Hong Kong Airlines A330-200 Flight:
Here is my final trip report for summer travel! Another new airline on a new route and on a new aircraft and possibly the first report here! Hong Kong Airlines has recently introduced Airbus A330-200s in June for the new service to Moscow, as well as supplementing those heavy routes to major Chinese cities, as well as introducing new scheduled service like this one from Hong Kong to Bangkok. Hong Kong Airlines is part of the Hainan Airline group and I sort of expect the Airbus A330s to be similar to Hainan Airlines, but pleasantly surprised at a different décor and interior. The price is reasonable and HX indeed offers the cheapest business class fare on this route, and you can see that they try to improve the service and various F/As and ground agents try to impress passengers, but the meals were bad and there were still areas that can be improved.
August 4, 2010
Hong Kong Airlines (HX) 717 HKG-BKK Lv1625 Arr1825 Airbus A330-200 B-LND
I used Hong Kong Airlines/Express website to book the ticket, which was reasonably easy to navigate and to book, but you cannot get a seat assignment and need to call HX office, which is also not 24 hours run. The website can use some improvement in that aspect, and it will be nice if it will accept AMEX and Mastercards. Later I called HX to change my travel date and get a seat assignment, and the reservation agent was courteous and helpful. My request for 1A is no issue.
Hong Kong Airlines/Express uses Terminal Two at HKG, but since I chose to check-in at the airport express station, it makes no particular difference. The agent was reasonably friendly but we got into fight about my overweight bag. HX only permits 33kg for J passengers, and unlike other Asian airlines, which don’t really enforce the rules, they are strict about them and getting extra cash for sure. Later I told her that I was flying Delta back to the US the next day, and then the agent told me that it was fine and she can use the US weight/piece system. So I showed her my itinerary on my iphone, and everything was fine again. Lounge invitation was given, as well as boarding pass. As I asked about loading, the agent embarrassingly said that I was the only one in J today. Not good for HX, but good for me! Nonetheless I was not surprised and even Hong Kong folks are not realizing that HX is offering a daily flight to BKK on its latest long haul aircraft, and they need to discount more their J fares, and also to allow other websites like Zuji Hong Kong to book their flights. More commercials are needed, especially in the Bangkok side. Anyway, it is not an ideal timing to launch a new flight to Bangkok, but I assume the flights allow more pilot and F/As training times.
Hong Kong Airlines has recently opened a new lounge near gate 23 in HKIA, and the lounge was barely a week old on this particular day. I was the only paying passenger using the lounge when I arrived, and there were three agents working there. I assume they were all trainees and don’t think I need three attendants to serve me. The leading agent immediately greeted me with my last name and fetched me a drink. Snacks were self served and limited to sandwiches, salad, fruit plate, warmed dumpling, fried rice, and chicken skewers. They definitely can use more variety such as a daily soup. Anyway, the lounge had its own free wifi network, as well as two Internet connected computers. It was a pleasant and quiet stay. The agent checked on me a couple of times and came to me personally when boarding was ready.
I left the lounge at 3:45pm, but boarding was not ready when I arrived at the gate. The plane had arrived a bit late and the cleaning crew was still on board. The ground agents repeatedly told passengers that boarding was not ready but a line was already formed in economy class. The loading was pretty light with 1J and 130+Y, but when all of them lined up in the same time, it was quite a scene. There were obviously mostly packaged tour passengers including many Mainland Chinese tours. I was the only J passenger, so walked around looking at planes, instead of dealing with the crazy line. However priority boarding was strictly enforced even with one J passenger. Boarding finally began at 4:07pm, and I was immediately welcomed into the J cabin but the purser, Christie. F/As immediately offered me a choice of orange or guava juice, or water, as well as a hot towel placed in a nice transparent plate. Newspapers were offered, but selection was limited to newspapers that were pro-Chinese or right wing ones or business papers, and English selection was limited to Hong Kong Standard, which was free in Hong Kong. I could not believe that not even South China Morning Post (the major HK English paper) or International Herald Tribune or WSJ was offered. F/As then closed all the overhead bins, as I was the only one on board. I asked to move to 2A shortly after, and it was of course no problem. Door was closed at 4:25pm with the light load, and push back happened six minutes later. We were parked at gate 16, which meant a long taxi to R/W25L. After CX Oneworld painted Airbus A340-300 B-HXG headed off to YVR, and a private BBJ, we took off at 4:46pm for our two hours and thirty-four minutes flight to Bangkok. The routing was the typical Hainan, Vietnam and Thailand one but no attitude information was provided by the Sky Map or the pilot, so not much to report.
