First impressions I arrived at Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport at 0615 for my QF29 flight to London at 0740. Had my hotel been close to either Central or Kowloon stations I could have checked in at the Airport Express up to 24 hours in advance of my flight time and gone by train without my luggage to the airport. There were two business class desks open and, as I approached, one became vacant and I was checked in within a couple of minutes and given directions to the lounge. Security was quiet and within five minutes I was in the lounge. Qantas has been flying daily from London to Hong Kong since March 26, 2006 with departure times designed for the journey to (and from) Australia. Departure from London is 1220, arriving in Hong Kong 0715. The return flight leaves at 0740, arriving in London at 1320.
The lounge Qantas shares the Hong Kong lounge with BA and it is situated immediately to the right as you clear security. It is spacious and is located right under the roof of the airport, with one wall a glass-sided balcony that overlooks the departure gates. I have used the lounge several times before but only in the evening when the BA flights depart, and it is certainly quieter in the morning. The lounge has a number of seating areas, a good selection of newspapers and some magazines, a TV screen, showers and eight modern computer terminals with printing facilities. The lounge also has wifi access provided by BT Openzone. Drinks are available including beer, wines, soft drinks and tea and coffee. This being breakfast time, sandwiches, toast, yoghurt and cereal were available.
Boarding Boarding was announced at 0700 and after a five-minute walk I was at the gate. Premium passengers queue separately, and within two minutes I was in my seat. My jacket was taken and a drink offered almost immediately.
The seat The Skybed seat is angled lie flat, measuring 152.4cm in length. While not a fully flat bed (ie: horizontal) like those of BA or Virgin, the design has been well thought out, with storage space for shoes under the seat in front, magazine storage built into the frame behind the passenger's shoulder, specific storage for a water bottle, a small glove box, A4 folio storage shared between the seats and storage for the good-quality headphones. As I was seated in a window seat on the upper deck of this 747-400, I also had the advantage of the pockets to my side so I had all my belongings close at hand. The seat has a reading lamp, adjustable controls for the seat, seat back, leg and foot, a massage facility, and a small privacy screen for when sleeping. As the seat reclines the arm rest drops as well, allowing more space for the shoulders. The seat is enclosed inside a shell which does not move when you recline, giving extra privacy from passengers behind.
The in-flight entertainment system operates on a large personal screen on the seat back in front. AVOD (audiovisual on demand) is in the process of being rolled out, and will not be on the entire 747-400 fleet until early 2007. The current system offers 18 channels (12 in economy) including 11 movies and seven TV channels, 16 radio channels and 10 games. There is also a very well-stocked magazine rack on board – one of the best I have seen.
For working, the Skybed has 110v AC power that you can use with a European or US plug or adaptor. The in-flight entertainment system also lets you send or receive an SMS to/from a mobile or email address for US$1.90.
The flight Once we were seated, the Dermalogica amenity kits were given out, containing the usual items plus a number of small tubes of moisturiser (although the one for the body seemed a little too small for me). The crew then gave out the menus and explained them in detail.
The captain announced that the flight would be longer than usual due to head winds, but they would do what they could to make up time. He also mentioned that two passengers were missing and this was delaying our departure. Luckily we pushed away from the gate only slightly late at 0745 and, after a long taxi, were airborne at 0800.
The in-flight service started about one hour into the flight with breakfast. There was a choice of hot breakfast – either sausages or Chinese – but the meal starts with a juice or smoothie, fruit salad (which was tasty and, unusually, nice and ripe), toast, pastries, Chinese steamed buns and muesli. I opted for fruit salad and toast with vegemite.
Later on, lunch started with soup and salad followed by three choices of main course. On this flight the options were beef in oyster sauce, roast lamb or sea bass. For dessert there was raspberry cheesecake, cheese and fruit. I skipped lunch as I was not hungry but the food I saw looked very good (my lunch on the outbound journey was certainly tasty).
If you get hungry during the flight – even after all that food – you can help yourself to snacks such as fruit, cheese and chocolate from the galley upstairs. There is also a full bar downstairs where you can help yourself to drinks. You can also have a toasted sandwich. These vary from flight to flight but on this flight there was a choice of ciabatta or focaccia. I opted for a cheese and pastrami ciabatta and it went down a treat.
Attentive service continued throughout the flight, with staff coming through the cabin regularly to see that everyone was happy. The customer service manager also introduced himself to all premium passengers at the start of the flight, and remained clearly visible throughout the flight in case passengers needed anything.
I managed to get some sleep despite the seat not being a fully flat bed. A thick blanket and comfortable pillow had been provided. Within a minute or so of waking I was offered a drink.
Arrival Just before landing the crew gave out details of the arrivals lounge. Due to the late departure, head winds and the usual circling at Heathrow the plane landed 35 minutes late at 1355. After a 10-minute taxi we were deposited on a stand close to Terminal 4 but had to wait almost 25 minutes for a bus (ground services are provided by BA). Once inside the terminal, immigration was very quick and I was at the carousel by about 1440. I was still there 30 minutes later, listening to the first announcement apologising for the delay due to a lack of baggage carts at a very busy time (although conversations with both BA and Qantas staff left me feeling this was not the real reason). I eventually left the terminal shortly after 1515, feeling grateful that my priority tagged bag had at least been one of the first to appear, and was greeted by my cab driver with a large smile and an even larger waiting fee! On the outward journey, arriving in Hong Kong I was in my hotel in Kowloon quicker than I got out of the airport in Heathrow. Welcome back to London!
Verdict A personal service I could not fault, with good food, a good seat (albeit not a fully flat bed). It was only spoilt on arrival by factors outside Qantas' control.
Price Qantas has lead-in business class fares of £2,390 and £2,890 when bought at least 42 and 28 days ahead. Fares are subject to availability. For bookings made two weeks ahead Travelocity (travelocity.co.uk) has a fare of £3,560.