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Food and Leisure

Lounging around with Cathay Pacific

EVERYTHING IS EMBARRASSING - Margarita Buenaventura - The Philippine Star

Have you ever imagined what’s inside a magician’s hat? What tricks he’s got up his sleeve to conjure a rabbit out of thin air? It’s magic, of course, but also a lot of brilliant maneuvering — small moving parts, hidden from view, to reveal a neat surprise. We never ask how it’s done (one can simply wonder) but, given the chance, I’m sure we’d love to know.

In some ways, Cathay Pacific is that magician treating us to a full-on show, flight after flight. There’s a reason why it’s the preferred airline of both families and financial gurus all over the world: from home to holiday, there’s little doubt as to how it has mastered the business of air travel. I would go so far as to attesting that a Cathay Pacific trip can make even the most plane-weary travelers (such as I, who have suffered through many a bumpy ride) feel a bit of joy. I guess that’s what happens when you’ve become an airline known for offering the best seat on-air, from coach to first class.

It was a Thursday morning when I first tried Cathay Pacific’s new lounge at NAIA Terminal 3. I was fixated on the gorgeous sight in front of me. No, it wasn’t the suave businessman on his phone speaking in rapid Italian; it was the feast I was about to have for breakfast: plates of hakaw (shrimp dumplings) and noodle soup. When I gave my order, the lounge waiter asked if I wanted extra utensils for my companions. “Sure,” I said, riding along. The three extra sets of chopsticks would remain unused.

The meal tasted a little better, given the view of the runway and the comfortable seats, which were enough to comfortably fit 135 people. There was a play of coolness and warmth to the place, thanks to the cherry-wood walls and limestone floors. The Noodle Bar felt like a fancy hole in the wall in Kowloon; besides the intimate two-person tables, there were rows of benches for communal eating. There was also The Bar, an alcove that offers tapas, desserts, and alcoholic tipple. With so many creature comforts in one space, it almost felt like Cathay Pacific wanted us to miss our flights.

I didn’t, of course, because I was on a mission. I wanted to know if Cathay Pacific’s new #LifeWellTraveled campaign really is true. Could it take me to where I wanted to be in the best possible way? I was determined to see the machinations behind this humongous operation. What makes Cathay Pacific tick? Thankfully I was given the chance to visit the Cathay Pacific Catering Services (CPCS) facility, just minutes away from Hong Kong International Airport. A sprawling complex with top-quality equipment and technology, the CPCS is one of the biggest in the world, and serves not only Cathay Pacific flights. More than 100,000 meals come out of the CPCS in Hong Kong alone, served to clients such as Turkish Airlines and even Philippine Airlines. It’s a 24-hour operation that runs like clockwork, which made it even more fascinating to see.

Part of the CPCS building was under construction during my visit, but I still got to see how systematically the whole thing works. The ground floor is where meals are sent out (through a conveyor belt coming from the top floor) and used meals are sent in. What makes inbound items (those from the plane) a little special is that Cathay Pacific actually sifts through them, picks out unconsumed juices and snacks, and donates them to the less fortunate. It’s a way for them to lessen their waste and, of course, do a little bit of good as well.

Of course, no trip to a catering service is complete without seeing the food being made. They have a room just for fruits, another for vegetables, and a dedicated halal kitchen. There’s also a humongous bakery that smells as good as it sounds. Imagine trays upon trays of fresh croissants and bread just waiting to be delivered. Is this what heaven smells like? Could be. There were rooms where they actually put the food on the trays, with everyone strictly in masks and hairnets. I had to wonder, then, how could anyone do any workplace flirting if they couldn’t see each other’s faces? Of course I realized that it was, you know, a workplace, where work actually needs to take place. But in areas where there were no workers, there were machines — actual machines — that put the plates, bowls, and utensils in trays one by one. It’s one of the secrets why Cathay Pacific can produce so many meals in a day; the conveyer belt machines have sensors that make sure the cups are arranged in a certain way, and that when napkins are placed on the tray, the logo is turned up.

At the end of the tour, I left hungrier than I initially was. Thankfully it was time to head back to the airport to savor the best of Cathay Pacific’s lounges. And because Hong Kong is the airline’s hub, they have six lounges for every mood and requirement. I considered waiting for my flight in three lounges: The Bridge, The Cabin, and The Wing.

The newest lounge happens to be The Bridge, a 2,567-sq.m. lounge that features The Bakery (for bread, pizza, and pastries), a Long Bar (for television and general seating), The Bistro (for Asian and Western hot dishes), and The Coffee Loft (for coffee and specialty teas). For anyone on a long layover, the Bridge also has nine shower suites — perfect for freshening up. There’s also the ultra-modern Cabin, which is a little smaller than the Bridge but has something special to offer, too. There’s a Health Bar and a Relaxing Zone, as well as an IT Zone with iMacs and iPads pre-loaded with the latest apps.

Ultimately I settled for The Wing, which was closest to my boarding gate. It also had the Noodle Bar I enjoyed in Manila that serves Chinese-style buns or bao on top of its fresh noodles. I liked that it featured a nice, open ceiling so it wouldn’t feel so secluded. I felt a bit “in the know” looking at other people happily scarfing down their food, knowing where it all came from. I didn’t even mind that air traffic delayed the flight home, because it meant that I could snuggle in their many designer chairs until the gate opened. And when it did, it wasn’t so bad. I was keen on the in-flight entertainment of the day, which I never got to watch. As soon as I sat down, I fell fast asleep, dreaming of hakaw and rabbits out of hats, pleased with the thought that, despite showing me its tricks, Cathay Pacific’s magic still lives.

 

 

 

 

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For more information on flights, the #LifeWellTraveled campaign, and other inquiries, visit www.cathaypacific.com.

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