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Tokyo - KA153 BLR-HKG, CX542 HKG-HND 10th August 2014

Tokyo - KA153 BLR-HKG, CX542 HKG-HND 10th August 2014

Old Aug 22, 14, 9:46 am
  #1  
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Tokyo - KA153 BLR-HKG, CX542 HKG-HND 10th August 2014

I was looking forward to my first trip to Japan. It's a country that I had always wanted to visit but never had the chance. This work trip was scheduled just two days after my wife and kids returned home from an extended stay in the UK so I wanted to keep this trip as short as possible to reduce the time I would be away from the kids. Sadly that meant travelling on the Sunday to attend meetings from Monday to Thursday, and then returning on Friday with very little time to explore the city.

What surprised me a little was that my company’s travel department booked me on the Dragonair/Cathay flights rather than, say, Malaysia Airlines which seems to have some very cheap tickets at the moment for some reason. When I checked the booking I saw that the KA/CX combo had come in at around 90,000 INR which is an incredible price for business class. My company also provided me a taxi to the airport which is a blessing given the timing of the flights.

The pre-booked taxi arrived 10 minutes late at 22:10 on Saturday night, but I had already been notified by SMS and email (and by tripit) that the flight was delayed by 45 mins. I loaded my single carry-on bag into the back seat with me and the taxi began the journey from my house in Bangalore to the airport. In the past this used to be a torturous journey due to the huge amount of construction going on, but that has now been completed resulting in an excellent new elevated roadway. Hundreds of speed bumps aside, the journey was a relatively smooth one, despite the driver making a decidedly suspect manoeuvre when getting on to the ring road, which involved us driving the wrong way down the dual carriageway for ~50 metres against heavy traffic.
Arrival at BLR an hour later was uneventful, the airport gate guard letting me in after inspecting a flight reminder email on my phone screen. "Checkin" took only a couple of minutes, the check-in man seeming genuinely relieved that I had no checked luggage. I say "checkin" because I had already checked in two days earlier - however for some reason was not allowed to print my boarding pass at home "for security reasons”.

The immigration check before hand baggage screening no longer requires paperwork to be filled in, which is a pleasant change. However on this occasion the queue for the desks was well over 150 people, leading to queues all the way back to the domestic security area on the other side of the departures hall. This is the first time I have had to wait more than a couple of minutes for the immigration check and I was quite glad that I had plenty of time before my flight. In the end the queue moved quickly and I was able to get to the baggage screening with over two and a half hours remaining before the (postponed) flight.

Upon passing through security, the man with the "wand" scanner was a little odd. "Hellllloooooo!" he intoned while bending down to scan my lower legs. I wasn't sure whether he was speaking to me and just then he straightened abruptly and looked me closely in the face. "How are you my friend?". I wondered whether he had recognised me from some previous flight but in the end I think he was just bored and trying to make his shift more interesting in any way possible. Or perhaps he was just a bit weird.

As always they took an interest in my camera (I always take it out of the bag, but the BLR security team always pick it up to inspect) but did not mention anything about the safety razor in my bag (I brought just the one already-used blade in case they made me throw it away). Immediately after security, I passed through the duty free area where a salesman repeatedly tried to push cigarettes on me (errr... No thanks) and then headed straight to the Plaza Premium Lounge to relax for at least two hours.

This lounge is a massive improvement on what was available previously (the Oberoi Lounge, tiny and with poor food offerings and not enough seating). There are very decent coffee machines, a bar complete with barman, and hot food counters including freshly prepared Dosas.

image by peshwengi, on Flickr

Given that it was around midnight I decided to have a beer, however the only beer was budweiser (locally brewed in Bangalore of course) - an American traveller was very disappointed that there was no kingfisher as he wanted to “drink local”. After one beer and writing up some notes on the iPad it was already time to go to the gate.

Gate 23-24 was busy but as I walked up they immediately called for business class to board. I was able to walk straight onto the plane only stopping for two further security checks (for everyone) although unusually they didn't check my passport at all!

KA153 - Airbus 330

I had chosen seat 15K - a window seat, far enough back from the galley that it’s quiet, but also far enough forward to be away from the toilets and from the carnage behind the curtain ;-) I was offered an orange juice or wine (I chose the juice) and settled into my seat as the aircraft taxied to runway 27. For some reason I always feel annoyed when the takeoff runway faces away from my destination, but there’s not a lot I can do about that!

