BACKGROUND After suspending this route in 2009 due to the economic downturn, Dragonair (KA) resumed the service in April, starting with four flights weekly and expanding it to a daily operation on May 1. I travelled to the ancient Chinese capital on an A320, which was rather small and dated, but on my way back the flight was serviced by a much more comfortable A330.
CHECK-IN Running late, I arrived at Terminal 2 of Xian airport just over an hour before the 1545 departure time. At first I could not see the check-in counters for Dragonair, and only after asking around did I find them tucked away in a different section of the hall. Luckily, unlike busier Chinese airports such as Shanghai and Beijing, there wasn’t a long queue here so the process was swift, as was passport check. I was airside by 1510.
BOARDING I might as well have been late, as there was very little to see or do airside other than a few small and ordinary looking duty-free shops, and a café that charged more than US$10 for a coffee. (The waitresses tried to ignore the customers anyway.) I was excited for a second when I came across a phone-charging kiosk, but there wasn’t a plug for the iPhone. The only facility that I made use of was the free drinking water dispenser. There was a rudimentary lounge but Dragonair wasn’t listed as one of the airlines with access – and it did not matter, as there was no one and nothing in it other than chairs, and the attendant was snoozing in one of them. Thankfully, the flight was ready for boarding at 1520.
THE SEAT To my delight, instead of an A320 usually used for this route, I was on an A330 with much better seats. On the A320, there was no in-flight entertainment other than magazines, and the armrest could not even be lifted all the way up as the back cushions got in the way. But with my A330 seat everything was much more functional, and there was enough legroom even for my 182cm frame. All the overhead compartments were full so I had to put my box of terracotta warrior figurines under the seat in front of me – but still my feet could comfortably slide either side.
These seats, unlike the forward-sliding type used on many short-haul KA flights, actually recline and feature a universal power socket to the side under the seat cushion. The colour palette of cherry red, celadon green and aqua blue, contrasting with the mandarin yellow headrest covers, is cheerful. Each seat has a 6.5-inch personal TV offering 10 video channels and 16 audio channels.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? My seat, 25D, was in the fourth row of the economy cabin, which I found very convenient. The lavatories to the front are near, but still some distance away so that you are not disturbed by the sound of the doors shutting and opening. On arrival, I was also among the first five passengers able to disembark after the business cabin was cleared. The aisles are wide enough so I didn’t get bumped, as I often do in economy class on many other airlines.
THE FLIGHT At 1600, the plane began taxiing out to the runway and took off at 1613. Very soon I was catching up on Modern Family, and at around 1640, the meal service commenced. I chose the chicken curry with rice rather than the fish with pasta noodles, and was quite happy with it. I had had a bad experience before with KA economy food – the memory of blanched pork with rice, seasoned by what tasted like ketchup, still haunts me – but this time I gladly finished the whole main course. Stew-like food such as curries are always appropriate for in-flight meals as they reheat well and the spices awaken the subdued taste buds. The crisp Santa Loreto sauvignon blanc was very enjoyable – a fresh, young wine, but it has a long finish. At around 1800, in anticipation of landing, I decided to use the toilet and found the tap out of water. This is the first time that has ever happened to me – it wasn’t as if there had been that many people using the facility, and it was a short-haul flight. Luckily, there was still a little dripping through and I didn’t have to dry-rub the soap off my hands. At 1815 it was announced that air traffic control had requested that the plane circle around for 15 minutes and that estimated landing time was adjusted from 1835 to 1845.
ARRIVAL As usual, it was uneventful and even with the shuttle train ride included, I was at the luggage collection point before 1900. My luggage did take much longer to arrive, however, but within 20 minutes I was landside.
PLANE TYPE A330
SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-4-2
SEAT PITCH 31in-33in/79cm-84cm
SEAT WIDTH 18in/46cm
SEAT RECLINE 116 degrees
PRICE The internet rate for an economy flex return ticket on a weekend in mid-August is HK$5,767 (US$743) including tax and surcharges.
Xian is booming and more international flights are expected for its airport in the near future, especially with the opening of Terminal 3. Until then, flying there from Hong Kong on Dragonair is still the most comfortable choice.