Review of Cathay Pacific flight Hong Kong Hanoi in Economy

Airline Cathay Pacific
Flight CX743
Class Economy
Seat 32K
Aircraft Airbus A321neo
Flight time 01:40
Take-off 27 Dec 23, 17:40
Arrival at 27 Dec 23, 18:20
CX   #2 out of 95 Airlines A minimum of 10 flight-reports within the past two years is required to appear in the rankings. 511 reviews
Proximanova
By SILVER 806
Published on 9th June 2024

Heads-up: Lengthy 50-minute report ahead


This report is an exploration of Hong Kong International Airport in all its grandeur, including the Sky Bridge, Intervals Bar and Chase Sapphire Lounge, and hence is rather lengthy, as you’ll need nearly an hour to read — you’re better off just skimming through all the pictures. (Don’t worry, the next two on Vietnamese airlines are much smaller!) In fact, there are a TON of picture collages from the airport, much more than the flight itself — and most of the pictures from the flight are of Barbie! Therefore it’s taken me much longer than usual to put together this report, seeing as I had to select from nearly 4,000 pictures on a single day, from Bengaluru to Hong Kong to Hanoi. Please feel free to skip past those sections that you don’t want to read by using the menu at the top of the page.

Note: The A321neo in the cover image isn’t the same registration as mine, but I’ve included it to show the sheer sweeping grandeur that is planespotting from HKG’s Sky Bridge/Deck.


Introduction: Two grand airports (BLR, HKG) and one small (HAN)


The last three cities that I visited in 2023 all begin with the letter H — Hong Kong (transit only), Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City — and so does the first, Hyderabad, for that matter. As such, I feel that my travels in the year were a diverse, varied journey starting at Hyderabad and ending at Hanoi, touching places like Denpasar, Kuala Lumpur, Colombo and Mumbai in between. I’d always wanted to end the year in Vietnam, especially so since Indians are flocking there rapidly in post-COVID times, and so decided to hit both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. When I found a sharply discounted Cathay Pacific fare for after Christmas from Bengaluru to Hanoi, involving the A350-900 (the previous leg from BLR) and the A321neo (this leg to HAN), I jumped upon it.

I’d spent three days in Bengaluru with my family for Christmas, having come from Singapore on the SQ A380 to Mumbai, followed by a month-old Vistara A320neo. The flights between Vietnam’s two largest cities would be on the country’s two largest airlines, and would have ideally been on their flagship widebody aircraft: the A330-300 of VietJetAir and the A350-900 of SkyTeam member Vietnam Airlines. However, that didn’t come to pass, and I instead got a sharkletted A320ceo and a 787-10 respectively, but I had very enjoyable experiences and wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again — but I will steer clear of Bamboo Airways, which has shrunk drastically. After the New Year, a standard-issue SQ A350 from Hanoi took me back home to Changi.

Coming to this report, the purpose of flying Cathay Pacific was manifold: (a) to experience the difference in the A350 and A321neo products; (b) to explore Hong Kong International Airport’s unbelievable Sky Bridge, with its Intervals Bar, and Chase Sapphire Lounge; © to catch a break from the standard SQ and TG; and (d) to have a taste of what I consider to be one of the world’s strongest airline brand and typographic identities, as I’ve explained in the previous instalment.

When other Northeast Asian airlines’ brand images and fonts — I’m talking about some of the world’s best, including top Skytrax 5-star airlines like ANA, JAL and EVA, plus Starlux — are mediocre at best and disgusting at worst, this Chinese-speaking airline is (as I’ve said many times before) eCXeptionally excellent when it comes to the pitch-perfect execution of its brand identity, better than even many European or Middle Eastern airlines, which are among the top globally. Moreover, it only serves to highlight the fact that the Oneworld alliance in general has a very high bar for brand standards, since it isn’t dragged down by Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean airlines like the other two alliances, with JAL being the only utter disappointment.


Heaven, paradise and elysium for avgeeks and planespotters


Speaking of HKG, the airport, I knew going in that after Hong Kong reopened its doors at the start of 2023, more and more travellers (ahem, avgeeks) had been raving about its avgeek spotter paradise, the Sky Bridge — above all One Mile at a Time, my go-to aviation blog. On top of which the adjoining Intervals Bar — opened in June 2023 — had been praised to the skies (pun intended), as well as the Chase Sapphire Lounge, the first in the world, and at the time one of only two locations worldwide alongside Boston. (Chase has since opened more Sapphire Lounges in the US, including spellbinding ones at LaGuardia and JFK — the latter in partnership with Etihad (formerly Etihad’s own lounge) — but the HKG facility remains its only non-US lounge.) Singaporean miles/points blogger The MileLion recently reviewed both the Chase Sapphire Lounge and the Intervals Bar, peppering the reviews with his trademark snark and humour, and I knew I absolutely HAD to visit these gorgeous places on my hours-long layover between the morning A350 from Bengaluru and the evening A321neo to Hanoi.

