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After spending a solid 6 days in Beijing, pushing the limits of the 144-hour Chinese transit without visa (TWOV) available in the Chinese capital, my kids and I had to move on. Otherwise we’d be in a bit of hot water with the Chinese authorities. Luckily (okay…not luckily, it was well planned), I’d booked us a flight to Hong Kong flying Cathay Pacific 777 premium economy to the special administrative region (SAR).
I booked the flight as part of a business class award ticket using 50,000 Alaska miles and ~$70 in taxes and fees per person. The full itinerary was PEK-HKG-SFO. Using Alaska’s awesome award policy that allows a stopover on a one-way award, I was able to combine both our onward leg from Beijing and our return flight into a single ticket.
Even though Hong Kong is technically part of China, as a SAR, it does qualify as a valid onward destination for the purposes of TWOV. Handy to know. On the whole our experience using the TWOV in China went very smoothly.
Arriving at Beijing Capital Airport for our flight
We’d flown Delta 767 economy class into Terminal 2 of Beijing airport from Seattle (SEE: Delta 767 economy class review: Seattle to Beijing), so I didn’t have much of an idea what we were dealing with flying out of Terminal 3. I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to figure out the airport, pass through immigration, and not be rushed getting to our flight. We had issues checking in since the tickets didn’t include our middle names, and I didn’t want to risk missing the flight. I was also looking forward to potentially enjoying one of the Priority Pass lounges.
I opted for a taxi from the Renaissance Beijing Wangfujing. It turned out to only be 13 CNY (~$2) more than the metro plus airport express option. Totally worth it for both a faster trip (on a Sunday morning) and much less walking. We entered the gigantic Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital Airport.
We’d taken off a bit earlier than expected, and given the speediness of the drive to the airport, we had arrived a full 4 hours before our flight. The kids and I made our way to the Cathay Pacific check-in counter, where we encountered a problem: it wasn’t yet staffed. The Cathay desks next door were open, but the desk for flight 391 to Hong Kong was not. They are pretty specific with the signage.
It was a bummer to have to wait an hour, especially with kids. But it wasn’t the end of the world. I stayed with the bags and people watched while they wandered through some of the shops. Time ticked by slowly, but soon we were standing in line as the agents were getting ready.
One of the staff then proceeded to confirm not once, but twice that we were indeed flying premium economy and in the right line. I guess maybe most people with kids don’t fly in anything above coach? Sure, that’s usually our MO, but not when I have the miles to use for a better experience.
Check-in was quick once the agents were ready. No passport issues whatsoever. We made our way through the airport and off to immigration and security in Terminal 3E. I wondered if we’d have an hassle leaving, but aside from getting a few weird glances from the immigration agents, our passports were stamped and we were on our way. Definitely going to work this TWOV into future travel plans if I can, most likely to visit Shanghai. It took us 50 minutes from when the Cathay Pacific counter opened until we were through security and immigration.
Lounge and boarding our Cathay Pacific 777 premium economy flight
I opted to visit the Air China First Class Lounge before our flight (SEE: Air China First Class Lounge Beijing Airport Review). There are a few Priority Pass options at Beijing Capital Airport, but this one is close to the middle of Terminal 3E, making it easy to get to your flight. Our gate was less than a 5-minute walk away. Compared to domestic lounges, the lounge is very nice. It has plenty of seating, decent food, and a great view of the airport. Flying a Cathay Pacific 777 premium economy ticket does not entitle you to lounge access.
We made our way to the gate right at boarding time. One problem became instantly clear: our Boeing 777-300ER was nowhere to be seen. There were no gate announcements, either. The staff had either made them before we arrived, or the delay wasn’t going to be long enough to really matter much.
Our aircraft arrived at the gate within 15 minutes. People still had to deplane, obviously, but at least it was here. It would have been nice to know that we could have stayed in the lounge at least another half hour. While we waited, the gate staff confirmed again that we were indeed in premium economy. Twice. Trust me, I know which line to get into.
Boarding ended up starting about 45 minutes late, which wasn’t too terrible. I’d heard about the significant delays that are sometimes experienced traveling into, out of, or through Beijing, so I guess we were pretty lucky. The kids were excited to be heading down the jetway again. I was as well. This was my first time both flying a Boeing 777-300ER and flying a true premium economy product.
In some ways I was glad that there weren’t business class seats on this segment of the itinerary. It was a fairly short daytime flight that really didn’t make flying business class all that necessary (if you can call flying business class a necessity), and it let me experience a second product.
Cathay Pacific 777 premium economy class seat
The Cathay Pacific 777 premium economy cabin is laid out in a 2-4-2 arrangement. It is fairly small, with only 34 seats. The aircraft flying CX391 that day was a four-class 777-300ER. I’m not sure if this is normal. It seems like overkill to me to have a first class cabin for a flight of only a few hours. The premium economy cabin was only about half full.