The pilot throttled up the engines quite a lot before we were even at 45 degrees to the runway centreline, but other than that there was nothing remarkable about the takeoff and we were soon climbing away from the airport. We did a relatively steep turn over the Bay of Bengal but from then the flight was very smooth and the seatbelt signs remained off for the whole flight. I settled my seat back to try to sleep. The regional business seats on KA are rubbish. Probably fine for a day flight but at night it’s not comfortable for sleeping. The old ones were better in all honesty as they at least had an extending footrest which supported your feet properly. They do contain a USB charger and a phone holder next to it. I noted that the phone holders are big enough for an iPhone but not the current generation of larger phones, which dates the product somewhat.

My seat mate, a businesswoman in her 40’s, decided to drink wine and watch movies throughout the flight, despite it being a morning arrival (she didn't look too happy when we landed at 10:45am in HKG!).

The menu is reproduced below for your enjoyment.

Flight 1 by peshwengi, on Flickr

For breakfast I ate the fruit and croissant that was delivered first, and for the main course I chose poached eggs (3) with smoked haddock. One of my favourite combinations, but one which I haven’t had in years.

Flight 1 by peshwengi, on Flickr

There’s something delicious about hang smoked fish in the morning. The eggs were soft inside, and the smoked haddock was cooked to perfection, being still soft and falling apart at the touch of a fork. Those little potato cubes were nice too, although I have no idea whether there's a proper name for them! "Diced potatoes" doesn't really sound fancy enough does it? Maybe "Pommes de terre, découpé aux dice"

Flight 1 by peshwengi, on Flickr

The coffee was also pretty good.

I love sitting in a window seat so that I can look out, but the crew has asked us to close the window blinds shortly after takeoff and by this time it was too bright outside to open them without disturbing nearby passengers. They were of course opened during the descent, but sadly I didn’t get a view of much as I was sitting on the right side of the aircraft and we approached HKG from the west.

The landing was smooth, and as always transferring to the main departures/shopping area at HKG was super quick and efficient. The only change from normal procedure was the extra equipment/queues for scanning for Ebola that was apparently not required for our flight as we were directed past the checkpoint.

I’ll describe the layover and the second flight in the next post.
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Old Aug 22, 14, 9:58 am
  #2  
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I seem to have got the flight numbers totally wrong - it should be KA 153 and CX 542! Mods could you update the thread title please?
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Old Aug 22, 14, 10:00 am
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I immediately headed straight to the cathay “cabin" lounge (I don't have access to the wing F lounge any more since I lost OWE status ) for some wifi and to FaceTime the kids. I had contemplated heading into Hong Kong, in particular for dim sum at a fabulous restaurant in TST but with the delay and my relative unfamiliarity with ground transportation options in Hong Kong I decided to hang around at the airport. It later seemed to have been the wrong decision but unfortunately the time was just long enough for me to feel that I ought to head into town, but just short enough that I was too scared to do so.

HKG is not a bad place to spend some time, especially with oneworld lounge access which gives you a range of different lounges to choose from. I also needed to buy some shirts (I only packed one!) and hopefully get a haircut.
I wandered to the Qantas lounge which is very close to the Cabin, and had a shower there. The shower rooms were very nice and comparable to those in the Wing F lounge, so I was pretty pleased with that. Afterwards I had a coffee overlooking the apron - the coffee machine in the QF lounge makes a surprisingly nice latté.

image by peshwengi, on Flickr
This is where you go to get to the Quantas lounge! It took me a while to see it.

image by peshwengi, on Flickr
Dining area in QF lounge.

image by peshwengi, on Flickr
I later spotted this “proper” coffee machine behind the bar, which I will have to try out next time. I stopped at the bar for a Perrier (the water not the champagne - it's still pre-lunch!) and the girl behind the bar was very chatty and friendly.

I later went for a walk around the airport trying to find some business shirts - they ranged between 1950-2500 HKD in most of the big name stores. I found a place called G2000 closer to the “far” end of the airport, which had more “reasonable” prices at around 500 for the cheapest shirts, so I bought a couple of those. Sadly it later turned out that one of them was short sleeved which was unintentional!

I popped into the G16 lounge (ex-DragonAir) just to have a look. It was small and didn't have the range of facilities (food etc) of the larger lounges. But a good place to watch aircraft landing, and ships cruising past.

