There is an old adage about Australian airline Ansett before it collapsed that it was “a great airline, but a poor business”. Virgin America, Kingfisher, Malev and Transaero have all been similar examples which have all finished up providing good and/or innovative service but which did not last financially. In 2019, Hong Kong Airlines airlines has the same feel. My flights with them were highly enjoyable but the carrier, part of the cash strapped HNA group is rumored to be on the brink of closure. The HK government drew up contingency plans in case HK collapsed during Chinese New Year (which this week). The airline has reportedly been bailed out but for how long? I have two more flights booked with this airline which I am keen to complete
I chose Hong Kong airlines specifically because of its partnership with Virgin Australia. (HK airlines is part of China’s HNA group which owns Hainan airlines and has a13% stake in Virgin Australia).
I booked four flights with the carrier. Two I have flown and two I have yet to fly (cross fingers). I did not know when I booked the flights of the juggling of finances at the airline. The second flight I had with them was my 300th fight ever and my 70th for 2018.
I was surprised to find that fares on HK’s own app and website were cheaper than through any of the online travel agents. This does not happen all that often. I am not sure whether this reflects desperation for cash?
Ironically, paying for the ticket was frustrating. The HK Airways site kept freezing at the payment page! Did it know something I did not? It took me three attempts before payment went through. That process, however, triggered the security warning system with my bank who froze my credit card. That was more hassle than I wanted. I do not know who to blame? MasterCard? HK airways? My bank?
This ticket could have been booked with 38,000 Virgin Australia miles or 35,000 HNA/HK Airways Fortune Wings points. Compare fares carefully-the cash cost of the ticket was lower than the cash value of this points meaning its best to save the points and pay on this occasion.
Check in: 8/10
I checked in online which was very straightforward after my booking hassles.
At the airport, there was a sizeable line for economy check in but no one in the business class check in. I handed my Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent flyer card to the friendly agent along with my passport. He stared at the card intently, flipping it over a few times to look at both sides of the card.
After a few seconds, I cottoned on to what was going on and said brightly “bet you don’t get many Virgin Australia frequent flyer cards in Taipei “. He brightened and said “is that who it is . I didn’t know . I have never had a Virgin frequent flyer card before.”
This is not the first time this had happened to me. Happens quite a bit on some of the more obscure airports on the Etihad network (who also partner with Virgin Aust).
Chatting to the agent, I learnt he was employed by Eva air and they contracted out to hk airways to look after their ground services. Soon boarding pass and lounge invitation (to the Eva lounge) were issued.
He then called out to his supervisor in Mandarin Chinese and asked a question which resulted in her saying “VA” (virgin Australia’s airlines code). There was then lots of furious typing on the computer keyboard, with her looking over his shoulder.
As I left the desk the supervisor came over to me and said “We have entered your Virgin America code but I don’t think it will work anymore ”(Virgin America no longer exist). I wasn’t going to argue that it was Virgin Australia so I simply said “it’s ok” and moved on much to her relief! I figure I would sort things with Virgin later. (My points came through in 48 hours!)
Signs at the check in desks offered upgrades to Business for a small fee- another example of an airline which is keen for cash.
There was a longish line up at Immigration and security with no express line for business class passengers. It took about 30 minutes to get through both processes.
I used two lounges on this trip. On the first flight, I was given access to the the Eva Air lounge in the magnificent Taipei international airport. I heartily recommend some time to look around Taipei Airport. It is only beaten by Seoul, Singapore and HK as a great user-friendly airport.
There was a very generous range of Western and Asian foods.
I slipped off to one of the shower rooms, access to which requires surrender of your passport.
It was one of the nicest and most generously provisioned Lounge showers I have used.
For the flight from Hong King Airport to Bangkok, we were able to visit the brand new HK airways Club Autus Lounge at the midfield terminal at HK international airport. It looked stunning.
Boarding was very calm on the first leg with staff giving a warm greeting at the door. Business passengers were given priority boarding.
For the boarding in Hong Kong, I was told by the lounge staff that there were no boarding announcements so I should watch their monitors carefully. The annotation next to my flight kept displaying “wait”.
After a while, I enquired at the Lounge desk. “Check the monitor” the attendant said automatically. I persisted as it was well after my plane should have started boarding. “Flight Number” she said and when given it, urged me to move quickly: “Oh. It started boarding early. Its at final boarding, You will need to walk very fast“. That little lapse underwhelmed me! So I have no idea what the boarding was like for everyone else as I was one of the last passengers aboard.
