Everyone knows that Australia is a very very long way from Europe or the rest of the world for that matter. And, the last thing you need on a long-haul flight is to be delayed even longer…
It all started with wanting to spend a couple of weeks with friends I hadn’t seen in several years, on their sailing boat in Fiji.
At the time, flying from the UK to Australia then taking a separate return flight from Australia to Fiji was cheaper than a direct flight from the UK to Fiji. So, I decided to throw in a fleeting 6-day stay in Australia catching up on doctors’ appointments and friends. But one of the the main reasons was to oversee a badly needed roof repair that I hadn’t had any luck with organising during 5 months of trying – tradies (Australian for tradesmen) were just not responding; even though I tried 19 different companies.
The Cathay saga
Excited, I booked the flight about 4 weeks prior to travelling with Dial4Travel whilst chatting online to Stanley the helpful travel agent. My booking experience went something like this…
Dial4Travel’s cheap advertised flights turned out to be just that, advertising and blatant lies (surprise, surprise). So, the flight cost me about ₤998 instead of the advertised ₤737.18. Although cheaper than elsewhere at the time, it’s not the point and still cost AUD$2,000, which is not cheap. My booking was confirmed with Cathay for the 25th July and the money was immediately taken out of my account.
A day later, an email arrived from ‘Stan the Man’ advising that Cathay had over-booked my flight and I could only fly on the 23rd or the 27th. As I had already booked all of my Australian appointments for the 6 days, I was adamant to travel on the 25th. However, Stan was much more adamant that I had to change the date. So angrily, changed I did, for the 23rd just so as to keep my 14 scheduled appointments.
So another drawback was that the new flight time wasn’t as good as my previous booking. I now had to wait in Hong Kong for 4.5 hours (previously only 1.5) and I also had an additional stop in Cairns (Australia) for another 1.5 hours. I wasn’t impressed at all. The return flight remained the same. The unfolding saga didn’t end there…
On the 21st, Cathay’s website displayed online check-in for my flight. Eagerly, I started trying to check in and kept trying well after an hour without any luck. Not able to check in, I was concerned I had been bumped off once again. I phoned Cathay and was re-directed to Hong Kong. The polite lady advised to try in 15 hours as it was too early to check-in for the 2nd flight from Hong Kong to Brisbane on the 24th.
Deciding to wait until the following day (22nd), I again tried the online check-in several times but to no avail. So, I phoned Cathay in London this time and got a rude ‘Customer Service’ lady. I was advised that as I had paid a discounted ticket price, I couldn’t check-in online and had to wait until arriving at Heathrow; what rubbish! I explained the history of the flight and being bumped off but she was adamant that I was never booked in the Cathay system for the 25th. I also tried to soften her down by using the line that this was the first time I was flying Cathay and so far I was far from impressed – that didn’t work either. The customer service lady advised that “someone was lying and to take it up with my travel agent”. Regardless, I still had to wait to check in at Heathrow.
My base in Street (Somerset) only offers one bus per day to Heathrow airport and leaves at 06:25hrs so I have a wait of 10 long hours at the airport as my flight leaves after 20:00hrs.
Up at 05:15hrs to catch the National Express bus (₤35.20 return) and with a half-hour stop in Bath, 4 hours later I nervously arrived at Terminal 3. As check-in is around 16:00hrs, I have to hang around for well over 5 hours. There’s just so much you can do in one of the most expensive airports in the world, with crappy Australian dollars!
So, I hooked up to the free 4-hour wi-fi and also alternated this with using the free 20-minute internet PCs, when I wanted a change. Made conversation with a few strangers along the way as everyone is waiting at an airport. Listened to children take it in turns to bang on the piano keyboards opposite to where I was having coffee…you know the drill! Caught up on some blog writing like this one and charged up all my devices at the free power stations. As I still had both my backpacks on the trolley (at least these are still free), I was limited to where I could go. When you’re too early to check your luggage in, it’s a military operation manoeuvring the trolley just to use the toilet!
