I’ve just returned from one of my regular trips to the Philippines, and as (bad) luck would have it, I booked to fly there on Cathay-Dragon, transiting in Hong Kong.
It used to be that flying on the formerly-named Cathay Pacific was a pleasure. For many years it was voted one of the top airlines by Skytrax – the semi-official arbiter of customer service in the airline industry. In fact I well remember, when I was media relations manager at Heathrow Airport, posing with the crew of a newly opened Cathay cargo service, and we pulled out the red carpet treatment for them… That was 30 years ago!
But now? Now I shudder whenever I am obliged to fly with Cathay Dragon because of flight times or there is no other choice.
Take their notorious flight that is meant to leave at 0315 each day from Beijing to Hong Kong, for example. Three times I have taken this and each time it has been delayed by hours, meaning I have missed the connection on each and every occasion. The worst case was last summer when the fight was delayed by over 10 hours.
Trying to get any information out of their ground staff was all but impossible – they were more interested in getting a bit of shut-eye while the passengers got more and more irritable. When I finally managed to wake this chappie up, he told me that this particular flight had been late every day for the past five weeks!
Eventually a brave ground staff manager arranged for everyone to be taken to a hotel, but we all swore we’d never take that airline again.
But ‘never’ is a long time, and with the passing of time, memories fade.
And to be fair, sometimes Cathay, or Dragon, or whatever name they have plastered on the side of their aircraft that day, aren’t too bad.
But one thing that still drives me crazy is the amount of passenger announcements they make. Take the Beijing to Hong Kong route, for example. First they make an announcement in English. Then in Putonghua. Then in Cantonese. And as often as not they are about things you have absolutely no wish to know about. “Thank you for flying with us”. “We are happy to look after you”. “The name of the head stewardess is ###”. “Your first officer will be flying this sector tonight”. “We will be serving drinks later”. “We will be handing out charity donation envelopes”. “We have a range of duty free items for sale”. And on and on and on… and each time when everyone is trying to enjoy a film the video freezes while they make these awful announcements in triplicate.
And then as if that isn’t enough, when you select a film to watch there are six minutes (yes… you read that right…6 minutes) of advertisements to get through before you can even view the film. And if that film is not to your liking and you want to change to another you have another six minutes of ads thrown at you before you get into that one. Aghhhhhh
I’m not even going to start on the leg room you are allowed in this flying sardine can. Suffice it to say that if you know what’s good for you, you will ask for an aisle seat in order to be able to put your legs somewhere…
How about the food, I hear you asking. An award-winning airline such as this must have really great comestibles surely?
Well, if you are flying the HK to Manila route, then think again. On this 2½ hour segment you are presented with a paper bag inside of which is… a pastry filled with what looks like regurgitated chicken, together with a biscuit and a bottle of water. And that’s it. I’m not kidding. Probably better to starve and to have something when you land at the other end. (That's what many people seemed to be doing.)
On a prestigious route like HK to Beijing, things are very different. You have a choice of drinks (including red and white wine and beer) and a chow tray which even includes a tub of Haagen Dazs ice cream. OK so the pork looks (and tastes) like it came straight out of a can of Whiskas cat food; but I have tasted far worse than this on other airlines.
But oh dear. Your favourite blogger can never be satisfied. On this particular trip, when returning to Beijing, Cathay-Dragon managed to dig out an old A320 for our comfort. No entertainment system on board. Not even overhead TV monitors. Yes, there was an inflight mag listing all the films you could have seen if they had had the foresight to provide some means of watching them. But Nothing. Nada. Rien. Meiyou.
To quell the unhappy passengers, however, we were told that we could use our mobile devices throughout the entire flight; and everyone duly took out their phones and played Candy Crush, or watched downloaded videos or whatever other things they had secreted away on their mobiles. Which begs the question, why – if we are constantly told that it is dangerous to use electronic devices on planes – is it suddenly OK to use them on this dilapidated old jalopy which surely needs all the help it can get in reaching its destination in one piece?
But at least we had the constant stream of passenger announcements played over the loud speakers for our entertainment throughout the flight.