TBT – A Retro Cathay First Trip Report (April 2002)

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In honor of my vacation starting tonight, I thought it would be fun to post a really retro trip report from Cathay First Class from April 2002 – it was my first US-HKG longhaul in first class (I had previously flown both business and coach on the transpacific routes).

The original… This was originally posted on FlyerTalk.com and the original makes lots of references to FlyerTalkers past and present.  I’ve made minor edits here for continuity here on the blog but if you want to read the original thread, here it is in all it’s retro glory

How do we know it’s retro?  DFW has a Flagship Lounge and an antiquated TrAAin but no Terminal D (yet).  AA served real food in domestic first class.  My friends could freely grab a boarding pass and come hang with me in the first class lounge!  

Why go read that one later?   The full trip report – which spans thousands of words and dozens of posts that detail my entire trip to Bali and back again – some true characters of the frequent flyer world make appearances, like the late B. Watson – and there are appearances of places that are now gone, like the Sari Club which was bombed by terrorists a few months after this trip.  It’s worth a read, if nothing else, because it was my first major trip report almost 13 years ago and a great early reveal of the writing style you still see here on Jetsetter’s Homestead.


Prelude
The “wrong” way to start the first day of your vacation is to work up until the time you go to the airport.

This I now know.

Then again, last night at 1 am, I was still logged onto FlyerTalk Chat (and doing contract review for work in a side window) with an empty vacation suitcase and a yet to be unpacked suitcase from when I’d arrived home from the latest biz trip 25 hours earlier. I somehow managed to pack quickly and get to bed by 3 am.

There really wasn’t much to it. Actually, I find it quite humorous, but I went out and bought a suitcase so large that I could crawl in it and zip it up. Quite a cumbersome thing, but I didn’t want to have to worry about over-shopping. Granted, I’ve been to Europe for a month with a suitcase HALF the size of this thing, but I figured if I was going to buy a gigantic suitcase, that I might as well do it right. Problem was, with the laptop and toiletries in the lime green mileage run backpack, I filled about a quarter of the suitcase. So the rest I filled up with 5 yards of bubble wrap, a roll of easy tear packing tape, and a collapsible 20” duffel bag.

Shopping problem solved (I hope!).

Work was tedious. I had about 20 hours of things to do before leaving and about six hours to do them. I was already mentally on vacation, so by noon, I grabbed my colleague (and sometimes partner in crime) and headed out for a cheesesteak and some fresh air. The energy boost worked and at 3:58, I got the “are you ready to leave yet?” IM and yes, I was. I headed home where she took care of making sure I had my essentials (sunglasses, keys) and home items resolved (lights off, door locked, rent paid – yes, taxes filed, dead dairy products tossed – no) before loading me in her car to hit the airport.

She dropped me curbside and went to find a parking spot while I got checked in at Terminal A. I haven’t checked an outbound bag in two years (and the last time I did, it got lost) so I was less than enthusiastic about doing it now. Of course, the polite but clueless gate agent informed me that my DFW-SFO flight was going to leave from Terminal C, and so I really SHOULD go over there to use their Admirals Club instead of the one at A. Uh huh, right. I’m thinking “Flagship Lounge”. Duh.

By this time, my colleague had found her way into the terminal and was standing against a wall watching me get my bags scanned. We headed through security – me with boarding pass, she with her newly arrived Admirals Club card (agent’s words to her – “so are you actually GOING to the Admirals Club today?”). Of course, I dinged the metal detector despite the minimal jewelry and non-steel shank shoes. Then I had to get my bags swabbed. After five minutes of watching the minimum wage security screener trying to offer my purse and laptop to every single person who walked through security while I was playing the “stand on one foot” game, I finally was allowed to walk on.

“Flag Ship L”

A quick walk down the concourse and we were soon in the inter sanctum that is the Flagship Lounge. I helped myself to a glass of Perrier-Jouet while my young colleague fixed herself a very non-white White Russian (um, I think there is supposed to be something in there besides Kaluha, dear!). We perused the food offerings – veggies, fruit, guacamole and chips, cheese and crackers, hot goodies (chicken kabobs, sausage, mini quiches, mini chimichangas, etc.) and, much to her delight, all-you-can-eat baklava.

We chilled out and watched CNN and gabbed for about an hour before it was time for me to catch the TrAAin over to Terminal C for my flight. I reminded my colleague that she is “in charge” for the week with our team while I’m gone (her primary responsibility being to keep me semi-informed, cover for me with clients, and put out small fires so I don’t have a coronary while on vacation) and bid her farewell.

Come on ride the TrAAin

The TrAAin was crowded today, and of course, the A to C route is the “long” way but I lacked the energy after three glasses of champagne to walk, so I chilled.

I’ve got some great TrAAin memories that go back to about when I was, oh, 18. We used to get beer and go ride around on the TrAAin to drink it. Yes, I’ve been an airplane geek for that long.

