Old Jan 24, 20, 6:35 am
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Genius1
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Hanoi and Hong Kong via QR and KA J featuring a Presidential Suite and CX F lounges

Hanoi and Hong Kong via QR and KA J featuring a Presidential Suite and CX First Class lounges

Index to Genius1 Trip Reports

I had always been curious about Vietnam given its prominent place in military history of recent times. In choosing where in the country to visit for a relatively short first-time trip, the capital of Hanoi in the North seemed an appropriate location to start, particularly given its proximity to Hong Kong which would also feature on this tripís itinerary. I should note that travel took place in May 2019, before the large-scale and ongoing unrest in Hong Kong commenced the following month.

Highlights ahead in this report:
  • Four sectors in Qatar Airways Business Class, featuring three different products, including Qsuite on the 77W
  • Staying in the Presidential Suite at the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake, including the Club InterContinental experience
  • Cathay Dragon Business Class on the A321
  • The Club InterContinental experience at InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong
  • Full reviews of the Cathay Pacific The Wing and The Pier First Class lounges at HKG

Radisson Blu Stockholm-Arlanda Airport Hotel

With our positioning flight on BA arriving into Stockholm mid-morning and QR check-in desks not opening until mid-afternoon, I had reserved a day room at the Radisson Blu, conveniently located within the SkyCity building connecting Terminals 4 and 5. The walk to SkyCity from T2 (home to BA) is fairly long at around ten minutes and involves multiple level changes, although is fully protected from the elements. The SkyCity also offers the advantage of being fairly close to T5 (roughly four minutesí walk away), from where our QR flight would depart later that afternoon.

Check-in was swift in a contemporary lobby area, but thatís where the 21st century ended as we were directed to the right and then around a curved corridor to the left. Our Standard Room was small (to be expected) with no view to speak of other than a semi-enclosed roof, and boasted interior design straight out of the 1990s, including oppressive yellow-painted walls, yellow curtains and a utilitarian marble-clad bathroom. A browse of the hotelís website suggests that Superior rooms and above have been recently refurbished in a much more contemporary style Ė these would be my pick on any future stay.



















Three particularly bizarre elements of the room baffled me; the bottle-opener was screwed to the bathroom wall (rather than being in the vicinity of the mini-bar as you would expect), the TV was partially positioned over the connecting door to the adjacent room rendering the door unusable, and the bedroom featured a retro uncovered strip light (presumably an emergency light of some sort) above the air conditioning vent. Note that in keeping with most Radisson Blu properties, there are no slippers, bathrobes, coffee machine or complimentary water in Standard rooms. I didnít use the shower in order to be able to determine whether the mirror was anti-steam, but I doubt it was.



This trademark Genius1 interrogation aside, our room performed satisfactorily for the purposes of offering a few hoursí rest between flights; it was clean enough, there were both power and USB sockets adjacent to the bed, and the complimentary wifi worked well.

ARN-DOH

Shortly after booking the Qatar Airways flights in March I was advised that a credit card security check was required (presumably due to the fact Iíd booked the tickets whilst on a hotelís wifi network with an IP address registered in a country that didnít match my credit card address). Having failed to do this via QRís incompetent telephone and email customer service teams, I was prompted to do this in person at QRís ticket desk, located directly opposite their check-in desks at ARN T5. Verification formalities complete, it was back over to the Business Class check-in desk where there was a short wait for boarding passes to be issued and bags tagged as oneworld Business Class priority, and another short queue at Fast Track security.

QR were using a different pier (Gates 11-24) to the usual F Gates pier at T5 that afternoon due to what appeared to be taxiway reconstruction work, resulting in a trip to a new lounge Ė the wholly unremarkable third party Norrsken lounge, operated by Menzies. This is a significant downgrade over the usual Stockholm Arlanda lounge (also operated by Menzies) on the F Gates pier, which I most recently reviewed in my Singapore 2018 trip report.

