The time had come for our next adventure and it was starting, as all good adventures do, with a flight in Cathay Pacific first class, booked with my AAdvantage miles. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that flying Cathay First is an experience that will change everything you thought you knew about flying. It is so unlike everything that I have previously associated with the trans-Pacific flight experience, and in all the most delightful ways. Some people like flying, some people don’t mind it, but I have generally hated it for most of my life. This has not stopped me from flying a great deal, but all I had known of flying before my foray into travel hacking was suffering. And Cathay first removes the suffering and replaces it with caviar.
Cathay Pacific has only 6 suites in first class on their 777-300ER, making the experience quite special and ensuring that you get loads of attention. The suites are 36” wide, 81” long and there are no overhead bins, making the first class cabin feel much more spacious. The seat turns into a lay-flat bed which they make up with a mattress pad and down comforter so you can get some quality sleep after eating and drinking too much of their phenomenal food, wine and champagne.
But before we could get to our lovely flight on Cathay Pacific we first had to make it to our gateway city, which was Los Angeles. And the adventure started right away with an unusually incompetent US Airways check in agent. First she thought we couldn’t check our bags through to our destination. Then she couldn’t figure out how to through-check our bags to our destination. Then she thought we could only have 2 bags instead of the 3 allowed for first class passengers. Then she just started making up her own rules regarding immigration and eventually told me “sir, I can’t let you board the flight without a return ticket to the US.” Apparently, no one has ever left the US on a US Airways flight.
Long story short, it took a really long time to get past this check-in agent. But once we were allowed to pass, things proceeded much more smoothly. We boarded our flight without any further nit-wittery and were off on our first leg. We were flying first class on US Airways between Minneapolis and Phoenix, then connecting in Phoenix to Los Angeles.
The flights themselves were good. I ate my pasta dish, drank a beer and a glass of wine on my phoenix bound flight and it was pretty decent. They even gave us a warm chocolate chip cookie, which was yummy. We landed and found our gate for our flight to Los Angeles pretty quickly. The boarding process for the LA bound flight was more of a rugby scrum than anything else. As soon as the first class passengers were allowed to board the overhead-bin-dominators (you know the type, they stuff 4 bags into the overhead bin so that no else can fit any) in sight began rushing the boarding gate. I wished the gate agent had some sort of stick with which to beat back them back. “must…stuff…all…bags…into…overhead…bin” I could hear them chanting (not really). Sadly, she had no stick, so she resorted to shouting, which is less effective. This type of boarding procedure, let’s call it “the bum-rush” boarding method is quite common on all flights to and from New York City, Los Angeles and Miami.
First class on domestic carriers is something that I generally don’t care much about. The seat is a bit bigger, the service a bit better, but it’s pretty much that same mediocre airplane food that we used to whine about in coach, back when they served food in coach. And flight attendants for US legacy carriers are generally several times crabbier and less helpful than most international attendants, and first class doesn’t change that. The attendants do seem perhaps a little more amicable in first than in coach, but that could be due to the fact that they are only taking care of a small fraction of the number of passengers that they have to deal with in coach. Don’t get me wrong, there are flight attendants for US based carriers that are wonderful, they are just fewer and farther between than what I have experienced with international carriers.
But really I don’t use my miles to book domestic first class because I find that there really isn’t as much bang for the buck. The flights are shorter, so the suffering is less intense and considering the amazing experience that international first class provides, I just can’t see myself burning miles on the marginally better experience that is domestic first. Lay-flat bed, champagne and caviar all the way to Thailand or two trips to Cincinnati with a wider seat and a Heineken? If you chose the Heineken option, then you, my friend, are a good candidate for domestic first.
Speaking of domestic first, we landed safely at LAX and proceeded to grab a shuttle bus to our hotel. All of the flights from Minneapolis to Los Angeles arrived after the Cathay Pacific flight had already left for Hong Kong, thus we had to stay in LA for the evening to make the award flight in Cathay Pacific first work.
We were staying at the prestigious holiday inn express Hawthorne, which was relatively inexpensive and had both a free shuttle to the airport and free breakfast. It is located in a somewhat sketchy neighborhood between LAX and the Hawthorne regional airport. The room was clean and spacious and fine dining options in the direct vicinity included both McDonalds and Taco Bell. Considering that I wasn’t in the mood for Irish food, we went with Taco Bell. I will spare you my review of Taco Bell, but suffice to say I was happy to have food in my belly and to not get food poisoning.
The next morning we headed to LAX knowing that the food and the flying were about to take a turn for the better. Checking in with Cathay Pacific was smooth and the agent was both helpful and cheerful. Usually, first class passengers are treated to expedited security screening, as passengers in the front of the plane are accustomed to being treated as human beings, even at airports. But LAX is a special place and the usual rules do not apply. They did have a special set of lines for first and business class passengers. Sadly all these expedited lines emptied into a single line where they had only one security lane open. The first and business class passengers were clearly miffed by the pokiness of their security line and I thought that they might start shouting “I’m a job creator, let me through!” at any moment, but they opened up another lane and alleviated the congestion.
Once through security we headed straight for the lounge. The first class lounge is undergoing a renovation and so we were directed to the business class lounge instead. The Cathay Pacific business lounge at LAX is the best business lounge I have seen in the US. In my opinion, it is better than the British Airways first lounge at JFK and better than the American Flagship first lounge at JFK as well. The lounge is quite spacious and well designed and has a nice bar and some nice food as well. Showers, wifi, comfortable seating, good hot and cold food selections, espresso, several different seating areas with varying degrees of privacy, even toilets. It really has everything you would want in a lounge and also some fireplace of sorts that wasn’t on at the moment, but looked pretty cool none-the-less.
So we chilled in the lounge and ate some crispy bacon and fruit and taunted friends and loved ones with texted pictures of the swanky lounge while we drank our espressos. After consuming just the right amount of bacon and pineapple, it was time to head to the gate and board our flight to Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific first class. I was certainly looking forward to this flight. For starters, it was Emily’s and my 9 year wedding anniversary and the entire anniversary would be happening in Cathay first! Our first experience with Cathay first had been the year prior and was quite lovely. This experience turned out to be our best experience yet!
I mentioned before that I am generally not a big fan of flying, but Cathay first is really not like the flying that you have experienced. For starters, as soon as you board one or both of the 2 flight attendants assigned to the first class cabin (which has a maximum of 6 passengers) comes to greet you by name. “Hello Mr. Klukas, is there anything I can get for you while we board the flight? Perhaps some champagne?” Oh, hell, yes. Did I mention that when they offer this to you you are sitting in a seat that is 36” wide. Or that Emily and I comprise one third of maximum permitted passengers in the cabin. Or that the champagne is Krug Grand Cuvee. I’m not normally into champagne, but when the winemakers notes reveal that it has aromas of “marzipan” and “gingerbread”, how can I resist?
Next time on The Flying Mustache:
Do Eat The Caviar In First Class (Part Dos of Dos)
Hit me up with all your questions and comments!
If you’ve already got all the miles and just need some help finding space and booking the award, I have an award booking service that will get you all squared away. Find out more about it here.