Hong Kong has quite a lot of qwerky fifth freedom choices. Bangkok comes into mind with a whole bunch of unexpected airlines flying this route. Ethiopian and Air India also fly fifth freedom flights from Hong Kong to Korea and Japan, with Air India offering an early morning flight to Osaka several times a week, returning in the early afternoon.
After some amazing fall colours in Korea the month earlier, I wanted to give Kansai a try again to see whether they can beat Naejangsan. Since this is very weather-dependent, I could only book at the last minute once the forecast was solid. By then, Cathay or ANA were out of the question with an expensive last-minute premium. Hong Kong Express wasn't too expensive and had seats, but I was already sick of their lack of legroom and the add-ons for baggage and meals would end up being quite pricey. Air India came to the rescue, with a very affordable roundtrip for less than HKD$1750 tax inclusive. A generous luggage allowance and meals for both sectors would be included, as well as 50% accrual for mileage. This was 2 days before departure.
Booking online directly with the airline was easy enough. The user interface wasn't as nice as some of the other legacy carriers, but it didn't take too long to get everything paid, seats selected, and ticket email received. This flight would be on the Dreamliner, which I had good memories of on Etihad just months earlier. The better humidity really made a huge difference.
So why is Air India flying this sector? My guess is because international departures out of India tend to be late at night, arriving in Hong Kong early next morning, the plane would sit idle waiting for its return trip home in the evening for a late night arrival back in India. A 3 hour flight in between would make sense to eat up the idle time during the day. It is a long journey from Mumbai to Delhi to Hong Kong to Osaka.
This also meant my departure to Kansai would be quite early, just before 8am, putting it shy of the first airport bus service.
Air India's check-in desks were empty when I arrived. While I did online check-in earlier, all passengers need to go through a document check at the airport, so it would not really make a difference anyway. I was processed efficiently and was air-side in no time.
The Dreamliner had arrived on-time from its Mumbai/Delhi flight and was parked at the further gates of the main terminal. It would be 1 stop less on the people mover with no risk of taking a bus to the gate like Hong Kong Express occasionally does.
Meanwhile, the sun was rising behind the airplanes.
Boarding was timely and the doors closed early. The flight was empty up front but had a good loading in the back with very few Indians continuing on. My first impressions were the plane was quite beaten up with a noticeable amount of dirt having built up on the tray table and paint peeling off the window tint control. Nevertheless, each seat already had a pillow and blanket laid out.
We departed into the morning sky uneventfully. Today's flight time would be 2 hours and 50 minutes at well over 1000 km/h thanks to prevailing winds.
Unfortunately, the tint makes photo-taking a bit difficult with a weird yellowish tone to the results.
The legroom was quite good and I stretched out comfortably without touching the seat in front of me.
Earphones were already placed in the lower seat pocket. Nothing fancy to write about, but they were sufficient for a short flight.
The crew seemed relaxed and served a snack and drinks first, followed by breakfast with 3 choices (omelette, fish, or vegetarian). Adventurous, I chose the vegetarian option, which was a traditional Indian meal, spicy, and contents unknown. Since I had no benchmark, I couldn't tell whether it was up to standard or not, but it wasn't really for my taste.
It didn't take that long to see the west coast of Taiwan.
The rest of my row was empty so I was quite comfortable albeit tired. There was no annoying IFE box beneath the seat in front of me, although the IFE itself was quite pitiful with no TV shows at all. There was a reasonable movie selection with many new titles.
It is a touch-screen but there was also a control mechanism for manual handling.
The lights were dimmed not long after takeoff despite being a daytime flight. However, it was possible to individually control your window's tint to override the central setting. The views were decent as we entered Japanese territory. Kagoshima and its volcano were fully visible, followed by Miyazaki, and then Shikoku.
Here is Miyazaki with its runway jutting into the sea.
We flew at 41000 feet and it was quite a smooth flight. Most passengers didn't know the lavatories were in the middle and back of the cabin, so were confused when they reached the front rows and there was nothing. The lavatory was well-stocked with moisturizer, soap, and even mouthwash, perhaps a remnant from the overnight flight from India. It wasn't so clean, and the toilet seat kept on falling down so using it as a urinal wasn't too easy.
Shikoku's coastline - Naruto's whirlpools seemed weak this morning.
We flew just off Kobe, with its own single-runway airport in the sea easily located, then made a sharp turn to land at Kansai from the northeast.
We touched down ahead of schedule in sunny Osaka.
We touched down ahead of schedule in sunny Osaka.
Kansai looked fairly empty at this hour and it wasn't long before we parked. Like my Cathay flights previously, we had to take the people mover into the terminal. Since I sat at the front of the Economy cabin and Business Class looked empty, I was spared a long lineup at immigration. My handcarry and I were at the train station about 30 minutes after arrival. It would be sunny in Osaka today.
Air India is a great budget choice for this fifth freedom route. Unless you booked very early in one of Hong Kong Express' regular specials, you will likely find the next best price here. The plane's upkeep might not be too good, but it was a comfortable ride with IFE, free meal, and luggage. They also fly the Dreamliner to Seoul on a similar schedule, so if the price is right, give them a try.
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