cheese, three crackers, five grapes and a dollop of hard quince paste. Underwhelming, but cheese is cheese. I also got a glass of Port wine that I had mentioned I would be interested in before the dinner service even started, so credit where credit is due.
At that point I just decided to go to bed, donned my face mask, popped a sleeping pill and got my Bose headphones on. After all, this is a very short transcon flight and I had a full day next morning.
I violently woke up about 45 minutes later by what I would then discover was an Evian water bottle smacking me in the face. I still had some service wares that hadn’t been picked up on my side table. From then on I tried going back to sleep, but the flight was really bumpy so I only managed to do it in small increments until the next round of bumps.
The seat is, however, very comfortable and roomy. I’m not a big or tall person, but I imagine someone much larger than myself would have fit perfectly on the seat. There’s plenty of storage space, considering there is a coat closet where the crew will hang your garments, as well as a storage bin under each armrest. A third bin is located next to your head, and this is where your headphones are stored, and where you can find your seat and entertainment controls.
Yes, the service was most definitely not the quality that I may have expected, especially after my expectations were heightened at the lounge. I would say, though, that even detached, unpolished business class service is in most cases still better than flying first class on a domestic carrier. I did get to sleep (albeit not a full night’s sleep) in a lie-flat seat that was very, very comfortable. I did get to experience a really interesting lounge with very good food options.
Also worth noting that the whole point of me going SEA-YVR-JFK-LGA-GRR was to avoid paying $750 to fly United and have the opportunity to try a different product. Considering this cost me 25,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles, plus an $80 Delta flight to GRR and a $30 Uber ride from JFK to LGA, this is still a win in my book.
So, would I do it again? I think so. This is still a dirt cheap mileage redemption for me. I enjoy being in airports and planes, so I’m not bothered with spending more time than with a crappy, more direct flight. I also know (hope?) service failures happen every now and then and that I may have just gotten unlucky with this one experience, so I would give Cathay Pacific another chance. I will try to book a first class ticket next time, to see how much better it gets when you’re five feet closer to the cockpit.
If you’re a millennial and prefer a more visual experience, you can check our Instagram story for Cathay Pacific here. Feel free to follow us for other similar stories coming up.