AN888 HKG-SYD 03FEB01 SCH1920-0710 744 (VH-ANB)
ACT1938-0723 TKF1959 LDG0718 ITG:0:18L/0:13L LD100%
SEAT15C. PIT:34" WID:17" JS: N. VID: PTV. AUD: Y. MLS: D/B. MENU: Y. HT: Y. AMN: Y.
Hong Kong airport is big. Along with my boarding pass, I was given an express customs card with all my details on it, only needing to answer some questions. I was expecting a lot from this flight, because it was my first time on AN International, and I had heard so much about it. I purposely routed my trip this way to try the 744 service; it was going to be an AN/SQ contest. It’s Chinese New Year, so the AN flights to MEL and SYD are full, they’re overbooked actually. Fortunately I’m not on the direct flight to Melbourne, because I find out that it was delayed, then cancelled. Had I caught it, I would’ve arrived on Monday at 2AM MEL time.
We board our ex SQ 747-412 (del. 11/89) from the second door. Blankets, pillows and the amenity kit are already on our seats; my seat 15C is the first row on the upper deck, an aisle seat. Cards, earplugs, etc are all available on a tray towards the rear of the upper deck (or on request). Seats are basically the same as on SQ, except the seat material is AN style. Menus are handed out. My FA on the upper deck is one of the really cheery, laughing and smiling types. Safety demo is the standard AN human and TV demonstration (screen pulls out from the roof in the aisle – upper deck). The upper deck is wonderful, especially on a full flight, because the pax are no noisier than below. What is different however, is the level of noise. You don’t hear the flap movements, engine noise is muted, and it is a nicer atmosphere. The cabin temperature is just right, LH was too cold, SQ was too warm (I’ve heard quite a few stories about SQ). Flap 20, EPR1.38 (ASMD TMP 50°C), we’re around 360 tonnes for takeoff (107tons of fuel), 13°C and a slight headwind/crosswind, we smoothly rotate at 161knots (290km/h), bound for Sydney.
Five minutes after takeoff, the purser gives her service announcement, a cordial affair beginning with “My name’s Liz” – it was nice to hear relaxed Aussie accents again, after being away from home for two months. She introduces the team onboard (upper & lower deck), and there’ll be a cocktail/bar service, and then meals will be served. Passengers are actually referred to as guests. This was pre the AN 767 debarcle, so FAs were still saying yes, instead of ‘absolutely’.
Oh no, something bad on AN happens. I pull out my PTV from under the seat (this is a bulkhead row), and the TV falls off the arm. No great stress, I just wanted to see what was on (I’m not the biggest fan of PTVs – gimme legroom anyday!), so I just let the FA know. 5 minutes later drinks and a cocktail mix are served, and the FA pulls out the tray for you, which is a nice touch – couldn’t see this happening on LH.
About an hour after takeoff, the first officer comes online, gives info about the flight and apologises for the delay at HKG, due to apron congestion. Shortly after, meals are served.
I’ve heard a lot about good legroom, I knew the old Ansett 747-300s, had 34” of seat pitch on the lower deck and 38” on the upper deck. Now AN flies the 744, and seat pitch is at a respectable 34” on the upper deck (69 seats – max permitted). I’ve sat in many emergency exits on the narrowbodies (35-36”
, but somehow this 34” was pretty impressive – to have two windows per row was pretty impressive in my books for Y travel. Since my trip, I’ve found out that AN has 60 seats on the upper deck, meaning that pitch is back to 38”. It’s a pity that the lower deck has the ordinary SQ legroom, so this aircraft is only truly a “Spaceship” if you’re in Business Class or on the upper deck.
Back to the PTV ‘saga’, well the FA comes back to me and asks me if I would like to go and view the entertainment in the crew rest. After a moment’s hesitation, I say yes – not really interested in what there is to see, but to take advantage of the crew rest (I’d been travelling for more than 24 hrs). After dessert is finished, the boss arrives. The cabin purser apologises profusely and asks me what type of wine I like: red, white or champagne? I say red and she asks whether I’d like Penfolds, or some others, I’m no expert on red wine, so I follow her down and she goes downstairs to the galley and gives me a bottle of wine – her recommendation; I thought that was a nice touch, especially when I really didn’t care about the PTV. In addition, she went and brought me a glass of red from business class, which was of course, pretty good. She was very friendly and was doing her best to arrange a jumpseat landing, but it seemed that there was some confusion as to what the actual policy was, nevertheless I got my visit. I found out that a few toilets were unserviceable and they would have to be fixed in Sydney, as that is where such maintenance is done. Excellent service; It’s interesting how the FAs sort of bow down to you as you speak, as opposed to towering above, looking down on you. They’re great with hopeless pax as well, I had the eternal whinger behind me, and somehow they managed to pacify him, which I thought was impressive (I wouldn’t know what would make more noise, a 6-month baby or that guy).
