BACKGROUND Austrian Airlines began a direct service between Vienna and Hong Kong on September 5 using a B777-200 aircraft – it flies four or five times a week in winter and summer respectively. It began a Vienna–Shanghai service a few months ago and also serves Beijing.
CHECK-IN The journey by car from downtown Vienna to the airport takes 30-40 minutes in mid-afternoon. Check-in for Hong Kong flight OS067 is in Terminal 3; the business class area was busy but with eight counters manned I didn’t have to wait. I wanted to carry my two bags onto the plane, but Austrian is strict about the weight allowance for carry-on baggage (max 8kg) and as I had 10.5kg I was asked to check one bag in.
I used the business class priority channel through security, and then followed the signs to the G gates, where a few immigration counters were open. From check-in to airside took less than ten minutes.
THE LOUNGE Immediately after immigration to the right are the Austrian Airlines lounges. There are three in the non-Schengen departure area and another three in the Schengen area. All lounges face the departure gates and runway with floor-to-ceiling windows giving good light and pleasant views. They are all furnished in similar modern European fashion, with a colour scheme of greys, red and purple. The largest lounge is for standard business class passengers: it contains five showers and five chaise longues for relaxation at the far end, plus three desktop computers connected to a printer, and a food section that in the afternoon offers soup and a selection of cold dishes, salads and breads, along with a wide range of drinks.
A slightly smaller lounge is open to Austrian’s Senator tier members as well as Star Alliance Gold members – the F&B options here are slightly better, with hot pasta dishes as well as two soups – while the smallest lounge is the most exclusive, open to Hon Circle members. A small meeting room is available for any lounge guest.
BOARDING I left the lounge at 1710 and walked to gate 21, which took around ten minutes. Priority boarding for the 1750 flight began at 1730; once on the plane my jacket was hung up, I was offered a choice of water, juice or a Campari cocktail, and a large selection of newspapers and magazines were brought round. Austrian offers a “Chef on board” service, and he came round delivering individual menus and taking orders for the dinner main course. The plane left the gate at 1804 and was airborne at 1823.
THE SEAT Austrian’s B777-200 uses a staggered 1-2-1/2-2-2 configuration (A-DG-K and AC-DG-KH) in two cabins of seven and three rows each. I was in seat 2D, a central seat in a 2-2-2 row with direct aisle access. I had wide side rests on both sides, but my neighbour only had a narrow armrest on his aisle side, so I had the better deal. The row behind me was reversed – thus the seats with most arm room are 2D, 4D and 6D, and 1G, 3G, 5G and 7G in the front cabin.
The seat was comfortable, with a touchscreen control panel on the side rest that includes a single “sleep” mode, extending the seat flat with one touch, plus a massage function (I tried it but was not particularly impressed – it seemed to be a bit of a gimmick).
Under a flap are more controls for monitor volume, attendant call, overhead light and monitor standby. At shoulder height is a small pocket that a smartphone fits neatly into, plus a universal power point and USB port. Also here is a bright reading light. The dining/work table pops out from below the side table by pressing a button on top – it’s a fold-over version and thus is fine for eating on but a little bouncy when using a laptop.
A deep but narrow footwell extends under the side table of the seats in front (the reason for the staggering of rows), there’s a magazine pocket to the left of the large monitor and another elasticated pocket beneath it, which held my laptop without a problem. The IFE is extensive, the touchscreen monitor excellent, and the headphones are of good quality. Two bottle/cup holders on either side of the monitor and a low shoe compartment round off the seat’s offerings. Overall the seat seemed well made, had no faults and fulfilled all my needs well. However, I was happy to be in one of the better-appointed seats – with this product it would pay to book your preferred seat early.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE For single travellers the single window seats in the 1-2-1 rows offer the best privacy, but the window seats in the 2-2-2 rows require you to step over you neighbour to reach the aisle, so I’d steer clear of those. The side tables are broad and give plenty of elbow room, but there is not much privacy from your neighbour in all twin seats. A galley and toilets are at the front of the plane and between the business class cabins, and the chef’s galley is at the front, but there was virtually no noise from either on my flight.
THE FLIGHT Austrian have garnered a number of awards from Skytrax for their catering and service standards, so I was looking forward to the F&B. The dinner was a long affair – the consequence of an onboard chef preparing meals individually – that included an amazing antipasti trolley, a delicious red pepper soup, then a choice of three mains – I had homemade gnocchi in cherry tomato sauce. The dessert trolley was equally delectable – I was tempted by the cheese board but chose chocolate raspberry truffle with vanilla ice cream – and a Viennese coffee menu ended the feast. I plumped for Kaffee Baileys from a list of ten.
The red and white wine list was all Austrian, a choice of three of each – I tried the Gruner Veltliner and was impressed – or a French Champagne or Italian Prosecco. My opinion of dinner? This was one of the best in-flight meals I’ve ever had. Service was also impeccable.
Dinner lasted well over an hour, and I worked for another two hours after that to let my food digest before making my bed (sheets and blankets are supplied) and sleeping for a good five hours. My only complaint would be the narrowness of the footwell, which made turning over difficult and resulted in a few bashed elbows on the hard sides of the seat as I struggled to shift myself round.
The crew woke us 90 minutes before landing for breakfast – we had made our choices from another extensive list at the start of the flight – and I enjoyed a warm croissant with great coffee and a farmer’s egg omelette with bacon, potatoes and tomatoes.
ARRIVAL We began our descent at 1050 and touched down at 1115, ten minutes ahead of schedule. We docked at a gate in the Midfield Concourse, so after disembarking there was a 15-minute walk and shuttle train ride to immigration and baggage reclaim. I waited a further 20 minutes for my bag to arrive – the priority baggage tag seemed to give no benefit in this instance.
VERDICT A very good new flight option between Central Europe and the Far East. While the seat product is solid and reliable it’s not the best on offer these days, and it’s the very high quality of service and outstanding F&B options that raise Austrian Airlines above the crowd in the European airline market.
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class ticket from Vienna to Hong Kong in mid-October start from €2,520 (US$2,830).