Generally speaking, 4:00 comes to early. But thanks to the way I tend to sleep when I’m in Asia on short-term trips, I was actually up well ahead of the 4 o’clock alarm set on my phone, surfing the Web from my hotel in Central, and killing time. It’s actually a good time to do so, since it’s a rare point in the day when I’m able to catch up with my family back home in Toronto, since they’re just home for dinner, and I’m just up my evening nap.
About 5:00, I checked out of my hotel, and stepped out onto Des Voeux Road in search of a taxi. I wasn’t too concerned about traffic at this time of the morning, and although it would be costly compared to the Airport Express, my option was to risk showing up late to HKG for my 8:00 flight to Seoul. And that wasn’t happening.
The drive in to HKG was quick and efficient, and passed largely in silence. Any taxi ride in Asia that’s not abjectly terrifying, I count as a win.
When I showed up, HKG was not exactly crawling with people, but was far from deserted. At 6:30, the check-in counters weren’t yet open for Air India (which shares a lane, and outsourced-to-HKG-staffers check-in with Air Canada) so I roamed around for a few minutes taking a couple of pictures.
When I noticed that a line was forming and that one check-in counter was open, I joined the mob of mostly Korean youngsters checking in to head home. Shortly afterwards, a second desk opened, and then a third, this time flying the Business/Star Gold banner, so I quickly “upgraded” myself to the new list, drawing a few burning eyeballs as I did. I was quickly checked in boarding passes were issued for my “day,” which was HKG/ICN/LAX/YYZ, and I was off to security and immigration. Since lineups were pretty light, this was a breeze. At check-in, I was offered a “pass” for the Plaza Premium Lounge, but I decided to go a different route, since we’d be leaving for Seoul from Gate 28, just not too far at all from Thai’s Royal Orchid Lounge in Hong Kong. The train out to the “far end” gates of T1 was not operating at this hour in the morning, so I got a little bit of exercise in on the long hike towards the gate.
Star Alliance lounge options at HKG include Singapore, United, and Thai. The food is good with SQ, but the location is just airside, so a long way from the gates the airlines tend to use, and there are no windows, so it gets to feel a bit like a dungeon, albeit a comfortable one. Both Thai and United (believe it or not) have their strengths, and I rate them about equally. Thai is a little small, and at certain times (say in the hour before an A380 departure back to BKK) can be a little bit crowded, but the food is good. United’s lounge in HKG is the best United Lounge I’ve been in by far. Yes, this is damning through faint praise, but it’s still a pretty good lounge, with decent food, and good views over the tarmac. I usually hit both if time allows, or failing that, I’ll just hit whichever one is closest to my gate, which this morning, goes to Thai.
I’m shown in the door with a smile and a friendly greeting, and I quickly find myself in the same situation that started this series of reports out – pretty much alone in a lounge.
The TG Lounge is an odd setup. It’s open and airy because it’s perched above the gates and not walled in, but that also gives it a tendency to be a little bit more noisy than it should be when the concourse is busy. That’s not exactly a concern this morning, and I set myself up in a comfy-enough seat overlooking this soon-to-depart Scoot 787.
At this point, there are two travelers in the lounge – me, and a gentleman who is softly snoring from one of the two available massage chairs. Time for some breakfast. The food spread with Thai isn’t huge, but it’s pretty decent, with a few options available. I grab some sausages with baked beans, a chunk of the giant omelet with sweet corn, a couple of dim sum selections, and a danish. And I’m delighted to see that my favourite treat in this lounge, a simple but delicious coconut ice cream, is available even at this hour in the lounge.
Seriously, so good!
This would be my first of three lounges on this very long day thanks to the peculiarities of crossing the International Date Line. One thing they all had in common – CNN playing on the big screen despite being less than 48 hours after the tragedy of 4U9525. I’m not by any stretch a nervous flier, and I suppose most people in international airport lounges aren’t, but while it didn’t bother me, it did make me wonder if maybe this wouldn’t have been a good week to put on a different channel for a while. Maybe put on some sports, or… I don’t know… just about anything that wasn’t devoted 24/7 to the grisly details of a plane crash?
After breakfast and some surfing, it’s time to head down to the gate for my departure to Seoul, part of a multi-segment BOM-DEL-HKG-ICN route they fly.
My chariot today is VT-ANB, which gets the quick turnaround treatment, and then boarding is called. Given that the plane was over an hour late getting in from India, I was quite impressed that they managed to get us out just ten minutes behind schedule. I’m not sure how many people fly the whole route, but all five of the passengers in Business this morning board here at Hong Kong, and we’re soon joined by a deadheading AI pilot, who sets up behind me in the final row. At least one other Canadian on this flight, as I see another familiar passport. This gentleman is likely connecting on to AC64 back to Vancouver. The rich reds and gold of the Air India J cabin on the 787 are quite nice, and the seats are comfortable, but my only frame of reference for comparison is Air Canada’s 1x2x1 business class on the 788, and it’s hardly a comparison.
