Cathay Pacific Saga: UK to Australia

July-August, 2015

The last thing you need on a long-haul flight is to be delayed even longer, during a Cathay Pacific saga from the UK to Australia…

England, UK, Brisbane, QLD, AustraliaReason for going

Everyone knows that Australia is a very very long way from Europe and the rest of the world, so unless you relish long-haul flights, it’s tedious flying to Australia.

It all started with an invitation to spend a couple of weeks with friends that I haven’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, is cheaper than a direct flight from the UK to Fiji.

I decide to throw in a fleeting 6-day stay in Australia catching up on doctors’ appointments and friends. But the main reason is also to oversee a badly needed roof repair. I haven’t had any luck in organising tradies (Australian for tradesmen) over the last 5 months, even though I’ve tried 19 different companies.

Cathay booking saga

Excited, I book 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 ₤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 isn’t cheap.

My booking is confirmed with Cathay for the 25th July and the money is immediately taken out of my account.

A day later, an email arrives from Stan the Man advising that Cathay has over-booked my flight and I can only fly on the 23rd or the 27th. As I’ve already booked all of my Australian appointments for the 6 days, I’m adamant to travel on the 25th. However, Stan is much more adamant that I have to change the date. So angrily, I change to the 23rd just so as to keep my 14 scheduled appointments – not exaggerating as if I’m flying to Australia, then I’m making the trip worthwhile.

Another drawback is that the new flight time isn’t as good as my previous booking. I now have to wait in Hong Kong for 4.5 hours (previously only 1.5) and I also have an additional stop in Cairns (Australia) for another 1.5 hours. I’m not impressed at all. The return flight remains the same.

The unfolding saga doesn’t end here…

airport, waiting
Waiting – Hong Kong

Cathay’s check-in saga

On the 21st, Cathay’s website displays online check-in for my flight.

Eagerly, I try to check in and keep trying well after an hour without any luck. Not able to check in, I’m concerned that I’ve been bumped off once again. Phoning Cathay and re-directed to Hong Kong, the polite lady advises to try in 15 hours as it’s 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) and again trying the online check-in several times, but to no avail. I phone Cathay in London another time, but this time a rude ‘Customer Service’ lady responds.

I’m advised that as I paid a discounted ticket price, I can’t check-in online and have to wait until arriving at Heathrow. What rubbish!

I explain the history of the flight and being bumped off, but she is adamant that I was never booked in the Cathay system for the 25th. I also try to soften her down by using the line that this is the first time I’m flying Cathay and so far I’m far from impressed – that doesn’t work either.

Customer service advises that “someone is lying and to take it up with my travel agent”. Really?

Regardless, I still have to wait to check in at Heathrow.

Somerset to Heathrow

My base in Street (Somerset) only runs 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.

Photo: Heathrow Airport Terminal 3 website

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 arrive at Terminal 3.

What to do for 10 hours at Heathrow?

As check-in is around 16:00hrs, I need 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…

Free wi-fi and PC usage

I hook up to the free 4-hour wi-fi and also alternate this with using the free 20-minute internet PCs, when I want a change.

Making conversation with a few strangers along the way as everyone is waiting at an airport, I listen to children take it in turns to violently bang on the piano keyboard, opposite to where I’m having coffee…you know the drill.

Charging stations

Catching up on some blog writing like this one, I can charge up all my devices at the free power stations scattered around the airpot.

As I still have both my backpacks on the trolley – I’m limited to where I can go. When you’re too early to check in your luggage, it’s a military operation manoeuvring the trolley just to use the toilet!

Cathay check-in

Check-in finally drags around.

Sweetly, I explain my grievances to the very nice Cathay check-in lady, hoping for an upgrade (like she gives a rat’s) or at least a decent seat – no chance.

Smiling very politely and acting (insincerely) surprised, she checks me in all the way through to Brisbane, which is comforting. But then with the same sweet smile, advises 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 does not give me an isle or even a window seat. When I request another seat, I’m advised there isn’t one as the plane is full but I do have a window seat for the second 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, and still no advise from Cathay.

I’m grumpy from lack of sleep last night and so tired that my eyes feel like they’re sewn together. I don’t sleep on planes either, so not looking forward to this flight, if we ever board.

I’ll take comfort in some airport food…what else is there to do here but eat?

Food at the Terminal

There’s always a Costa or Caffè Nero not far. If push comes to shove, I prefer Nero’s coffee. Here are a few suggestions if you’re hungry and didn’t bring your own food.

WH Smiths

WH Smiths offers a Meal Deal of bottled water, yummy chicken and chorizo sandwich, and a packet of crisps for ₤3.99 – bargain.

Pret a Manger

This chain sells freshly baked croissants and pastries at reasonable prices. Sandwiches are sold at slightly higher prices than the Meal Deal.

