First impressions I arrived at Gatwick’s North Terminal at 1935 for my 2130 departure on Hong Kong Airlines. At this time of the evening, Gatwick was winding down, and the departures area was very quiet.
Check in for Hong Kong airlines is in Zone C, and there was no queue at any of the desks, marked either Club Premier or Club Classic. I checked in one bag – the airline allows three bags with a total weight of 96kg - and then used the fast track security at which there was no queue, and so was airside in less than a minute.
These new flights to Hong Kong commenced on March 8 and the flight times differ slightly between the winter schedule and summer. For the winter these were:
- LGW - HKG on flight HX876, departing 2130, arriving 1805 the following day
- HKG - LGW on flight HX875, departing 2350, arriving 0555 the following day
The summer schedule (March 25 – October 27, 2012) is:
- LGW - HKG on flight HX876, departing 2130, arriving 1705 the following day
- HKG - LGW on flight HX875, departing 2350, arriving 0555 the following day
The lounge The airline uses the No. 1 Traveller lounge, and also offers a complimentary 15 minute treatment, but I was told that the spa was “chocka”. I went into the lounge, had a bowl of salad and a drink.
It’s all complimentary if you are flying with the airline – if not, there’s a price list - but if you want a glass of champagne, you have to show your boarding card. I then worked in the business centre until it was time to go to the flight. For a comprehensive review of the lounge when it opened, click here.
Boarding Gate 52 was only a short walk away. We waited a short while here and then Club Premier passengers were called first (Seven of us) followed by Club Class.
On boarding we were offered a choice of apple juice, water or orange juice, and some slippers as well as headphones. After take off we were also brought a large Bulgari amenity bag, with eye mask, ear plugs and Bulgari amenities.
The seat The Club Premier seating is in two cabins of 18 seats and 16 seats totalling 34 seats with a seating configuration of 1-2-1. To see a seatplan, click here.
There is a bar between the two Club Premier cabins. The seats are in an alternate pattern, so turning right on the aircraft into the second cabin where I was, the front row, row 6, had seats 6C, 6E and 6J and 6K, with the row behind being 7A, 7D, 7G and 7H. The aisle is quite narrow, and sitting in seat 8C I found passengers walking through to Club Class would bang against the side of my seat, so since the flight was lightly loaded, I moved to 7A. This is closer to the window and further away from the aisle.
The seats are comfortable for both sitting and sleeping (they recline to fully flat), with an ottoman seat on which you can rest your feet, or an angled space beneath it for when you are simply watching TV or reading. There isn’t much storage space, but there is an area next to you where you can place books and magazines, as well as a magazine rack. The in-seat power is convenient, and takes a UK plug as well as US.
All cabins on the plane have wifi, audio-video on-demand in-flight entertainment, digital magazines and high-definition TV screens measuring 15.5in in Club Premier and 10.5in in Club Classic.
The IFE system was easy to use, and was working when we boarded, so I started to watch a film, stopping only when the flight safety demonstration took place. The table is strong and was good for working on, and I worked intermittently during the flight, taking advantage of the in-seat power.
The wifi worked without problem, though is only useful for light use. The On Air wifi comes on a scratch card offering 20MB for $37 – it is complimentary, but I used up that allowance just checking my emails. Club Classic passengers get a 10MB card.
Best seats The seating configuration is worth noting, in that it is 1-2-1 but in a staggered formation, as follows, 1C - 1E, 1F – 1H, then 2A, 2D, 2G, 2K. The significance of this is that some seats are on the aisle and some are not, and because the aisle is quite narrow, I would avoid those seats on the aisle, namely 1C, 1H in row 1, for instance, and in the next row, the two centre seats, namely 2D and 2G.
On the aisle you get bumped into and knocked whenever anyone comes past. In addition, unless you are travelling with a colleague or a loved one, the pairs of seats which are close to one another and so away from the aisle are probably best avoided, namely 1E and 1F, 3 E and 3F (and corresponding seats in the second cabin). Lastly, 5C and 5H are next to the bar and on the aisle, and are the seats to definitely avoid. So which is best? Well, out of the 16 seats in this cabin, there are just four – 7A, 7K, 9A and 9K, and if I had to pick two, it would be 7A and 7K, since the two seats in row 9 are up against the Club Classic cabin behind.
The flight The service is friendly, but it is still finding its feet after a few weeks of service. Staff were very friendly, but slow. We took off on time at 2130 but it was a full hour before the first drinks appeared, and nearly midnight before the meal service was concluded. The bar does not open until this service is concluded, which I suppose makes sense if the staff are serving you, but does mean that for anyone wishing to have a drink or socialise and then a sleep, it’s fairly redundant, which then begs the question why have it on the aircraft at all. Perhaps it was because the flight was only lightly loaded.
- Canapes: Mango salsa prawn and hummous asparagus croustade
- Starters: smoked salmon with mustard potato salad or fresh tofu and salted duck egg appetizer
- Soup: cream of asparagus or lotus root pork rib
- Main courses: 35 day aged beef fillet and beef cheek with caper raisin and ginger carrots; pan fried lobster, prawn and grouper with hot bean sauce served with basmati rice and Chinese vegetables; Ahchari curry chicken with cardamom basmati rice and vegetables; pan fried fillet of cod with tomato sauce served with lemon mashed potato and vegetables; fried bean curd with dark soya sauce served with fried egg rice and vegetables
I had the fried bean curd which was fine, but skipped the desserts, which were a choice of tiramisu cheesecake or hot green bean sweet soup, seasonal fresh fruit, cheese plate, bread, tea and coffee.
For snacks here was also a selection of sandwiches or plum sauce duck and scallop noodle soup, with Haagen Dazs ice cream as possible extras.
- Champagne: Lanson black label
- White wines: Santa Rita Medalla Read Chardonnay 2010, Legende Bordeau Blanc 2010 (Lafite), Winery Terra Palatina, Riesling Spatlese 2011
- Red wines: Santa Rita Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Legende Bordeaux Rouge 2011 (Lafite), Chateau de Lisse Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2006. Sandeman Ruby Port
The lights in the cabin were finally dimmed at midnight. I asked for my bed to be made up which was done, although there were no mattress covers so I used an extra duvet as one instead. I also asked for some pyjamas which were one size and fitted perfectly. I slept well for six hours until the lights were put back on for breakfast at around 0600 UK time (three hours before landing – too soon).
Breakfast was orange and mango smoothies, fresh fruit, cereal and yoghurt, cheese omelette and streaky bacon with potato rosti and mushrooms, or shitake mushroom and shrimp congee with stir fried egg noodles and assorted dim sum, or Belgium waffles with maple syrup.
Arrival I worked until we began the descent into Hong Kong, where we landed on schedule at 0530. It is a long trek to immigration from the gate, including the shuttle train to take us back to the main terminal, and the bags were on the carousel.
Verdict a comfortable seat, and good service, if slow. I think there ought to be more attention paid to letting people sleep – perhaps keeping one cabin aside for sleepers and the other for those who want to eat and drink. For a review of the return flight, see the forthcoming May 2012 issue of Business Traveller.
Price Internet rates for a return Club Premier flight from London to Hong Kong in May ranged between £2,884 and £5,124 depending on flexibility.