Located adjacent to the SAS lounges one level up from gate level, the Norrsken lounge is one of the smaller airport lounges Iíve visited and offers basic interior design with amenities and cleaning standards to match.



The principal part of the lounge beyond reception features banquette and table seating along the left-hand wall, with additional seating both the other side of, and at, the semi-circular low dividing Ďfeatureí wall.





This feature wall wraps around the self-serve buffet and bar area, where a paltry and unappetising selection of mainly cold items could be found. At the far end of the lounge is a part-enclosed meeting room which doubles as additional table seating.

To the right of reception is a small high-top table and stool seating area which looks like itís designed for short dwell times such as phone calls, beyond which is a sparse news stand integrated into the wall.

The far corner of the lounge offers a small soft seating area and apron views (including our 787 in the distance), although its small size and location opposite the washrooms means itís not the most pleasant of spaces in which to wait for a flight. The view of the apron was made a little more interesting than usual by the variety of livery-less aircraft painted solely in white making their way back and forth, presumably wet-leased to cover for grounded 737 MAX aircraft.



Boarding from Gate 18 in the Non-Schengen part of the pier commenced shortly after our arrival at the gate, where there was a priority lane for the boarding pass and passport check and a signed (but not segregated) seating area. Business Class passengers were called second to board after those passengers needing additional time.

A single airbridge led from the building to Door 2L of A7-BCU, a four-year-old 787-8 featuring the excellent Collins Aerospace Super Diamond product in Business Class. I reviewed this seat (which also features on QRís A380 fleet and non-Qsuite A350s) in detail in my Singapore 2018 trip report, so will focus on the soft product in this report. I will however note that QR are to be commended for specifying individual air vents across their 787 fleet.

After successfully navigating to Seat 3A in this small five-row cabin (six if you include the oddly located 6EF between the two washrooms aft of Doors 2), I was approached by a member of the cabin crew who welcomed me and offered a drink along with a choice of hot or cold towel. Jackets were taken on request, and seat tours were offered for those unfamiliar with the product.

As I waited for my QR signature drink of mint and lime to arrive, I looked around the spacious seat where a blanket and pillow had been pre-placed before boarding, with a bottle of Aqua díOr water in the bottle holder, noise-cancelling headphones in the armrest and amenity kit on the side ledge. Whilst the contents of the amenity kit, including Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio products, was identical to many recent QR flights, the Bricís bag in which they came was a new variant to me Ė a leather-effect (and slightly cheap-looking) semi-hard black plastic with red detailing. The socks, eye mask and ear bud case were black to match. QR havenít changed their amenity kit contents for some time, and although the bags are rotated quite regularly, Iíd like to see some different toiletries make an appearance soon.





PJs, slippers and mattress pads are not available on day flights, although dental and shaving kits as well as Rituals hand wash, moisturiser and body mist/spray are available in the washrooms. As Iíve mentioned before, Iíd like to see QR make slippers available on day flights and would also appreciate a pen to be included in the amenity kit for completing landing cards where required.


A relatively short flight time of 5h46 was announced by the flight crew, with our cruising altitude for the evening being 39,000ft. A selection of newspapers was offered to complement the magazines available in the Doors 2 entryway, and new, smaller format menus and wine lists were distributed before pushback Ė a much handier size for storing around the seat (and for taking home for those of us with a trip report to write!). With the exception of the dessert wine, the wine list remained the same for all four QR sectors of this trip.























A little under an hour after boarding, dinner service commenced with a glass of the Lallier Grande Rťserve and a ramekin of warm mixed nuts.



After a welcome from the CSD, the usual table-laying process commenced swiftly, including laying of the tablecloth, placement of the bread plate (more of a tray really), butter, oil with accompanying dish, smart QR-branded salt and pepper cellars, metal breadbasket (containing three different rolls), and artificial candle. A red water glass was also placed on the table with an offer of still or sparkling mineral water; Iím not a huge fan of these glasses as they feel quite rough to hold and drink out of, in contrast to the rest of the table and glassware.

