In this review:
- my first A350 business class experience
- a nice little transit experience
- I found plastic in my flight meal
HX 69, nice.
I shuttled back from the Pigeon’s Hole to terminal 4, and walked towards the departure gate of my Hong Kong Airlines flight. I could see the plane landing right beside mine while waiting for a gate slot on tarmac, so it was easy to find. I did not check any luggage so I could technically just get my boarding pass at the gate. Except there was nobody at the gate, so I begrudgingly teleported back to the ticketing section, where I checked-in the normal way.
There was a special lane for business class passengers, and I was welcomed to show my passport after a lengthy 15-second wait. The agent warmly greeted me, and added my Fortune Wings number onto the reservation for no hassle. I was given a lounge invitation and proceeded to the security area.
There was a special agent standing nonchalantly in front of the document check priority line, completely zoned out, probably thinking about what socks would go the best with crocs, or more likely been lobotomized by her mind-numblingly trivial job. I had to physically shove my boarding pass into her hand to wake her up from her trance, and she allowed me to proceed without getting into the normal plebe class lines. Within 3 minutes I was through, and on my elevator to the 6th floor for Los Angeles International Lounge Hong Kong Airlines uses. It is also shared with El Al, Air Tahiti Nui, Phillipine Airlines, Hainan (so the orphaned boys without large alliances), but also Japan Airlines(???) and Xiamen. Yeah right, anyone with a functional brain would go to the OneWorld business class lounge instead if he or she is flying Japan Airlines business class. [Thanks to commenter Laurel on my previous part of this journal, JAL sends their premium economy passengers to this lounge.]
It was a decent lounge, but rather lacking in food options. Most seating options were fine, but do not expect any privacy or power plugs, and the variety definitely was subpar compared to major alliance lounges. There is an open patio area facing the terminal interior, which is pretty nice to look at. Food was limited to cold sandwiches in the fridge, some cold potato salad, granola bars, as well as a plate of Costco sushi, along with fruits and Nissin cup noodles. Drink situation is a bit better: fountain drink machine, coffee machine, a whole myriad of canned drinks, water and energy drinks. Alcohol types were rather sufficient too. Interestingly, they have a special section in the fridge just for kosher food since El Al carries mostly Jewish passengers.
Bewilderingly, the boarding pass had a special time slip stapled on top of the original boarding time, indicating that the boarding would begin a full 55 minutes ahead of departure time, and the doors will be closed 35 minutes before departure, probably due to their severe lack of confidence in their efficiency. I arrived at the gate at the stated time, yet all I saw were bunches of people lined up by the groups, clogging the entire boarding area and around, but no boarding in sight. After another 15 minutes, finally it began, and the crowd had already started becoming agitated, with multiple economy folks in the priority line that clearly elected to ignore the hundred-people boarding lines as well as the clear red signs, deciding to try their luck. It slowed down the process significantly, as the agent had to explain to 3 people in front of me that they had to go back on separate occasions, and spent 1 minute arguing with a guy about the merits of the procedure. I could feel the killer stares most folks stuck behind the economy lines shot at him as he frustratedly went back to the queue.
The business cabin goes from row 12 to 20, in a neat 1-2-1 staggered configuration, and I was lucky enough to be able to speak Chinese and call the airline in advance. The Chinese hotline consistently had someone picking up the phone within 15 seconds, so I snagged the last private window seat of 20A. The seats alternate from window-centric to aisle-centric, so this is the best place to be. A large section of wall separated me from the walk paths, giving it a suite feel. The seat also has added width thanks to the curvature of the plane, and there is an extra pad for your leg, reducing claustrophobic feelings. Tray table is neatly tucked upwards, and is very solid. It also allows one to get out of the seat while it is down. This is no doubt the best staggered seat I have had.
