Cathay Dragon

Points in Time: Cathay Pacific’s first lounge

PHIL HEARD recalls the heady days of Cathay Pacific’s first airport lounge

There are currently six Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon lounges in the departure zone of Hong Kong International Airport, plus an Arrival Lounge. They offer a range of different spaces with bars, booths, lounges, spa areas and office facilities.

But like many big ideas, they started small.

If you were travelling through Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong in August 1970, you’d find a discreet door and ring the bell. Its musical chimes would welcome you to the Discovery Lounge, the first facility of its kind on the Cathay Pacific network.

VIP and Marco Polo Club members were invited to enjoy what the Cathay Newsletter at the time described as a ‘comfortable and carpeted room in soothing neutral colours’. Fixtures and fittings included a ‘writing desk, glass-topped coffee tables, easy chairs and a couch’.

Unfortunately, a very young guest ‘christened’ the sofa on the lounge’s second day. Further excitement came from a metal mural by Hong Kong’s godfather of contemporary art Cheung Yee. This was an interactive piece that played sounds as it was plucked or strummed. As ever with modern art, there were detractors. ‘What is it? I’ve got stuff like that lying around in my factory yard,’ one guest muttered.

You were greeted by the staff, or the ‘three charming girls’, as the Cathay Newsletter described them. Kumiko Yumamato was drawn from the ranks of Cathay’s cabin crew, while Grace Lau and Maina Choi came from Maxim’s and the Hong Kong Hilton respectively. They were retrained for their new roles by the airline’s passenger services department.

There was an air of luxury, champagne and a range of magazines. The lounge staff were cited as the point of difference – ‘they spared nothing to give a fine impression of Hong Kong and Cathay Pacific,’ one guest commented.

The Discovery Lounge was a model that could be rolled out at major points across the network. But that wasn’t always easy. Aircraft were getting bigger; and airports were smaller than they are today. ‘The main problem is finding suitable space,’ said marketing manager Keith Sillett at the time.

This was very much the case in Osaka, where a new Cathay lounge opened at Itami Airport in 1971. It offered seating for just six, leading the airport manager to suggest that selecting elite guests from the assembled Marco Polo Club members and VIPs needed discretion.

Things have moved on a bit. Now eligibility, either earned through cabin class or Marco Polo Club entitlement, meant that around 2.5 million passengers enjoyed the Cathay Pacific lounges in Hong Kong last year. And you don’t have to ring a doorbell.

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Discovery online brings together all the inspirational travel writing from our two inflight magazines, Discovery and Silkroad. Be sure to look out for the print editions when you next fly with Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon.
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