Wealth Blog

I can fly - but bring your own mop: Cathay vs British Airways

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 April, 2013, 10:57am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 April, 2013, 1:25pm

It's not often you get the chance to compare Cathay Pacific and British Airways head to head, as it were. I have to admit that after years of being bossed about on planes by matronly BA air hostesses I have always preferred Cathay's gentler approach. Leg one - Hong Kong to London in business class went well. Late night flight, old coffin style business class seats, but at 1am who cares about food or movies. It's lights out, crash out, wake up in London. Pleasantly uneventful. Next leg of the much-anticipated round the world trip was London Heathrow to New York JFK on BA.

The flight itself was excellent. The BA business class seat super comfortable, the lights easy to direct and aircrew who could not do enough. The food was good with lots of choices. I had a When Harry Met Sally-type passenger next door, a picky vegetarian who had forgotten to notify in advance. They scoured every cabin to find meat free food for her and even then, she wanted it changed. They did it. They knew all about JFK immigration and dished out the right forms and advice. The plane was clean, the magazine rack stuffed with good reads, they offered water frequently. Could not fault them.

Last leg was Cathay Pacific from JFK back home to Hong Kong. Even though it was 16 hours, I was quite excited because it was the new business class seats, so a wonderful experience was anticipated. But oh dear, disappointment. As I boarded no one showed me to my seat, no one offered to take my coat, no one produced pre-flight drinks. Sure, it's not written in stone, but BA did all that. They even gave drinks to their ground staff.

A pre-take off trip to the business class loo came as a bit of a shock - it had not been cleaned. Paper towels spilled from the rubbish bin, the basin was wet, soap dispenser almost empty, and no hand or face cream supplied. The floor was wet and the loo not covered in the customary sheath of tissue paper. It was unexpected and frankly, took the shine off my enjoyment. It did not inspire confidence either.

CX831 from JFK to Hong Kong was not packed, but staff were obviously too busy to check little things like toilets. There was no customary visit from the in-flight services manager, though the captain did tell us she was lovely, which always sounds a bit patronising.

Along came lunch. Nothing spectacular - cod, chicken or beef, plus a vegetarian dish. The beef came with rosemary gravy and polenta. All perfectly fine. Afterwards I looked for a magazine but the rack was bare. No one toured with water. After a good sleep in those wonderful bed seats came dinner. Choices were chicken, beef or porcini lasagnas. The beef resembled the beef from lunch so I chose lasagna. Mistake. It was a stodgy lukewarm brick and the mushrooms gritty. I asked for something else. "You don't like it? Or is it totally inedible?" asked the steward sympathetically. I replied the latter and he came back with chicken. Two bites later deja vu kicked in - surely this is what I had eaten for lunch? Not exactly, but close. This was chicken and lunch had been beef, but the menu revealed both came with rosemary gravy and polenta and after a blast in the CX ovens, tasted remarkably similar.

Unimpressed, I asked the name of she who runs the show, the cabin services manager, fully expecting this would bring her scampering down the aisle. Not so. The steward returned bearing the name of the cabin services boss for the whole of Cathay. I repeated that I wanted to know who was in charge on this flight. After some time, the lady herself appeared card in hand: Ms Mellette De La Riva. Did I have a problem? Well yes, I replied, I felt disappointed, and listed the grubby toilet, lack of pre-takeoff drinks and magazines and dodgy meals, though I said I knew the actual food was not down to her. She looked mildly concerned, apologised and said she would "remind" the crew to check in future. She did not seem to consider that the buck stopped with her.

So, sorry Cathay, but BA wins this time. I had been looking forward to that flight.