A very pleasant amuse-bouche of pickled salmon was offered first, swiftly followed by the salty but enjoyable creamy green pea soup with asparagus and roasted buckwheat. The Matanzas Creek Winery Chardonnay was a suitable accompaniment.







The superbly presented poached scallops and apple vinaigrette with mussel dill mayonnaise, shrimps and rye bread crumble tasted just as good as it looked.



For my main course Iíd chosen the herb crusted salmon fillet served with baked potatoes, grilled mini fennel, baby courgettes and light marinara sauce. The relish accompanying this dish was quite spicy, although the dish was hearty and nicely presented.



The warm chocolate and cherry tart with mascarpone cream and pistachio tuile was excellent, although the heat (perhaps slightly hotter than Ďwarmí) had caused the tart to partially collapse by the time it came for me to take a photo. This dessert was certainly the better choice of the two listed on the menu Ė the alternative of fresh berries with mint syrup is really basic and the syrups (the exact flavour varies by flight) are usually sickly sweet.



My oolong tea was accompanied by a box of Godiva chocolates and a hot towel to complete the dinner service.



During the meal service I watched the entertaining and musically triumphant A Star is Born (who knew that Lady Gaga would turn out to be such a good actor Ė or that I would ever reference Lady Gaga in one of my trip reports?). Annoyingly I had to use QRís supplied headphones instead of my usual pair of Bose QC 35 II headphones as the sound was way too loud during the film and couldnít be adjusted properly; I originally thought this was due to an issue with the film, the IFE system at that particular seat, or potentially a wider IFE problem on the aircraft, but have since concluded I need to purchase a new adapter for my Bose headphones to be able to use them on certain aircraft.

The Oryx One IFE system fitted to QRís 787s is fairly buggy, on screens that are noticeably chunkier and slower to respond than on A350 aircraft equipped with the same seat. The system also lacks external cameras, and annoyingly doesnít automatically turn screens off when not in use causing a significant amount of light pollution; this is particularly noticeable in a half-empty cabin. My final IFE-related observation is that the positioning of the handheld IFE controller means it is often inadvertently operated by an elbow on the armrest, although this is admittedly a seat design fault rather than an IFE failing.

After a brief doze, I requested a mint tea which as usual was brought on a tray accompanied by a selection of packaged biscuits.



A third and final hot towel was offered at the top of descent, with jackets handed back before the cabin crew were asked to take their seats for landing; I prefer jackets to be handed back on the ground, although can appreciate that there might be limited time to do this in some situations.

In a typical arrival onto a remote stand at Doha, we disembarked from Door 2L (with Economy Class passengers being held back by closed curtains and crew standing in the aisles) and were soon proceeding to the empty priority transfers security via a dedicated Business Class bus whose journey was perhaps just a little slower than usual due to its progress being hampered by a baggage truck.

DOH-HAN

The Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business lounge was reasonably busy at this ungodly hour of the morning, with plenty of passengers awaiting their connecting flights. I reviewed this lounge in detail in my Japan 2018 trip report, so head over there for the photo tour. We found a spot in the quiet area (home to red chairs that are more style than substance) for the 45 minutes or so that we had to wait before heading to Gate E21 via the transit train.

E21 is, of course, a bus gate where a dedicated Business Class lane was set up for the boarding pass and passport check. As is often the case at bus gates at Doha, Business Class passengers were called to board after Economy Class passengers, which meant by the time our dedicated J bus had reached the aircraft side, we had to be held on the bus for a short time whilst two buses worth of Y passengers went up the stairs before us.

This minor inconvenience and distinctly first-world problem aside, we were soon being welcomed at Door 2L of A7-AEA, a rather elderly (by QR standards) A330-300 (a change from the scheduled -200 variant), weighing in at 15 years old. Despite her age, this aircraft was in excellent condition internally and of course featured individual air vents at each seat, contrary to many more modern aircraft, as well as notably powerful overhead reading lights. QR are in the process of retiring their A330 fleet, having retired their last A340 in May 2019. The final A330 will be retired in 2022, with the fleet being replaced by the A350 and 787.