Mind you, Bengaluru itself — my current Indian home city where my family has lived since 2023 — is itself home to a resplendent, grandiloquent airport which even won a special prize from the UNESCO’s Prix Versailles for its architecture. Therefore I was always keen to experience how the award-winning Indian airport, with its breathtakingly modern view of traditional Indian art and architecture, compared with this Asian megahub renowned for its sweeping, all-encompassing views of the apron and surrounding hillside. (Of course, Vietnamese airports are nowhere as grand; they are by far among the least sought-after airports in ASEAN among major cities.) Well, suffice it to say that HKG blew me away with its luxurious, airy surrounds as much as BLR T2 had enthralled me with its garden-inspired lush spaces.

As for the flight itself… the CX A321neo — which entered service in late 2021 — has to be by far the most technologically advanced narrowbody I’ve ever seen, with a retina-sharp 4K display at each seat and even a nifty mini-display in the corner. The A321neo has a bespoke IFE system — NEXT by Panasonic Avionics — which uses a light-themed IFE system compared to the dark-themed one I saw on the preceding A350 leg, with the likes of SQ and KLM also using dark-themed systems. Indonesian aviation blogger Jakarta Potato has also reviewed this product on the MNL–HKG leg, with much more rigour than I did… all I cared was that I had a 4K screen to watch Barbie on!!! That’s precisely what I did from before takeoff to until touchdown, though the flight was too short to complete the movie; I had to resume it a week later on an SQ A350 with — I hate to say this for an A350 — a much lower-res, glaring IFE screen. THAT’S how much CX bowled me over with these two flights, making even SQ look poor in comparison!


Routing


Into the high-ceilinged halls of HKG we go!


Wednesday, 27 December, 12:30pm. After landing from Bengaluru on the A350, the first order of business was to head straight to the transfer desks, go through the most effortless transfer security screening ever, and then prepare myself to be swept over by just how magnificent this mammoth of an aviation paradise was.


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At the top floor was a food court with a variety of restaurants, as I described in the Travelling Bonus of the previous instalment. Past that were the obligatory Louis Vuitton and Hermès boutiques that every global megahub airport worth its salt — barring Indian ones, of course — is obliged to have. Then I went down to the general boarding gates, at the start of which stood a giant golden Christmas tree.


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DBS, Singapore’s largest bank, adorned the displays with its private-banking ads while CX725 prepared for departure to fellow Oneworld hub Kuala Lumpur.


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Having visited Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport the previous month with its spotter-unfriendly polka-dotted windows — preventing me from getting a good view of some exotic planes including Russia’s S7 Airlines — the vast, clear windows at HKG were a breath of fresh air.

A PAL sharkletted A321ceo (RP-C9925) stood at the nearest gate, and next to that an SQ A350-900 (9V-SHI) which had come here this afternoon after the overnighter to Changi from Bengaluru — in other words, with the same origin and destination and me!


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With time on my hands, I sat by one of the vast gates — with ample charging opportunities — and read through OMAAT’s lowdown on the HKG Sky Bridge and Deck.


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I did the same thing for the Chase Sapphire Lounge, so I knew what to expect going in with my Priority Pass lounge access.


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Followed by contrasting experiences on CX and SQ, with Ben Schlappig favouring the latter’s service. With him having flown EVA Air from Houston (via TPE) to HKG, and SQ in first class to Jakarta, the two Star Alliance carriers had totally bowled him over by their pitch-perfect service and hospitality, earning five stars from him.

In contrast, the CX A350-1000 excelled in every aspect except the service, which in his opinion was way too unprofessional with a much junior crew. (To CX’s credit, he did acknowledge that HKG has some of the best lounges in the world — all the more so for Oneworld Emeralds/Sapphires, with The Pier, The Wing and the Qantas Lounge HKG to choose from. And, of course, the unbeatable takeoff views from HKG — though the ships of Changi will always be dear to my heart!)


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Highest-Kuality Groundbreaking (H.K.G.) views


Behind the PR A321 stood a veritable assortment of widebodies from near and far: an Asiana 777-200ER, a Korean A330-300, and between them a KLM 777-200ER (PH-BQE) as 9V-SHI pulled out of the gate for departure. SHI passed under the Sky Bridge on her way to the runway, and it was such a thrill to behold. Beyond stood an Air China A320 and 737.


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In the distance, an ANA 787-8 (JA808A) landed as NH859 from HND, while a pair of aging CX A330-300s stood closer by. Soon enough, the ‘Inspiration of Japan’ was standing at the nearest gate. It’s a wonder that ANA and JAL remain committed to the 787 so much, to the extent that they were the world’s first two airlines to operate the Dreamliner, and remain its largest operators.


