In general I avoid so-called low cost carriers as I prefer full service airlines. However, low cost carriers can have some benefits. For example, although their ticket pricing is often not as good as it initially seems, they often offer one-way segments without penalising you the way many full cost carriers do. As I wanted a one-way ticket to Taiwan one Saturday this month I therefore considered my first trip with HK Express, who fly into Taichung.
My two other reservations with a low cost airline are safety and punctuality. To date HK Express’ safety record is decent although I do still feel a bit nervous about flying with them. I had heard many complaints of lateness for HK Express, as well as HK Airlines (in stories I think people often mix them up) so hoped that that would not be the case for me.
There was a fare sale on (as often mentioned in this blog) but when I visited the HK Express website the advertised price wasn’t available when I wanted to travel. Still, the ticket was excellent value at a total cost of $540. When I booked, for an equivalent single ticket on the same date, Dragonair was quoting a price of HKD2,425. (although interestingly, their fees aside from HK security charge were HK$25, cheaper than the $70 HK Express charged).
The online reservation process does encourage one to buy various add ons, which I opted not to although understand why the airline is keen to do so. When checking out, the price was higher than I expected. The website is poor at allowing users to go back to previous pages – when going back, I had to enter various pieces of information again. What I discovered was that the airline had automatically included a fee for one piece of checked baggage and I needed to uncheck that if I didn’t want it. I wouldn’t have noticed this if the pricing disparity wasn’t obvious to me, and I think that it is rather an underhand practice.
I did not need to check baggage but if you do there is a big price difference between paying online in advance and paying at the airport, shown in the airline’s fee table. For example, if I had wanted to check in 20kg one bag on this flight, the online cost would have been $150 but at the airport that would have jumped to $365.
At the airport
The flight was due to depart at 6.50 p.m. and I made sure I got to the airport in good time. Checkin is in aisle P at Terminal Two in HK Airport – don’t confuse it with HK Airlines, who are in Terminal One. There was a short queue at the checkin counters but I was waiting for less than five minutes. At checkin the ground staff told me the plane was delayed due to Taichung runway being closed but they did not have an expected time. She issued me with a proper boarding pass and told me to proceed to the gate (520) at 5.50.
The checkin desk is the first place where I saw a sign saying that no outside food is allowed on the plane. This was repeated at the gate and in an onboard announcement, both of which also said outside drinks were banned. Personally I find this petty, and the drinks prohibition is particularly objectionable, as many people want to take water or tea on board to help stay hydrated and I don’t see why the airline should disallow this.
Gate 520 is one of a number of 5-prefixed gates at Hong Kong airport which I always find inconvenient. When I went to gate 520 there are no seats close to the gate, so while some people sat on the floor, others like me who took a seat were some distance from the gate, and having to keep a close eye in case boarding started.
Finally at 6.50 there was a boarding call. Through the gate (whose queue blocks the entrance corridor for this part of the airport – it really is badly designed) we boarded a crowded airport bus with only five seats on it and then drove out to the plane, which was a long way distant at remote stand H133.
Boarding was swift and the cabin crew were friendly. We took off around forty five minutes after the scheduled departure time. I had been allocated a window seat and all of the seats next to me were full. The captain, who sounded Filipino or southern European, came on the announcement system to welcome us.
The plane was an A320 and in HK Airlines not HK Express livery. It was clean and felt in good condition. There was no inflight entertainment or power ports.
The flight was smooth and we arrived in Taichung half an hour after our originally scheduled arrival time, which wasn’t bad given the earlier runway closure. At Taichung we had a gate bridge straight into the terminal building. As Taichung receives a relatively small number of international arrivals, the immigration desks aren’t extensively staffed, so a queue quickly formed. Had I sat closer to the front of the aircraft I could have saved ten to fifteen minutes at this point.
The cabin crew was efficient and quite friendly. I find the grey uniforms for the men look a bit casual, with shirt sleeves and no ties.
After the initial service, they went to the galley and I didn’t see them again until just before landing.
Food and Drink
HK Express has a buy on board policy for food and drink. There is a discount if you pre-order online, of 20%. You also get a free bottle of water if you order online. On this plane there was an announcement that there was no hot meal service because of the short duration, which surprised me slightly as the flight duration is long enough to do a quick meal service. The drinks come with a packet of peanuts, but nonetheless the pricing was prohibitive – forty dollars for a can of Tsingtao is excessive. I understand that low cost airlines seek to increase profit with such ancillary sales, but the drink prices felt out of kilter compared to the food prices.
This was a pleasant enough flight and given the price, I thought it was acceptable. The website booking could be improved and their drink policy bothers me, but overall I was pleasantly surprised. If there was a compelling price benefit or other convenience, I would consider HK Express again in the future.
Guest Blogger: Christopher R.