Impressions from China 2018

I'm back from my Chinese New Year trip, which brought me to Beijing and back in the luxurious surroundings of ANA First Class and Cathay Pacific First Class. Since it'll be a little while until I write the full trip report, I wanted to share my initial impressions from the trip.


Getting to Los Angeles

The trip started off badly. Since my ANA First Class flight was originating in Los Angeles, I had to fly from Toronto to LAX first on Air Canada business class. I misremembered my departure time, consequently arriving at a jam-packed Toronto Pearson a mere 50 minutes prior to departure.

After receiving an almighty lecture from the check-in agent, unceremoniously begging people in the US customs queue to let me squeeze past them, and sprinting the full length of the transborder terminal, I made it to Gate F32 just as they were announcing last call.

As I stood there panting and heaving, the gate agent remarked, "Let's get Mr. Zhang onboard to have a nap." Says it all, really.

The flight itself was decent and unremarkable. My seatmate was a flight attendant who's worked for Air Canada for over 12 years, which made for an interesting topic of conversation to pass the time.


The ANA Experience

Arriving at LAX, I took the inter-terminal walkway from Terminal 6 to Tom Bradley International Terminal. The walkway seemed to go on for miles and miles, but I did appreciate not having to exit the building and/or re-clear security in order to make my connection.

I boarded ANA First Class on Flight 105 and took my seat in 2K, the window seat in the second row of the First Class cabin. Six of the eight seats were occupied; Seat 2G, located opposite my suite, remained unoccupied and therefore was available for me to use as my bed.

For now I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, with more detailed thoughts and comments coming in the full article.

 ANA First Class seat

ANA First Class seat

The flight was spectacular, although the fact that it was an overnight flight meant that certain services were reduced (including the menu – I didn't get to sample the delightful multi-course Japanese menu that ANA First Class is known for). Oh well, that leaves something to look forward to for next time!

We touched down at a deserted Haneda Airport at 4:40am. At 5am sharp, I gained entry to the ANA Suite Lounge, after which I didn't see a single fellow passenger until about 8am.

 ANA Suite Lounge Tokyo Haneda

ANA Suite Lounge Tokyo Haneda

 ANA Suite Lounge Tokyo Haneda

ANA Suite Lounge Tokyo Haneda

So for about three hours, I had ANA's entire First Class lounge setup to myself, and I felt like I was living in my own private mansion with a full wait staff and kitchen (including an amazing bespoke Japanese noodle bar) at my beckoning. It was quite nice, to say the least.

After enjoying my very comfortable layover, I went to board my ANA business class flight to Beijing at 9:30am. Since I only got a minimal amount of sleep on the overnight First Class flight, I spent most of the three-hour flight to Beijing catching up on some rest.

 ANA business class cabin

ANA business class cabin

 ANA business class seat

ANA business class seat


A Busy Week in China

The primary purpose of this trip was to visit my family, and especially my ailing grandfather, whom I was very happy to see. I spent most of my week either at the hospital looking after grandpa, attending family get-togethers, and catching up with some friends.

Midweek, I spent a couple of days travelling to Zhejiang Province with my dad, who originally hails from there, to visit family as well.

Besides attending lunches and dinners with family members and being coerced into drinking far too much baijiu (Chinese rice alcohol), the only noteworthy thing I did was visiting Nanbei Lake, a peaceful and pretty local attraction a few hours away from Hangzhou.

 Nanbei Lake, Zhejiang Province

Nanbei Lake, Zhejiang Province

The last thing I should mention is that I was pleasantly surprised by how high-speed rail travel has taken China by storm. We took the 350 km/h train back from Shanghai to Beijing, completing the trip in four and a half hours. Along the way, we hurtled through major cities and provinces as though they were mere commuter stations. 

The technology has really proliferated throughout the country, and a comprehensive grid network has now emerged, offering efficient and affordable rail travel to the masses. Your move, Hyperloop One...


