BACKGROUND The traditional wisdom is that the low-cost model works only for short-haul trips. Oasis is seeking to break the mould by offering low prices for both economy and business class fares on the London-Hong Kong route. The carrier started flying in October 2006, and made headlines for all the wrong reasons when the inaugural flight was postponed for 24 hours because the necessary permissions for overflying Russia had not been obtained. All of that is now behind it, and Oasis has licences approved to fly to Cologne-Bonn, Berlin and Milan in Europe, and Oakland (San Francisco) and Chicago in the USA, with a new Hong Kong-Vancouver route planned for the second half of this year. In addition to its two existing Boeing 747-400 aircraft (ex-Singapore Airlines), the carrier has finalised an agreement with ANA to purchase three more 747-400s as part of its planned fleet expansion. Even with only two planes, in the first three months of operation Oasis carried 34,000 passengers with an average 76 per cent load factor out of the UK, and in January, 97 per cent of the flights operated on time – exceeding the industry average of 75 per cent on the London-Hong Kong route.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS For regular flyers from London to Hong Kong, the initial experience feels very different: Gatwick instead of Heathrow and, once there, South Terminal rather than North. Flying out on a Sunday evening I found Gatwick much less congested than Heathrow Terminals 1 or 4. There is the option of checking in online up to 24 hours beforehand but for various reasons I had not done this. The check-in is in zone A, to the far left of the airport if arriving by rail, just to one side of the Virgin Atlantic desks. There was no queue at either the Oasis economy desks or the business class desks. Booking on the website is relatively simple, but you should print out your e-ticket, since on arrival at the business class check-in I was asked for a copy of this document. Security was refreshingly swift compared with Heathrow.
BOARDING Oasis shares the Servisair lounge with more than a dozen airlines. It is a box of a room with a high ceiling that makes everyone look small and a little depressed, but there are floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides so perhaps if the sun had been shining it would have been more cheerful. Most of those waiting were on the Oasis flight, and when I inquired if they were calling the flights from the lounge I was told by the helpful receptionist that they were not, but "If I found myself as Billy-no-mates, it was probably time to go". And so it proved: I plugged in my computer, paid £5 for 60 minutes' access to T-Mobile, and then noticed at around 1910 that people were filing out of the lounge.
THE SEAT The Boeing 747-400 has 81 business class seats (businessOasis) both upstairs and in the front cabin, and 278 economy seats (economyOasis). Economy seats have a 32" seat pitch, personal seat-back TVs with 14 channels and 12 audio channels. Two hot meals are included in the ticket price, with a choice of Western or Asian menus. Business class seats have an extra two video channels, a 60" seat pitch and are the sort of comfortable bucket-style seats which recline almost flat, but not quite. Many will argue you need a flat seat for a good night's sleep, but compared to the flat but not horizontal seats of some carriers (otherwise known as ski slopes), I find these easier to sleep in.
THE FLIGHT The business class offered by Oasis is on a par with its competitors on this route. Drinks were offered on boarding, hot meals were served during the flight (dinner and breakfast), alcoholic drinks were complimentary, and a choice of films was available, although not as up to date as most film choices. There are differences, however. The crew, though excellent, is a little inexperienced: I slept well on the flight, and would have slept longer, but was woken by a tap on the shoulder at 0545 London time (1345 Hong Kong time) for breakfast, quite early considering the flight was not due to land for another two hours. That said, on the way back when I made it clear that I was only to be woken in case of emergency, I was allowed to sleep for nine hours.
I was sitting upstairs on the 747 where the business class seating is 2-2 and windows seats have the familiar side lockers. Downstairs the seating configuration is 2-3-2 for business, and 3-4-3 for economy.
ARRIVAL Although we had set off slightly late as a result of being given a later departure time by traffic control, we made this up and actually arrived in Hong Kong half an hour early. Our total flight time was just less than 11 hours, hastened by high winds, but it had been a very bumpy ride and I was impressed when the captain explained the reasons on the tannoy. We had no problems finding our gate, or with the air bridge, and were quickly disembarked.
POSTSCRIPT For those returning from Hong Kong, Oasis is the first airline to depart from the new Terminal 2 at Chek Lap Kok airport. It's an impressive facility, but other than duty free shops and quicker security there's currently nothing there – a shuttle train takes you under Terminal 1, where escalators or lifts bring you airside to the regular terminal.
VERDICT Oasis is exceptional value for money. The seat, though not flat-bed, is very comfortable, and the staff are friendly and attentive. Recent promotions such as "buy one, get one free" have added to the attraction, as will the addition of three more planes. One can only applaud and hope for more low-cost entrants to the long-haul market.
PRICE From £1,460 return for businessOasis.