A “refreshment” meal was offered and with a solo passenger, meals were served swiftly and many beverages were offered throughout the flight. The F/A frequently checked on me. However wines and other alcoholic beverages were not offered but from the menu, wines were at least available, but not sure if champagne or hard liquors were offered. Here is the menu transcript:
Seasonal Fresh Fruit
Fried Chicken in Lei Shan Sauce
Fried rice and Chinese vegetables
Dish specially promoted by Dragon King Restaurant Group
Stir-fried Seafood Udon with Hoisin Sauce and Chinese Vegetables
Tea and Coffee
Orange, Apple, Tomato
Cole, Diet Coke, Sprite, Tonic Water, Soda Water, Ginger Ale
Selected Premium Blend Coffee
Special Hong Kong Drinks
Hong Kong-style Milk tea and Yuan Yang (by Dai Pai Tung)
Jasmine, Green, Black and Oolong by Tin Rien’s Tea
Selected Red & White Wines
The menu looked pretty decent, but of course the meal was a major disappointment. Quality of the fried chicken was okay, but the portion was small (even smaller than some top airlines’ economy class entrees). There were basically two pieces of chicken with fried rice and little bit of vegetable. The casserole dish was on the small side for premium class. Appetizer was limited to the fruit platter. Seasonal Dessert was a joke, which was piece of fortune cookie. Not even a piece of cake or a warmed cookie. No bread was offered, and from the economy class meal that I saw, the tray was small, but at least a roll was offered. The meal was served in one course, and thankfully I ate in the lounge and peanuts and Milano cookies were offered with the first beverage service. However, the meal was even poorer than CX. Hong Kong Airlines really needs to improve the meal offering here. I flew Hong Kong Express, its sister airline, from HKG to KUL in business about two years ago, and the meal was definitely more filling, but less fancy. Now there was at least a proper menu, and I hope dinner on my return flight from BKK to HKG will be more substantial.
Flight attendants are trying their best and are courteous. They are not as talkative as some CX F/As, but are friendly and polite. When the hot meal was served, the F/A warned me that the casserole dish was very hot. There were at least four trainees on my flight, as they were seated in the last two rows in business class during takeoff and landing. To no surprise, HKA was expanding quickly, and with more A330s coming this year, they will hire more F/As.
They have an on demand system with your typical array of movies – Chinese, Hollywood and Russian, as well as some TV programs.
Compared to RJ’s Airbus A330-200, Hong Kong Airlines’ seats are more disappointing and the sleeping position is even more uncomfortable. Not a good choice and I assume a new airline like HKA should provide a seat more impressive than CX. It should go with US Airways’ Envoy Suite or a full flat lie flat seats. I hope Hong Kong Airlines will come up with a better seat in the future. Regardless I took pictures of the seats in the preset lie-flat or relax positions.
Descent soon began at 6:28pm but due to ATC, the flight was circling a bit before finalizing approach. We finally landed on R/W19R at 6:20pm local time (BKK is an hour behind from HKG), and parked at gate G5 seven minutes later. Premium passengers had no fast track invitation but with not much flight arriving at that time, the wait time was acceptable. Bags came out twenty minutes after arrival and the priority tags work.
Hong Kong Airlines’ new A330-200 marks a new era of this second-tier airline based in Hong Kong, but this new plane has shown some improvement from previous Boeing 737 fleet, but fails to create a major blast or a new talking point. Its advertisement is still lacking and its website still lacks information on the new planes. With a new long haul route, product needs further improvement and despite some good F/As and a new lounge, catering is still weak and for business class, this meal is just unacceptable despite being a “refreshment” flight. The angled flat seats are still universally considered poor and I find it rather strange than Hong Kong Airlines will select such an unpopular seat. The loading was really light both ways and I overheard from the ground staff that the return flight had one in business and 150+ in economy. Economy loading is definitely okay, but advertising is definitely needed. If Hong Kong Airlines chooses to maintain a business class cabin, it needs more work and some introductory low fares will be good. However, the product needs to impress passengers so they will return. As of now the product is just not good enough and it is hard to retain those high paying passengers. Hong Kong Airlines needs to work harder.