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SHI was ready to lift off, while Star Alliance partners ANA and Thai’s arriving and departing aircraft were also seen. The arrivals were quite ecletic, but decidedly biased towards East Asia, with IndiGo and KLM being the only exceptions. There were quite a bunch of low-cost carriers, ranging from ANA subsidiary Peach, to Korean 737 operators Jeju and T’way, to VietJetAir which I would be flying the next day.


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I headed towards the Sky Deck, past the Air China A320 and 737 — the latter is distinguished by its sharp-angled tail, which is smoother on the A320 family — while RP-C9925 pushed back as PR319 to MNL.


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The ancient Korean Air A330-300 (HL7710 as KE172) had its turn as a woman paused by the window and snapped at it. Seriously, KE has as many doddering A330-300s, 777-300 non-ERs and non-wingletted 737s — all built in 2003 or earlier — as it has brand-new A220s, A321neos, 737 MAXes and 787-9s. Hopefully merging with Asiana will help clean the clutter of its mind-bogglingly diverse fleet, and also give it a long-overdue new livery.


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More arrivals ahoy, as the KLM 777-200ER pushed back to return as KL888 to Amsterdam. Like many other airlines with their East Asian flights in the 8 series, Royal Dutch Airlines knows only too well how lucky the number 8 is in Chinese culture. Similarly SQ’s flights to Mainland China, HKG and Taipei are all in the SQ8xx series — though for some reason SQ888 lies unused.


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This 777-200ER was followed by another, this time HL8284 from Asiana Airlines as OZ722. That Korean airline is one of a handful which has operated only the 777-200ER, never the -300ER, with Delta Air Lines and Malaysia Airlines being some examples in the past. At least Asiana’s 777-200ERs aren’t as old as KLM’s, though at least the Dutch airline has modern products on its aging 777-200ER and A330 fleet, which cannot be said for KE.

(I’ve ranted in the past how old 777-200ERs are maintained very well and given new cabin products by European airlines like Austrian, KLM and BA, while Asian airlines like Thai — which has short-changed me twice with the 777-200ER — fail to do so. At long last, Austrian finally has some 787-9s, having relied on old 767s and 777s all these years for longhaul operations!)


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Up, up and into the Sky Bridge


At 1:30 I decided, ‘Enough is enough,’ and much as I’d love to sit here all day until boarding, I had a number of boxes to check off. So into the corridor leading to the Sky Bridge I went.


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Going up the first set of escalators afforded me a bird’s-eye view of B-LRS, a CX A350, and next to her 9M-MSB, a 737-800 from alliance partner Malaysia Airlines.


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Another escalator later, I was at the top of the Sky Bridge, and first decided to get my fix of planespotting action; the Intervals Bar could wait a bit. My goodness, the views out here were absolutely out of this world. Now I know why OMAAT loves HKG so much to rank it as one of his three favourite airports in the world, alongside perennial Skytrax winners Changi and Hamad.


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Let the pictures tell the story. Mostly CX’s deep green, but also a different shade of green from EVA in the distance.


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At the very middle of the deck was placed a gaily coloured piano, with a couple of cartoon characters in a psychedelic colour palette, as part of the HKIA Arts & Culture Festival.


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A321neo B-HPI began taxiing under the Sky Bridge, and I cannot begin to describe the thrill I felt. In the near distance stood CX A350s, A330s and 777s of all kinds.


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A China Eastern A320neo (B-32EP) on one side, and B-HPI passing underneath the bridge on the other — I was somersaulting in excitement inside like this little child here and his mother!


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A Garuda A330-300 had landed from CGK , while an EVA 787-9 and CX A321neo were preparing to depart for TPE.


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Sky Deck at HKG: The making of an avgeek h(e)aven


In the distant sea, 9M-XBH, an AirAsia X A330-300 bereft of its signature red livery, made a landing as D7692 from KUL. I went straight ahead and into the Sky Deck, and began gazing at the diagrams of the structure’s construction, while B-HPI came to rest beside China Eastern’s B-32EP.


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Extensive mock-ups and renderings showed the vision for an Airport City surrounding the airport, which had been built on the man-made island of Chek Lap Kok. There was even a pair of binoculars for the hardened avgeek to spot landing and departing planes from near and far!


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The Sky Bridge itself had been premade in nearby Zhongshan, in the Pearl River Delta, and shipped to Hong Kong. This wonder of engineering is 28 metres high, enough for an A380 to go under!


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A CX A350-1000 (B-LXB) landed from JFK, followed by a Batik Malaysia 737 MAX (9M-LRC) from Kuala Lumpur. Incidentally, this was the first 737 MAX ever to be delivered to an airline!


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Now it was the turn of a Korean Air A220-300 (HL8092) to pass under the bridge, and again I was there to capture the moment. (KE no longer flies the A220 to HKG in the northern summer schedule, instead using it for domestic routes. It remains the A220’s only Asian operator, not counting Iraqi Airways, which is technically Asian but not in general usage.)