Actually, the truth is, we used to go out and goof off on the Hyatt Bear Creek golf course and the airport was our stopping point until midnight when the security guards quit the patrol on the golf course.  Ah, memories….

AA DFW-SFO on a 757 in F

This is the flight I’m supposed to be sleeping on. I’m not. I should have booked the boring MD-80 for that. Instead, I’m here and for once, AAtractions actually had a decent audio selection for the month. Channel 4 is all classic rock, so as we were taxiing, I was already knee-deep in novel #1 (I bought four for the trip, one of which I read in its entirety the other night LAS-DFW) and as we took off, I was listening to Supertramp.

I was a bit more than dismayed when from my perch in 6E the flight attendant informed me that I had a choice of “chicken, chicken, or chicken” for my meal. Um… what ever happened to “the odd kids sit at the back of the bus”? I thought of saying nothing but decided to ask “er, isn’t this an odd numbered flight” to which she responded by looking at her watch. Then she had a glint of recognition and turned beet red. She offered to ask the pilots if they would be interested in switching meals but I told her that all was okay – frankly this works out well as I munched in the FL and I really DO need to save room for the Cathay First flight later tonight. My seatmate also noticed that they had reversed order, so I’m glad I’m not the only one who is flying too much.

I settled in with a glass of sparkling wine (lower-end methode that sells for about $6.99 at Costco) and my warm nuts. I decided I ought to be sticking with one thing knowing I’ll end up desiring multiple glasses of Krug in a few short hours and continued listening to the audio (frankly, the audio beats yet another horrid Everybody Loves Raymond episode – I’m telling you, EVERYBODY does not) while the FAs began serving dinner off the cart, hand-tossed salads and all. And oh my gosh, the salads even had OLIVES (plural). The tray table linens are back. I’m telling you, I’m beginning to feel so pre-9/11. Now if I can just get the security guys to quit feeling me up! I’m beginning to think I’m on a trans-con, what with a great Doobie Brothers song playing (which reminds me to go to OMNI to add that great Steve Miller concert where the Doobies WITH Michael McDonald opened at Starplex to the best concerts list). I’m already starting to de-stress.

So in the interest of conserving SOME of my appetite (and hey, I already have a feeling I’m going to consume more food in the next twenty-four hours than I have ever have), I sat and picked the olives and tomatos and capers and artichoke hearts out of my salad while nibbling a perfectly warmed cheese roll. Yum. Steely Dan is rolling… and I’m feeling as mellow as one can get past security.

Of course, the leftover chicken entrée (although the FA offered to give me the pilot’s tortellini) was mediocre. This is, without a doubt God’s way of telling me to save room for later. (For you menu fiends out there, it was a small chicken breast cutlet with bbq sauce, a southern rice mix, and sautéed vegetables). By this time, I had switched over to Channel 2 where I caught the end of West Side Story before The Music Man began running.

By the time the dessert cart is making its way down the aisle, I’d switched back to Channel 4 and was jamming to Foghat (and really really wishing I had the DVD for Dazed and Confused with me). Dessert is a choice of fruit plates or sundaes (and I swear I saw pound cake on there when it was still at Row 2 or so). I selected a plain vanilla and hot fudge sundae and a Kaluha cordial, which I promptly topped onto my ice cream (all the while having flashbacks to those lovely sundaes my Mom would always serve me at dinner parties – ice cream with crème de menthe or her homemade kaluha so I would go right upstairs and sleep quietly). Oh, and AA, I do have to say… the open Cool Whip container on the top of the dessert cart is VERY tacky. I mean, I never really thought that whipped stuff in the glass was *really* whipped cream, but plueeeese… let’s not go tacky suburban middle America in F, okay?

My god, how many episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond can they run back to back? For the ever-loving last time, EVERYBODY DOES NOT LOVE RAYMOND!!! Even UA has an affiliation with a real network.

I tell you… I’m so picky about my inflight entertainment, audio in particular. The fact that AA is playing Van Halen is great. I haven’t enjoyed AAtractions this much since last September when they were running two hours of nothing but Prince, which I got no less than about twenty hours of listening pleasure out of. I mean, DL made its mark with me when they played the non-edited version of Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side, I recall fondly UA playing Pink Floyd, and CX really won me over by featuring a couple of back-to-back songs by The Beautiful South coupled with some obscure Lou Reed and old U2 on CXStudio. I’m already counting up how many 75, 76, and 77 flights I’ve got this month to figure out how much entertainment leverage I’ll get out of this.

After the meal service, I wandered up to the F galley and chatted with the flight attendants for a little while. They were a most entertaining crew.

