Cathay Pacific is set to begin daily non-stop flights to Chicago on September 1, its first new United States destination in almost 13 years. The service, which will be operated by Boeing 777-300ER aircraft (above), means Cathay can sell onward code-share connections from Chicago to numerous destinations across the US with its oneworld partner American Airlines. That carrier has come in for some criticism recently for its new boarding process, which loads economy-class passengers on board in the order they checked in, rather than by row number. The airline says the new arrangements will 'enhance the travel experience' for passengers, but the Association of Professional Flight Attendants calls them 'complete chaos in the cabin'. First-class passengers, uniformed military, business-class passengers and frequent-flier cardholders are all boarded before the economy-class melee ensues. Don't expect much in the way of Cathay-style comforts onboard your connecting flight, either, if you're flying economy. Food and alcoholic drinks are sold at five-star-hotel room-service prices (US$6 for a can of beer, for example) and don't even think about opening your duty free for a sly glug, as 'only alcoholic beverages served by a flight attendant may be consumed onboard'. Not surprisingly, Cathay Pacific gets a maximum five-star rating on the Skytrax airline ranking website (www.airlinequality.com) while American Airlines gets three stars, along with the national carriers of countries such as Mozambique, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea.
Upmarket cruise line Silversea has recruited a posse of minor-celebrity speakers to help relieve the tedium on a 115-day world cruise that starts from Florida on January 6 and arrives, via Asia, in Monaco on May 1. Best known to Hong Kong travellers is likely to be writer Bill Bryson, so it's just as well that he will be on board the Silver Whisper (above) for the Singapore-to-Shanghai leg of the trip, which is scheduled for March 3 to 14. From Shanghai the ship heads to Monaco via Bangkok and Dubai, taking 59 days, and tickets are priced from US$34,000 for the Singapore-to-Monaco voyage. The entire 115-day package starts from US$57,699. Visit www.silversea.com for more details and reservations.
Gone are the days when travellers could pick up a Trans-Siberian rail ticket from Beijing to Berlin from some shady back-room travel agent in Tsim Sha Tsui for HK$500, but the six-day journey, now more expensive than flying, seems to be as popular as ever. The best of several guidebooks on the market is the Trans-Siberian Handbook, to be published by Trailblazer in an eighth, fully revised edition this week. As well as practical information on the two Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian lines, this edition features the lesser-known BAM (Baikal-Amur Mainline) route. For those who would like to experience the chilly charms of Siberia more directly, Korean Air (www. koreanair.com) has launched twice-weekly flights between Seoul and Irkutsk, the largest city in Eastern Siberia and a popular base for visitors to Lake Baikal, a Unesco World Heritage site. Trans-Siberian Handbook, by Bryn Thomas, is available at a discount from Amazon.co.uk.
Deal of the week
Between now and August 25 you can buy two nights in Tokyo at the Hyatt Regency with economy-class flights on Cathay Pacific from HK$3,590 at Swire Travel. The hotel is fine, if a little out of the way, on the west side of Shinjuku, but the rooms at this price are just 24 square metres. Larger 'View Deluxe' rooms will be worth the extra HK$400 per package. These prices are per person twin-share, and extra nights are available for HK$2,190 per twin View Deluxe room, but if you book three nights in the smaller room you'll get a room upgrade to that category anyway. For reservations, call Swire Travel on 3151 8888, or visit www.swiretravel.com.