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