Sep 7, 2016
It’s 5.10am and I’m already putting the finishing touches to my face; lightly brushing blusher across my cheekbones to give it some colour – my skin is dull and pale from the lack of sleep and because it is an ungodly hour to be awake. All that’s left to do is to pick an outfit from my luggage that’s lying wide-open on the hotel room floor, get dressed, and take a five-minute walk to the airport. Bless airport hotels.
I am three hours early for my flight from Hong Kong back to Singapore, which was slated for departure at 8.45am.
Crazy? Yes, I thought so too.
But if anything, the many years of solo travel taught me one thing: always be earlier than early.
Solo does not equate to #yolo
You would think that travelling alone would be less chaotic than travelling with a group of friends, or with family for that matter, yes?
Not for me.
Panic sets in when I’m globetrotting alone, simply because there’s no extra pair of eyes or dose of mindfulness to help me stay on top of everything.
Now, I am by no means a temporary resident of the world – I haven’t embarked on a whirlwind adventure traipsing from one foreign city to the next on my own yet – but I have travelled alone before, be it for business or leisure, and the most stressful part of travelling solo, is flying.
I am all too familiar with situations like leaving my passport at home (only realising it when I reach the airport), dropping my customs declaration ticket somewhere along the way, getting my flight timing mixed up because of the time difference and then having an ‘Amazing Race’ moment to the boarding gate. It can get really stressful.
So, in a bid to maintain order and peace, I make it a point to be embarrassingly early at the airport. It’s imperative that my pre-flight experience goes smoothly as it sets the stage for the rest of the journey.
As it turned out, none of that chaos happened on this trip and I think it’s because I flew on Cathay Pacific’s Premium Economy Class. It made quite a difference; a more positive experience to my journey if I were to compare it to flying Economy. Here’s why.
Turning me-time into a unique experience
You’re going to have to be comfortable with spending a lot of time by yourself on solo travels. Now, it’s not as bad when you’re already at your destination, basking in the glory of the new city where wanderlust consumes you, and you just can’t wait to go out and explore, albeit, solo.
But when you have to kill time at the airport whilst waiting for your flight – it gets pretty lonely. Like many travellers, I spend my time at a café or the shops within the airport.
This trip, however, was a little special as I had access to a lounge. And not just any lounge; this, by far, is one of the most beautiful I’ve been to.
With a strategic view of nature, the scenery surrounding The Cabin – Cathay Pacific’s lounge for First, Business and Premium Economy class travellers, Marco Polo Club members and oneworld Frequent Flyers – is priceless. The floor-length windows provide views of Hong Kong International Airport’s airfield, coupled with endless rows of colossal mountains where fluffy clouds waft past the jagged peaks.
The Cabin also felt like a home away from home. The breakfast spread took all my blues away, the health bar serves refreshing blended fruit smoothies, Chinese herbal teas and even cocktails if you need a drink (or many). It also came with quiet working spaces that you wished were your home or office desk.
I loved how I was able to utilise my time well in this Instagram-worthy lounge. I relaxed, ate, read the newspaper, caught up on fashion trends from the array of magazines, checked e-mails and messages that I missed, ate again, made a friend (the other perk of hanging out at a bar), and just embraced me-time before rejoining the world back home.
I wanted to stay on for a few more hours but I had a flight to catch. And just when I thought I had to take a long stroll to the boarding gate (isn’t it always?) I was told by a Cathay Pacific staff that the boarding gate was just two gates down.
Given a priority when you travel on Premium Economy
It’s important that I feel safe and well taken care of on my solo travels. One of the ways I do that is to travel with a reputable airline that has an excellent track record or – if I can afford it – fly in a premium class.
Whilst my recent Business Class experience was more than amazing, it would a burn a hole in my pocket to always fly Business, thus Premium Economy Class is a more budget-friendly option, which turned out to be much better than I expected.
Not many know this, but Premium Economy Class is not an upgrade from Economy; it’s a class of its own.
It’s evident from the moment you check in at the airport (Cathay Pacific offers Premium Economy passengers an enhanced baggage allowance of 25kg, and 35kg for tickets issued on or after Sep 15, 2016), to the lounge, to the boarding experience (Premium Economy has a separate queue from Business and Economy), up until the moment you touch down at your destination.
The first thing that I noticed when I was shown to my seat was that there were only 4 rows of seats with a 2-4-2 configuration, as compared to the several rows in Economy. Cosy is the operative word here. I also loved how the cabin was separate from Business and Economy class, which makes the space feel exclusive.
I settled in and was amazed by the spaciousness of my seat. If I were to compare it to an Economy class seat, the legroom felt like double that of the standard class – there is an extendable footrest from the front seat to extend your legs – and the seat width felt like a quarter more. It’s so comfortable and roomy; I didn’t feel claustrophobic.
Also, the simple enhancements both on ground and in-flight – extra personal stowage space, in-flight power outlet, larger personal TV and meal tray (this can double up as a work desk), and even the option of noise-cancelling headphones – makes this a standout class of travel for the everyday traveller.
With a price tag that’s 1½ times of an Economy ticket, I thought the perks: priority, comfort and exclusivity, were worth it. This is especially so if you’re travelling alone and would like to travel with minimal stress or if you’re on a long-haul flight.
Since I was on a short 3-hour flight, I was served just one main course. Similar to Business Class, you have the option of choosing between a Western and an Asian meal. It may not be as fancy as Business, but it is definitely fancier than Economy class; making Premium Economy the perfect balance.
Making your solo trip worth it
I’ve been away from home for a total of two and a half weeks.
When I walked through the glass doors of the arrival hall at Singapore Changi Airport, I knew I’d have both family and friends to welcome me back.
I didn’t know how much I missed them, until I saw them and was immediately flooded with relief. So many things could have gone wrong when I was away.
But I have returned safe and sound with no hiccups along the way; just plenty of memories that will be going into my little travel book.
On the way back, in the car, I started scrolling through all my unread messages and saw one that I had to reply to. It was from a girl friend whom I had just travelled with. We had to part ways as I was on to my next trip whilst she headed back to Singapore.
She was griping about how she had to pay an extra $175 for baggage as she exceeded the limit (she only had 15kg; common for a budget carrier), and how the food that she had pre-ordered did not justify the cost. She then asked me how my flight was, to which I replied: “Hmm.. Perfect!”
With the Premium Economy experience, I know now that flying solo doesn’t have to be a daunting process, just as long as you do it right.
The writer flew with Cathay Pacific at their invitation.