I don't know what it is about a longish layover but with still two hours to go I moved to the Pier lounge which is near the gate for my second flight. I had wonton noodles for lunch in the noodle bar there which is always pretty good. Although the problem with the noodles being freshly prepared is that they are too hot to eat!

image by peshwengi, on Flickr

The sandwiches here are disappointing though, and not worth bothering with. Again I lament the loss of OWE status as the Haven restaurant is on a different level altogether. It's worth mentioning that the first class section in The Pier is just a roped off section of the main lounge. So I was not missing my OWE too much in this particular lounge
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Old Aug 22, 14, 10:49 am
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It's interesting that you were offered only orange juice or wine as the "welcome drink" on board, since in my experience (on other routes) there is always a choice already set out on the trays of orange juice, water or the Dragonair cocktail

The breakfast looks great, I envy you ! For my sins, I take Dragonair to and from Dhaka quite frequently and on the Dhaka - Hong Kong leg (shorter than from BLR, it usually leaves Dhaka at 1.30 a.m local time and arrives at HKG at 7.30 HKG time, just under 4 hours flying time) there is a dinner served quickly after take-off (the choice never varies, it is a fresh fruit salad + a curry dish or another main course + ice cream) and then nothing before landing. This drives me crazy, since I am usually not interested in having dinner, but am always starving when we land !!
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Old Aug 22, 14, 12:00 pm
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CX542
Finally 1600 came around and by this time I had succumbed to temptation and had a glass of Kiwi sauvignon blanc which was served in the pier bar. I enjoy sitting at the bar here as it has a good view of landing aircraft. The flight was called and I proceeded to gate 65 - directly outside the Pier's exit.

image by peshwengi, on Flickr
The aircraft for the trip to HND - One thing I love about Hong Kong airport is that if a room has a window, then it has a good view.

There was a short wait in the queue and the staff used this time to check passports and stamp each person's boarding pass to indicate that this had been done. Then onto the aircraft and I was of course very pleased to hear the cabin crew state to me "it's upstairs sir!". I was the second to ascend the stairs and went to my assigned seat - 82A which was the forwardmost seat that had been available at the time of my seat selection.

image by peshwengi, on Flickr

image by peshwengi, on Flickr
Upper deck almost empty.

image by peshwengi, on Flickr
The view from the seat.

The seats on the upper deck were different than the ones I am used to in cathay business. These were the older “Herringbone/Olympus" type which are packed in at a sharp angle, so that you are almost travelling sideways. Unfortunately this means that you can't see out of the window without risking a severe neck strain! These seats are noticeably older and are not up to the standard of the other cathay flights I have been on. There is also an extra shoulder strap you have to wear and when the aircraft is accelerating it feels decidedly weird to be accelerating sideways. Having said that I'm in the private-jet-like atmosphere of the 747 UD so I really can't complain.

image by peshwengi, on Flickr
Handy space behind the seat.

The excellent cabin crew offered me a glass of champagne and this time I was more than happy to accept. The only two people I could see from my seat were two young girls who seemed to be very excited about the prospect of travelling in business, and also even more excited that they could see the flight crew from their seats, with the flight deck door open! To their disappointment the door was swiftly closed as the aircraft was almost ready to push back.
Shortly afterward, the captain (a jolly kiwi chap) pointed out that there was a typhoon in Central Japan at the moment and we may not be able to land at HND! However he assured us that they had loaded plenty of extra fuel on board so that we could hold for as long as necessary. This could be interesting! I had not checked the weather before my trip so did not know about the typhoon (and was later surprised to find out how hot and humid Tokyo is in August).

The cabin crew remembered my name every time (including the first welcome) without needing to check. That was a nice touch. No amenity kit was given, maybe because this flight is not really long haul.

There was a long hold before we went forward to the runway, and by 17:00 we were just starting our take-off roll. Dinner was served shortly after takeoff (on such a short flight I guess everything is “shortly after takeoff”)

image by peshwengi, on Flickr

image by peshwengi, on Flickr

image by peshwengi, on Flickr
Wine list.

Starter - the salad with sesame dressing was quite nice, but the prawns were absolutely delicious and the noodles were tasty too.

image by peshwengi, on Flickr

I’m afraid I was unable to restrain myself from eating some before taking this picture (maybe because of the champagne which was getting topped up regularly). This will be a theme of this report as you will see later.

Main - sea bass - perfectly cooked and utterly delicious. The food in BA first class was not as good as this. I had the Spy Valley sauvignon blanc with this course.

image by peshwengi, on Flickr

Then a selection of three cheeses, a cheddary one, a softer one and a blue. Three crackers a bit stingy. I remembered to take a photo but sadly I had already eaten all the cheese!