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As I returned to the side where I’d come from, I noticed that a Vietnam Airlines A321 (VN-A339) in the older livery had come to rest beside B-LRS and 9M-MSB. A CX plane took off in the distance while an EVA plane landed, as I’ve circled below in the last row of pictures.


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Intervals Bar: Redefining the airport hangout


Now, past 2 in the afternoon, I felt it was time to head into the Intervals Bar — with the same teal-green décor as CX itself — as Garuda’s A330-300 PK-GPX from Jakarta pulled into the gate. The place truly was a reflection of luxury, as all the glossy and green surfaces showed.


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Once inside the bar-cum-restaurant, I was greeted by two cute plush furry toys in the shape of snowmen, which had ostensibly been put there for Christmas. A friendly welcome indeed!

Below stood the spiffy A220-300 of Korean Air. While I’m not a fan of its dated livery, at least new planes like the A220 give it the illusion of modernity.


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Regional heavyweights congregated together: an EVA A321 followed by an ANA 787-8 and a JAL 787-9 pulled up close.


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I had a look at the menu, with its curated collection of offerings depending on the duration of one’s layover. (Full resolution here.)


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Now an A380 (9V-SKS) had landed from Changi, making the blue-and-gold airline’s presence felt at this home of the green brushwing. In the bottom row, HK Express and China Airlines, with their purples and pinks, offered some relief from the endless blues and greens.


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The ANA 787-8 had pulled out just as its Japanese counterpart had reached the gate. Not the best liveries in the world — Thai and Garuda reign supreme — but at least I sent some pictures of the restaurant to my family, calling it swarga (heaven) in Bengali.


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Some more close-ups of the SQ A380 and the GA A330-300 holding fort amidst this sea of teal green, as another CX plane (circled, last picture) took off on the other side of the apron.


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I’d ordered the Intervals To Go box of four pinchos for HK$168 (US$22), plus an Illy coffee for another HK$30 to go with it. Really, this was the avgeek heaven I’d always dreamed of! Look at those little snowmen, beaming with their carrot noses!


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HKG has always been a big cargo hub, but never did I expect an antediluvian 30-year-old 757 from an obscure airline from Karaganda, Georgia, to make its way to HKG.

Meanwhile Mom, true to tradition, replied ‘so cute’ on WhatsApp, refusing to elaborate!


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Having had my fill at the Intervals Bar and bid a ho-ho-ho farewell, I headed out and down the escalators, with the Vietnam A321 and two Malaysian 737s for company amidst the endless CX aircraft.


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Back at departure level, the SQ A380 was now preparing for departure to head back to Changi, and there were continuous announcements for passengers to form queues into their boarding groups. I went past all the gates to the central atrium with the golden Christmas tree, and towards my next destination, the Chase Sapphire Lounge.


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Chase Sapphire Lounge HKG: Upping the game for Priority Pass lounges


3pm. Once again, Louis Vuitton and Dior boutiques surrounded me as I proceeded to the airport train that would take me towards the lounge. A young, bespectacled woman stood beside the Christmas tree with a placard for the Garuda flight to Jakarta.


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With my iPhone battery almost dead, I had to be picky about what pictures I chose to take. I went down a level and took the train to the next section of the terminal, encountering another food court en route, with the Malaysian coffee shop Old Town Coffee registering in my mind.


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Here I spied an Aeroflot A330-300 from Moscow, like the 777-300ER I’d seen at BKK. (Like Bangkok — and unlike Singapore — Hong Kong is a safe haven for Aeroflot. Its hub, Sheremetyevo, is the only Russian destination from HKG, unlike BKK which receives service from other Russian airlines like S7. Later in the trip I almost, ALMOST saw IrAero’s Sukhoi Superjet in Hanoi.)

After this, I went up a level to the Chase Sapphire Lounge.


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The place was located strategically with an open-air layout, so as to have a panoramic view of the terminal and the apron alike. Once in, I showed the lounge agent my Priority Pass details, and she pointed me to the entrance.

A nearby iPad showed the upcoming departure list. My flight had a Vietnam Airlines codeshare on it (in addition to CX’s alliance partner Qatar Airways) — and, on arrival at Hanoi, I also saw an Air Canada codeshare, meaning there were codeshares from all three alliances!


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A long corridor stretching beyond the buffet led to the less-frequented interior sections of the lounge, with majestic views of the apron beside, including the AirAsia X A330-300 and the SQ A380.


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This was a decidedly lesser-explored section of the lounge, but one that prominently featured in its publicity and promotional materials. Elegant semi-private seating on one side, generic chairs and tables on the other, with CNN (serious Russia- and Israel-related news) and BBC World News (less sombre news about a kid on the wrong flight in Florida) playing silently. (We all know what happened to the Russian critic two months later, and I’m not going to rehash it.)


