What’s it like to fly on the first flight of a route an airline just opens up? I was about to find out on this trip since I was lucky enough that my cheap Hong Kong fare coincided with America Airlines’ first flight from LA to Hong Kong.
Cathay Pacific 889
JFK-YVR, Business Class
September 4, 2016
But first, a little diversion to Cathay Pacific. When I was originally planning this trip, it had only included New York (to see Hamilton and the US Open) and Vancouver (because I just love the city). To get from New York to Vancouver I used 25,000 of my American Airlines miles to fly business class on Cathay Pacific. While I have flown first and business class a few times, I’ve never done it on a non-US airline so I decided that I could splurge a little and give it a try. Rarely does a non-US, Canadian, or Mexican airline flight across North America, but Cathay Pacific does on this specific route to pick up passengers in New York and Vancouver on they way to Hong Kong.
I cleared security a few minutes before boarding started (50 minutes before departure time) and by the time I got to the gate they were already boarding economy. Since I had no time to spare, I just boarded my flight, forgoing my usual ritual of a latte or hot chocolate.
Once I was seated the flight attendants immediately offered me a choice of cranberry juice, orange juice, or water. I sipped on some water and then drank some cranberry juice on their second round of pre-departure beverage service. As boarding ended and the doors were about to close, I was given the menu for the flight, which you can see above.
Since it’s just a transcontinental flight, they only have one meal service, which is fine given that this flight is also a red eye flight as well. The starter of mixed salad with balsamic vinnaigrette was decent. The greens were fresh and the dressing was pretty standard, so I would call it a nice, run of the meal salad you would find as a salad starter at a decent chain restaurant.
For the entree I got the stir fried beef and sesame seeds with pak choy, carrot, and jasmine rice. The food was delicious. The soy based stir fry sauce flavored the slices of beef well without being too overpowering or gloppy. The vegetables were thinly sliced and pretty fresh. The rice was fluffy and perfectly cooked. This was, by far, the best airline meal I’ve ever had, which admittedly is a fairly low bar these days. I guess I would say that I have found decent mid-range Chinese restaurants that do a poorer job than Cathay Pacific’s business class catering.
As for dessert, I got the cheese plate, which had a few small wedges of chese, grapes, and crackers. It was pretty decent and certainly a nice change for the pints of sugared up ice cream that is ubiquitous on trans-oceanic economy class flights. In addition to my many cups of Hong Kong Milk tea, I got Cathay Pacific’s “signature drink” mocktail, the Oriental Breeze, which is a mix of plum tea, cranberry juice, honey, and fresh lemon juice with a small dried rosebud as a garnish. It was pretty refreshing and not overly sweet.
American Airlines 193
LAX-HKG, Economy Class
September 7, 2016
Now back to my post about the inaugural flight. I arrived at LAX from SFO around 8:30, hours before my scheduled 1:55AM departure. After grabbing dinner and catching up on email at the Admirals Lounge, I headed over to the gate around 12AM as the festivities were beginning.
I had high hopes for the festivities given that dim sum was served at the festivities of the inaugural DFW-HKG flight. At LAX there were the requisite lion dancers, a speech, and a ribbon cutting ceremony. Sadly there wasn’t any dim sum, but American Airlines did do some pastry catering from Kee Wah. There were “pineapple” buns, red bean buns, and egg tarts. I zoomed in on the egg custard tarts, which had a nice egg-rich filling and flakier crust that typifies a Kee Wah egg custard tart. They also gave out tiny mooncakes, given that the Mid-Autumn Festival was a little over a week away. I snagged one lotus seed paste and one red bean paste one. When I tasted both the weekend after the Mid-Autumn festival, both were decent but not anywhere near the quality of the lotus seed paste ones I had bought in Hong Kong.
Once we boarded the flight we were given menus which you can see below:
During the first meal course I opted for the seared shrimp with Shanghai noodles. To put it mildly, they were absolutely dreadful. It was like eating the chow mien at a shady Chinese buffet as they are about to close. The most distinctive flavors were oil cooked too long and the freezer burn of frozen shrimp.
The second meal service was a little bit better. The ratatouille stromboli was like an oversized, decent empanada with a nice tomato stew filling. The gelato was great too and I liked it even better than the mini cups of Haagen Dazs that are so ubiquitous on other long haul flights I have flown.
The third meal service was pretty decent too. I chose the Chinese dim sum with fried egg noodles. While I wouldn’t say that the dim sum or noodles were great, they were decent for economy class airline food, about as good as dim sum and noodles would be at a cheap takeout place in San Francisco, Oakland, or New York’s Chinatowns.
What I liked the most, however, was that American Airlines’ Hong Kong routes serve Hong Kong milk tea in economy on their flights (unlike Cathay Pacific). While my first cup was a bit rough given that this senior White flight attendant had no experience making milk tea (the tea was too weak and there was too little condensed milk), the cups were progressively better as the flight went on. Though the food on American Airlines isn’t quite impressive (even compared to Cathay Pacific economy), I do love unlimited cups of Hong Kong milk tea.
All in all, it looks like airline food is getting a little better. On my return flight I got a perfectly done fish dish, which was volumes better than the Shanghai noodles. Props to both Cathay Pacific and American Airlines for overall good flights with decent food. Airline food certainly is not as down in the doldrums as it was a decade or two ago.