What to expect when you’re expecting to hate every minute of your travel experience.
They say it’s not the destination, it’s the journey, but when it comes to actually traveling, is that really the case? Because come on—nine times out of ten, flying sucks. This is the knowledge we all internalize as travelers and accept as part of our chosen fates. It especially sucks when it’s an experience that takes—from leaving your house to arriving at your hotel—nearly a full day of your life. And until they invent teleportation, there’s only one solution to this age-old dilemma: being lucky enough to afford (or somehow otherwise acquire) a business class seat.
This holy grail of travel really can change your entire outlook on long-haul flights and finally show you it’s possible to have an enjoyable travel experience. So what exactly can a traveler, used to the cramped and cranky quarters of economy, expect on a business class flight? Thanks to Cathay Pacific, an airline with a well-deserved reputation of customer service and comfort, I was able to travel from New York City to Hong Kong and back in their celebrated business-class cabins, clocking in at 16 hours, 40 minutes there and exactly 16 hours back. Here’s what I learned.
You’re a Fool to Not Take Advantage of the Lounges
Picture an airport. Picture the unhappy faces of travelers as they shuffle through the humiliating process known as “security”, where people lose their dignity, their liquids, and their ability to respect TSA workers just trying to do their jobs. Picture those same people scrambling for a spot by an outlet, so they can enjoy a $22 salad and $12 bottle of water before they learn their flight is delayed for five years. What if I told you there were places within airports where salads and water and outlets, and, dare I say, even showers and glasses of wine are so numerous, they give them out for free?
Welcome to a business class lounge. There a few ways you can get access to these magical places (be a frequent flier, have a travel experience so awful that the ticket people take pity on you), but having a business class ticket in hand will do the trick. Most airlines have their own lounges or are part of the Oneworld travel group that shares lounges in select airports. Cathay Pacific, in particular, is renowned for lounges that will make you wish you could’ve just stayed here your entire trip. The best are in the Hong Kong airport, where you’ll find four lounges (fittingly named the Wing, the Pier, the Deck, and the Bridge), and while there, you can enjoy a sit-down meal, cocktails, wine, beer, a massage session, showers, and a fabulous noodle bar that will remind that you are still in China. All of it is free. All of is necessary to begin your journey into the world of business class.
The Flight Attendants Will Make You Feel Special
Flight attendants are the unsung heroes of the travel world, and we forever salute those who make our economy flights as hassle-free as possible. But the business class flight attendants aren’t just there to make sure you’re comfortable; they’re there to be your friend on this 16-hour journey to the other side of the world. They greet you by name, and when they say to let them know if you need anything, they mean it. All requests are granted almost immediately. They’re happy to explain the menus and how to use the control panel of your seat when you’re just a dumb little baby who has never been in business class before. They don’t care. They love you for who you are, and they always will (at least until you get off this airplane).
Not Getting Tipsy Will Be a Challenge
To drink or not to drink while flying? The ultimate travel question. On the one hand, alcohol is a known cause of dehydration, which in turn is a known cause of feeling horrible while in an airplane. And no one wants to be the drunk person on the flight, not to mention the hungover person, which you will have time to become if you get wasted on a 16-hour flight (seriously don’t be this person). But on the other hand, flying can be scary for a lot of people, and drinking helps calm nerves. Also, it’s something to do when there’s a lot of waiting around doing nothing. Also, sometimes (like in this case), it’s free, and who among us has not found it impossible to turn down a free drink? Especially when the menu looks this good?
Cathay Pacific’s business class drink menu includes standard wine, champagne, beer, and liquor options. They also have two signature drinks per flight, one alcoholic and one non-alcoholic, both of which change regularly. On my flight, I tried the Pacific Sunrise, which consisted of champagne, Drambuie, orange, and lemon; the Drambuie was a bit too overwhelming for my tastes, but there were plenty of options for my second drink. (I stopped at two, I swear!)
You’ll Actually Want to Eat Dinner on the Plane
It doesn’t matter how much you eat before boarding or how many snacks you have in your carry-on; on a 16-hour flight, you’re going to need to eat an actual meal. But lucky for you, business class means you’re actually going to want to. Exact menus differ depending on the plane’s destination, but for my Hong Kong-New York flights, options included pork, bok choy, and jasmine rice; miso-glazed beef and vegetables; steamed black cod; Thai red chicken curry; and truffle tagliolini. For late-night flights, since there’s a good chance you already ate dinner before boarding, they also offer a lighter option; for my flight, it was truffle potato leek soup, smoked duck, and seasonal berries. For those used to sodium-laden, pre-packed meals on flights, these are straight-up delightful in terms of airline food, and even compared to non-airplane food, they’re still meals you would actually order at a restaurant on the ground.
But You’ll Have to Try Not to Overindulge on All the Snack Options
A 16-hour flight means you’re dealing with some major time differences, and depending on what time you arrive and depart, that means eating at times your body isn’t used to. However you decide to acclimate to the time change, you might find yourself very hungry between the official servings of dinner and breakfast onboard. If so, Cathay Pacific has your back with a snack menu that’s available anytime during the flight; just ask your BFF, the flight attendant. Options can include ice cream, braised pork and vegetable noodle soup, and a very tasty burger.
You’ll Actually Be Able to Stay Hydrated!
I firmly maintain that hydration is the only secret to staying healthy and well-rested during a vacation, but I always seem to start my trips with negative hydration points thanks to airlines not caring at all about my water needs. Yes, I can fill up my reusable water bottle right before boarding, but during a flight, if you ask for water, you receive a measly cup barely filled half-way. But in business class, they hand out a full water bottle (!!) to each passenger after dinner, and when I asked half-way through the flight for some more water, readers, I kid you not, I was handed a 36-oz (!!!) bottle. I’m telling you: the flight attendants love you, and they want you to be hydrated.
