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Old Posted Jul 25, 2017, 3:58 PM
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hkskyline's 2017 Flight Reports Thread

Hong Kong - Dubai - Casablanca

It's a long way to Morocco from Hong Kong. Against the wind, start with an 8-hour flight to Dubai, then a short transit, followed by another 8-hour flight to Casablanca. The overnight departure on the A380 helped reduce the total travel time a bit, with a light meal first service as most people were ready to doze off. Compared to my last long-haul flights on Emirates to Russia a few years back (the NZ-Australia hop I did last year was short-haul), service seems to have gone downhill. Gone were eye-shades - those are for ultra-long hauls, and not tonight's red-eye. How much can you save from unloading a few eye-shades anyway?

I absolutely hate transiting in Dubai. Go downstairs, grab a train, and head back upstairs into the crowds. 2 hours isn't really enough to go from gate to gate.

We all know which airline dominates this airport.

There aren't enough seats in this terminal, but behind this gate and downstairs, there is a bigger holding pen, albeit you lose access to the shops and restaurants. Being stuck in that pen is a bit boring, so I waited a bit while "Final Call" kept going up here. The sign is actually a bit misleading.

The Casablanca route was upgraded to the A380 just very recently, which is quite a sight with 2 levels of boarding.

I settled into my window seat. The Economy cabin was, as expected, not full. The A380 has good legroom and a large TV screen.

The flight map and cameras were impressive. You get a choice of 3 cameras installed at various parts of the plane.

Emirates has placed quite an extensive array of IFE choices to keep passengers entertained on long flights.

I sat on the left side for my flight to St. Petersburg a few years back, capturing Burj Khalifa as we took off. This time, I got a right side seat to see Sharjah. The weather seemed quite decent for a few aerial shots this morning.

Breakfast is served! Counting the light snacks, I would be fed 4 times for my 2 flights into Casablanca. It is indeed a long journey. This sandwich tastes better than it looks actually.

Tired from the previous red-eye, I took a doze over Saudi Arabia and woke up as we entered Egypt.

I couldn't see Cairo, but the Mediterranean coast was easy to spot.

The mountains in the distance belong to Crete.

As I examined the flight map, I was quite happy the IFE included PIP so I won't miss my selected entertainment along the way.

I haven't gone crazy from the long journey yet. With 3 more hours to go, the extensive IFE and aerial views kept me fairly entertained. The time passed by magically. Soon, it was time for lunch.

We flew high above Malta and I scrambled to get a few decent shots of the islands. The A380's curvature makes taking photos quite difficult, but at least the windows were clean.

After Malta, it didn't take long before we reached the African coast again. Welcome to Tunisia. Due to its perceived insecurity from past incidents, tours to this country have dropped to rock bottom prices.

As we crossed into Algeria, I kept a lookout for Algiers, which should be as sunny as pretty much all the areas we passed through so far.

Good morning, Algiers!

The muddy Sebkha d'Oran is near the Algerian border with Morocco.

Tired from all the photo-taking, I went for a bathroom break and scanned around the cabin.

I like the wood panels and automatic water dispenser.

Emirates' IFE is definitely an industry winner. With so many destinations, they have stocked up quite a diverse selection of programming to keep these long flights bearable. I typically don't scan these entertainment guides but this time, it was worth a look at the diversity.

You can bring 1000 cigarettes into Guinea duty-free. Compare that to the 19 you can bring into Hong Kong - less than 1 pack.

A few months earlier, I redeemed my orphaned Skywards miles for a duty-free item. Their catalogue is quite extensive.

The headsets have improved and look a bit like noise-canceling.

By now, we are over Morocco and arrival is in sight!!!

By now, after so many hours in the air, I have lost track of time. It is the next morning, but still several hours behind as we flew west, chasing the sun.

While the Sahara stretches into the country, Morocco actually looked fairly lush and green from the air.

Our gigantic plane landed safely on a sunny day. The cockpit crew announced we were going to be towed to the parking spot and told everyone to stay seated even when the plane stops. Apparently, we are too large to have a gate so the final journey into the terminal would be by bus.

So how long does it take to empty an A380 onto buses? Surprisingly, it didn't take too long, but it was quite annoying to be held up like this after such a long journey. While we trickled downstairs, the Qatar flight arrived and snuggled into their gate quite quickly.

