Flight Report CX 973 Xiamen - Hong Kong

With a long weekend in Hong Kong, the mad scramble for plane tickets out of town has resulted in sky high prices for our favourite short-haul getaways, and points redemptions were difficult to come by. Vietnam was the only place with reasonable flight times and redemption seats, but is impossible to plan a last minute holiday since they need a pre-applied visa with a lengthy processing time.

That meant the only realistic destination to visit at ease is mainland China. I had taken the high-speed rail to Xiamen a few days earlier, which was a chaotic experience. With a long 4 hour train journey, I opted to fly home instead, and Cathay has a nice lunchtime flight available that I could redeem for only 7500 Asia Miles and a minimal amount of taxes. I don't think the total journey time would have been much different than taking the train though, but taking the high-speed train in China can be a very stressful experience.

Xiamen's airport is quite centrally located although there is no metro link yet. But taxis are cheap, costing only 22 yuan for my 15 minute ride to Terminal 3. I arrived at 10:35am, well ahead of the 12:15pm departure.

T3 is an older facility with the check-in experience a bit bewildering, even when compared to my Shanghai trip a few weeks back.

We first enter into a holding pen at the door for a swab test. I also got that in Shanghai. Afterwards, I entered the terminal but there were no check-in desks, and no signs to tell me where to go. I searched around to find their information sign was also outdated, listing aisle G for Dragonair, an airline that no longer exists as it has been absorbed into the Cathay group. I looked for a staff who pointed me to another set of gates along a makeshift wall, which ended up to be a luggage X-ray security check. Beyond that were the check-in desks.

There was a fairly lengthy line for Economy class passengers at aisle G. Cathay has quite a lot of counters open already, but the line moved slowly because just as what happened at Shanghai, each passenger's checked bag needs to go through another X-ray scan, wait for it to pass, before finishing check-in and taking away the boarding pass. I had previously checked in online to mark a window seat, and ended up waiting about half hour for my turn.

There aren't too many check-in aisles in this terminal, with Xiamen Airlines being the major anchor here. This sign reminds you to turn off electronic devices that are going into the hold.

While there were a lot of staff on hand to help and keep the line moving and secure, the overall experience was so-so. The terminal is fairly dark on the ground although it has some big windows up above. With my boarding pass on hand, I headed upstairs for the formalities.

I used the automated kiosk for exit immigration and security didn't take too long to go through. My boarding pass and ID were checked countless times before I emerged airside.

Similar to Shanghai, international flights are not really back to a normal schedule yet, so airside was quite desolate and empty.

With still lots of time before boarding, I walked around checking out the facilities, which include charging pods, warm water dispensers, and even a SIM card vending machine. There weren't many souvenir shops though.

There are only 2 departures an hour at best across the afternoon.

Checking the departure boards, this is primarily an international departures terminal. I recall Cathay used to run 3 flights a day to Xiamen, and so far there is only 1 a day.

Spotting is a bit difficult as the windows are separated from the seating area for arrivals.

This self-serve meal vending machine area caught my attention. You can buy a pack of noodles and then use the hot water dispenser next door to heat it up.

I haven't seen a manual gate change sign for quite a while.

Boarding was a bit late and I waited patiently in line while the mobility-challenged, First, and Business class lines moved. We were at gate 17, which is located at the end of the terminal. It looked like a new extension but despite the large space, it doesn't seem to have enough seats for a whole widebody load.

Today's flight would be operated by an older A330. The seats are showing their age but the cabin has been well-maintained.

Cathay's IFE is quite extensive and there is more than enough to keep me entertained on the short 54 minute flight. There were some noticeable differences like a specific category to local star Louis Koo and the HK Film Awards.

My seat neighbours seem to be novice travellers. One feel asleep while reclined and the crew woke her up to straighten up her seat, while her friend ahead of us asked whether he had correctly set his mobile into airplane mode.

We pushed back a little behind schedule at 12:36pm. Researching the past few days' flights, I opted for a right window hoping to see the city upon take-off.

We took off towards the east, passing a seemingly newer T4 along the way.

Xiamen sits on an island and after crossing the water, we emerged over a newer district then looped around for the westbound flight to Hong Kong. My right window should command a stunning aerial view of the city.

As we looped back, I spotted the eastern coastline and the huge white ferry terminal for departures to Kinmen, which is part of Taiwan and only slightly offshore.

I could also see the airport where we just took off from minutes ago.

On the other side of the water is a western district with new beautiful waterfront highrises. Haicang is connected by the metro's Line 2 with Xiamen.

Looking further down, I could see the old city centre which doesn't have too many highrises.

The smaller island at the bottom is Gulangyu, once a European enclave that has retained a lot of heritage buildings. Today, it is a major tourist hotspot.

With beautiful weather, the views were incredible as we flew along the coast.

I doubt most people on the plane would fly solely to Hong Kong for the sake of it, since taking the train is much cheaper and takes about the same time gate to gate. They're probably connecting to somewhere else.

I was surprised the crew took out the big food carts and started distributing a hot meal. With ascent and descent within the 54 minute flight, the crew scrambled to give out meals to everyone. I felt sorry for them as I could see how frantic they were and they worked hard. These short flights are quite a torture and I really wouldn't mind if I got a bun in a bag which I used to get for Taipei and Manila ages ago. Those are easy and quick to distribute.

Being at the back of a full widebody, the meal reached me half way through, an incredible feat. I empited it as quickly as I could and the crew soon came frantically collecting the trays once again as we were descending into Hong Kong. They didn't even have time to change the carts and I saw one collecting the trays with her hands and arms and rushing out back to the galley.

By the time all the trays were collected and we settled down, we only had 15 minutes left before landing.

Soon, I could see Sai Kung's outer reaches, and we flew in from the east for landing. The left window would've commanded skyline views on approach but I was more interested in seeing Xiamen from the air today.

I guessed we would be landing on the 3rd runway as we flew over some landmarks in an unusually close way, such as Tai Mo Shan and Tuen Mun. I got the same approach a few weeks ago returning from Shanghai but the weather was worse and the sun was setting so the views were not as nice.

We touched down at 1:48pm, followed by a very long taxi to gate 65.

It was strange to see a sea of Cathay planes parked at the infield satellite terminal. This used to be Hong Kong Airlines' base, which is no longer a real competitor thanks to crisis after crisis.

We finally parked at 2:02pm.

Expecting the luggage wouldn't make it all the way to the baggage claim quickly, I leisurely strolled along the terminal for a slow exit to immigration. A Congolese visitor caught my attention.

By the time I got to the baggage claim at 2:26pm, my bag was already on the belt, and soon I was at the bus stop under a scorching hot sun.

Although this was my shortest flight with Cathay ever, it held quite a special meaning. Compared to a long haul transpacific flight, the crew today worked so much more to serve us a hot lunch with so little time to maneuver. We all need to appreciate the efforts and sweat our crews go through in order for us to have a pleasant short flight. Shout out to them and thank you!

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