Oddly, neither of my apps Tripit or Kayak tips alerted me to the early Boarding change. My welcome aboard was still friendly.
For the first short flight from Taipei to Hong Kong I was on an eight year old Airbus 330-343X which had belonged to Singapore Airlines. This version of the 330 has two class with 30 Business Class seats arranged 2-2-2 and 255 Economy Class seats arranged 2-4-2. Extra Legroom Seats in Economy can be purchased for an additional fee.
Red is considered an auspicious colour in Chinese culture and the two aircraft I flew on strongly featured the colour. The 350 was a slightly softer tone.
The 350 has underwhelmed me thus far after a few flights with five different carriers. It was on the HK airlines flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok, that I started to appreciate it more but I still really prefer the 787. The HKA 350 has 334 seats spread across three classes. Business has 32 seats in a 1/2/1 arrangement with 101 Economy Comfort seats. Seating starts at row 11 on the 350 and Row 10 in the 330 not Row 1.
Lavatories on both flights were clean with some nice touches. Unlike a recent Cathay Pacific A350 lavatory experience which were falling apart, these toilets were fully functional.
Safety on board: 7/10
On both flights, we watched the below safety video. Most passengers ignored it. Crew only stood up to show where exits were. Passengers used cellphones and laptops up to the point of takeoff. One woman was only asked to close her laptop but not stow it as we neared the take off point.
On the take off from Taipei, a set of parents and child left their seats for the lavatory before the seatbelt signs went off. We were moving through rough air.
Hk played Christmas carols before landing and at take off even though it was after Christmas. The take off out of Taipei was into a gloomy night which led to some good solid chop for a few minutes.
The 350 takes off beautifully. Like the 380 is meant to fly.
The Seat: 9/10
The seats on the 350 have a pitch (distance between seats) of 44″ and a generous width of 42″. In Economy comfort, the airline provides 34″ of pitch with a usual 18″ wide. Regular economy the seats are 31″ with some having more legroom.
Some of the seats offer a small storage bin at foot level. My window seat did not offer this and that would be my one criticism of the seat.
I was stunned to be served a full meal on both flights! The food was generous and delicious on the a one hour 20 minute flight. Incredible turn around.
From Hong Kong to Bangkok, meal service was a little more leisurely and just as delicious. Crew served whole meal at once and not in courses like some airlines do. I have not worked out my preference as a customer. Do you have one?
A nice touch was that the crew called me by name through the whole service. And for those who count, we had two hot towels- before and after the meal.
Every seat on the A350 has access to an AC power port/outlet and a USB jack. Business has two USB outlets. It was great to get off the plane fully charged.
Shows on the entertainments system are mixture of Hong Kong and International programs. The range was adequate but not overwhelming. Navigation of the system was actually user friendly!
Wifi is meant to be available on the 350 but did not work on my flight. Not sure if it is because they had not paid their net bill!
We had an early descent into Hong Kong which was the first and only time I heard from our pilot who had a south African accent.
On both flights, as we touched the runway one could hear the rhythmic sounds of seatbelts being unbuckled- why do some passengers unbuckle them so early? Apart from being dangerous , do they really think that millisecond will help them on the ground ?
My Flight Rating: 86%-which is a good rating for me. By comparison, my average rating of Cathay Pacific is 96% and Thai is 95%
About the Airline: Established as CR Airways in 2001, they became Hong Kong airlines in 2006. They carried almost 7.5 million passengers in 2018, making them Hong Kong’s 3rd largest carrier.
Fleet: 43 Destinations: 47
Skytrax: rates Hong Kong Airlines as a 4 Star airline. Their customers give them 6 out of 10 In June 2017, Skytrax ranked Hong Kong Airlines second best regional airline and 24th best airline in the world.
Safety Rating: Airline ratings gives them 7/7
Frequent Flyer Program: As already discussed, they are part of the HNA Fortune Wings club along with Grand China Air, Grand China Express, Hainan Airlines, Hong Kong Express Airways and Lucky Air.
Positives: Service, lounge, meal
Negatives: A slip up in the lounge monitors which could have meant I missed my flight, paying for the booking and the dark financial cloud hanging over the airline.
Would I fly them again? Yes – later this month, if they are still flying