More photos on my website : http://www.globalphotos.org/ek-cmn.htm
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Old Posted Jul 29, 2017, 7:03 AM
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So where to go for a long weekend break? Typically, Hong Kongers fly to Taiwan or Thailand for a relaxing short holiday, but I wanted to go somewhere cooler and sunnier. Qingdao came back onto my radar. Having last been in 2007 on a group tour and impressed by the architecture, 3 days would be a decent amount of time to explore the city on my own. Winters are typically sunny in northern China, and the weather forecast called for wonderful sunny weather for the entire weekend.

On Thursday, 2 days before departure, I checked BA Avios, which was the cheapest way to redeem on Cathay Dragon at 15,000 points. Nothing. Before and after - still nothing. Then I hopped over to Asia Miles, which had plenty of availability across multiple days. As I clicked through the flight selection, I noticed there was a redemption promotion remark at the end of the booking and the final cost was only 16,000 Asia Miles (as opposed to 20,000). I wasn't aware there was a promotion happening but apparently from late February to mid-March, redemptions to select destinations were eligible, mostly regional short-hauls.

On Saturday morning, I decided to sleep in a bit more and use my mobile boarding pass to board so I didn't need to rush to meet the 50 minute check-in deadline at the airport. I collect boarding passes these days, expecting the paper versions will turn obsolete in the near future. Sadly, Cathay has started using black-and-white cheap printouts, greatly reducing the collection value.

Security didn't take long and I was air-side within minutes. First, more plane spotting.

Today's flight is operated by the A330, one of my favourite aircraft types thanks to its humane seating plan of 2-4-2, where the window seat was never too far away from the aisle. It was also parked very close to immigration at Gate 21. Boarding was timely and I was surprised there wasn't a long boarding queue at all.

Since I had a mobile boarding pass, the agent had to do the detailed ID check at the gate.

Soon, I was comfortably seated at the front row thanks to an early online check-in. Loading was quite light today and we pushed back slightly ahead of schedule for the long taxi to take-off.

We were held for quite some time as other planes passed and took off ahead.

It would have been a spectacular harbour view if the weather was better.

I had the entire row all to myself. We initially flew south then east before looping back a bit west then north to track the coast.

Meanwhile, breakfast was served. The dim sum platter had more variety than the typical breakfasts I have had with this airline group.

The flight path skirted along the coast and the weather was sunny most of the way. By now, we were near Shanghai.

The A330 was quite empty. I guess people didn't want to visit Qingdao during the colder parts of the year despite the sunshine.

The seats look like Cathay's stock.

The lavatory was well-stocked for this short-haul flight with face moisturizer and hand lotion.

The IFE is the same as Cathay's but they changed the name to StudioKA for branding purposes.

We cruised at 40,000 feet but quickly descended 10,000 feet just past Shanghai despite still having a long way to go to Qingdao. We remained at the lower altitude until final descent.

It was a smoggy day, which made it difficult to spot the exact features as we entered the city's eastern side and flew past the airport before looping back for touchdown.

Not many widebodies at this airport, which is typical for the second and third tier city airports.

The front row is indeed more comfortable with 2 windows and being before the engine, seemed quieter.

We parked at the end of the terminal, but it wasn't a very long walk to an otherwise empty immigration area since I was at the front part of the plane.

Within 20 minutes from parking at the gate, I was on the bus ready to head into the city. With only hand luggage, it was a breeze through customs and the X-ray machine. The only down-side was the long walk to the domestic side of the terminal for the buses. I hope the metro link to the airport can finish soon.

Airport bus 701 departs every 30 minutes. There is an attendant standing outside the bus to check your ticket and ask where you are going in Mandarin. For the Copthorne Hotel, you get off at the Carrefour across the street. Then the driver will place your luggage in a dedicated compartment for your stop. 45 minutes later, I was in the heart of the new town for my luxury apartment high in the sky.

The eastern part of the city is relatively new with lots of new developments.

More photos on my website : http://www.globalphotos.org/ka-qingdao.htm
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Old Posted Nov 29, 2017, 9:20 AM
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hkskyline hkskyline is offline
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Hong Kong - Abu Dhabi

Autumn is a great time to visit Europe. The crowds are gone, the students have gone back to school, and temperatures drop. I had wanted to return to Switzerland for a 3rd time after the previous 2 trips were met with bad weather. I had kept an eye on airfares over a few weeks in the summer, with Qatar initially winning with a sub-HKD 4000 price including tax - a great deal for the time of year. As I procrasinated, their prices creeped up but Etihad came to the rescue. After Air Berlin, one of their affiliates, announced bankruptcy proceedings, I thought it would be interesting to experience one of their flights before they close up for good. My trip would start in Berlin and end in Zurich. All for about HKD 4600.

