When last we saw each other, your humble flight-reporter had just arrived into Hong Kong from Bangkok on an Emirates A380, and was in search of the transit desk. Fortunately, the same was easily found — right at the “intersection” of the three main axes of Terminal 1.
In no time, I had my boarding pass to Taipei tonight, onwards to Toronto tomorrow, and a lounge invite for the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse. Oooooo… a new lounge for me! How exciting!
I was advised, however, that because it’s a contract lounge, I would only be allowed in three hours prior to departure. Fortunately, it was only about 3:15 before departure as I left the transit desk. As usual at HKG, transit security was quick, and I was released onto the main concourse. To kill the time prior to the proper time, I headed back down the terminal to the gate I’d just arrived from — where the EK 388 that had brought me over from Bangkok was parked next to another EK388. Busy place, this HKG!
Upstairs I went, and it’s time to check out the Clubhouse — which helpfully has the familiar cardboard cutout of an EVA flight attendant to welcome me. I’ve been past this lounge a number of times in the past heading to the TG or UA lounges. Time to see what’s inside!
At the door, I’m greeted by two attendants — on in Virgin colours, and the other in EVA colours. The EVA agent lets me know she’ll be calling boarding about 8:15, and welcomes me in.
The lounge itself is down a main hallway — and like most lounges here in Hong Kong, is on a mezzanine level above and open on the main concourse.
At the entrance, I’m greeted by a lounge attendant, who explains that everything is available on an a la carte basis, and offers me a menu. He all but insists I pick a place to sit, so I drop my stuff by a seat with a power outlet before I set out to explore. Here’s a look at the menu.
It’s not an extensive menu, but there are a few things that interest me. Unfortunately, though, I’m stuffed from the EK First experience, and I really can’t stand the thought of anything more to eat at this point. I tell the attendant that, and just request a glass of water. It’s brought, with a twist of lemon to boot.
The lounge is pretty empty at this hour with neither Virgin nor EVA flights leaving in the near future, so it’s a good chance to take a look and get some pictures. The lounge is not very big, but offers a few options when it comes to seating, ranging from elevated tabletops and stools to be comfy chairs.
There’s a bar, and it appears to be pretty well-stocked.
A TV lounge area.
A few finger sandwiches and other nibblies for those who don’t want to order something.
And an array of reading materials.
There’s WiFi, and it’s pretty fast — especially when the lounge is dramatically underpopulated.
In the first twenty minutes I’m there, the attendant who showed me in checks in on my three times, and two other attendants do as well. After that, they seem to get the idea that I’m not likely to order anything anytime soon, and back off a little bit. I appreciate the service, but it was getting a bit much having to decline to order every thirty seconds. I do have another glass of water, though. I’m so crazy.
Along with being stuffed from the flight before, I’m also more than a little sleepy by this hour, and I nap on and off in my seat for much of my time there. Eventually, the lounge starts to fill in, and after checking Flightradar24, I confirm that my ride over to Taipei has arrived. I’m excited to see the plane assigned to this mission is one of the two EVA A330s to get their new cabin product, so it won’t be the same angle-flat as the 332 I flew on TPE-HKG.
About fifteen minutes prior to boarding time, the EVA agent comes through to let us know that she’ll be calling us in about twenty minutes for boarding. Having had enough water and sleep, I decide to pack up, and about ten minutes later, I head out of the lounge. “You still have ten minutes!” the EVA agent protests as I leave. I know, I assure her. I just want to get some walking in.
I rather liked the Clubhouse — I wish I’d just been hungry enough and awake enough to take better advantage of the experience.
Down at the gate, look who’s here! Yep… it’s a plane. I find it interesting that the 333s lack the Chinese characters in the titles, like the “old livery” 332s have. Livery is otherwise identical as far as I can tell. Are the 333s newer to the fleet and that’s why the rather minor livery evolution?
The gate area is starting to buzz, but it’s pretty orderly.
Boarding is called just about right on time, and the lineup for business and priority was pretty short, so I was on my way, boarding through L1, where I was greeted by one of the lead flight attendants.
Flight: BR858 From: Hong Kong (HKG) To: Taipei (TPE) Date: 11/23/2016 Aircraft: Airbus A30-300 Registration: B-16335 Seat: 8A ATD (STD): 21:47 (21:05) ATA (STA): 23:07 (22:45)
Rather than going with something radically different, or more closely matching their Royal Laurel offering, EVA opted to go safe and incremental when they updated Premium Laurel on their 333s, sticking with a 2-2-2 configuration, but opting for a flat bed seat instead of the previous (very) angled flat. I’m not sure if EVA uses 330s for any longhaul routes, or if they’re exclusively “regional jets,” but this alone (if I knew if were the product I was going to et) greatly eases any concerns I may have about flying an EVA 330 longhaul.The seats are similar to chose seen on United, Ethiopian, and many others. Certainly nothing overly innovative, but a fine product for the shorthaul flights around Asia EVA seems to use these birds for.
The seat comes equipped with the same flat-but-particularly-dense pillow EVA offers in all its premium cabins, and a pair of headphones decidedly less interesting than those offered on Royal Laurel flights. A blanket is offered, and in this case, declined. Hot cabin is hot.