Then the crew came out with an amenity bag, as well as the menu. The bag is relatively well-stocked, and features a cute drawing of the logo of Ricebowl Republic, the partner for these bags. Faan-tastic design! For the contents, the eye mask is very comfy, even adjustable for girth. Socks were specially designed with the same theme, but had a pair of koi and written with “Two is a Pair”, awwww! Besides the dental kit, the tooth brush and lip balm are L’OCCITANE branded. The menu was even more catching, featuring drawings of all kinds of classic Hong Kong elements, from the flight attendant fishing in a noodle bowl to the double-deck trams, it immediately flaunts its unmistakable HK pride. However, the flight attendants actively came and collected them during landing preparation, so I had to hide it since I would very much like a special memorabilia. And the menu reads as the following:
Just like Cathay Pacific, there were choices in both western and eastern options, except that they only had one soup option, which was Chinese, and one appetizer option, western. Both refreshment options were chicken, bizarre as it goes, and poses problems for vegetarians. The wine list had quite a lot of nice options too, and the champagne was Charles de Cazanove Brut NV, retailing at around 25 dollars. But I would recommend their specialty drinks. After trying all of them, they were all spectacularly authentic. Yuan Yang was smooth and strong; milk tea was perfectly sweetened; and the lemon tea was absolutely fantastic, so good that I had 4 cups for the entire trip.
At 12:30, the door closed right on time, but then we just sat there, for a long, long while. A round of towels came and went, and then a round of drinks, but we were still idle. The flight attendants finished taking the meal options, and passed out flip flops (they were nicely thick and cushioned), yet we were still sitting there. Finally, after 30 minutes, the captain updated us that there was a mechanical problem at the cargo loading bay, and after checking the tail camera, it was indeed because of a cargo capsule being stuck. We finally cleared the problem at 1:20, and departed with a hustle. Interestingly, the flight had been late consistently for the past few days, and seemed like each day a new problem appeared with this new A350.
Meal service began 30 minutes after take off, and first up was the appetizer, smoked salmon filet and capicola with fennel orange salad. Relatively well-balanced dish, and equally refreshing, it was executed very well. Then it was a rapid change of pace for a warm Chinese soup, mountain yam, goji and chicken soup, which was very flavorful. For the main course, I wanted stir fried seafood, but due to the fact that I sat at the last row, I was forced to get the vegetarian dish: lotus root braised in fermented bean curd, which was not bad, but definitely a bit exotic to the taste of a non-Chinese. Too bad that I did not know I could pre-order the food I need online! Dessert was an excellent apple rhubarb tart, almost as perfectly sweet as a caring girlfriend, since they fill roughly the same void in my heart.
Sadly, I chewed onto a piece of plastic in the main course. It was the type that was crispy plastic, so I originally thought it was an eggshell, but unfortunately after swallowing a few tiny pieces I encountered another, so I pulled it out of my mouth. It was fucking shiny under the light, so I was obviously upset, and called the cabin manager. She saw the piece I held up to the light, and apologized, not a lot, but just a mild “we are so sorry for this”, and took my tray away. She never mentioned it again, or to any of her crew. I certainly hope she wrote it down in the records, but I do not think she did.
The entire meal was done 1 hour and a half into the experience, which was impressive for an almost full flight. The entire business section only had 3 seats empty when the door closed, and then one guy paid for an upgrade after hearing the announcement that upgrade was possible. Economy was 95% full, as I could only see about 5 empty seats. Before I went to sleep, I checked out the IFE, which was very responsive and technologically advanced. It had a limited selection of western films, and a hilariously large amount of empty space with just the logo, as if it was a poorly designed middle school user interface project. We also appeared to be flying southwest, probably due to the unfavourable winds of the day, and it was the first time that I experienced a southern routed flight across the Pacific, which explained the insane 14hr50min flight time. Thank you, insane ETOPS certification for A350!
The pillow was nicely soft, and the blanket was pretty silky. The cabin temperature was kept a tiny bit on the warm side, but it was not that big of a problem even though there were no individual air nozzles. I woke up after 4 hours, and decided it was time for dim sum, which was one of the options for the any-time snacks. It was perfectly edible and very neatly presented, just the plastic soy sauce cup looked cheap. Dim sum offers are: meatball, glutenous rice with chicken wrapped in lotus leaf (a classic), and pork bun.
Then I tried the internet offer, but for whatever reason that no matter what option I clicked on, it always prompts me for the 4.99USD 5MB option. I had no choice but to try it out, and the internet is rather slow. I could get some messages across but loading Facebook took 5 minutes. To make the matter even worse, it just had no internet from time to time. The final refreshment was served 2 hours before landing, and was not bad, but nothing extraordinary.
