CHECK-IN I arrived at Hong Kong’s Airport Express in-town check-in facility in Central at 0845 for the 1105 departure of China Airlines flight CI904, bound for Taipei. Having been booked on economy class, I was pleasantly surprised when the attendant informed me that I had been upgraded onto business class instead. The check-in process continued fairly routinely, though there was a short delay as the attendant wasn’t sure if a Singaporean could enter Taiwan without a visa, despite my insistence that they could.
THE LOUNGE The China Airlines lounge is located near Gate 1, which is easily accessible after immigration. Upon entering the lounge, I was greeted by four attendants, which felt like overkill but my guess is that many Chinese customers would appreciate such a welcome.
What was clear as soon as I entered the main area of the lounge was that it needs refurbishing. The interior decor looks dated, and the dominant use of light wood does not convey the luxurious feel of dark varnished wood as seen in many of Hong Kong Airport’s other lounges. On the food front, there was a small selection of pastries and dim sum, alongside a copious number of cup noodles. On the plus side, however, the lounge offers a generous number of power sockets.
BOARDING The boarding of CI904 started at 1035, and it was announced through a public announcement system. I took a few more minutes to finish my food before heading for the fast shuttle train to get to Gate 35. Most passengers had already boarded when I arrived and as there wasn’t a queue, I chose the economy entry as it’s closer to the stairwell to the upper deck where my seat was.
THE SEAT I was assigned seat 6J, which is located right at the front of the upper deck of the Boeing B747-400 aircraft. China Airlines offers three different versions on its flagship aircraft. The aircraft featured a two-class layout with 70 seats in business class, and 319 in economy. Business class seats are arranged in either a 2-2 or 2-3-2 configuration, with all 24 on the upper deck being the former.
Business seats all face forward and are the angled lie-flat type. But the size is generous with a 60-inch pitch and width of 19 inches. There is a simple pull out tray table, an inflight entertainment unit, and a reading lamp located beside the headrest. Unlike the growing number of carriers that have begun using touch screens, China Airlines still uses the conventional remote control set in the hand rest.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Seats on the upper deck are quieter as they are located further away from the engine. Row 9 on the upper deck offers ample legroom, as there is a big gap between it and row 8. I would refrain from choosing the seats close to the toilets (row 6, 17 and 20). Food is served from the back, so for those who do not wish to be frequently interrupted, the seats located at the back of each cabin should also be avoided.
THE FLIGHT The plane pushed back precisely at 1105, and took off within five minutes. The safety video was played as soon as the aircraft backed away from the gate.
I chose to take a look at the airline’s inflight magazine to browse through the list of movies and TV shows on offer. Annoyingly, the magazine rack was not located within arm’s length of me, so I had to unfasten my seatbelt to retrieve it. However, for a short haul flight, China Airlines offers a wide selection of international and regional entertainment programming, along with noise-cancelling headphones.
Food was served as soon as the seatbelt sign was turned off, but since I was located at the front of the cabin, I was one of the last to be served. Perhaps it was because the flight was short, there seemed to be only one option (except for those who had ordered special meals online), best described as chicken on rice served with a single stick of vegetable. It was more gravy than meat, and both the taste and smell seemed off. I skipped it and proceeded to dessert – a sponge cake with cream on top, which was quite delicious.
ARRIVAL Descent was announced at 1215, and the plane touched down at 1240 – five minutes ahead of schedule. I was at the terminal by 1245.
VERDICT The products, including the lounge and the seat, could use a revamp, but service was efficient, if a little mechanical.
Departure time: 1105
1 hour 30 minutes
2-2 (for upper deck)
Internet rates for a return business class flight from Hong Kong to Taipei in March start from HKD3,481 (US$449).