In-flight magazine, safety card and the like located in a pouch in the divider wall between seats.
There’s a storage cubby over the other shoulder, and ports and the wired IFE remote are located in the armrest.
The screen is a significant upgrade over the previous cabin. It’s big and bright and beautiful, and seems very close in this kind of seat configuration.
Seat controls are obvious.
The window seat footwells don’t look very generous. That’s because they’re not.
A closer look at the headphone and USB ports, as well as the touchscreen IFE remote — another solid upgrade, and seemingly the same hardware as offered on EVA’s 77Ws. The interface and feature set appears to be the same, too.
Nothing quite as exciting as the look out the port windows when both L1 and L2 are being used for boarding. Up until this point, the seat next to me had remained empty, and I thought I might get lucky. I was incorrect. the seat next to me was soon occupied. Load was pretty full — I think only one empty seat in the 5x6 business cabin.
A flight attendant checks on the pronunciation of my name, and then confirms that I’d pre-selected the Korean-style braised beef online. I confirm this. A menu is offered anyway for my reference.
Another flight attendant takes orders pre-departure beverage, offering water, OJ, or champagne. My champagne is delivered in short order.
And with it, a hot towel, of course.
Arrival cards are offered pre-departure. Always a good idea, but especially so on a short hop like this.
They close L1 before boarding seems to be done at L2. I don’t know if I’ve seen that before. Perhaps I’ve just not been paying attention. Soon enough, the safety video rolls — the older version with the same cartoony borderline-offensive caricatures of passengers I’ve seen on EVA flights in years past — and we push back.
It’s a bit of a hike for us to taxi, but eventually we get lined up, and take off into the night sky — getting a nice look at T1 as we climb out.
This is a pretty short flight of just over an hour, and with a nearly full house in Business class, the flight attendants have their work cut out for them. Sure enough, as soon as they get the “bing” from the cabin, they’re off and running. In no time, tables are set, and a second round of hot towels distributed.
Meals are then distributed from a trolley. In a very un-EVA moment of lack of attention to detail, I’m asked again which entree I’d prefer. The tray is then presented with the meal together. Interesting that there’s no appetizer, salad, or other “pre-main” course, but there are a couple of dessert-type items.
The main didn’t do much for me — it wasn’t terribly tasty, and the portion was quite small. Fortunately, I wasn’t exactly hungry for this flight. The veggies were nicely prepared though, and the rice was… well… rice. I had some red wine along with it, which was passable, as well as a glass of water.
The bread basket was brought around, and of course, it’s time for some garlic bread, which was delicious. Again — maybe not quite as good as the garlic bread ex-YYZ on EVA, but still very good.
The fruit didn’t do much for me because other than the kiwi — which was great — the mix wasn’t exactly my favourite fruit mix.
The little bit of apple crumble cake was quite nice, though.
Coffee is offered, and declined as I don’t want anything to interfere with my sleep. And then the table is quickly taken down. Again — this crew worked HARD. They had a cabin of about 30 J passengers fed and their linens put away by about an hour from takeoff, so 45 minutes (max) after the service began.
As the table is cleared, the captain comes on to inform us that we’ll be starting our descent shortly, and give us the weather briefing, etc. I decide that I simply have to test out this new seat in bed mode.
As expected, I found the footwell very confining — I’m 5’11” and not usually too bothered by footwells — I never felt bad towards the “coffin” seats that many AC passengers disliked, for example — but I did notice this was quite confining, and I think it would have been a problem had I needed to roll over or even move very much while flat out. Fortunately, I did not.
I guess it was acceptably comfortable, though, as the next think I heard was a flight attendant telling me to please put my seat back up because we were about to land. I could only have napped for about 10 or 15 minutes, max, but I did so quickly. Apparently the candy fairy had been by my seat while I was out, and left me a little bit of everything. I really like the EVA lime Vitamin C candies they give out. They’re nice and tart.
Taking a second to get re-oriented, I can confirm that we are, indeed, almost to Taoyuan. The Airshow is the latest-generation product.
Soon enough, we break through the clounds into the rainy night skies over Taipei.
And then we touch down in Taipei.
We come to rest next to an older (judging by the livery and winglets) BR 321. and look who’s behind them — yet another EK A380. Man, those things are everywhere!
We’re released from our seats, goodbyes and thank yous are said, and soon I’m on my way on the very — very — long walk from the gate where we arrived to immigration.
Fortunately, after doing the free transit tour on the way in, I know exactly where to pick up the shuttle bus for the Novotel at the airport, where I have a reservation for this overnight trip, and from which I will start the last leg of my journey home in the morning.
Thanks for joining me for this quick leg. I hope to see you soon, when I post the finale!
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse
Hong Kong - HKG
Taipei - TPE
This was fine for a short flight -- the cabin is notable improvement over the angle-flat seats on the older A330-200 I flew on the reverse of this route, and the service was up to EVA's very high expectations, if rushed due to a full J cabin and a very short flight time. It appears that short-haul catering is still a bit of a weak spot with EVA, even if longhaul catering has improved markedly.
I wish I hadn't shown up to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse stuffed from my Emirates flight in, and perhaps worse, dog-tired. It's probably my one time in that lounge, and I'd have liked to make more of the experience.
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