All of QRís A330s are now fitted with the Collins Aerospace Diamond seat in Business Class; note that this is a substantially different product from the excellent Super Diamond seat featured on the previous sector of this trip, being in a 2-2-2 configuration as opposed to 1-2-1. I reviewed the Diamond product in detail in my Japan 2018 trip report, so will focus once again on the soft product for this sector.

The usual pre-departure ritual of cabin crew welcome, jackets taken upon request, offer of a drink of choice and a hot or cold towel commenced as the flight crew announced a flight time to Hanoi of 7 hours. Seat 2J was set up for boarding with a pillow and blanket on the seat itself, and a rather bold red amenity kit bag placed on the small side ledge next to the hand-held IFE controller. A bottle of Evian water and QR-branded noise-cancelling headphones featured in the tiny (and inconveniently located) stowage space at shoulder height next to the headrest.



Menus, wine lists and PJ/slipper packs from The White Company were handed out soon after my mint and lime arrived, as were newspapers for those who wanted them.







The flight crew advised that there would be a short delay to pushback due to the closure of Pakistani airspace affecting flight paths in the region, but before too long we were airborne and I was changing into PJs in the spotless washroom, which unusually for an A330 features a window. There are no changing tables or seats in the washrooms on this aircraft type, which does make PJ-donning a little more awkward.



As is the norm on QR flights, the CSD came around the Business Class cabin to individually welcome each passenger, and in my case stopped to hang my clothes, query whether I would like to be woken for breakfast and take a pre-sleep drink order. With this flight departing at 02:25 Doha time, few passengers chose to partake of the Ďlate night diningí, instead opting to rest for a few hours. I was no exception to this, settling down to sleep soon after finishing my hot chocolate.

As I mentioned in my detailed review of this seat in 2018, the seat is on the narrow side for a comfortable sleep, with both head and foot room quite constrained. No mattress pads were available on this sector despite it being a night flight; Iím not sure whether theyíre ever offered on A330-operated sectors, given the second-tier cities these aircraft tend to fly to. As the cabin wasnít anywhere near full, I requisitioned a blanket from an empty seat as my mattress pad, which made for a fairly comfortable sleeping surface.

The attentive crew offered me a hot towel as I woke from my four-hour slumber, swiftly followed by a fresh orange juice and the laying of my table for breakfast, which included a basket of breakfast bakery products whose quality seems to diminish with every QR sector I fly. During the meal service I watched Oceanís 8 which was surprisingly enjoyable, even allowing for the Sandra Bullock factor.



The Greek yogurt, strawberry compote and toasted granola with nuts was average as is the norm for this dish, with the platter of seasonal cut fruits following.





For my main course Iíd chosen the chive scrambled eggs with grilled chicken breast, rosti potato, vine tomato (actually generously plural in reality when compared to the menu description) and Portobello mushroom. The eggs were a little over-done and somewhat grey-tinged from their close proximity to the mushroom, but overall this dish wasnít half bad, accompanied by an espresso.



Throughout the breakfast service one of the cabin crew members kept bumping into, and treading on top of, my feet as she leant across to serve 2K, which was mildly annoying. A mint tea concluded the breakfast service, with a basket of mints offered to each passenger as we started our descent into Hanoi.

Landing into Vietnamís capital at around 14:00 local time, just a little behind schedule, we parked at a dual-airbridge equipped stand and disembarked from Door 1L, well before the second airbridge docked at 2L. There was no queue at all at immigration, and with our bags amongst the first onto the belt were soon proceeding through customs to the arrivals hall, where we met with our representative from the InterContinental.

Last edited by Genius1; Feb 8, 20 at 7:12 am
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