Oyster and Seafood Bars

For those with buckets of cash to spare, check out the Oyster and Seafood bars at exorbitant prices – I hear they’re excellent.

HeathrowHKThe Land of Oz – first leg

After finally taking off over an hour late from Heathrow, we arrive in HK after the 13-hour flight.

Now for the scheduled 4.5-hour stopover before the next leg to Cairns.

I eventually received a text from Cathay advising of the late departure, whilst sat on the plane at Heathrow – useful.

HKtoCairnsThe saga does not end in HK.

The Land of Oz – second leg

The next flight from HK to Cairns is also delayed by over an hour.

Strange as our plane is sitting at the terminal and during the wait of over 2 hours.

Finally boarding the plane very late, this flight takes just over 7 hours.

The thing I don’t like about long-haul flights is that I never ever sleep.

The Land of Oz – third leg

Finally arriving in Cairns in the Land of Oz for the 1.5 hour stop-over, this next flight is also delayed for an hour – seriously?

So much bad luck on this flight and after 2 nights on planes, I’m over it!

CairnsBrisThe plane finally leaves Cairns and arrives 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 then receive two text messages advising that my other 2 flights would be delayed.

I will never fly with Cathay Pacific again!

Flying with Cathay

Everyone I speak with raves about Cathay’s service and whilst the flight attendants are good, the food isn’t as good as on other flights such as Emirates.

On a Cathay flight, you even have to request salt and paper with each meal, and a coffee or tea with breakfast – basics really.

Maybe 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 or at least on time!

Returning to the UK

Cathay did redeem itself on my return flight from Australia – not too late arriving back to the UK and 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.

Have to hang around for the bus back to Somerset – another 4-hour wait at Heathrow airport.

The return Fiji-Australia-UK door-to-door travel is about 37 hours. This is not as exhausting as the over 52-hour door-to-door from UK to Australia and, one of the longest trips I’ve been on, and one of the only times I was really trashed with jet-lag. Having never slept 2 consecutive nights on planes before, it’s understandable…

Let me know if you’ve had a better experience with Cathay.

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 the offer but doubt I will be flying Cathay again.”

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More travel posts at my Image Earth Travel site.

Australia really is this big! Thought I’d throw this one in – just because…

Australia, EU
Map credit: Internet – unknown

33 responses to “Cathay Pacific Saga: UK to Australia”

  1. Cathy Cade Avatar

    Thanks for the warning. I got here to New Zealand without incident (except I couldn’t check in at Heathrow either because I didn’t have a return ticket – but that’s another story). I did almost miss the domestic leg of the flight from Auckland to Wellington, but that was me being at the wrong end of the departure lounge when I was tannoyed… (well, I needed the exercise anyway, after all that sitting.)
    I shall make sure my return flight, when I book it, doesn’t have any element of Cathay in it. Singapore and Air NZ were OK (not that I have any former long-haul experience to compare with).

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Cathy, I used to love long-haul flights but those were in the days when airlines ran much more smoothly, on time, and offered larger seats in cattle class. Everything seemed much easier 20-30 years ago.

      Yes, I had that problem from Sydney to Heathrow back in 2011 as I was only staying in Heathrow one night. The Qantas ground staff wanted a printout of my ticket out of the UK, so had to run around the airport looking for somewhere I could print my email for the Heathrow to Morocco trip. Talk about stressful.

      Also had the ‘exit’ UK issue in Portsmouth in 2016 and then again in Heathrow in 2016, where I was detained. Not sure if it’s in B&W now that you need an exit ticket out of the UK before you can enter, but too many rules now!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Many thanks for the re-blog China.

  2. Avatar

    Terrific site you possess in here

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you! Many posts to upload yet.

  3. seasiangirl Avatar

    Om my god, that is horrendous. And thanks for the heads up, I shall never fly with Cathay. 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks for taking the time to comment – much appreciated!
      Yes, it was a nightmare, especially as the seats are much smaller. It seems that these days, airlines try to ram as many seats in Economy as physically possible. Seat space wasn’t this tight 20 years’ ago. Spread the word! 🙂

      1. seasiangirl Avatar

        I surely will.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I’m about to fly from Rome to Australia with Emirates. And although I’ve flown Emirates a while back, hope it’s a better flight than Cathay. 😉

      3. seasiangirl Avatar

        I have flown Emirates before. I really like them. I am sure you won’t have any problems with them. Safe flight 🙂

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Me too but long ago. Thank you.