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I was pinching myself hard, unable to comprehend the fact that I was walking in the selfsame Priority Pass lounge that Ben Schlappig from OMAAT had reviewed months before, and I told my family the same. I had a brief glance at the menu — not that I needed to eat anything after the pincho box from the Intervals Bar — and then at the online reading materials, many of them British tabloid newspapers.


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CNN had moved on from Navalny and Israeli hostages to the topic of Taylor Swift, who had turned 34 a couple of weeks before (the 13th) and was wrapping up a record-shattering year — enough to make her the TIME Person of the Year 2023. (Like, what?!?! Isn’t this supposed to be for people like Zelenskyy?)


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On the other side was another long corridor, leading this time to a set of glass panels in psychedelic colours, and then to a more staid yet snazzy-looking area with armchairs. The space overlooked a stretch of the shops in the terminal, barely granting me a view (last row below) of an Emirates A380.


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Then the lounge looped back in a V-shape, and the dark blue and light cream/beige décor took over from the funky colours, all with grand views of the terminal shops and the ads above them. I had a look at the buffet, and was briefly tempted to consider it, but passed.


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It was 4:20 now and I had to leave the lounge, as my flight would depart in an hour’s time. As I was about to leave, I saw a young woman having a torrid time controlling her twins. The boys, some three years old, were squealing and jumping all over the place, and she had to snap ‘Stop screaming!’ in desperation — causing one of the children to burst into tears before he was pacified.


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I turned out of the seating area as an Air New Zealand 787-9 announced its arrival, and filled myself with one last look at the sweeping HKG apron views. Thanking the lounge staff, I headed towards my flight to Hanoi.


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The Sky Bridge again — this time for boarding


With my iPhone somewhat charged, I took the train back to the main part of the terminal, where the Aeroflot A330-300 was preparing to head back to Sheremetyevo as SU213. I power-walked towards my gate, located on the other side of the Sky Bridge, as an Air China A321 and EVA Air A330-300 stood nearby with a Fiji Airways A330-200 and VietJetAir A321neo in the distance.


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Once again I had to almost sprint — not an easy task with my bags in hand — and eventually I made it to the Sky Bridge escalators, giving me a bird’s-eye view of the EVA A330 which would now push back as BR856.


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I reached the other side of the Sky Bridge, where the China Eastern A320neo (B-32EP) was still standing, and fortunately Gate 19 — where boarding had started — was very close indeed. I stole a glance at the nosewheel registration of the A321neo parked there, and it was a déjà vu moment for me. It read ‘PF’.

A year and a half before, the 777-300ER that took me to Dubai had the same letters on the nosewheel, and this was again the case! Moreover, Vietnam was only the second left-hand-drive country that I’d be visiting, after the UAE, and once again Papa Foxtrot would be doing the honours — A6-EPF then, B-HPF now.


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As A350-900 B-LRG brushed past behind my A321neo, I took note of that very little detail in my caption, and then turned into the jetbridge to bring to an end my awesome layover at HKG.


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These were the details of B-HPF, built the month before my trip to Dubai, and merely a year and a half old at this point. An SQ 787-10 (9V-SCH), as you see above, had just landed as SQ894, showing the diverse kinds of aircraft SQ sends here: an A350 Regional (9V-SHI), an A380 (9V-SKS) and this 787-10.


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At last, it was my turn to board, and I took one last look at the China Eastern A320neo with its ugly bare-bones livery — this is no JAL or Finnair with their understated elegance — and took a turn towards B-HPF. There were a large number of European travellers, including one Belgian passport that I managed to spy. This was one sexy beast, a stunner from every angle — minus the unflattering Oneworld logo at the entrance!


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The flight: Boarding and departure


Flight: Cathay Pacific Airways CX743/CPA743
Date: Wednesday, 27 December 2023
Route: Hong Kong–Chek Lap Kok (VHHH/HKG) to Hanoi Noibai (VVNB/HAN)
Aircraft: B-HPF, Airbus A321neo
Age: 1 year 7 months at the time (built: 5 May 2022, delivered: 2 June 2022)
Seat: 32K (starboard side, window)
Boarding: 4:50pm HKT, GMT +8 (3:50pm Indochina Time (ICT), GMT +7)
Departure: 5:40pm HKT (4:40pm ICT)
Arrival: 6:20pm ICT (7:20pm HKT)
Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes

Notes:
• Third Oneworld airline flown, after Malaysia Airlines in October 2022, and SriLankan Airlines in April and November 2023. All of these flights have been only on Airbus aircraft: A321 4R-ABQ, A330-200 4R-ALB (twice on consecutive legs), A330-300s 9M-MTH and 4R-ALO, A350-900 B-LRB on the previous leg.*
• Fifth A321neo flown in 2023, and the first on an alliance member, the others being on Vistara, IndiGo and Scoot.
• First time to Vietnam, the second left-hand-drive country visited so far, after the UAE in June 2022.