It was nice to know that the first four hours of my twenty-four consecutive hours of flights could go by so pleasurably. Unfortunately, while I was supposed to catch some sleep, I did not. I’m now tasked with trying to keep myself up for another six hours or so so I can actually enjoy CX F.

SFO Lounge

Our flight got into SFO about 15 minutes early. Since I was meeting another FlyerTalk friend in SFO for lounge drinks, I went ahead and headed over to the International terminal to check in. While standing in the First Class check-in line, I noticed that my friend was standing at the Business Class check-in post so I waved and she came over to join me. I was completely surprised to find out that she had purchased a round-trip ticket to Hong Kong (as I certainly don’t know anyone would be such a good friend as to buy a ticket just to spend a couple of hours with a friend in a lounge!) and so we both checked in and headed to security with our priority security passes.

Of course, we didn’t need the priority passes – the security line was short. So we got through and I went and bought some desperately needed Lancome at the Duty-Free shop. We then headed to the JAL Sakura Lounge which CX utilizes at night – unfortunately, since all the *A Lounges are in the other terminal and no other OW lounges were available, this was our only option. The JAL lounge is very bland – nothing special. I wouldn’t hang out here by choice.

So now I’m sitting in the lounge with my friend enjoying a couple of drinks and waiting to catch the flight ‘round midnight. We just logged into FT Chat after I got, oh, FIVE IM messages that another friend from FlyerTalk Chatwas about to have me paged in the JAL lounge.

Cathay First – SFO-HKG

I’m somehow amazed that I was not at all tired when I boarded my CX flight around 11:15 Pacific. After all, it was past bedtime back in DFW and I had a rough week with less than the normal amount of sleep.

A general boarding call was made in the JAL lounge shortly after I bid farewell to my friend (can you believe she decided NOT to come to HKG with me after all?). The small lounge cleared quickly and we all headed downstairs for the F/J/Marco Polo boarding call.

A quick look around the 8 seat F cabin showed the nice couple traveling with their daughter sitting across from me in the remaining 1 seats (I was in 1K) and four other passengers in row 2 who had all been in the lounge as well. Within a few moments of settling in, I had been greeted by name by several of the FAs and the Cabin Service Manager and various goodies were handed out:

  • pajamas (lovely moss green knit ones that I have already decided to be more comfy than my favorite Nick and Noras)
  • slippers (cozy fuzzy charcoal slip-ons with a matching eye shade)
  • amenity kits (nice navy cosmetic bags for the females chock full of La Prairie facial products plus a brush, silver lipstick mirror, full-size toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, and ear plugs)
  • hot towels

I had a glass of Krug in my hand almost immediately along with some type of beef carparcio amuse that was handed out. I made myself quite busy playing with the audio/video controls (for an ADD traveler like me, that is what keeps me occupied trans-pac) since I had only been in F on a 340 once before.

We took off from SFO as slotted at 12:03 am and I quite enjoyed the clear view from my window as The Beatles “Here Comes the Sun” played on my audio system. As soon as we leveled off, I changed into my jammies and slippers and got cozy with the duvet and pillow that were handed out. Several others were already asleep, but I was busy fussing with the on-demand movie and CD selection. I was in quite the music mood, so I started working my way through the 100-plus CDs that were loaded.

Menus were passed out shortly after takeoff and drink orders. I must say that I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t get my next glass of Krug until about 30 minutes into flight. Nonetheless, the legendary CX service was otherwise intact and I felt suitably pampered.

I started out with the Oscietra Caviar and Fine Smoked Salmon with New Potatoes and Creme Fraiche. I received two pleasantly large mounds of caviar along with two thick salmon slices. Unfortunately the two tiny toast points were far to flimsy for the large caviar serving! (Never you fear, I ate it anyhow.)

My next course was the Mushroom Cream Soup garnished with Cheese Straws. The soup was delightfully good, particularly enhanced by the nice fresh mushrooms on top. The accompanying cheese straw, however, was bitter and horrid! I had trouble swallowing the one tiny bite I took. Thank goodness for a la carte service. If I had been truly hungry, I would have just gotten something else.

I was going to move onto an entree at this point, but decided I was tired and instead settled into sleep. About five hours later, my meltdown was averted and I awoke to a dark quiet cabin. I called up Oceans Eleven on the StudioCX system and started where I had left off earlier with a nice bowl of lobster congee with gigantic claw meat pieces. That was followed by a nice cheese and fruit plate and a nice glass of port to usher in the dateline crossing. One of the FAs went ahead and took my breakfast order for two hours prior to landing as well.

I quite enjoyed my snack and move and decided to settle back down for a bit more rest since we still had five hours to go. Alas, my body didn’t wish to cooperate, so I made good use of the CD collection (hmmm… Barbara Streisand’s version of New York State of Mind makes one want Billy Joel and OH LOOK, here he is. Great tunes? No problem!) Pink Floyd’s Echoes CD finally lulled me off to dreamland and I took the headphones off and put the earplugs into doze. I must have slept about 90 minutes when I was awoken by a tugging at my arm… one of the FAs was tucking in my video screen and trying to put the audio/video control back in the armrest. At this point, I gave up on napping and decided to watch Kate and Leopold.