I had us booked in seats 33A, 33C and 33D. The kids were in a pair of seats near the window and I was across the aisle. It was a similar configuration to how we flew on a Delta 767 from Seattle to Beijing. I was less than thrilled with how this turned out on our previous flight, mainly because it was hard to hear the kids when they needed something. Hopefully this would be better. What will they think when we fly business class home from Hong Kong at all reverse-herringbone window seats??
The Cathay Pacific 777 premium economy seat is comfortable, definitely a step up from main cabin. The seats are still not especially wide, but 8-across is certainly better than 9-across. I lucked out and had two empty seats next to me. The armrests between all but the center seats are solid and immovable.
The premium economy seats have a good amount of pitch, six more inches than the 32 inches offered in the economy class cabin, to be exact. At only 5’10”, I can comfortably fit in almost any economy seat already, so this was excellent.
At each seat was a pair of headphones wrapped in plastic. The in-flight magazine was also wrapped in plastic, something I’ve never seen before. It’s never occurred to me to keep the magazine more sanitary. I guess I’m okay sharing the ones on U.S. flights with dozens of other people.
The in flight entertainment system could either be controlled as a touchscreen or controlled with the controller provided under the armrest. It’s always bugged me that planes install touch screens, mainly because it can be annoying to the person in front if the person behind them is rough with it.
The IFE screen is about 10 inches in size. The selection of western cinema was more than enough for a short-haul trip like ours from Beijing to Hong Kong. Cathay Pacific offers a number of good kid films, including several from Pixar studios. There were some action flicks as well, including the very recent The Meg, which I ended up watching. The meh would have been a much better name.
There is also at-seat power and a USB port as well for keeping your devices charged. Glad I’d overpaid for the new charger since I ended up leaving the one I’d brought at the hotel our first night (SEE: Hilton Beijing Review).
The best features of the Cathay Pacific 777 premium economy seat are how much it reclines and that it has a footrest. The footrest comes down from the seat in front of you. It makes sleeping so much more comfortable. I reclined substantially, but not all the way. There was a guy behind me, and given the amount of reline I saw on a seat across the aisle in front of me, I figured he’d be a bit annoyed if I did.
For their part, the kids were excited to have a bit more space and comfort for the trip. I told them not to get used to it. 🙂
Overall, it’s a great seat. I’d be very happy flying this product on a long-haul flight across the Pacific between the U.S. and Hong Kong.
Cathay Pacific 777 premium economy service
The first thing offered by the flight attendants before we’d even departed were blankets and Hong Kong arrival cards. Meal service started about 30 minutes into the flight.
From what I could tell, the service in the premium economy cabin did not appreciably differ than what is offered in the main cabin. I don’t know if this is normal, or if this is a feature of short-haul premium economy versus long-haul premium economy. Service started a little over half an hour into the flight. Like on the Delta flight, I couldn’t communicate with my kids with the cart in the way, so I trusted that they’d ask any questions to the flight attendant about the food offered.
The beverage selections were pretty normal: soft drinks, coffee, tea, and a red or white wine. Flying always excites the kids, as it is one of the fairly rare times they get to drink soda.
The food was fairly good. I went with the pork and rice option. My daughter went with the other option, which was penne pasta with salmon. She finished it quickly, which is rare. The kids are generally slow eaters. I liked the pork while my son didn’t care for it very much. But take his opinion with a grain of salt. 🙂
The accompaniments included fruit, ice cream and a roll. Following lunch there was a tea and coffee service about half an hour later. I settled in to watch a movie, which barely won out over trying to take a nap.
One of the only issues that stood out to me from our Cathay Pacific 777 premium economy flight is the lavatory. It’s not because it is extra-small as on an AA 737MAX. The lav is a standard size and the cabin crew were attentive and kept it very clean.
The issue is getting to the lavatory. There is one lavatory for the premium economy cabin, and it is located on the right side of the aircraft. To get to it from the left side, you have to cross in front of the middle row of seats at the front of the cabin, which could be bothersome to travelers in those seats. Alternatively, you can walk back into the economy cabin to use their lav. There is no other good route, as the galley in business class is between the forward “mini-cabin” and the aft business cabin, so it doesn’t provide an easy route to the lav.
We touched down in Hong Kong at 5:22, not so far behind the scheduled arrival time after all. It seems Cathay budgets for delays on their Beijing route. The sun was just about to set as we made our way down the jetway and toward immigration.
On the whole, Cathay Pacific 777 premium economy class is a solid product. The seats are very comfortable, with sufficient recline to allow for a decent sleep. I didn’t even max mine out. The leg and foot rests really make a remarkable difference. This is about the perfect level of comfort for a long-haul flight, in my opinion. I just wish the price point was a bit better, although Cathay Pacific’s premium economy does go on sale now and then.
The service and food in Cathay Pacific 777 premium economy are decent as well, and I would happily fly this product again in a heartbeat. The kids enjoyed it, too, and it might be the most economical way to cross the Pacific in terms of miles, as it only requires 35,000 Alaska miles from the U.S. to Asia.