Hong Kong Airlines SFO-HKG Business: Affordable luxury

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Hong Kong Airlines started routes between HKG and North America last year; YVR, LAX, and now SFO. Their newest route is HKG <> SFO thrice weekly (moving to daily later this year.) They’re flying the nearly brand spanking new Airbus 350, and what a pleasure it was. Going to HKG I flew in business class, if you want to know how economy class is, I will take it back later this month back to SFO.

Hong Kong Airlines has some seriouly attractive business fares starting around $21,000HK, roundtrip! Thats half or more than half off the competitors on this and other routes to the US & Canada. Definitely consider them if you want to fly business and don’t have gobs of cash hanging out of your back pocket.

Rainy takeoff for the A350

Check-in

There is no first class on this aircraft, so business is cream of the crop for Hong Kong Airlines. Check-in was very quick and barely any line at check-in Bay 12 at SFO’s International Terminal. The agent wasn’t too familiar with TSA Pre-check and Hong Kong Airlines doesn’t participate pre-check, which I knew ahead of time. I asked anyway, and she was informing to tell TSA my pre-check number, but that’s not quite how it works; it needs to be printed on the boarding pass. Bags were checked in quickly and tagged priority and I headed to security.

Security

TSA was right opposite the check-in desks, but sadly no separate short line for business class passengers. I had to wait like a commoner through the snaking line, but it moved pretty fast. Total time to get through security was around 10-15 minutes. Not bad at all for US.

My suggestion would be for Hong Kong Airlines to get business passengers into an expedited security line, and look into participating in pre-check, especially as they add US destinations. Most passengers were from Asia though it seemed, as I saw extremely few Western faces or US passports, so this probably isn’t a major concern until Hong Kong Airlines becomes more well known in the US.

To the left of security is the Air France lounge that Hong Kong Airline’s partners with, and available for all business class passengers.

Boarding

Boarding was quick and reminded me of how it operates in Hong Kong. In a hurried but orderly fashion with a bunch of staff doing random things such as checking passports and their lists. I was very impressed with the number of ground staff supporting this flight. For one flight 3 times a week, I thought the airline would hire only a few personnel, but from this picture you can see that’s not the case. There was even one person in the jetbridge standing there guiding people to business or economy. It also helps San Francisco is home to one of the largest Cantonese and Chinese communities, so it is probably easy to staff from a language skills perspective.

Plenty of professional staff supporting this flight.

As a side note, I was in 19E which is in the middle stack. I found the row numbering a bit odd since the plane starts at row 11 instead of row 1. There’s a bit of prestige sitting in front of the plane, so I don’t know the reasoning for that. In fact, I was worried row 19 might be in economy, but it was in fact business. FYI, economy starts at row numbered 31.

By the way, the seat map is very hard to find since the aircraft is new. It’s not yet listed on Seatguru or Seatexpert, so you can refer to the airline’s own website for the A350 seating chart, or below.

Equipment: A350-900
Seating breakdown: 
Business Class (lie-flat seating): 33; Economy Comfort (15 degrees recline): 99, Economy: 202 = Total Capacity 334.

Length

219 ft 3 in (66.8 m)

Tail Height

55 ft 5 in (16.9 m)

Fuselage Diameter

18 ft 5 in (5.59 m)

Wingspan

209 ft 10 in (64 m)

Capacity

334 passengers

Range

8,099 nautical miles (15,000 km)

Engine Type

Rolls Royces Trent XWB

Cruising Speed & Height

Mach 0.89 at 40,000ft

Fuel Capacity

39,626 US gal (150,000 litres)

Crew

Up to 3 pilots and 12 cabin crew

Seat Pitch

Business Class: 44 inches

Economy Class: 31/32/34 inches

Seat Width

Business Class: 42 inches

Economy Class: 60 inches for 3 seats

PED Power

Available in both Business and Economy Class

Seat Reclining

Business Class: 180°

Economy Class: around 120°


Of course the standard business class 180 degrees lie-flat seats are spacious and comfortable. It’s hard to find a really bad hard-product now on newer aircraft. Pillow and the duvet were nice and of high quality. Seat cushion was firm, which helps minimize body aches during the long flight. There will be an even newer business class seat custom for Hong Kong Airlines installed later this year, so I will hopefully try that product once it’s released!