Don’t Worry if You Forgot Headphones
Not only do you get plenty space to store all of your bags and reading material as well as plenty of options for charging your electronics, but you also get excellent noise-canceling headphones that drown out the airplane and fellow passenger noise, truly creating a cabin that puts you in a world of your own.
You Could Easily Pass the Time Watching Every Single Oscar Nominee from Last Year That You Missed
You get your own private television, of course, and the entertainment selection is quite good. It’s constantly changing, but my flight had a varied selection of classics, recent hits, and a bunch of Oscar favorites I had been meaning to catch up on. They also had some Chinese-language films and movies that are great for familiarizing yourself with your destination, like Empire of the Sun. If binge-watching television rather than movies is more your style, Cathay Pacific also has a great selection of television shows, from network sitcoms to premium cable dramas. But as is standard with in-flight entertainment, you don’t get unlimited selection on episodes; they typically offer five episodes per show. This can be great if you want to rewatch some old episodes or if your viewing schedule just so happens to match with the line-up, but for true binges, be sure to save episodes on your phone beforehand.
But You Will Have to Pay for WiFi (If It Exists)
Nothing in this world, not even business class, is perfect, so not every flight will have Wi-Fi available for purchase (and yes, when it does, you will always have to actually purchase it). All of Cathay Pacific’s A350 aircraft have WiFi, and they are currently working on getting it to the rest of their fleet. Make sure you know what aircraft you’re flying on if Wi-Fi access is absolutely a necessity for you during your flight.
You Can Relax With Some In-flight Yoga
One of Cathay Pacific’s recent initiatives is a partnership with Pure Yoga, which has brought an in-flight wellness program to all flights. In the Lifestyle section of your in-flight entertainment, you’ll find six videos from wellness experts featuring yoga and meditation exercises meant to promote circulation and relaxation (these can all be done from the comfort of your seat or by walking around the cabin; rolling out your yoga mat in the middle of the aisle is not necessary).
Don’t Sleep on That Goodie Bag
The complimentary Cathay Pacific amenity kit that each business class passenger receives is a nice treat that aims to help alleviate some of the more annoying parts of travel. Within your stylish (and reusable) dark gray bag, you’ll find a bunch of gender-neutral products like Jurlique lotion and lip balm, toothbrushing essentials, an eye mask, socks, and earplugs. They are all super useful for staying moisturized, clean, well-rested, and comfy. So unless you’re super particular about these products, there’s no need to pack them into your carry-on bag.
It’s Surprisingly Easy to Get Cozy
Along with your amenity kit socks, you also get a duvet blanket and pillows (both of which actually do the job of keeping you warm and your head supported). In Cathay Pacific’s business class, the reverse-herringbone seats are quite comfortable and the 1-2-1 configuration means that everyone has aisle access so you don’t have to worry about bothering your neighbors to use the bathroom or stretch out, even in a non-aisle seat.
Yes, You Will Be Able to Sleep
For nearly all of my 30 years, I’ve firmly believed that anyone who is capable of actually sleeping on an airplane is a magical wizard or simply lying. Who can actually shape their body into the jigsaw configuration necessary to feel comfortable in an economy upright seat? Who can fully ignore the proximity of their seatmates? The answer: anyone with a business class seat. Cathay Pacific’s seats are fully-reclinable, meaning you will be able to lie fully flat (or otherwise adjust the seat to your desired comfort level). You get the duvet mentioned above, but no bedding or mattress pad (which I was completely fine without). And alas, once I got over the shock that I was actually comfortable, I was able to sleep on a plane. Miracles happen if you believe.
You’re Also Totally Free to Completely Ignore Everyone Around You
I know people exist that enjoy befriending their seatmates on planes, and while I’m always polite, I am not about to make a lifelong friend on a 16-hour voyage. I want to zone out and tune out and feel zero guilt about it. Luckily, business class gives you enough space (and strategically placed seat configurations) that it can feel like your own private cabin, even if you have a middle seat. Middle seats do share a middle table, but a handy divide keeps things on your own side.
You Don’t Want to Skip Breakfast
Once you wake up refreshed and ready to take on your travel adventure, you might be tempted to wait a few more hours to enjoy breakfast in a new place (or at home sweet home if it’s a return trip). But breakfast in business class will not disappoint. If you’re looking for something light, there’s fresh fruit, yogurt, cereals, and smoothies, or you can opt for options like a pork sausage omelet, dim sum, or scallop congee. And while I’m no coffee-snob, airplane coffee usually leaves me with a stomachache, but Cathay Pacific’s coffee options come from Illy (there’s Jing tea too) and are perfectly acceptable caffeine jolts that won’t leave you feeling sick.
You Won’t Be Completely Ruined for Travel Forever, but it Will Be Hard to Go Back
The hard truth is that unless you win the lottery, it’s just not feasible that you’ll be able to take a business class flight every time you fly, and you will get over this. Yes, you will miss being able to stretch all the way out, and yes, you will miss your BFF the flight attendant and all that free, readily available H2O, but you will accept this reality and realize it’s not that bad for trips under eight hours. But on any trip where sleeping is a necessity and you want to be a semblance of a person when you land, you will think very seriously about spending the extra cash to fly business again. And if you decide to make the splurge, business class will welcome you back with open arms, fully reclinable seats, and so much beautiful leg room.