Etihad offers an evening departure out of Hong Kong, arriving in Abu Dhabi before midnight. I like this flight as I didn't need to sleep along the way, and would arrive in the UAE a bit tired for the night at the airport hotel. I would wake up refreshed and continue my journey to Berlin the next morning, which should keep jet lag at a minimum. Both these flights would be on the A330, which is great for my window seat as it is only 1 person away from the aisle for the lavatory. Unfortunately, Air Berlin does not allow advanced seat slection.

Air-side, spotting was decent with some interesting Dreamliners.

My bird would be in traditional colours tonight.

We boarded as another rainstorm began, and soon I heard the lightning alarm come off at the airport. I guess we would be a bit delayed tonight as the crews waited for the storm to pass. The flight deck updated us to confirm the alarm and the delay. We ended up pushing back half an hour late.

My previous Etihad flights were not particularly impressive. The IFE and food could not compare to Emirates, and that opinion still held tonight.

However, one thing about the IFE I particularly liked was the live TV option, which was available for several international networks.

The flight map was also quite good - not as futuristic as what the latest offers out there, but still provides all the info I need.

The wifi option was well-advertised and a nice feature for these long-haul flights.

As expected, we arrived at a bus gate. The new terminal was nowhere near completion, just as a few years ago on my last visit.

A huge crowd was exiting that late into the night. I was surprised to find China Daily being distributed here. Anyway, it wasn't a long walk to the airport hotel for a relaxing night.

As I checked my messages in my room, I found out my Air Berlin flight had been cancelled. In fact, many of their flights were suddenly cancelled for "operational reasons". Alarmed that I would be stranded in Abu Dhabi, I headed back to the terminal to find a customer service representative. T3 sent me to T1, and by this late hour, I had to wait and push a bit to get a supervisor to rebook me. I had initially been offered the same Air Berlin flight the day after on Sept. 5, but worried that could get cancelled again, I refused and asked to be rerouted to another German city, such as Frankfurt or Munich and then connect domestically to Berlin.

The agent checked a number of European ports and noted all were overbooked on Sept. 4. I was told it was due to the long weekend in the UAE. The only possible routing on their computer was through Belgrade on Air Serbia, another one of their querky affiliates, but it wasn't possible for them to book it for some reason.

Realizing my Germany portion of the trip would probably need to be abandoned, I asked to be sent to Geneva directly on Sept. 6, the next possible flight. The agent said most European ports would be available again by then after the long weekend, and moved me to that flight. I would then have 2 extra days to spend in the UAE. I guess it's not too bad to be stranded in the UAE.

By now, it was late into the night, and early morning Hong Kong time. I went back to the hotel to extend my stay and retired for the night.

To be continued.

My full report : http://www.globalphotos.org/etihad3.htm
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Old Posted Nov 30, 2017, 12:32 AM
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Dac150 Dac150 is offline
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Always intriguing - thanks for sharing!
"I'm going there, but I like it here wherever it is.."
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2018, 3:53 AM
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hkskyline hkskyline is offline
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Hong Kong - Osaka

Hong Kong has quite a lot of qwerky fifth freedom choices. Bangkok comes into mind with a whole bunch of unexpected airlines flying this route. Ethiopian and Air India also fly fifth freedom flights from Hong Kong to Korea and Japan, with Air India offering an early morning flight to Osaka several times a week, returning in the early afternoon.

After some amazing fall colours in Korea the month earlier, I wanted to give Kansai a try again to see whether they can beat Naejangsan. Since this is very weather-dependent, I could only book at the last minute once the forecast was solid. By then, Cathay or ANA were out of the question with an expensive last-minute premium. Hong Kong Express wasn't too expensive and had seats, but I was already sick of their lack of legroom and the add-ons for baggage and meals would end up being quite pricey. Air India came to the rescue, with a very affordable roundtrip for less than HKD$1750 tax inclusive. A generous luggage allowance and meals for both sectors would be included, as well as 50% accrual for mileage. This was 2 days before departure.

Booking online directly with the airline was easy enough. The user interface wasn't as nice as some of the other legacy carriers, but it didn't take too long to get everything paid, seats selected, and ticket email received. This flight would be on the Dreamliner, which I had good memories of on Etihad just months earlier. The better humidity really made a huge difference.