Now, for those who spend their lives debating the merits of various F suite configurations, I must say that while the cabin was perfectly comfortable, I didn’t find it to be head and shoulders above any other F seat I’ve ever sat in. It was no Heavenly bed, it didn’t drop the cellulite from my thighs, and it didn’t levitate like a magic carpet. It was a seat. I did, however, like the 1-2-1 configuration and felt that I had an adequate amount of privacy throughout the flight. The storage along the side was a real plus in the 1 seats, too, as I’m one of those who rummages through my backpack no less than ten times on any given flight.

I saw none of the carts rumbling through cabins behavior (in fact, I saw nary a single cart in F the entire flight) and the curtains not only stayed closed and sealed the entire flight, but I didn’t notice any noise or light leaks. I did, however, smell breakfast cooking away about 20 minutes before they started the service!

Breakfast was lovely. I started mine with a fruit plate and glass of grapefruit juice that came accompanied by a bread basket with a croissant and a wheat roll. The wheat roll was dry, but the strawberry jam made it slightly better. This was followed by a bowl of Corn Flakes accompanied by a pot of Earl Grey tea. Finally, my main dim sum breakfast was brought out – four pieces, three of which were shrimp-based and one of which appeared to be sea weed. I polished all off and the FA offered to bring me another one which I selectively ate my three out of four favorites.

We landed in HKG on schedule with ABBA’s Dancing Queen playing on my headset, the sun barely rising over the island, and me daydreaming about starting my third day in The Wing.

you can dance, you can dance, having the time of your life… see that girl, watch that scene, digging the dancing queen….

The Wing

I managed to make it from my F Suite in 1K through the transit point and back to The Wing in five minutes flat. (I tell you, there is nothing like practice to make perfect!)

Once in the near-empty Wing, I paused for about five minutes to check e-mail. I decided that more trip reporting could wait until I was more fresh, so I headed to The Cabanas to clean up. An hour (and two showers and one bath later) I emerged refreshed and my hair was even dry. I also caught a quiet fifteen minutes on the back patio by the stream (quiet if you don’t mind listening to your neighbor zip up his toiletry case – yes, it IS that loud).

Rejuvenated, I headed in search of food. The buffet at The Haven looked to be a bit much for my appetite and I wanted to get Day Two posted, so I headed past The Long Bar and over to the coffee bar in the J class lounge. I grabbed a drink and a pastry and then headed back to “my” side of the lounge to play on the computer. I was awaiting Guy Betsy’s arrival at 9 am so we could catch the 10:05 to DPS. At 9:10, I decided to head out and almost ran smack into him walking in.

The Pier

Since I had not been through HKG since October, I had not yet seen the new CX lounge, so we decided to head towards our gate (71) and visit The Pier on the way. We didn’t have much time to stay, but we did a quick walk in through the F side and out the J side. I also got the opportunity to see one of the Day Rooms. Nice. I could almost be just as happy here as The Wing.

CX J – HKG to DPS

We took off in the Hong Kong rain for (hopefully) sunny Bali. I had a glass of champagne pre-departure and then settled back to relax. After flying with StudioCX, I was a bit disappointed to downgrade to basic audio/video (even if that still meant 20 audio and 12 video channels – call me spoiled!) Our video system malfunctioned throughout the flight – nothing earthshattering, but it would hiccup and require our attention to reset our seat monitor. Annoying and the cabin services manager was unable to fix the problem.

Meal service after departure took about 90 minutes and consisted of five courses. We started with a small plate of canapes (shrimp toast, salmon toast, beef pastry) with which I enjoyed another glass of champagne. We then had a wild field green salad with balsamic vinagrette and a salmon mousse with shrimp topping. I choose the beef filet with steamed rice from the cart for my entree (other choices were a chicken with black fungus or seafood curry). Our fourth course was cheese/fruit – a selection of three types of cheeses with crackers and various fruits. Dessert was a caramel apple tart with vanilla sauce.

During the meal, I watched Oceans Eleven again and then after the movie, I settled in to sleep for about two hours. When I awoke, we were landing in Denpasar.

About Jennifer Moody

Jennifer is a management consultant and avid volunteer. Her career and volunteer duty travels have helped her log top-tier airline and hotel status annually for the last eighteen years. In addition, she embraces the opportunity to maximize her vacation time by planning extracurricular trips that have taken her to over 60 countries and 47.5 US states. Although she averages 200 days a year on the road, she loves to return to “the homestead” in her native Fort Worth, Texas where she enjoys cooking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, wine, and cocktail mixology.

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