Spacious Business Class Seat

High-quality, fluffy and comfy duvet and pillow!

I’m 5’8” and there was more than plenty of space to stretch my legs fully. I suspect if you’re even a bit over 6’ you won’t have any issues with the legroom. I couldn’t feel the end of the leg cubby at all during the flight sitting up or even while lying down.

Plenty of legroom

Amenity kit was super cute and designed by Ricebowl Republic. I’ll definitely be using this amenity bag again. I never heard of them, but I’ll be Googling them once I get internet. Comes with your standard items, eye mask, ear plugs, socks, toothbrush, lip balm, and lotion. You’ll get a pair of slippers too, but I don’t like to walk into the bathroom with slippers so I’ll just use my sneakers for plane walking and keep the slippers at home.

Amenity kit

There’s a personal reading light, remote, coat hanger, 2 USB ports, noise-cancelling headphones and of course large IFE TV screen. I read a complaint on another review the writer didn’t like the IFE but I found nothing wrong with it. It was quick, could be used by touch screen or remote and had plenty of movies. TV shows were a little more lacking but even with 13.5 hours of flying I could still easily sit through the entertainment selection including my favorite, Paddington Bear 2!

Plenty of USB charging outlets

Poor Paddington!

Bathrooms for business passengers are in the front of the cabin by the pilots. They’re probably average sized for an airplane and have L’Occitane hand soap and lotion. Nothing much to write about here but I did appreciate the makeup and full-length mirrors which are a nice touch. (I just imagine they would have to wipe that full-length mirror often.) Only thing weird was the light didn’t brighten up after locking the door. I’ve only been on planes where once you lock the door the bathroom lights would get brighter.

Clean bathroom with lotions. Drainage little slow.

Service

Service on Hong Kong Airlines was great. I was greeted upon entering the aircraft and given a welcome drink. The purser came by and introduced herself and greeted me by last name while we sat at the jetbridge. I found it slightly odd they took my meal choice while still on ground, but it’s a minor quibble.

The staff spoke Cantonese, English, and Mandarin, with their proficiency probably in that order.

Anytime I used the flight attendant call button, they came within a few seconds which was great. Granted, business class was only 2/3 full so they weren’t super busy. Either way with 33 seats, the front cabin never feels too busy or crowded, like on CX. The flight staff were all professional and well trained to cater to all of the passengers needs. I didn’t hear anyone grumbling or complaining during the 14 hours! Great job to them.

Food & Drinks

Meals were pretty good for airplane food. The main course was definitely one of the best meals I’ve had up in the air. Hong Kong Airlines is promoting their partnership with the San Francisco restaurant Cockscomb, and chef Chris Cosentino. (You may recognize him from the Top Chef.) Menu was super pretty too!

Pretty and artistic menu design

Lunch menu

Mid-flight & main course snack menu

Beverage menu

The starter was a shrimp dish with kohlrabi, which I’m not too familiar with. Whatever it was, it tasted good, different than you’ll usually get on a plane. I also love garlic bread, so was really happy to see Hong Kong Airlines offer it. She gave me two slices and I ate both of them immediately. Asked for more, and only got one slice the second time around, boo. I provided some feedback to the airline that the plating can probably use a bit of sprucing up. The sauce in the plastic container looks a bit inexpensive and reminds me of the containers of ginger and spring onion when you order the chicken from the Chinese restaurant. That could’ve been plated on a small porcelain saucer instead.

Yummy starter, shrimp dish.