        I can’t wait to return to Southern Italy though. We went for a last pastry and coffee in our favourite pastry shop today. Told the owner that I’m flying back to Australia just to lose weight! 😉

  4. inesephoto Avatar

    My daughter and I read your post, and we both feel so sorry for you… As I travel at least twice a year, and sometimes even more often, I can relate, and I know your pain. Good you have this blog and can use your experiences to entertain your readers, but I do understand the frustration and exhaustion. I have had a few cancellations, an aborted takeoff, an aborted landing and a near-crash, and once British Airways delayed my luggage for 5 days on my trip to the USA, and for 3 days on my return trip. I have never traveled to Australia, so I cannot contribute any opinion about your airlines…

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      I hope my post was entertaining! 😉

      Sorry to hear about your experiences and just reinforces that everyone has a flight ‘disaster’ to tell, especially on longer flights. Maybe you should write a post on your experiences – it would be a great read.

      When I flew from Morocco to Argentina in 2011, my backpack and I decided to go our separate paths. When I arrived in Argentina, I waited for 4 days for my pack to fly back to me – I was so relieved! We’ve coined the term BSA or PSA (Bag or Pack Separation Anxiety) and I was going to write a post on this whilst in South America but I didn’t get around to it, my laptop (and more stuff was stolen in Peru), and as they say, C’est la Vie. The BSA becomes much more critical when you’ve been on the road for a while and your pack becomes your home, in effect.

      1. inesephoto Avatar

        Oh that is awful to be separated with your luggage forever. I have my laptop and photography gear in my carry on bag, always. I wrote about my near crash experience two years ago. I don’t speak much about that, but since 1979 I have never used bathroom on board – I buckle up and stay in my seat until landing. Once scared… 🙂

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I always carry my electronics and camera gear as carry on and never check this in.

        I’ve just found and read your Flight drama film by Robert Zemeckis, and my own dramas – my god, you were so lucky; it’s like a movie! I tried to comment on your post but it’s closed for commenting. Lucky you’re still flying after that but Aeroflot has never had a good safety track record – not sure if it’s better these days.

      3. inesephoto Avatar

        Thank you for reading! I closed comments on my older posts because of spam. I would NEVER fly Aeroflot, but I guess we had a very experienced pilot who saved us all. I never shared my experience outside my family because it was so surreal, but after watching the film I finally understood what had happened.

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Sounds like your pilot did save everyone! Such a scary experience and one that won’t ever leave you – I’m impressed you’re still flying.

      5. inesephoto Avatar

        Yes, I do, but I never leave my seat 🙂

      6. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Good point but I have to on long-haul flights now as my legs seem to swell up like balloons. Weird but just started for the first time on the Cathay flight last year.

      7. inesephoto Avatar

        My longest flight is 12 hours, but I do agree with you that the swelling can be very annoying 🙁

      8. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        That’s long enough, although that’s only about half-way to Australia…

      9. inesephoto Avatar

        Yes, and I really admire those who are not afraid to book the flight 🙂

      10. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        The shortest flight time to Australia is currently about 21 hours, although I don’t think I’ve ever been on one of those flights.

        I’ve read that by 2017, the shortest flight time could be 18 hours, on a Qantas flight. Tempted? 🙂

      11. inesephoto Avatar

        Qantas, the one who is flying the double deckers? I am terrified of them 🙂

      12. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yes, our national carrier 😉

      13. inesephoto Avatar

        Guys, you are very special, but I am afraid that Australia will always be just a dream to me …

      14. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Shame as you could have come and visit…when we’re back one day 😉

      15. inesephoto Avatar

        Thank you! 🙂

  5. The Year I Touched My Toes Avatar

    Well I’m exhausted just reading about it. You poor thing. I’d be wrecked for two weeks afterwards. Unfortunately cheap flights do have a big downside having said that it really is the luck of the draw. Something stuffs up with one plane somewhere and it has a domino effect. I am looking forward to reading a relaxing Fiji post next. Who looks after Reg when you are away? Louise

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Louise, yes it was exhausting! The price of the flight wasn’t that cheap as it converted to about AUD$2,000 just for the UK-Oz return flight (Fiji was extra). The older I get, the less I like the long-haul flights as something always seems to go wrong, extending the journey.

      I have many relaxing photos of Fiji so now the pressure is on to push a post out for you. I have most of my last year in Word, just need to upload to WP, select and reduce photos…you know how it is? 😉

      Sadly, Reg is taking a holiday in a lovely green field in Somerset; we had to put him in storage as we’re in Italy at the moment.

      1. The Year I Touched My Toes Avatar

        Oh I forgot all of that. Yes I need to read your Italian posts. keeping up with wanting to read everyone’s posts but then trying get your own stuff out.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I find this hard also as there are so many excellent posts and information out there I love reading, especially on WP.

        I can’t seem to catch up as I’ve been on the road since March 2014. I have great admiration for and take my hat off to bloggers that are up-to-date! I also need to re-design and re-build my photographic website as it’s almost 6 years’ old now and very dated.

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