Easy-to-understand seat controls are located on the panel between seats, a plug and USB adaptor is in the front face of that panel, with the remote control for IFE under the centre arm rest.
Fortunately, there’s nobody next to me in 2B, so I’ve got a little bit of space to work with. Since this is a straight-forward-facing flat-bed seat, there’s plenty of leg room. With just three rows of six apiece, the Business Class cabin feels tiny, giving it a little bit of exclusivity. Amenities for the flight – a tiny pillow with a satin cover pillow and a blanket (which Air India is adamant you understand was packed in Sydney) were already at the seat when we boarded.
As boarding continued, the two female flight attendants, looking resplendent in their uniform saris, handed out a hot towel and pre-departure beverages with a choice of water or juice.
Pre-departure announcements turned into a little bit of a gong show, as the flight attendant giving the instructions couldn’t seem to figure out how to get any volume over the PA without creating a screeching feedback loop. So getting the instructions out in two languages took some time. We had a long taxi out to the active runway, but soon enough we were off, away from the land of CX and towards the land of KE and OZ. Goodbye, foggy Hong Kong.
Menus were quickly distributed, and orders taken quickly after that. Unfortunately, none of the Indian options really grabbed me, although if I could have had the poories along with something else, I may have gone for that. Instead, I decided to play it safe, and went with the omelet. And I asked for a glass of orange juice to accompany it. (Attempt #1.)
Just a few minutes later, the appetizer of fruit, yogurt, and a bowl for Corn Flakes were distributed. But no juice. I asked again. (Attempt #2.)
This was quickly followed by the bread basket, from which I grabbed a croissant, and a pitcher of cold milk to pour over the cereal. But still no juice. The fruit were good, and the yogurt and Corn Flakes were exactly what one would expect from those items. The main followed shortly thereafter. Again, with no juice. So I asked again. (Attempt #3. I know you have orange juice on board, guys. You offered it as a pre-departure beverage.)
The omelet was a little bit bland, but very well done and not completely dried out, so it was quite enjoyable. The chicken breast was an odd choice of accompaniment for breakfast, at least by my standards, but was tasty enough and not cooked into desiccation, so I’ll take that as a win. The potatoes were a little bland on their own, but the onions and the very good tomato added some flavor to an otherwise bland but acceptable main.
After breakfast, bottles of water were handed out, and orders taken for tea or coffee. I decided that “when in Rome,” and ordered a Darjeeling tea. And an orange juice. (Attempt #4. Why, oh why, Air India, don’t you want me to have orange juice?)
Minutes later, the tea came. And along with it came, you guessed it. Absolutely nothing else. The tea was good, with just a little bitterness. Kinda like me, over this whole orange juice affair. Okay, Air India. I’m just gonna let this one go, because if I hold onto this orange juice fantasy, it’s going to eat me up inside for the rest of my life.
At some point around here, Korean landing forms were offered, although I declined as I was just transiting ICN on this particular day.
With breakfast done, it was time to kick back with the IFE and experiment with the seat. I failed to get any pictures of the IFE in action, but found it quick and responsive, with a decent selection. With the massive pitch required for straight-forward-facing lie-flat seats, forget about using the IFE display as a touchscreen. The remote was adequate for this job. I found the seat comfortable enough in a sitting position, and quite acceptable in a “halfway” lounge position. In the name of science, and the completeness of this report, I decided to put it all the way down into flat bed mode so I could comment on the all-important bed position. I remember thinking it didn’t feel like it would be terribly comfortable, but the next thing I knew, I was waking up as hot towels were being distributed before arrival. So, in hindsight, I guess the bed was comfortable enough. And I was more tired than I thought I was. I would note that even as a fully flat bad, the centre console doesn’t provide much privacy, so you may find yourself peering deeply into your seatmate’s eyes from time to time. I guess it’s one way to meet interesting people, but it makes the bed experience less than ideal for the solo traveler. Unless you’re into that sort of thing.
After that, I settled in and watched the rugged Korean landscape pass by those oh-so-nice 787 windows, and soon enough, we were landing into Incheon. We quickly taxied through the maze of KE and OZ heavies, and found our way to the gate, of course in the satellite terminal.
The door was quickly opened, our goodbyes were said, and I was on my way to the mass chaos of the train back to the main terminal at ICN, quickly through transit security, and then off to the familiar confines of the Asiana Lounge and onwards towards the conclusion of this adventure.
Goodbye, Air India Dreamliner!
Thai Royal Orchid
Hong Kong - HKG
Seoul - ICN
I was excited for this flight because it was my first time on Air India, and just my second Boeing 787. The hard product was fine, especially for such a short flight. The catering was nothing to write home about, and the service was acceptable, except for that one baffling omission. Seriously... I know I’m just a non-AI flier on a reward from another carrier, but couldn’t you spare a guy a lousy glass of orange juice?
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