I thought that was the end of the starters, but I got a surprise. There was also a cream of mushroom soup too. Yum, my favorite. Not watered down at all and very creamy and mushroomy. (Is mushroomy a word?)

Cream of mushroom starter soup.

For the main course I selected was a fatty pork, aka. braised pork belly, which sounds better by name. It wasn’t the Cockscomb selection, but I wasn’t in the mood for beef. The pork was awesome. Had great flavor and wasn’t dry at all. Usually Chinese meals out of US aren’t very good, but this one was. I’m sure the kitchen in SF has a large Chinese employee population to help cook. (One suggestion when flying, try to pick the fattier items as the food may dry out on the plane.) Again here, since a rectangular plate was used, it looked like an economy meal but in porcelain. I would’ve preferred it to be plated on a different shaped dish, but that’s being nitpicky.

Tasty braised pork belly!

For dessert, I did pick the Panna Cotta from Cockscomb and that was very yummy. I thoroughly enjoyed the strawberries and the Panna Cotta (aside from the very bottom where the vinegar was.) Rich, creamy, and mildly sweet. Other choice was a chocolate Haagen Daaz.

Sweet panna cotta with berries!

In-between snacks the galley had a few things such as fruit, popcorn, donuts. You could order some sandwich, cheese, or dimsum; I chose the dimsum. It was decent for an airplane, certainly nice to see dimsum offered on a flight o HKG as it starts to make you feel excited for all of great food in the city. (Unfortunately no pic of the dimsum since it was dark on the plane and I didn’t want to camera flash everyone.) 

Pre-landing meal is offered about 2 hours before arrival in HK. I wanted the shrimp with eggs, but it was out by the time I ordered, so they offered me the pork which I had earlier, or the chicken. I opted for the chicken. It was average I’d say. Slightly dry, little on the plain side. (See my remark earlier about ordering fatty foods.) The best tasting part was the squash puree, very yummy so I mixed that with everything.

Pre-landing chicken dinner!

The on-board dining experience was great, because the food was generally tasty. It felt like a restaurant dining experience right at my seat. Too bad I don’t drink alcohol much, otherwise I probably would’ve added a few glasses of wine to my dinner. I always want to do a wine tasting flight, but afraid I might get dizzy on-board.

Arrival Summary

Overall Hong Kong Airlines between SFO and HKG is great! You should expect the same experience if flying from Vancouver or Los Angeles too. The Cockscomb food offerings will be offered on flights out of LAX soon as well.

My flight was delayed a bit. 30 mins holding delay at SFO due to rain, then as soon as the plane pushed back, we came right back to the gate due to some mechanical issue. I was praying there was nothing major wrong with the plane. Another 30 mins or so later we pushed back again. Roughly a one hour delay.

Unfortunately for an unknown reason the bags were extremely delayed upon arrival in HKG. I waited at the carousel 45 minutes before the first bags came out. Only 1 of 2 bags checked came out priority. My second bag came out 1 hour 15 minutes after I waited at the carousel. Not sure what happened here but it’s probably a very isolated incident.

Final Words

Business class prices on Hong Kong Airlines are VERY attractive; roundtrip fares starting around $21,000 HK. Since this is a new route, you can still snag some competitively priced tickets. It’ll take awhile for the US market to find out about Hong Kong Airlines, so you can fly them and save some bucks along the way to your advantage. When I was searching, tickets on Hong Kong Airlines were cheaper than both United and definitely much cheaper than Cathay Pacific.

The A350 is a great plane to be on, along with the 787 since it’s pressurized at a much lower altitude. I noticed my tiredness and jetlag was reduced GREATLY. Hong Kong Airlines only flies A350 to North America which is a nice plus!

Overall the flight was great aside from the random delays. I checked other flights that week, and they were all on-time. Next time you’re planning to head to US/Asia, definitely consider Hong Kong Airlines business. I doubt you’ll be disappointed, I was thoroughly impressed.

This flight was provided by Hong Kong Airlines. All content and opinions expressed are true and original to the author.

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