*In mid-June 2024 I’ve booked a domestic flight on Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru near Singapore, which will not only be my first Boeing flight on the alliance, but also break my six-year avoidance of the 737.


Hiya there, Barbie Girl!


OH. MY. GOD. (à la Janice from Friends) was my first reaction on entering the plane, as I’d scarcely seen a narrowbody as sharp and dashing as this, despite not having the lie-flats of the Vistara A321neo in business. Waiting at my seat was the crispest, clearest, cleanest possible 4K display I could imagine, with a monochrome mini-display below it. Suffice it to say that I’d never even dreamed of such a luxurious narrowbody product!


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Sarah, the lead flight attendant, gave her welcome, and explicitly specified that ‘our Oneworld flight to Hanoi’ was operated ‘in conjunction with Air China, Qatar Airways and Vietnam Airlines’. (The first one was actually supposed to be Air Canada, as I confirmed on the arrival display at Hanoi. Either way, Star Alliance.) Well, it’s not very often that I’ve see a flight attendant naming the multiple codeshares from the other two alliances.

I proudly held the airsickness bag and Cathay magazine, followed by the safety card, and it reinforced my belief that at least some airlines believe in physical inflight magazines in the 2020s. The more you fly SQ, TG and EK, the more you will believe in the illusion that inflight magazines post-COVID have ceased to exist, and duty-free shopping guides have taken their place.


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The IFE — Panasonic NEXT — was nothing like that on the preceding A350, as it was light-themed with sharp corners instead of dark-themed with rounded corners. The first thing it said was that the built-in camera was blocked for privacy reasons (why was it even there?), and then came a tour of the system followed by the selection du mois, and my decision was instantly made.

The year’s highest-grossing movie was visible no less than three times on the homepage, and all I had to do was select it. Before that I had a look at the 3D map, and it was still cutting-edge if not Arc-level spectacular.


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More importantly, there were detailed overviews of a number of destinations, far more than were available on the A350, where no Indian city was present. I decided to delve deeper into the airline’s home hub, and was amazed at the level of detail it had put in writing this, more than any other destination on the list. (Full resolution here.)


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For some reason Hanoi wasn’t on the list, but my next destination after that, Ho Chi Minh City, was — and while the descriptions were shorter, the pictures looked all the more magnificent in that 4K display. (Full resolution for Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore; Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok; Denpasar and Chennai.)


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As far as the entertainment selection was concerned, the unbranded IFE — though the legacy StudioCX name lives on in the website — was every bit as good as on the A350, though the Indian selection had far more offbeat/indie movies than blockbusters. For once, though, I wasn’t going to watch anything Indian; the year’s biggest Hollywood blockbuster awaited!


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As we pulled out of the gate, I checked the weather, and then noticed the ability to add Bluetooth audio as well — on par with the latest cabin products installed since the 2020s.

Oddly, the half-animated, half-real safety video from the previous flight wasn’t played; instead there was a manual safety demo, which I found odd. (For the record, on the brand-new Air India A350, there was also a manual safety demo since the airline’s new safety video had been released only two days before.)


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Pushback away from Hong Kong… and towards Barbie Land


At 5:15 we were out of the gate and cleared for departure, with the Fiji A330’s elaborate tail being a stark contrast to the deliberately un-designed China Eastern A320neo. An Emirates 777 here, an EVA A330 there, more China Eastern A320s — and then a green A320 of Shanghai-based LCC Spring Airlines, whose website is ch.com as is evident from the livery.


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I finally got around to starting Barbie, knowing full well that the movie wouldn’t be finished before landing. All it took was one black-and-white striped swimsuit for the little girls to smash their dolls to smithereens!


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B-LBJ, a company A330-300 under a decade old, breezed along beside us; VH-QPG, a two-decade-old A330-300 from alliance co-founder Qantas, followed from behind. As my A321neo’s sharklet cut through the red Aussie bird, I captioned, ‘Margot Robbie’s flag carrier! Target SydNYE 2024.’


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The film got into its groove, wherein all women of all kinds in Barbie Land stood up for each other and fought for feminism, while… that was a bit different from the Real World.


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But meanwhile feast your eyes on this plush pink pearl couch, and all the power of pinkness on display…


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…or would you rather fancy a panorama of the Hong Kong evening horizon, with vast expanses of earth and sky, and the thrill of being next to the engine that hurtles your plane into the sky? I knew I most certainly would.

Now I understood why Ben Schlappig loves takeoffs from HKG so much; it’s impossible not to fall in love with the golden glow of the sun, lighting up the horizon for the fifth-to-last time in 2023.


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88% Barbie, 11% evening clouds, 1% catering


That’s the composition of the pictures in this section, and the seatbelt sign came on shortly after takeoff, as it should. Meanwhile Barbie entertained thoughts of death, only to suppress them immediately.


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No mood lighting here, I’m afraid; the cabin lights were the standard shade of off-white. The better colour combination was reserved for outside the window, as the last vestiges of the evening sun lit up the bed of white, fluffy clouds.


