Cathay Pacific and British Airways are the airlines offering multiple direct flights daily between Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. Here we compare British Airways’ economy class to the more locally familiar Cathay one.
Schedule, Pricing and Booking
Cathay offers five flights daily to London Heathrow. It also offers four flights per week to each of London Gatwick and Manchester (reviewed here). They use the Boeing 777.
BA offers two flights daily to London Heathrow. Whereas Cathay’s flights are spread across the day, BA for some reason has both of its flights as overnight flights from Hong Kong, leaving and arriving within fifteen minutes of one another. Cathay thus offers a much wider range of timings. Typically one of the daily BA flights is a Boeing 777 and the other the larger Airbus A380.
Cathay’s pricing can be variable and unnecessarily complicated, but BA’s is horrendously difficult to understand. They break out the base “fare” from taxes and charges, but their charges tend to be very high. Thus what looks like a cheap fare in fact often ends up not being. It takes a lot of time to navigate this system and understand the real price of a BA flight. This alone is usually enough to put me off considering BA as an option.
In economy class there is not much to separate the two when it comes to ground service. Heathrow is a horrible airport to use but that’s true for both airlines, though Cathay uses terminal three which I personally find a bit more intimate and faster to navigate than terminal five. Some people prefer the shops in terminal five.
Seat and onboard comfort
Both airlines have decent but not excellent seat density, though Cathay is reportedly moving from nine to ten abreast seating on their 777s which will make them more crowded but BA is also shifting to ten abreast alas. I do find that BA tends to be emptier on this route in economy than Cathay, which is often full and thus can feel more crowded. Both have a mix of passengers British and Asian so for example you won’t avoid mainland passengers just by opting for BA. Neither airlines’ economy seats have good recline and neither are especially comfortable. I find the BA ones to feel especially boxy, with fixed armrests which seem to take a bit too much space. BA’s pillows are rubbish – tiny and ineffectual – and so I find it easier to sleep on a Cathay flight than a BA one.
That said, I have had more turbulence on Cathay flights on this route than BA ones. I am not sure if this is a coincidence, or because of a slightly different approach to flying. Both airlines have excellent safety records and last lost a passenger in the 1970s.
I find that even BA’s newer planes seem to be a bit grubby and show visible signs of wear more than Cathay’s.
Food and drink
Cathay’s long haul catering in economy is generally just okay. In this regard, BA has a slight edge. The main difference is that BA tries a bit harder with some parts of the meal, for example cheese and premium desserts in the dinner meal. Their breakfast tends to be very average. Secondly, BA has more variety. Their selection is a bit esoteric so it is not as simple as presuming that they will have British dishes, but they may for example have a curry as well as a Chinese dish.
Drinks service is okay not great on both carriers but BA’s relentless cutting is really starting to show. For example, on asking for a brandy on one recent flight, I was told that it cannot now be served to economy class passengers. BA’s wine has declined in quality and they now tend to serve the same Spanish wine flight after flight, though in general I still rate their economy wine option over Cathay’s.
Cathay offers inflight snacks and also instant noodles which are often popular with Asian passengers. BA no longer offers any free snacks between the main meals on its long haul flights, I was informed on a recent long haul flight with them. This is a big reduction in service and makes them less attractive to me than Cathay.
There are two different service styles and which you prefer may depend on where you are from and what language you speak. Cathay’s cabin crews are almost all Asian and speak good though not always great English. BA’s crews are mostly British, in recent years with some more Continental Europeans also. There are usually a couple of local crew on the flight, but apart from them none of the crew are likely to speak Cantonese well if at all.
The Cathay service is a bit more polished whereas the BA service style is more homely, and in my experience comes over as warmer. If you’re British you’ll feel quite at home with the BA style.
Both offer a good range of inflight entertainment across a variety of languages.
BA’s service cuts are really starting to show on their long haul flights and their pricing though sometimes highly competitive is so complicated that it’s often too much effort to work out. When Cathay offers decent pricing, which it doesn’t always, I’ll go for Cathay over BA every time.