Comedian and founder of TakeOut Comedy
‘My family loves Cathay,’ says Hong Kong-American comedian Jameson Gong. That especially goes for his mother, Anna. ‘She’s been flying Cathay for years. She was born in Hong Kong and has ties in New York City. She likes to go back and forth, three or four months at a time. She’s been doing it for so long she even has a favourite Premium Economy seat – right by the bathroom!’ But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, plans got a lot more complicated. With Anna forced to catch a solo flight from the States and then endure a 14-hour-long wait for her test results, Jami needed to make sure his Mama Gong was looked-after. Cathay Pacific was the obvious choice, having looked after the whole family for so long. But Jami also posted to the HK Quarantine Support Group on Facebook, asking anyone on the flight to keep an eye on his 83-year-old mother. The result was what Jami calls the ‘thread of the year!’
From Anna’s fellow passengers on flight CX843, to those awaiting test results in Hong Kong, a community came together to keep an eye on Mama Gong – posting regular photos and updates to the 600-comment strong thread, making sure Jami knew she was safe. ‘It was like a Korean soap opera – everyone was just waiting for the ending, waiting for her to give me a hug! It was totally unexpected to see so much love for a stranger during these crazy times,’ says Jami. ‘It was great to see strangers helping strangers. I’m pitching the story to make it into a movie: this could be the feel-good Hallmark movie of the pandemic.’
Manager of business risk and continuity
‘I got a bank loan on Thursday, booked a ticket on Friday, flew on Saturday and arrived in Hong Kong on Sunday 5 July 1998, a few hours before Kai Tak Airport closed forever,’ says Tom Chadwick. From a humble military airstrip to the third busiest hub in the world handling 30 million passengers and 1.5 million tonnes of cargo a year, Cathay Pacific’s original home base captured the world’s imagination for the best part of a century.
Chadwick was just 18 years old and had never been to Hong Kong when he learned of Kai Tak’s impending closure. ‘When I read that the airport was going to be closing the following week, I knew I had to go.’ It was his first trip to Hong Kong, but it was not to be his last, with annual visits over the next decade before meeting his wife and moving permanently to the city. ‘I fell in love with Hong Kong that day and I’ll always associate that love with my first flight on Cathay Pacific. I’ve landed in Hong Kong many times since, but the newer Chek Lap Kok airport has never been quite as exciting.’
Hospitality communications director
It may be more than a quarter of a century ago, but communications director Michelle Lau still has one particularly nostalgic memory of her childhood flights with Cathay Pacific – ‘The Barry White boarding music,’ she emphatically recalls. Love’s Theme, a soaring orchestral piece written by the Walrus of Love, is a memory that still chimes with thousands of Hongkongers. For Lau, it was the soundtrack that accompanied solo journeys to and from her UK boarding in the early 1990s, after Cathay Pacific launched the first non-stop flights from Hong Kong to London.
‘I was 14 years old the first time I made the trip,’ recalls Lau. ‘The flights were still from Kai Tak then and I remember that they were jam-packed every time, but the crew were always so nice and would pay extra attention to the kids, always checking on us and bringing us treats.’ Even now, ‘stepping onboard a Cathay Pacific flight still gives me the sense that I’m already home’.
Entrepreneur, author and fashion maven
The term ‘international jetsetter’ could have been coined for Bonnae Gokson, who spent her youth travelling between her home in Hong Kong and schools in Europe and the US. Next came a stint as the Asia-Pacific communications director for Chanel and with it a series of short-haul sprints around China and long-haul hikes to Paris, London, New York and Milan. Later, she established Sevva, one of Hong Kong’s most glamorous bars and restaurants; Ms B’s Cakery; and C’est La B, a chain of high-end cake shops.
Unsurprisingly, her work and personal travels have earned her Marco Polo Club gold status. Gokson’s most notable flight relates to a career highlight: ‘It was when I flew first class to New York for the launch of my second book, Weddings, Butterflies and the Sweetest Dreams,’ a glossy coffee table tome featuring wildly elaborate cakes and eye-catching wedding imagery from around the world. ‘I knew it was going to be a milestone flight for me so wanted to make it a special one. I remember tucking in under the duvet of my bed, drinking Krug champagne and eating silver spoons of caviar. The launch party was being held at my dear friend Vera Wang’s wedding boutique on Madison Avenue, so a good sleep was essential.’
Former professional football player
‘We booked our tickets through a Chinese travel agent who worked above the Lucky Star Chinese restaurant on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow,’ says former professional football player Billy Semple, who moved to Hong Kong in 1974 to join Hong Kong Rangers Football Club. Back then, Cathay Pacific didn’t have direct flights from London (they wouldn’t arrive until 1991), so passengers had to connect via Bahrain or Dubai. The total journey time from Scotland was nearly 24 hours.
‘I remember when we landed, walking down the aircraft stairs and across the tarmac to the terminal building to be introduced and photographed by the local press,’ says Semple. It was a snapshot that would capture the beginning of a golden age of domestic football in Hong Kong, as new investment and fresh foreign blood drew capacity crowds of up to 28,000 to Hong Kong Stadium on a weekly basis. There were even star turns from the likes of England 1966 World Cup captain and Semple’s former San Antonio Thunder teammate Bobby Moore, and Manchester United hero George Best. Moving to the other side of the world with his young family was a gamble for Semple, but it was one that paid off. ‘I stepped off that flight at Kai Tak and never looked back. Best decision I ever made.’
‘Cathay Pacific’s non-stop flights to New York have made a big difference to me both professionally and personally,’ says Dilip Badlani, who was working in the Big Apple when the non-stop flight from HKG to JFK was established as a regular service in 2004. Badlani’s journeys are just one statistic in the flourishing of US-Hong Kong trade, and he’s among the millions of passengers who have benefited from the route in the years since.
‘As someone who grew up in Hong Kong, I was thrilled to be able to fly with my home carrier. The service on Cathay Pacific is world-class, the food is great, the entertainment is top-notch and the lounges are excellent, too. From a work perspective, it allowed me to manage my schedule more efficiently. I’d often take the 1am Sunday flight to arrive in Hong Kong for Monday morning meetings and fly back Friday in time for the weekend. Cathay’s flight to Hong Kong was also my preference for connections when travelling on to South East Asia for work. Personally, it was great to know I could hop on a flight any time to be with my folks – and the non-stop service made it less daunting to bring my young daughters along. I moved back to Hong Kong in 2018 but continued to visit New York; I’ve probably flown that route 50 times now.’
Captain Boeing 747-400 at Cathay Pacific
Some of the most important people involved with making travel dreams come true are of course the pilots, though passengers don’t always get to see them. As the captain of a Boeing 747-400 during its days as a passenger plane, Captain Obet Mazinyi flew thousands of passengers across the network, helping reunite families, partners and friends – with plenty of memorable moments along the way. One particular case stands out. Some 16 years ago, on a return flight from Bali to Hong Kong, Captain Obet had a passenger with medical issues who needed to be transported on a stretcher for the flight, and the crew went to extra lengths to ensure the passenger was comfortable and taken care of.
‘We held back boarding until the passenger was safely secured and I personally went down to see him. He was visibly pleased that the Captain had come to check on him and make sure he was comfortable – on top of the excellent care he was already getting from the cabin crew. He said: “I feel so special that everyone – and even the Captain has shown so much care. I’m so amazed by your people and your crew.” I told him that was what we did for our passengers – we cared. But I’ll always remember his surprise, delight and gratitude at the care he received during what must have been a stressful situation. Moments like that remind me how special Cathay Pacific is and how lucky I am to be able to do what I do.’