I had a glass of port aft the cheese. They gave me a chocolate and some coffee. The service was very good - on a par with BA First although I have only flown BA First once so this might not be representative.

I slept for a while and while lying down I realised that my head was very close to the window. If it had not been completely dark outside it might have been a good opportunity to lay down and look out of the window. It was only a short while later that we were told by the captain that we were being put into a hold southwest of Tokyo. The benefit of this was that the typhoon was gradually heading northwest and away from Tokyo, and presently we were able to come out of the hold and land at HND.

Arriving in Tokyo for the first time I realised that Japan is not an easy place to get by if you don't speak the language. Even the guy at the airport information desk professed to only speak "a little" English. My company had instructed me to get the "limousine bus" to my hotel as it was much cheaper than a taxi. After speaking to the bus desk guy for a few minutes I managed to understand that he was telling me that there were no more buses that evening. Due to the delay our flight had arrived at 22:45 and so I had to take a taxi. Luckily although my taxi driver didn't speak a word of English I managed to pronounce the name of my hotel well enough that he knew where to go. The journey from HND to the hotel only took 20 minutes or so (how different from Bangalore!) but still cost 8000 JPY (again, how different from Bangalore!).

And thus began a week in Tokyo that I wasn't too excited about - but I ended up absolutely loving it!
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Old Aug 22, 14, 12:05 pm
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Originally Posted by DernierVirage View Post
It's interesting that you were offered only orange juice or wine as the "welcome drink" on board, since in my experience (on other routes) there is always a choice already set out on the trays of orange juice, water or the Dragonair cocktail
I think there was water too - I didn't note it down but the person before me might have taken it. They did offer me the signature cocktail, OJ or water on the return flight though.
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Old Aug 22, 14, 9:16 pm
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Your photo of the starter on the HKG - HND flight is spoiled by your neighbour's horrible bare feet This is one of my pet hates and oddly enough it has happened on my last three consecutive flights with KA ....so your photo is maintaining the rhythm !!

Last edited by DernierVirage; Aug 22, 14 at 9:19 pm Reason: Typo corrected
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Old Aug 22, 14, 10:17 pm
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Originally Posted by DernierVirage View Post
Your photo of the starter on the HKG - HND flight is spoiled by your neighbour's horrible bare feet This is one of my pet hates and oddly enough it has happened on my last three consecutive flights with KA ....so your photo is maintaining the rhythm !!
Urgh, I hadn't noticed! You'll be pleased to hear that I always keep my socks on.
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Old Aug 22, 14, 10:28 pm
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Originally Posted by peshwengi View Post
Urgh, I hadn't noticed! You'll be pleased to hear that I always keep my socks on.
I was sure you did, but it's good to have confirmation

At least in the 747 there's a bit of space between you and the other guy, but the last time it happened to me was in the 333, where the seating is of course different. I always sit in 10G and the guy beside me in 10D whipped off his socks even before the cabin doors were closed. At least he covered them with a blanket after a while, but he must enjoy the experience because he waited until we were at the gate at HKG with the engines off before he reluctantly put them on again.....
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Old Aug 23, 14, 12:30 am
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The "other guy" in this case was a rather good looking young woman, which shouldn't make a difference yet somehow does
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Old Aug 23, 14, 12:43 am
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Originally Posted by peshwengi View Post
The "other guy" in this case was a rather good looking young woman, which shouldn't make a difference yet somehow does
It's incredible how much attention we're giving the photo now

I agree, if it was a girl, then it's a bit different Sadly they never seem to be on the HKG - DAC flights !
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Old Aug 23, 14, 8:19 am
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Originally Posted by peshwengi View Post
I found a place called G2000 closer to the “far” end of the airport, which had more “reasonable” prices at around 500 for the cheapest shirts, so I bought a couple of those. Sadly it later turned out that one of them was short sleeved which was unintentional!
I hear short sleeve shirts in Japan are actually quite fashionable during the summer months.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cool_Biz_campaign#Plan

What surprised me a little was that my company’s travel department booked me on the Dragonair/Cathay flights rather than, say, Malaysia Airlines which seems to have some very cheap tickets at the moment for some reason.
Poor MH, and probably losing money on every seat too.
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Old Aug 24, 14, 9:39 am
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Yes the short sleeved shirt was fine in the office on Friday! And much preferable on the flight home too.
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