Given the number of HK residents who have cause to visit parts of Britain outside London, air links have not been very good. Typically to get to a city such as Glasgow or Manchester, the option is either to fly with one of the big Middle Eastern carriers which have good regional reach in the U.K., or else fly to London and change there. That can be frustrating, as transiting Heathrow and waiting for a connecting flight is an unpleasant and time consuming process. So it was a welcome move when Cathay introduced direct service from HK to Manchester at the end of 2014. They have recently supported it with rather a charming print ad campaign in HK showing a London tube map style map which includes British attractions outside the capital.
They don’t have anywhere nearly as good a frequency as to London, with service in each direction only four times a week. Still, for a trip to the North of England as I was due to make recently, it is a much more attractive option than an indirect flight.
I bought the ticket a few days before travel and while availability was fine, pricing was steep. The cheapest I could find on Cathay’s website was around $14,000. I was able to take the same flight originating in Bkk for $10,500. I decided to do that as I was happy to visit Bangkok in any case, although it did rather obviate the benefit of the direct flight.
Both sectors of HKG-MAN were operated by 777-300ERs. My outbound flight was on a Thursday morning and economy was packed so I was upgraded to premium economy. The return flight was on a Monday and the gate agent talked about blocking a seat next to me but in fact the cabin was little more than half full where I was so most clusters of seats had an empty middle seat.
Food and drinks were typical CX long-haul. There did seem to be a slightly more British emphasis than I have noticed on recent LHR flights, including a stew, which I found to be welcome. Cathay’s economy class wine continues to get worse than ever with one of the wines served on this flight, from South America, described as “2013/2014”. Cathay’s incredibly poor wine choice on their long haul flights is now a factor I consider when booking. Service was pleasant but unremarkable. On the outbound flight I got Marco Polo gold privileges such as a welcome greeting and bottled Evian but the return crew didn’t bother.
Arriving in Manchester we came to a remote stand and were bussed to the terminal but on the MAN-HKG flight at least we had a gate. Passport control is less irksome at MAN than at LHR at least and the queue both ways was fairly short. The airport feels somewhat dated and annoyingly, terminal 2 which CX uses is some walk from the transport hub. To get to the train station took ten minutes or so, and Manchester charges for the use of luggage trolleys, which given the U.K.’s sky high air taxes I could scarcely believe.
Departure from HKG is at the anti-social time of one in the morning (CX 357), arriving around 6.20 a.m. The return flight leaves MAN at 12 noon and arrives in HKG at 7.55 the following morning (CX358). My return flight pushed back around forty minutes late due to flow control in Manchester but we arrived on time in HKG.
The lounge at MAN was a contract lounge called “The Escape”. The main lounge was full so I was put in an overflow lounge. It was a standard contract lounge – not as good a range of food and drinks as CX’s LHR lounge but decent enough. There were few power points, bizarrely, but on the day of my visit the staff were all lovely and very helpful.
Guest Blogger: Christopher R.