My name is Dan, and I am a friend and avid follower of the “asthejoeflies” blog. As one of Joe-sensei’s top protégés in the points and miles game, Joe has allowed me to contribute a guest post regarding my trans-pacific escapades this summer. (Ed. note: Daniel-san is also the producer of the Saverocity Observation Deck and a legendary Hearthstone player).
My wife and I are based out of Boston and we traveled to Taiwan this summer for a family reunion on my side of the family. We did a similar trip in 2012 in economy class and we knew the trip would be a grueling affair so we decided early on that we wanted to ease the pains of travel by flying business class on the long haul trans-pacific flights. Through Joe’s blog and guidance, I was able to accrue the miles and book business class flights going to Taiwan via Asiana’s A380 JFK-ICN “smartium” product and return on Cathay Pacific’s HKG-BOS business class.
I won’t go into much detail in how I obtained the tickets since Joe already blogged about how I found the Asiana A380 tickets and has blogged extensively on searching and booking Cathay Pacific seats. Instead, I will combine the two trip reports into a NINJA BATTLE OF EASTERN CARRIER BUSINESS CLASS! (Ed. Note: Dan has read like 5,000 volumes of Naruto over the past three weeks so bear with him).
*note – I did have an opportunity to upgrade to first class on Cathay as award space opened up last minute, however for the sake a science (and a bit of laziness on my part) I decided to not upgrade so I would have a fair comparison of trans-pacific business class on 2 Asian airlines. (Ed. Note: Moron.)
Asiana is a Korean airline and Star Alliance partner. In terms of passengers carried annually, they rank 21st in Asia behind their larger sibling Korean Air (rank 13). As of spring 2015, Asiana started a new daily route from JFK to ICN on their newly acquired double decker Airbus A380.
On our outbound flight, we took a short commuter flight from BOS-JFK, departed JFK around 1PM on the Asiana flight (~14 hours) and landing in Seoul around 4:30PM and finally arrived in Taipei on a 2 hour connecting flight from ICN to TPE.
Cathay is a Hong Kong airline and part of the One World alliance. Cathay Airlines is ranked 10th in Asia in terms of passengers carried. As of spring 2015, Cathay started a new route between HKG-BOS running 4 times a week.
We flew separately on our return flight (since my wife wanted to stop by EWR to see her family). Since Cathay flies direct to Boston, it saved me a connection so I was able to fly from TPE-HKG (2 hours) and connect to my HKG-BOS flight (15.5 hours).
Ninja Village (lounge):
Asiana shares a lounge with Swiss Air at JFK. We felt the Swiss lounge in Terminal 4 on a whole was quite average. The food selection was limited with only a few simple pastries and fruit available (I don’t think the food bar changes all day as it was still the same when we left around 12:30pm). There was a “quiet” room but my wife said the walls didn’t really block out the noise of the rest of the airport, and guests within the room didn’t respect the “quiet.” While small, the lounge never felt crowded but we did have to share with guests who had crashed the lounge without boarding passes.
Unfortunately we didn’t have an opportunity to check out the Asiana lounges in Seoul so we hope to do so sometime in the future.
On the other hand, on it’s own home turf, Cathay has 5 separate lounges available for business class customers (and 2 separate locations for first class). I spent my time at “The Wing” which is considered the flagship Cathay lounge. While fairly busy at 4PM in the afternoon, I had no problem finding a spot to sit next to a window and enjoy an array of dim-sum treats and other snacks. I wasn’t very hungry at the time, but if I were hungrier, there was a noodle bar on the level above as well as a well stocked buffet with both western and eastern hot and cold food options.
The showers were very clean and modern (and it seemed like they were seldom used). I was able freshen up before my long flight (that Taiwan humidity really sticks to you).
Weapons of Choice (flight equipment and seats):
Before this trip, I had never flown on an Airbus A380. When I saw availability for this option as a means to get to Taiwan, it was a no-brainer for me to book the flight even if it meant an extra layover. As a child I always enjoyed hunting for 747s on the airport tarmacs, and it just seemed too cool to be able to fly in one of the largest commercial jets.
Asiana’s business class product is branded as “Smartium” which is unique for it’s staggered 1-2-1 layout. Every other set of 2 middle seats are either staggered very far apart, or very close together. Window seats are also either staggered right next to the aisle, or right next to the window.
Flying as a couple, the 2 middle seats very close to one another worked out very nicely as we were able to converse privately and stay in close proximity throughout the flight.
However, I can easily imagine the 2 middle seats being very un-smartium if you had to share the space with a stranger or even more awkward– boss. While there is a semi-barrier between the seats, if both seats are in lay-flat mode it doesn’t block one’s legs from accidentally kicking out onto the other persons “bed” area (not saying that did or didn’t happen to us).
And while the screens are slightly angled towards your seat, there is no privacy of what you are watching and the brightness could still disturb your
In terms of comfort of the seats, being an average 5’10”, I found the seat length in lay flat mode JUST long enough. I could imagine anyone 6′ or taller having to bend their knees or some other part of their body in order to fit. My size 10.5 feet were slightly too large to leave sticking straight up while laying on my back, but some creative feet angling solved that issue. The cushioning was very comfortable though, and I could barely feel the seams between seat sections when flat. The duvets were both light and warm with some sort of soft down filling.
One big negative about our seats was the lack of any storage space for personal belongings. For our seats, this cubby under the armrest was the only official storage space. Seats next to windows had storage compartments available between the seat and the window.
Riding on the upper deck of an A380 for the most part felt like flying on any other normal aircraft. I’m not sure if the following observations were just perceived or reality.
- Turbulence felt more dampened on the larger aircraft (or maybe we just had calm flight)
- More head space? The cabin felt very roomy
- Quieter? Or maybe we were just further away from the 4 roaring engines
There were some concrete benefits of being on an A380 coming in the form of more common space.
Cathay Pacific flies the Boeing 777-300ER on its HKG-BOS route.
The seat layout is symmetrical and identical for every row with each seat having “direct aisle access.” The biggest difference to note is that the middle seats can have some semblance of privacy. Couple’s flying together may opt to sit across an aisle though if they want to be able to talk to one another during the flight.
In lay flat mode, the seat was pretty close in length to the Asiana seat. However, because I wasn’t sticking my feet in as confined of a cubby as I did in the Asiana seat, I do feel like the Cathay seat suited taller passengers better. My very average 10.5 sized feet also had no trouble fitting in whatever orientation they wished.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to capture too many other pictures, but there was ample storage space in a closet next to the table, and even a little closet for your shoes next to the aisle (I didn’t find it until after we had landed). I did find that the seat was slightly more uncomfortable than the Asiana seats as for some reason the seats felt like they slightly extended beyond a 180 lay flat angle and I could distinctly feel the seams between seat sections.
Coming Soon, Part 2: Fighting Styles (food and service) and Showdown conclusion!