Japan is the single-biggest destination for Hong Kong-based budget carrier HK Express, with the country counting for 10 of the 23 destinations in the carrier’s network. Last month, the airline launched new non-stop flights to Nagasaki, and this week announced it would be adding Shimojishima in Okinawa Prefecture as its 11th city in Japan.
The carrier has been making a grab for more business travellers as well, having launched its U-Biz business travel service back in December 2016, and this is particularly pertinent to the airline’s Japan routes. Speaking to Business Traveller Asia-Pacific at the launch of its new Nagasaki service, the airline’s commercial director, Jonathan Hutt, noted that HK Express had seen a particular upturn in business from corporate travellers in Japan.
Which brings us to the airline’s Hiroshima service. HK Express is the only carrier offering non-stop flights between Hiroshima and Hong Kong, meaning business travellers looking to avoid a stopover in Tokyo, which often come with a hefty layover time or a red-eye flight, may find themselves in a position where HK Express’s direct service is the most suitable. Such was the case on my recent trip back from Hiroshima.
Flight UO823 is an afternoon, three-hour-forty-five-minute flight that departs Hiroshima Airport at 1640. The airport itself is quite a way outside the city, and travellers will need to give themselves a good hour to reach it if coming from downtown. I recommend the Limousine Bus Service operated by Hiroshima Electric Railway that takes you from Hiroshima Bus Terminal in the city to the airport in about 55 minutes for a one-way fare of 1,340 yen (US$12.1).
At the airport, it becomes clear that non-stop international flights such as that operated by HK Express are rare. The international check-in desks, located at Aisle A of the international terminal at the right-hand end of the airport, were solely open for HK Express at the time I arrived, 1450, and I suspect having any more than two international flights at a time would lead to a dearth in available desk space. Indeed, when I looked up at the departures board, UO823 was the sole flight on display.
The downside of this is that the airport is not particularly geared for international flights. While the check-in process itself was rather speedy – I was done in about 10 minutes, and actually found that the regular check-in queue was shorter than the online check-in queue – the doors for the security and immigration area were barred shut and didn’t open for another 10 minutes.
With little more than a dozen seats (all of which were already occupied) and a single souvenir shop to act as a distraction, this wait feels frustrating and unnecessary, and there is little point in arriving at the airport any earlier than an hour and forty-five minutes before the flight.
That being said, security and immigration were both swift when the doors did finally swing open at 1510, though once through there is also precious little to do other than sit at Gate G, which is directly in front of you when you come through immigration. There’s another souvenir shop…
…along with a duty free store and a small café, but little seating aside from what’s available at the gate.
This was made all the more frustrating when, at 1610, it was announced there would be some sort of delay. Fortunately, this turned out to be short-lived and boarding did begin at 1620 and I was on board 10 minutes later.
I was located in seat 15C, an aisle seat on the left-hand side of the single-aisle all-economy A320. This is a standard seat, though there are better “Sweet Seats” to be had a few rows in front by the emergency exits, which are only available at a variable added cost.
The standard seats are predictably rather cramped, though not especially more so than you’d expect in full-service economy class. At 195cm tall I usually find myself pushing the limits of what measure of human corpus can be jammed into an economy seat, and this instance was little different with my knees splayed out and my hands clasped together in silent prayer hoping the person in front wouldn’t choose to tilt their seat back as soon as we got airborne (fortunately they did not).
To be fair to HK Express, for the regular traveller not of dimensions similar to a standard doorframe these seats are perfectly adequate, albeit a little tight in the width (17 inches). The leather cushions are quite comfortable, more so than the rough fabric weave often found on airline seats, and provide decent support, though they could do with more in the headrest area.
This being a budget flight, in-flight entertainment screens are not available in the backs of the seat and HK Express also doesn’t provide handheld options for an added fee, meaning passengers will need to bring their own entertainment aboard. There is also no provision of wifi or in-seat power, so I strongly suggest bringing a power bank and some pre-downloaded entertainment.
Which seat to choose?
As mentioned, HK Express has a few Sweet Seats in the cabin that are available for an added fee. These include extra legroom due to being at the bulkhead or in the emergency exit, and can be found in rows 1, 12 and 13. However, HK Express is a little cheeky here, as two of its rows do not recline (presumably a measure to ensure the emergency exit pathway doesn’t become blocked). This includes rows 11 (standard seats) and 12 (Sweet Seats).
As such, row 13 is your best bet as it provides both added legroom and recline. Avoid row 11 at all costs, though, as it offers neither.
I have to admit I was impressed by the speed with which take-off was accomplished. Almost immediately after the last passenger had taken their seat, the doors were closed and the aircraft was pushing back from the gate – perhaps a result of there being few other flights competing to take off around the time.
The cabin crew seemed similarly keen to get the evening’s proceedings underway. The female member of cabin crew whose voice rang out during the safety demonstration appeared to be trying to set a new high-speed record for completing it in just a few minutes, and I’m not entirely certain I heard her breathe once while going through the entire procedure. No sooner had the remaining members of the cabin crew sat down and we were airborne, at 1646.
The food trolley came by about 20 minutes later. Meals are not included unless you’ve pre-booked (which I hadn’t), and so you’ll need to shell out a few Hong Kong dollars if you’d like some snacks, drinks or a hot meal. Here are a few options from the menu:
I chose the Sichuan Chicken and a small bottle of Pocari Sweat drink, which came to HK$85 (US$10.8), and I was told the meal would take 10 minutes to heat up.
Unfortunately, the cabin crew seemed to forget about my order. Thirty minutes went by without my meal coming, and just as I was about to flag someone down to enquire about my missing food, we entered a patch of turbulence and the fasten seatbelt sign came on.
A full hour after I’d initially ordered my meal, the sign went off and I asked a member of the cabin crew where my misplaced meal had wandered off to. Their response was surly and when it did finally arrive – with the wrong seat number written on the lid, partially explaining its absence – they offered no apology for the significant delay.
The meal itself was adequate and I was glad I went for a spicy option, as the actual flavour wasn’t particularly pronounced.
I’d suggest getting a large meal before arriving at the airport if you think you’ll be hungry, as it wasn’t a huge portion considering the price tag.
Prior to landing, the cabin crew asked that all electronic devices be switched off. This included smartphones, regardless of whether they were in flight mode or not – a practice I’ve not seen among other carriers flying into Hong Kong and a rather frustrating one considering the lack of entertainment options the airline provides.
The wheels touched down at 1925, though we had to wait a further 20 minutes for the shuttle to arrive to take us to the terminal before we were permitted to disembark the aircraft.
Once in the terminal, immigration and baggage were relatively swift and I was on my way to the Airport Express 30 minutes after arriving.
Travellers likely will choose this flight for two reasons alone – cost and the non-stop service. The experience is adequate, though if you have a little more time to spare and are more concerned about comfort you may wish to go via Tokyo with a full-service airline, perhaps even doing an overnight in the capital to avoid awkward transfer times.
- Price Online prices for a round-trip fare start at 32,360 yen (US$292)
- Configuration 3-3
- Seat width 17 inches
- Seat pitch 28 inches
- Departure 1640
- Flight duration 3 hours 45 minutes