So why is Air India flying this sector? My guess is because international departures out of India tend to be late at night, arriving in Hong Kong early next morning, the plane would sit idle waiting for its return trip home in the evening for a late night arrival back in India. A 3 hour flight in between would make sense to eat up the idle time during the day. It is a long journey from Mumbai to Delhi to Hong Kong to Osaka.

This also meant my departure to Kansai would be quite early, just before 8am, putting it shy of the first airport bus service.

Air India's check-in desks were empty when I arrived. While I did online check-in earlier, all passengers need to go through a document check at the airport, so it would not really make a difference anyway. I was processed efficiently and was air-side in no time.

The Dreamliner had arrived on-time from its Mumbai/Delhi flight and was parked at the further gates of the main terminal. It would be 1 stop less on the people mover with no risk of taking a bus to the gate like Hong Kong Express occasionally does.

Meanwhile, the sun was rising behind the airplanes.

Boarding was timely and the doors closed early. The flight was empty up in the front part of Economy but had a good loading in the back with very few Indians continuing on. My first impressions were the plane was quite beaten up with a noticeable amount of dirt having built up on the tray table and paint peeling off the window tint control. Nevertheless, each seat already had a pillow and blanket laid out.

We departed into the morning sky uneventfully. Today's flight time would be 2 hours and 50 minutes at well over 1000 km/h thanks to prevailing winds.

Unfortunately, the tint makes photo-taking a bit difficult with a weird yellowish tone to the results.

The legroom was quite good and I stretched out comfortably without touching the seat in front of me.

Earphones were already placed in the lower seat pocket. Nothing fancy to write about, but they were sufficient for a short flight.

The crew seemed relaxed and served a snack and drinks first, followed by breakfast with 3 choices (omelette, fish, or vegetarian). Adventurous, I chose the vegetarian option, which was a traditional Indian meal, spicy, and contents unknown. Since I had no benchmark, I couldn't tell whether it was up to standard or not, but it wasn't really for my taste.

It didn't take that long to see the west coast of Taiwan.

The rest of my row was empty so I was quite comfortable albeit tired. There was no annoying IFE box beneath the seat in front of me, although the IFE itself was quite pitiful with no TV shows at all. There was a reasonable movie selection with many new titles.

It is a touch-screen but there was also a control mechanism for manual handling.

The lights were dimmed not long after takeoff despite being a daytime flight. However, it was possible to individually control your window's tint to override the central setting. The views were decent as we entered Japanese territory. Kagoshima and its volcano were fully visible, followed by Miyazaki, and then Shikoku.

We flew at 41000 feet and it was quite a smooth flight. Most passengers didn't know the lavatories were in the middle and back of the cabin, so were confused when they reached the front rows and there was nothing. The lavatory was well-stocked with moisturizer, soap, and even mouthwash, perhaps a remnant from the overnight flight from India. It wasn't so clean, and the toilet seat kept on falling down so using it as a urinal wasn't too easy.

Shikoku's coastline - Naruto's whirlpools seemed weak this morning.

We flew just off Kobe, with its own single-runway airport in the sea easily located, then made a sharp turn to land at Kansai from the northeast.

We touched down ahead of schedule in sunny Osaka.

Kansai looked fairly empty at this hour and it wasn't long before we parked. Like my Cathay flights previously, we had to take the people mover into the terminal. Since I sat at the front of the Economy cabin and Business Class looked empty, I was spared a long lineup at immigration. My handcarry and I were at the train station about 30 minutes after arrival. It would be sunny in Osaka today.

Air India is a great budget choice for this fifth freedom route. Unless you booked very early in one of Hong Kong Express' regular specials, you will likely find the next best price here. The plane's upkeep might not be too good, but it was a comfortable ride with IFE, free meal, and luggage. They also fly the Dreamliner to Seoul on a similar schedule, so if the price is right, give them a try.

More photos on my website : http://www.globalphotos.org/ai314.htm
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Old Posted Feb 5, 2018, 8:18 PM
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Old Posted Mar 15, 2018, 9:51 PM
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Hong Kong - Doha

Europe has become a very affordable trip these days. During low season, even traditional carriers such as Finnair and Cathay have launched their own specials, pricing a flight at below HKD 4000 roundtrip. After all, who would want to go with sunset before 4pm, gray skies, and cold bundle-up weather?