Roast duck salad, flavoured with Hoisin butter lettuce and crisp apple slices.
Pappardelle Wide Ribbon Pasta arranged with sauteed vegetables and steamed spinach & chilli garlic cream sauce.
Braised Beef with steamed potato, carrot and broccoli, leek, black olive and chunky tomato fondue.
Fried Fish on Stir Fried Vegetable Rice with seasoned choy sum in a coriander and ginger sauce.
Chocolate hazelnut ice cream.
Overall the meals were fine; they could’ve been a bit hotter. I took the beef and it was good, the salad was quite nice as well. My only qualm with the main meal was that the potatoes could have been cooked better. For some reason they put a sweet bun for dinner, which didn’t go well with butter (I’ve noticed that Asians seem to prefer sweeter breads). Ice cream served for dessert was a nice touch, frankly more enjoyable than some of those creamy, boring airline mousses, etc. Simple yes, but good. Following that there was a coffee and Chinese or English tea service and the tea is served out of proper Asian teapots, not the sterile looking stainless steel pots. I believe snacks such as instant noodles were available.
Surveyed a few of my neighbouring passengers, it seems that AN commands quite a bit of loyalty on this route, and they were all impressed by Ansett. I did some work at Ansett Customer Relations a while back, and one thing I noticed is the disproportionate number of compliments compared to Ansett Australia (even when accounting the difference in passengers flown) and compared to overall complaints – from that I was determined to fly AN International. In my experience, the service is as good as I was lead to believe, the personal attention by the crew the impressive factor – I was only in Economy.
I managed to doze off to sleep and wake up, finally securing that cockpit visit. Had a simple chat, crew seemed happy with Toomey, AN/NZ seemed to be going ok (frankly they sounded quite clueless on airline politics); unfortunately I wasn’t able to snare a jumpseat ride today. AN it seems does not have a clear jumpseat policy. Two hours from Sydney, the lights come back on, with hot fresh towels served to wake us up. We just make it to FL390 (cruising at M0.857) and are then offered another drinks service. A little while later, we’re served breakfast, which consists of juice, a fruit platter or breakfast cereal and yoghurt and a char siu (Chinese pork filled white fluffy bun) bun. Again, not bad – different to the traditional ‘heavy’ airline breakfast; I took the fruit.
We begin our descent into YSSY/SYD, with Aussie soil just minutes away. We turn about over Botany Bay, before intercepting the RWY34L centreline. Typically quiet upstairs and if there’s another thing special about the upper deck its when you’re turning over water, you don’t see anything but water, giving the impression that you’re steeply banked. Touchdown is the best 747 touchdown for the trip, very smooth.
When we exit, as there is only one jetway door, we exit via the forward door, and I must say, AN’s Business Class is pretty ****ed spacious. Think older (pre bed) First Class seats with older First Class legroom, and you’re right – an A340 2-2-2 layout in a wider 747.
Go through passport control, and well for me the express card is useless, because I’ve got an Aussie passport, so I choose the fastest line. Still, it’s good of AN to give those cards.
I’m waiting for my luggage and it takes a little while, but fair enough, it’s a full flight, but I’ve got all my luggage, but I’ve just been waiting for my last piece. The baggage lady tells me to go to the oversized baggage counter, and there is my foldup trolley – not quite oversized (smaller than my suitcase), but hey she was right.
Customs was good, friendly, and I supposed she was happy to get someone who had everything ready to declare and spoke good English – a far cry from the sour faced Malaysian customs. I rush as fast as I can to the AN transfer lounge to checkin for my domestic flight (you have to retrieve your baggage and get it cleared by customs before flying domestically), but it’s a bit of a squeeze to get my original 0830 flight, AN17 back to MEL, which I would’ve liked because I wanted an A320. Well, it was a push, too much of a push to get AN17, so I was put on the next flight at 0900, AN19, which was another bloody 737. I did some customer service work at AN the year before, so I knew about the 737 refit disaster, and was willing to try it myself to see how bad it actually is.
If I could sum up AN International service – informal, more natural SQ service.