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In the Real World (not the one in the movie) my meal was placed on my tray table, along with metal cutlery, a refreshing towel and a bottle of water. From what I gather this was a flavourful Asian chicken curry with rice, beans and carrots, and while not as fiery as some Indian curries tend to be, this was perfect for a 90-minute flight. But I was too busy staring at the kids on the screen to pay much attention to my food!


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Halfway into the film and the flight, a mock ad for Depression Barbie — ‘spent seven hours today on Instagram’; ‘anxiety, panic attacks and OCD sold separately’ — showed just how acutely self-aware and self-deprecatory this smart, feminist movie was. A Barbillion times better than Pathaan, which I’d watched four days before on the SQ A380, and which was unadulterated trash.

(Some more pictures of the movie, completely uncalled for, in the Travelling Bonus. Warning: contains raging hormonal teenage girls.)


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The Indochinese descent


Soon, we were just 15 minutes away from our destination, and the IFE threw up a 1-minute (or I should say 10-second) survey to show appreciation for the cabin crew. The movie was nowhere close to the ‘I’m Just Ken’ drama, let alone the finishing line.


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So I instead scribbled (nay, designed) my journal entry for the day, an action-packed adventure from a grand Indian airport to a sprawling Asian airport to a much smaller Indochinese one. This would go down as one of the single most thrilling experiences I’ve had in all my years of flying, and I’m not exaggerating at all.


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Seconds from descent, lights were dimmed as B-HPF circled over Noibai Airport for a powerful landing at 6:20 local time, or 7:20 HKT, bringing me to my last country for 2023 — and what a year it had been! Indonesia and Sri Lanka in the summer, and now two new countries — Hong Kong (yes, I know, it’s a Special Administrative Region, not a country) and Vietnam — in a single day. What a path-breaking year indeed.


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An SQ 737 MAX (9V-MBD) prepared for takeoff as SQ193 behind us; six days later, I’d take the afternoon A350 service (SQ191) back to Changi, on the same day as the JAL A350 crash at Haneda where everyone survived. (On the A350, that is; the smaller plane wasn’t so lucky.)


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We turned towards the terminal, where an EK 777 (A6-ENA) stood, followed by a China Airlines 737 and Qatar 787. A Starlux A321neo landed behind us while we pulled into the gate, as I jumped forward to the climax, where Barbie meets Ruth Handler, the creator of the doll.


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As always, I was among the last to leave, and in my hand was the packet of a Palmier biscuit which I’d found in the seat pocket and which I was going to preserve. I stepped out through the spiffy, natty cabin, wished Sarah a Happy New Year, waved her farewell and stepped out into the cold Vietnamese night, with the EK 777 on one side and a Cambodia Angkor Air A320 (XU-356) on the other.


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Good evening, Vietnam


Hanoi’s airport Wi-Fi was quick and easy to connect to, much like HKG earlier in the day — something that BKK desperately needs to learn from, as its noisy ads and one-hour disconnection time are doing it no favours. There were only a small number of non-VN-registered arrivals, with my Cathay A321neo, Emirates and Qatar being the global airlines, and Cambodia Angkor Air and Lao Airlines the local ones — with another, Myanmar Airways International, on short final.


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Drab though it was, the arrivals corridor did have a nice mural of the historical parts of Hanoi, followed by the contrast of the new Gamuda City development. I waited for some time in the immigration queue, and in less than half-an-hour I was out.

All the flight numbers — CX743, AC9797, QR5811, VN3567 — showed how well-represented my flight was across all three alliances: and it better be, given the number of Westerners!


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Indeed, CX743 seemed to have a very high number of European (especially British) passengers, as I saw were all lined up next to a golden lit-up Christmas tree. Meanwhile the local flag carrier was spreading its wings to Perth, and it left no stone unturned in highlighting this new route.

‘Good morning, ahem evening, Vietnam!’ I wished.


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By 7 I had collected my single suitcase and was heading towards the exit, but first I had to buy a SIM card from Viettel, the largest telco in the country, which is owned by the military.


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This done, I walked past a bright, purple Tealive outlet (which isn’t present in Singapore) and an orange Popeyes gà rán (fried chicken) shop, which is very much present in Singapore. My Gojek ride — the Indonesian super-app is now well-entrenched in Vietnam — to a nearby airport hotel, a small Hyundai Grand i10 sedan, had arrived.

And, my word, it felt surreal stepping into a left-hand-drive car — only the second such country I’ve been to, with the UAE being the first!


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In 15 minutes we were out of Noibai Airport and into a secluded street, where I checked into a modest inn. A local man with little knowledge of English was struggling to process my booking, but a Black American girl — who’d moved to Vietnam to help around with the locals — soon offered to take over from there, and effortlessly handed over the keys.