Check-in finally dragged around. Sweetly, I explained my grievances to the very nice Cathay check-in lady, hoping for an upgrade (like she gives a rat’s) or at leat a decent seat – no chance! Smiling very politely and acting (insincerely) surprised, she checked me in all the way through to Brisbane, which was comforting. But then with the same sweet smile, advised the plane would be an hour late! What else could go wrong with this airline? Well, you know the crappy middle seats? This sweet lady also gave me one of those – not an isle or not even a window seat. When I requested another seat, I was advised there wasn’t one as the plane was full but I did have a window seat for the next leg. The UK to HK leg is much longer than the HK to Australia leg…all I can say is that I must have been bad in a past life. Not impressed!
So here I sit, spewing my anger onto this page whilst still waiting in the airport as we’re not getting information of why the plane is late nor is the gate number displaying yet…more frustration. It’s now 18:50hrs and counting, without any advise from Cathay! I’m a bit grumpy as I didn’t sleep much last night and am so tired that my eyes feel like they’re sewn together. I can’t seem to sleep on planes either, so not looking forward to the flight, if we ever board. I’ll take comfort in some airport food…what else is there to do here but eat? I don’t have access to the posh airline lounges.
Food at the Terminal
- WH Smiths – for ₤3.99, you can buy a Meal Deal of bottled water, yummy chicken & Chorizo sandwich, and a packet of crisps – bargain.
- Pret a Manger – sells freshly baked croissants and pastries at reasonable prices; sandwiches are sold at slightly higher prices than the Meal Deal.
- For those with buckets of cash to spare, check out the Oyster and Seafood bars at exorbitant prices – I hear they’re excellent!
After finally taking off over an hour late from Heathrow, arrived in HK after the 13-hour flight. Now for the scheduled 4.5-hour stopover before the next leg to Cairns. I did eventually receive a text from Cathay about the late departure, whilst sat on the plane at Heathrow.
The saga did not end in HK. The next flight was also to be delayed by over an hour. Weird as our our plane was sitting at the terminal for over 2 hours. Finally boarding the plane late, this flight took just over 7 hours. The thing I don’t like about long-haul flights is that I never ever sleep!
Arriving in Cairns for the 1.5 hour stop-over, this next flight was also delayed for an hour! Some bad luck on this flight and after 2 nights on planes, I was over it!
The plane finally left and arrived in Brisbane, late of course. The real salt to the wounds during all this saga is that (apart from the text at Heathrow), a day after I’d arrived in Australia, I received two text messages advising that my other 2 flights would be delayed. I will never fly with Cathay Pacific again!
Everyone I speak with raves about Cathay’s service and whilst the Flight Attendants are good, the food served isn’t as good as on other flights such as Emirates. You even have to request salt & paper with each meal, and a coffee or tea with breakfast. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt on other long-haul flights with other airlines.
After the 6 days in Australia, it’s on to Fiji and I’m hoping Fiji Airways will be better!
Returning to the UK
Cathay did redeem itself on my return flight from Australia and not too late arriving back to the UK, without any dramas. Regardless of this, I won’t be quick to book with Cathay again as the seats are also smaller than other airlines. Whilst it’s not a problem on shorter flights, you want to be as comfortable as possible on long haul flights. Sometimes it’s better to pay a little more for comfort, but at least I’ve tried Cathay now.
Had to hang around for the bus back to Street; another 4-hour wait at Heathrow airport until arriving back late in the evening.
The return Fiji-Australia-UK door-to-door travel took about 37 hours. This was not as exhausting as the 52+hours door-to-door from UK to Australia – one of the longest trips I’ve endured and one of the only times I was really trashed with jet-lag. Having never slept 2 consecutive nights on planes before, it’s no wonder…
Let me know if you’ve had a better experience with Cathay.
An update: The Power of Social Media
As I shared this post on Twitter and tagged Cathay Pacific, I received the following private message from Cathay in October:
“Hi Nilla. Thank you for this. We are sorry to hear you are unhappy with your experience when you flew with us. If you choose to fly with us again, please do get in touch and we would like to offer you a lounge invitation at one of our global lounges. Thank you.”
A lounge invitation? Is that it for all the hassles and delays? To which I responded:
“Thanks for offer but doubt I will be flying Cathay again.”
Australia really is this big! Thought I’d throw this one in – just because…