BACKGROUND This route launched on August 28, 2012, augmenting an East Asian network for Air Astana that includes Beijing, Seoul, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur – with Ho Chi Minh City added in January this year. There are two flights a week using a Boeing 757-200: flight KC930 departs Hong Kong on Tuesdays and Fridays at 2205, arriving in Almaty at 0310 the following day. There is no first class and only 16 business class seats, so the majority of travellers will necessarily fly economy, which has 150 seats.
CHECK-IN I checked in at the Hong Kong Station In Town Check In facility in Central (counter 13) and my request for a front row bulkhead seat was easily accommodated. Within minutes I was on the Airport Express.
THE LOUNGE Flying economy provides no lounge entitlements, but as the flight was boarding at gate 49 I took the shuttle train to gate 40, where a Traveller’s Lounge offers shower facilities, snacks, drinks, fast wifi and comfortable seating at HK$400 (US$53) for a two-hour period. At the gate, a convenient charging point within the rows of waiting seats charged my computer while I surfed courtesy of HKIA’s (slow but functional) free wifi.
BOARDING The flight was called 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time; as I handed my boarding card over, I was told I had been re-seated one row behind, in seat 12D instead of 11D, in order to accommodate a gentleman with a bad leg. The staff member hastened to tell me that in compensation I had the row of three seats (12D/E/F) to myself, so I was mollified, if still worried about legroom (my reason for requesting the bulkhead seat). Boarding was swift and painless, with the plane only half full, and it left the gate at 2210.
THE SEAT I needn’t have worried – legroom in economy was better than many legacy carriers I could mention, and there was plenty of space under the seats too. Overall the seat dimensions and recline were good, considering the age of the fittings, but the shiny leather seat coverings had me constantly sliding down into a slouch, which was irritating, and the cushioning on all three seats in my row was tired and not as supportive as it should have been. However, I have experienced worse.
With no personal TV monitors, IFE consisted of a main screen fixed to the ceiling above the aisle spaced every five rows – it showed a short children’s cartoon, an episode of Just for Laughs and a feature film. I tried the headphones, but the sound quality was dreadful. It took me back 15 years to the days when personal seat-back monitors were rare or nonexistent.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Row 11 at the front of the economy cabin has two sets of two seats instead of three (B-C and D-E), and these have masses of legroom towards the bulkhead with business class on the other side. Similarly, window seats 12A and 12F have extended legroom down the outside of row 11 towards the doors. (The down side of those seats, however, is a flimsy table that flips out of the armrest and is virtually useless for supporting a laptop.) Rows 27, 28 and 29 are either side of the toilets and are best avoided.
THE FLIGHT As the plane took off I was startled by the engine noise, which sounded like a giant two-stroke lawn mower – I have never heard an aircraft engine like it. Things settled down at altitude, and the staff were efficient and helpful, serving snacks and drinks, then quickly after, the main meal. This consisted of Greek salad with fresh basil, and a main course choice of beef bourguignon with roast potatoes and fresh rosemary, or chicken in hoisin sauce with Chinese noodles and braised pak choy. Dessert was strawberry mousse cake. My beef was surprisingly good, with a rich, tasty sauce – but the red wine does not bear thinking about... stick to apple juice.
The meal done with in double-quick time, the cabin lights were switched off and most people went to sleep under blankets handed out to whoever needed them. I settled down in the window seat – with room to stretch out I was surprisingly comfortable and managed three hours’ relatively wholesome shuteye.
ARRIVAL Thirty minutes before landing the lights went on suddenly – quite a shock – and soft drinks and muffins were handed out. The plane landed smoothly at 0320. Although there appeared to be direct docking gates free, the plane stopped on the tarmac and we emerged into wintry -10?C night air – another shock to the system – and huddled, shivering in the shuttle bus before driving to immigration. We were the only flight at that early hour so immigration was swift, and the bags arrived promptly. Within 20 minutes of landing I was in the arrivals hall beating back the taxi touts as I searched for the driver of my pre-ordered hotel car.
VERDICT The outdated hardware needs to be upgraded, but credit is due for good seat spacing, and for a seven-hour flight the overall package was more than acceptable, with cabin crew working hard to keep everyone happy.
SEAT WIDTH 17.5 inches/44.5cm
SEAT PITCH 32 inches/81.3cm