The Cathay Pacific Experience

Sunday was all about Cathay Pacific. My flight from Beijing was stuck in a holding pattern above Hong Kong International Airport for about an extra hour, which left me feeling quite annoyed, since I was very eager to explore Cathay’s First Class lounges.

Was the wait worth it, though? You bet it was. First stop was The Wing, whose star attractions are the famous "cabanas". In my opinion, these gigantic shower suites surpass even those in the Lufthansa First Class Terminal, since there’s a bathtub, a shower, a wall mirror, a desk, and a daybed for you to enjoy. As you can imagine, this dazzling setup left me awestruck, and I took my sweet time freshening up and making full use of the facilities. 

 Cathay Pacific The Wing First Class Lounge

Cathay Pacific The Wing First Class Lounge

 Cathay Pacific The Wing First Class Lounge

Cathay Pacific The Wing First Class Lounge

There’s also à la carte dining in The Wing, but the menu is much more extensive in the other First Class lounge, The Pier. The one thing to keep in mind is that these two lounges are situated in opposite ends of the airport, so you’ll want to allocate plenty of time before your flight if you want to savour them both.

 Cathay Pacific The Pier First Class Lounge

Cathay Pacific The Pier First Class Lounge

Known for its elegant interior decor, featuring warm oak tones and midcentury modern furniture, Cathay Pacific’s The Pier is one of the most relaxing places to spend time prior to a flight that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting across all my travels. The highlight here is the Dining Room, where you get to enjoy unlimited picks from a multi-course menu in a charming bistro-style setting.

 Cathay Pacific The Pier First Class Lounge

Cathay Pacific The Pier First Class Lounge

I sampled quite a few dishes from the menu, including the delicious stir-fried scallop bowl, but in hindsight I didn’t have nearly as much time in the lounge as I would’ve liked. Honestly, I could've spent eight to ten hours here and enjoyed every minute of it – such was the incredible warmth, comfort, and tranquility of the lounge.

For now though, stuff like the in-lounge foot massage would have to wait for next time, because it was time for the showpiece occasion: Cathay Pacific First Class, from Hong Kong to Boston.

Blocked at 15h50m, this is Cathay’s longest nonstop route, making it the ideal flight to get your money’s worth in First Class. Requiring only 70,000 Alaska miles per direction (with the option to extend as far as South Africa in business class), this redemption remains one of the most outstanding opportunities for travellers based in Canada and indeed the US as well.

 Cathay Pacific First Class seat

Cathay Pacific First Class seat

Once again, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves for now. There’s one thing I wanted to briefly touch upon, though, and that’s the importance of seat selection when you’re flying Cathay First.

You see, while most airlines have eight First Class suites per flight on widebody aircraft, Cathay only has six. With only one other passenger in the cabin, I opted to change my seat from the originally assigned 2A, right behind 1A where the other passenger was sitting, to 2K on the other side of the plane.

Since the “A” seats have their own aisle while the “D” and “K” seats share an aisle, that effectively gave me two-thirds of the entire First Class cabin to call my own. Flying at the front of the plane feels extra special when there aren’t many fellow passengers and you get lots of space to yourself, so I always advise “spreading out” as much as possible when that’s the case.

On the other hand, if you're travelling as a couple, there's no better choice than Seats 1A and 2A, since you effectively get your own mini-cabin all to yourself.


Conclusion

Over a span of ten days, I’ve managed to knock two First Class behemoths off my bucket list. I’ll have to give ANA First Class another try soon in order to attain the full gastronomic experience; I’ll have to do the same for Cathay Pacific because it was simply outstanding in every way, and I miss my seat already 😩

Incidentally, the trip is not over – what was supposed to be a routine early morning flight today from Boston to Toronto turned out to be a complete disaster. As I write this, I’m sitting in the United Club at Boston Logan Airport, where I’ve been stranded for the past four hours waiting for Air Canada to get their ducks in a row. You’ll hear more about this in due time, but for now I simply can’t wait to go home and sleep!