The Boeing 747 is one of the most iconic aircraft in the world. The defining symbol of the jet area, the first aircraft to make far flung travel possible for the masses. Without the 747 the world would seem like a far more disparate and alien place.
However, as new technologies are introduced, airlines are phasing out the Queen of the Skies and replacing her with the more capacious A380 or the longer range Dreamliner. Whilst a newer model of the 747 was recently launched (the 747-800i) the uptake has been distinctly anaemic; it is a sad truth that nowadays walking upstairs to an intimate upper deck or ensconcing oneself in the nose of the plane, with windows giving a view that almost looks forwards, is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Despite being originally scheduled on an A330 to Surabaya, fate (a volcanic eruption) conspired to give me one last opportunity to fly on a Cathay 747, before the aircraft’s ultimate removal from the fleet – in October of 2016.
My previous three encounters with this plane had all been in the first class cabin:
October 2015 HND-HKG B747 (take 2)
October 2015 HND-HKG B747 (take 1)
April 2014 HKG-HND B747
This flight didn’t have a first class cabin for sale, however the First Class seats were available for selection by passengers in business class, provided that they held OneWorld Emerald status. Quite a few airlines do this, in fact I was able to secure an F seat on a J flight on Asiana, a few years ago:
February 2014 NRT-ICN B744
In circumstances such as this you theoretically just get the F seat with business class food and service. In practice though the service can’t help but be better when you are sat in a smaller, more private cabin with less passengers to serve.
Nonetheless, at the time of this flight I only held OneWorld Sapphire status and was therefore unable to secure an F seat 🙁 The upside was that I would finally get to try the upper deck of the CX 747 and experience the famed ‘coffin class’ seats for myself.
Cathay frequent fliers always have a lot to say about the airline’s product and the fixed shell seats and coffin style herringbones seats are two of the most widely derided products. I really wanted to see if these seats were as bad as people claimed…
The Queen of the Skies
I’m far more used to the grand staircases of an A380, which are more akin to the stairs you’d find on a cruise ship. Heading up these narrow stairs felt way more exciting, like heading up the step ladder to my secret treehouse 😀
We were very warmly greeted by the crew as we stepped out of the darkness and into the bright expanse of the beautiful upper deck.
My only other upper deck experience was on BA, where there are significantly fewer seats and a far more exclusive feel to the cabin. However, with only 15 minutes until our scheduled departure time, it dawned on us that we were not going to be sharing this cabin with a huge number of people.
The door was open and I couldn’t resist having a peek into the cockpit 🙂
One of the members of the cabin crew saw me taking pics and asked if I’d like to have my picture taken. She told me that the crew were really excited too as they hadn’t been expecting the 747 on this route and for most of them, this would also be their last flight on this amazing aircraft.
I chose seat 81A, the furthest forward on the left hand side of the plane. This seat comes with extra counter space and on this occasion, a rather impressive Christmas wreath.
The view from seat 81A
Having flown herringbone seats on VS before, I thought I knew what to expect: a cramped space with limited storage and no window views. I was pleasantly surprised however and preferred the high walls on CX, which really added to the feeling of privacy. The shoulder space is much better on CX too as the seat shell sweeps out giving you extra room to manoeuvre.
Power ports and a moveable lamp: two big improvements over VS. I hate the VS lamp, its sole purpose seems to be to knock drinks over.
Studio CX is one of my favourite IFE systems. Tons of choice and no thoughtless censorship of content. The screen was not HD but the controls had clearly been refreshed and the interface moved very quickly.
Not the best headphones but they do the job I guess.
After settling into our seats we were offered menus and pre-departure beverages. I went with a glass of Billecart Salmon, a fantastic offering for business class – also found on CX’s alliance partner Qatar. This was served with a ramekin of warm cashews and almonds.
Plenty of shoulder space and I also really like how there is a fixed table near the aisle and another closer to me, on the left.
As we began to push back, I sat up and looked around to confirm that Kamara and I had the cabin almost entirely to ourselves! There was only one other passenger and he was all the way at the other end of the cabin.
I was actually feeling pretty full and didn’t want to eat too much after having quite a bit of dim sum in the lounge. Still, leafing through the menu I found the starter hard to resist 😀
The smoked salmon was very reminiscent of the Balik fillet that used to come with the caviar service in F. Very tender, thickly cut and devoid of any imperfections. The scallop was very well grilled and retained an amazing sweetness. The asparagus were similarly cooked to perfection. I said that I didn’t need the bread but the FAs insisted, they were already visibly shocked when I said that I didn’t want a main course. Insisting further on not having bread would have been a step too far 🙂
For dessert I went with a simple fruit platter… and a top up of the Billy 😉
After lunch, with the cabin to ourselves, we did what any of you would do. We took tons of pictures to make sure that we could capture this amazing flight forever.
Kamara being demure and elegant.
Me? Not so much.
One of my favourite airplane cabin pics ever.
As we took our pics we got chatting with the crew and they made sure we were constantly topped up. They said that the pilots had spotted us taking pics via their camera and apparently they thought it was hilarious. Apparently the captain had said that he would be happy for us to sit in F if we liked, seeing as we were clearly such AVGeeks. I thanked the crew but said that we didn’t want to cramp anybody’s style downstairs plus we were just going to have a quick nap now anyway.
The crew quickly made our beds and we settled down for a post lunch sleep. The bed didn’t have a mattress topper and the bedding was quite thin, on the upside though your feet are unobstructed in this design and your head is really far away from the aisle…plus I did have approximately fifty pillows.
After an hour or so I woke up to find Kamara still completely passed out. Seeing that I was awake, the cabin manager came over and asked if I would mind taking a few pics of the crew, seeing as I liked taking pictures so much. I told her I’d be happy to and five minutes later she assembled the whole crew on the stairs for our ‘photo shoot’.
I love the contrast between the dark and quiet upstairs with all of the bright light and smiling faces downstairs.
Getting everybody in with the GoPro
OK, absolutely everybody now!
A final, higher quality shot of the amazing crew.
After taking these pics I headed back upstairs and saw that Kamara had just woken up. I showed her the pics and she squealed in delight, “I can’t believe you took these pics!”
A few minutes later the announcement came over the PA , telling the crew to prepare for landing. A few of the crew came by to thank us for flying with Cathay and to wish us a wonderful holiday in Bali.
This was one of the best flights ever.
Obviously it was a great to be able to switch to a last minute direct flight to Bali but having a second chance to say my final goodbye to Cathay’s 747 was a massive surprise and something that I never dreamed would happen.
The crew were excited to be there, I was excited to be there and everything just fell into place. The service was spectacular throughout and it was great to have so many interesting conversations with a group of people who seemed to care so deeply about their jobs.
For the record, the coffin class seats weren’t too bad either, definitely an improvement on VS’s similar seats. I’m glad I had a chance to experience them on the upper deck after all.