Qatar Airways has been the victim of the Gulf region's blockade. My last trip with them many years ago was absolutely painful with a transit in the dingy 3rd world terminal. Since then, they have opened a new international airport, relaxed visa entry requirements, and even offered free stopover hotels to make Doha a destination of its own. All that for HKD 4770 including tax to London. The incredible UK charges alone made this a steal. Return fares before Christmas shot up over the roof though so I had to leave from either Brussels or Vienna. Since my friend wanted to see the Christmas markets in Salzburg, Vienna would be my final stop.

Flight #1 : Hong Kong - Doha

Check-in counters close an hour before departure. I left more wiggle room today, arriving 1.5 hours earlier, only to find nobody at check-in. The agent asked a few questions on my itinerary, how to get to Vienna from London, in a strange sense of heightened awareness. Was it because I booked this flight 2 days before departure?

The agent told me while many seats were blocked, there were plenty of empty seats on board, and to move up front once I'm on board. My row would be just for me tonight.

Wow. On my last flights with Emirates and Etihad in 2017 to the UAE, the Hong Kong legs were all full. No wonder fares were so cheap. This would make the long flight to Doha far more bearable.

Here is the Emirates flight waiting a few gates away.

Another attraction of flying Qatar was the chance to fly both the A350 and 787. Tonight's flight would be my first on the A350, and I have fallen in love with the 787 thanks to its higher humidity and comfort.

Boarding was timely and it wasn't long before all the passengers were on board. There were empty rows everywhere. Flight deck came on to note they were ready to leave but due to ATC, we would be delayed 30 minutes for departure. A few gates down, my friend flying to Adelaide half hour after me pushed back first and on time. Talk about luck. But I was very comfortable in my row of 3 seats.

Pillows and blankets were already on every seat when we boarded. I normally hate these 3-3-3 seating configurations. They will be a torture for the window seat passenger on a full flight.

We roared into the night sky for the 8.5 hour flight to Doha. I got some nice views of the skyline upon departure.

Wetnaps were first distributed followed by drinks. There were no peanuts or pretzels though. Presumably due to low loading, the crew came to take dinner and drink orders one by one and brought out the trays individually. Our meals were not served from carts. Talk about premium service for cattle class! The meal was well-presented but I thought the main looked awfully small, albeit very tasty.

Satisfied with my dinner, I explored the IFE, which was a responsive touch-screen complemented by a nice remote control. The A350's interior looked very new and the seat was upholstered in a good type of fabric that could be easily cleaned but soft enough. The red colours and mood lighting was soothing as well. However, I had noticed it was quite dry at cruise of 40,000 feet, a marked difference from the 787.

We had bouts of turbulence throughout the flight. The seat belt sign was on during a long section over India. By then, I was happily dozing across my row, and being laid down, it insulated me a bit from the discomfort. As we neared the Gulf, a second full meal was served, again with trays carried individually and not from carts. I would have been satisfied with a simple sandwich but I suppose they were adjusting us to a second dinner in the Qatar time zone.

Each passenger received 10 MB / 15 minutes of free wifi for the flight. Just enable wifi on your mobile and connect to the OnAir service, then log in. However, this service was not available for much of the flight due to certain country restrictions. Nevertheless, it was a great service enhancement ... attempt.

As a sign of regional tensions, the lights along the UAE coast were always in a distance and we flew over Iran before making a sharp turn south towards Qatar.

We looped around for landing, which gave me a nice overview of the bright city even in the late night. We landed not too far behind schedule at around 11:30pm, which would mean I would miss the last bus into the city.

The airport is right there!

The Business Class seat is a comfortable lie-flat product and not too far from the window to still enjoy views. Tonight, I made a lie-flat seat in Economy Class.

The new international airport looked very sleek and clean, which was quite a refreshing change from overcrowded Dubai and the old Abu Dhabi facility. It was also quite empty as well. After a very long walk to immigration, I found the biggest crowd in the building, and it took almost an hour to get processed. Similar to the UAE, the agents were slow and inefficient and many counters were not open despite the long line. I exited landside well past 12:30am.

I didn't want to tough it out to continue flying to London after a long flight from Hong Kong. Doha's hotels are not expensive and I wanted to sleep well and do some sightseeing the next morning before continuing to Europe. The Qatar free stopover program only works for long transits so I wouldn't get a night free on this leg, but a decent 4-star in the city only costed me QAR 160 or so. The taxi ride would cost almost QAR 50 for the 10-minute ride because flagfall from the airport was an expensive QAR 25.

The full flight report with more photos : http://www.globalphotos.org/qr317.htm
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