The room was small and simple, but perfectly comfortable: ideal for resting after an action-packed, hectic but immensely memorable day, all the way from Bengaluru. I needed all the rest I could before the next day’s flight to the country’s commercial capital, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), on VietJetAir.


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Before I turned out the lights, I kept checking every now and then which plane was whooshing overhead, and was positively astonished when a Sukhoi Superjet from IrAero came in to land. Aeroflot and S7 at BKK and HKG were one thing, but a small regional airline from Irkutsk with a regional aircraft was a completely different matter!

Eventually, before drifting off to sleep, I took a look at my Google Maps timeline: the first time ever that I’d added two new countries in one day, and a grand way to bring my biggest year (so far) for travel to an exhilarating finale — which VietJetAir and Vietnam Airlines were now responsible to carry off!


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Note: In the lounge rating below, I have no choice but to choose the Thai Royal Orchid Lounge, since that was replaced by the new Chase Sapphire Lounge that I visited, but Flight-Report is yet to update it. Several other permanently closed lounges, like Cathay Pacific’s The Bridge, are yet to be updated.


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Verdict

Cathay Pacific

9.6/10
Cabin10.0
Cabin crew9.5
Entertainment/wifi10.0
Meal/catering9.0

Thai Royal Orchid

9.4/10
Comfort10.0
Meal/catering9.0
Entertainment/wifi10.0
Services8.5

Hong Kong - HKG

9.9/10
Efficiency10.0
Access10.0
Services9.5
Cleanliness10.0

Hanoi - HAN

8.0/10
Efficiency8.5
Access8.0
Services8.0
Cleanliness7.5

Conclusion

If ever there was anything that showed me just how much of an aviation powerhouse HKG is when it comes to appeasing avgeeks (Ben Schlappig among them), this was it. Seldom, before or since, have I seen an airport — badly battered by protests and then the pandemic — go above and beyond so much with new amenities that I have no choice but to be spellbound, dumbfounded and just plain thrilled to have spent a layover here. Already blessed with sweeping views of all the apron action and massive clear windows, HKG has upped its game even further with such avgeek paradises as the Sky Bridge, Intervals Bar and Chase Sapphire Lounge, all of which were inaugurated in 2022–23 after the worst of the pandemic was done.

And, my word, I am truly fortunate to have experienced all of this in one go — especially the Chase Sapphire Lounge (rated above as the Thai Royal Orchid Lounge, which it replaced), which I was able to enter courtesy of Priority Pass, though Oneworld Emeralds and Sapphires have even better options out there like Cathay’s The Pier and The Wing. That this layover came immediately after Bengaluru, which has won no little praise for blending Indian tradition with 2020s architecture, made it all the more evident just how much BLR and HKG are both among the top-designed airports in Asia, if not the world — not that Changi is about to be knocked off its perch in the near future. In every aspect and form, these grand and opulent facilities have singlehandedly transformed HKG from a busy megahub to an absolute paradise for avgeeks.

And the flight itself? Never have I seen ANY aircraft, never mind a narrowbody, as technologically advanced as this one: from the 4K-sharp displays to the corner mini-display to the cabin design and everything, CX’s A321neos are easily at the forefront of narrowbody innovation as far as economy is concerned. (Business, however, would have done much better with flat beds, which I saw on the Vistara A321neo.) I didn’t have Kenough time to finish Barbie, but the glow of the evening sun across the horizon was more than Kenough — sorry, last time! — to compensate for it. Even the most ordinary takeoff from HKG feels like it’s out of this world, and if it’s in the evening, so much the better. Combine this with the absolutely pitch-perfect typography and brand image that CX has, and you have a simply spectacular, if short, experience.

Sadly, Vietnamese airports have light years of catching up to do with BLR and HKG — and SIN and BOM (the earlier airports on this trip) — but we’ll see when Ho Chi Minh City comes up with its new Long Thanh airport southeast of the city centre, with the Tegel-like (i.e., highly convenient but terribly ancient) Tan Son Nhat being demoted to secondary status. That’s exactly where my next report is headed, on a standard-issue VietJetAir A320 flight — no promised A330-300 — but it made me appreciate just how cheerful VJ’s corporate ethos is without being overbearing like Scoot, while having the hot meals that IndiGo doesn’t — yet. (When IndiGo introduces its business-class product, a lot can change there.) As of now, though, it was a warm and welcoming Xin Chào to Vietnam, the perfect country to end a year as record-shattering as 2023 — and VietJetAir and Vietnam Airlines more than played their part to that end!

Information on the route Hong Kong (HKG) Hanoi (HAN)

Les contributeurs de Flight-Report ont posté 9 avis concernant 3 compagnies sur la ligne Hong Kong (HKG) → Hanoi (HAN).


Useful

La compagnie qui obtient la meilleure moyenne est Cathay Pacific avec 8.4/10.

La durée moyenne des vols est de 2 heures et 1 minutes.

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