I had originally planned to fly Cathay Dragon on this journey but as it was over the holiday period they were price gouging. I then tried to book an Air China flight but due to problems with my travel agent on the day of travel it emerged that I was not ticketed. At that late hour the best ticket I could find was a mixed return which came in at over $4,000, which I find to be excessive. The outbound flight was to be with Hong Kong Airlines.
I arrived at the airport long before the flight and went to check in a couple of hours before the scheduled departure. The Hong Kong Airlines check in desks in aisle A often strike me as feeling like a bit of a zoo and on this occasion it was the same. There was a thronging mass of people and I queued for twenty five minutes, at one point watching a passenger shouting loudly in Putonghua and pushing a staff member around, to which other staff members evinced little reaction.
The checkin agent was friendly enough but when I told him that I would be travelling through Chengdu on a visa-free transit, he told me that I could not check in luggage as I would not be allowed to leave the airport in Chengdu. I told him several times that this was wrong, but he said it was correct. He called over a colleague who was also unsure about the rules. This conversation dragged on before finally I was allowed to check a bag.
We’ve explained the transit-free visa rules in this post and I was shocked that the ground staff for Hong Kong Airlines, who have so many flights to mainland China, got them wrong. As I am familiar with the rules I was unaffected, but if I had been a visitor from overseas who wasn’t sure of them, and simply followed what I was told by the Hong Kong Airlines ground staff, I would have been unable to check my baggage on the flight.
The boarding pass design is a bit confusing, especially on the stub. It does not have titles – the flight number, gate number, seat number and so forth just appear as numbers, so it takes a moment to figure out which is which. I asked the ground agent whether he could enter my Fortune Wings Club number into the ticket, but he told me that he could not as he was a contractor and I would need to contact Hong Kong Airlines.
On the counter there was an advertisement for upgrades. As far as I could see, a one way upgrade to business class for this flight would cost $1,500.
The flight was scheduled to depart from gate 213, in the midfield terminal. It showed to be on time, and I went there for the boarding time of 7.55 which was printed on my boarding pass. Once at the midfield terminal there is little to do and it is not very comfortable, so I do not like to hang around there more than is necessary. At the gate, the queueing announcement was made only at 8.15. The announcement was annoying partly because it was overly long (it included extraneous information such as the airline’s rating) and partly because it was nonsensical, including for example the exhortation to “please sit back and relax” while queuing.
I boarded at 8.32 but once on board the Italian sounding pilot announced that we would be delayed due to traffic restrictions around Chengdu and we pushed back at 9.40.
The first half of the flight was smooth but we then hit moderate turbulence and the flight continued to be bumpy from then until landing. I wasn’t sure if this was because of the weather or the way we flew into it – it was much bumpier than I have typically experienced on the same route with Cathay Dragon. After a long taxi in Chengdu, we arrived at gate 102 and the doors opened at 12.34, more than an hour after schedule. Even at that hour, the immigration was busy with a large tour group from Korea.
This was operated by an Airbus 320 (registration number B-LPN).
There were no entertainment systems at seat. There were some small communal television screens overhead, which showed banal western shows such as “Just for Laughs”, with Chinese subtitles.
One and perhaps the only highlight of this trip with Hong Kong Airlines was that the cabin crew were friendly and smiling throughout. Despite being given a low level of service offering to work with and facing an almost full plane of noisy, demanding passengers, they were poised and helpful.
Food and Drink
Hong Kong Airlines positions itself as a full service airline but the meal service on this flight was a poor joke. The cabin crew came through with a trolley and gave everyone a sort of warmed sausage pastry in foil with a small container of water. The pastry was tasty though somewhat artificial tasting, but it was insubstantial. After this there was a drinks service.
This flight was rubbish – expensive, late, with substandard food and no entertainment. The groundstaff were incompetent in at least one important way, and there was a long queue to checkin. Hong Kong Airlines is charging a premium price but basically delivering a low cost airline level of service (in fact, my last flight with low cost carrier Hong Kong Express was better than this in most ways). In some ways the flight reminded me of being on a mainland Chinese airline, but on reflection I realised that the meal on a mainland Chinese airline would be better.