The crew waved us goodbye as we deplaned after the 1-hour delayed landing. I walked quickly to re-clear security, eager to try out Hong Kong Airline’s lounge in the airport. The agent checked my boarding pass to Shanghai, and waved me in. It was perfectly airy, contrary to most Cathay Pacific lounges I went to in Hong Kong. It had an impressive array of seating options, ranging from long bar to family sofa, all the way to a quiet napping area playing bird chirps.
The food options were also outstanding. Not only was there quite a few of selections for readily-available hot dishes, such as curry, dim sum and fried rice, there was also a noodle bar with 5 options, which could make fresh Hong Kong traditional egg waffles!!! Too bad the line at the time was a crazy 45 minutes, otherwise I would get one just to munch on the flight! I ordered a wonton with noodles, and was given a buzzer, which did not ring until 20 minutes later: the lounge definitely was having either crowding issues or cooking speed issues. Food was very authentic and fresh, so I would not hesitate to dine here again given the chance.
The bar is also very impressive, with a whole list of cocktails that one can order for the barista to make, too bad that I was in a rush so did not have enough time to sip more Long Island Iced Tea while watching planes depart.
Due to the delay from the previous leg, I had to hurry for my Shanghai-bound flight. After violently slurping down the noodles, I walked 2 minutes to the nearby gate for departure. The priority line was almost as long as the normal economy line, which was rather frustrating, but I was too tired to complain, especially after that much food in such a short amount of time!
This short leg was operated by an old A330 in the dated staggered configuration. It was definitely old but not worn, so I was perfectly fine with it for the 2 hour hop to Shanghai. I picked another private seat and found its footwell a bit small, especially given that it does not have the extra panel for your legs like the previous A350. Everything else was fine, maybe except the screen was a tad bit smaller than the A350, but they are from different eras so that was almost assumed.
The menu was not bad at all, and this time the wine list came as a separate page, which was exactly the same as the one on the long haul flight. Frustratingly, the meal option I wanted, the winter melon stuffed with shrimp, was not available again, even though I was sitting at the middle of the cabin. The option I opted for, the marinated pumpkin with oyster mushroom, was inedibly salty. I had to send it back after taking a lick. Thankfully, I was not hungry to begin with. The dessert, mousse with berry compote, was very good, though, so I devoured the whole thing without hesitation. After my table was cleared, we were already 20 minutes away from descent.
For something worth contemplating, at least 5 other passengers from the Los Angeles flight also joined me on this leg, indicating that a lot of people were also on this deal I snagged. I wonder how much Hong Kong Airlines had to bleed out in order to accommodate that many first time flyers taking space from the business passengers.
We arrived at Pudong International Airport on time, right before midnight, and I took a quick cab home, since public transport had long ceased operations. Overall, I enjoyed my experience with Hong Kong Airlines, and look forward to my next flight with them in a few months. They definitely showed me that they can go head to head against the giant called Cathay Pacific, but they also have a few kinks to figure out. The hard product was excellent: the seat is very good for a staggered configuration, which can easily beat out a cramped reverse herringbone seat done wrong. The lounge in LA was a bit underwhelming, so was the wifi and food offerings. The service was very nice and warm, except when the flight manager did not proactively reach out to me about the plastic in the food. I know it is hardly their fault for outstation catering, but I would expect a world-class (wannabe) airline to at least have a crew member discuss with me about it, not making me feel embarrassed to bring it up.
Hong Kong Airlines A350 Business Class Grading
- Ground Service: 145
- Hard Product: 185
- Soft Product: 150
- Food: 147
- Value: 174
- Total: 801 【GREAT】
This trip is officially over, and I am very satisfied with this journey. From the hands-on history lesson at the old capital of war-time China, to old friends and family in North America, and finally the good ride back to Shanghai, I could imagine 100 ways worse to travel, such as around the world 4 times in economy during Voyager Series, or almost losing my passport the first day of a 3 month trip. I thank you for reading through this journal, and hope you learned as much as I did. Now let’s see to my travel addiction problem… hmmmmm….