Flight Report : Hong Kong - Dubai - Muscat
24-25 December 2019

Peak seasons such as Christmas, Easter, and Chinese New Year are a head-ache. Despite a trade war and ongoing pro-democracy protests, Hong Kongers' desire to travel remains strong. As usual, the typical regional destinations become super expensive and not worth the big premium.

So I was very surprised when my persistent internet scan found a super cheap deal to Dubai on Emirates 2 weeks before Christmas. Emirates flies 3x a day to Dubai, which includes multiple A380 flights. Perhaps they had a lot of seats to fill, so they need to discount heavily? At HKD $2950, it was cheaper than going to Japan, even though the flight time is more than double.

However, I've extensively covered Dubai before, so I set my eyes on another exotic destination within close range, Oman. The search engine also came up with an interesting option for Dubai - Muscat, Swiss. Not sure why this routing came up, I searched the airport and airline websites and noticed this interesting 5th freedom that I had never thought of before. The other alternatives, Emirates, Oman Air, or a low-cost carrier were all more expensive. With late evening departures for both the outbound and inbound as well as free checked luggage, the HKD $1400 ticket was a bargain and fitted right into my driving itinerary.

To sweeten the deal even more, the travel agent messaged me the next morning informing me Emirates was offering 2 nights' free accommodation in Dubai at a seemingly upper 3/lower 4-star hotel and Christmas Day was not subject to black-out (although New Year's Eve is). This would be perfect as I would arrive Dubai late on Christmas Eve and fly out to Oman late on Christmas Day, so the 2 nights were just right.

Emirates has started to toggle with additional revenue-earning methods. For such a deeply-discounted Economy fare, seat selection was not included and had to be additionally charged. So I had to patiently wait for OLCI to open to select a good seat on the A380. The whole seat map was full by then and I was pre-allocated an aisle seat. I subsequently searched again and again before heading to the airport and the picture didn't change much at all. I guess they weren't desperate to fill up an empty A380 after all.

EK 383 Hong Kong - Dubai, 24 December

It is sad to see A380 production coming to an end. Emirates puts in decent legroom on these big birds to make their long flights more comfortable.

The long route west through Dubai gets quite painful and takes almost the same time as getting to Australia from HK. However, the flight deck announced a surprisingly short 8.5 hour air-time tonight against the headwind.

Here in a full cattle class, you will see a major difference between Emirates' flight attendants and the Asian carriers. They don't come around to do a safety check before take-off, and didn't do the same for landing as well. Many didn't speak English as a first language.

Shortly after take-off, dinner was served. While the metal cutlery was still provided, their catering has seen cutbacks in recent years. Nevertheless, there is also a second smaller meal to look forward to before landing.

Luckily, the flight was fairly smooth all the way to Dubai, even over India where it is typically a bit more bumpy.

One thing that remained excellent and consistent was the entertainment system, which still offered an extensive selection of content. They were working hard to promote Expo 2020 in Dubai as well. To celebrate the festive season, they even had a Christmas entertainment page on their ICE.

As we descended into Dubai, helpful information came on the monitor, including the arrival gate, and theoretically the baggage belt as well. After landing, there was even a feedback screen.

I've always had a bad impression of Dubai's airport. Tonight, things didn't improve remarkably. Shy of midnight local time, it was already sleeping hour in Hong Kong time, and the walk to immigration took forever. The arrivals walkways were elevated and gave a good view of the departures area and duty-free shops though.

Exiting landside, I looked for the hotel shuttle bus pick-up point around the arrivals hall. While there was a sign, it didn't lead to anywhere and I ended up asking 2 staff, who directed me back upstairs to the departures area. Puzzled, I went back to my hotel's email which had detailed instructions on where to find that hourly shuttle. Apparently, it leaves from the departures zone, so it took a bit of exploring to find it. This hotel chain also has 2 locations with different shuttles as well. This airport is not easy to navigate in general, with signs not taking you to where you need to be, and finding things already takes too much time already with the long physical walks to get anywhere. No wonder DXB cannot make it to the best airport lists.

Emirates put me up in the Premier Inn Al Jaddaf, located in a construction zone part of town that isn't really near any attractions. However, for a free stay, it was sufficient thanks to the airport shuttle and a metro station nearby. They even offer a shuttle to Dubai Mall in the morning as well.

After a long day sightseeing in Dubai, I headed back to the hotel for the airport shuttle. Terminal 1's check-in counters are clustered together and the place seemed busy. My row included other airlines such as Air Canada and Oman Air, and with Swiss using only 2 counters, passengers were processed slowly.

My turn also took quite a bit of time, as I was asked about my visa, which was already made online, and whether I lived in Dubai. She then asked for my return ticket information out of Dubai, which she remarked on the reservation. Luckily, there weren't many passengers waiting, although it is best to leave ample time for check-in just in case.

There was also a line at immigration although that one progressed bit by bit and didn't take too long for my turn. The agent, however, struggled to process me and eventually pointed me to the office out back without telling me why. The agent there was able to process my passport properly, which I then went back to the smart gate staff to see if I could be waved through. I was then sent to the manual counter and through. A lot of walking, again ...

After immigration and security, all passengers need to take the train to the departure gates. The automated trains looked new and took a long time to get to the gate building.

Here, there were the standard food and shopping options, but what caught my attention was the excess baggage disposal bins at my gate. Perhaps low-cost airlines also use Terminal 1?

The inbound Swiss flight had arrived and was sitting at the gate by the time I got there. The turnaround was short at only 40 minutes, and I was curious how they could achieve this on the schedule.

There wasn't much of a crowd waiting to board as well. I was hoping it would be an empty flight, which would explain why they were selling this sector for cheap.

Upon boarding, I realized why. All passengers continuing to Muscat were kept on the plane, and the seats were not cleaned up for the newly-joining passengers at Dubai. So the turn-around could be short and sweet. There were many passengers continuing on to Muscat so it was still quite full when the doors closed. My seat still had garbage left over from the previous passenger from Zurich in the seat pocket. With a flight time of under an hour, it wasn't the end of the world, although a dirty seat wasn't the impression I expected from Swiss.

We took off towards the east. Although the weather was good, the plane bounced around for a bit and we seemed to have made a quick ascent. The crew came by with snacks and beverage service but made an announcement they couldn't finish it as we soon started descending. Great that I was upfront as the biscuits were quite good. Another announcement came after that the descent would be even shorter and we went straight in from the west.

I had applied for a e-visa online before departure, although you can only get it within a month of your arrival. After paying with my credit card, the confirmation came the next day and the whole process was fairly seamless. All I needed to do was to print the visa out for my flight.

Muscat's airport looked quite new and was well lit-up in colours when we pulled in. The corridors looked very nice and there didn't seem to be other flights arriving at the same time. There was a modest line at immigration although it moved quite slowly. One by one, we had our picture taken then stamped in. The immigration agent kept the e-visa print-out.

Once land-side, there were a number of things I needed to do to kick-start my Oman adventure. First stop was the Omantel counter to get a data SIM, then I unsuccessfully tried to get cash out as none of the ATMs here were on the Plus network. Finally, I found my rental car company, one of several international chains with a presence here. They didn't have a car for my reservation though, so I had to scramble to find another company to help. Luckily, there were a number of other companies in the arrivals hall. Many visitors to this country drive and not rely on public transport after all.

Swiss is a solid choice for an interesting 5th freedom between the UAE and Oman. You get free checked bag allowance, a drink, a bag of biscuits, and a comfortable seat with IFE for less than a low-cost airline. While my seat was not the cleanest, I would rather landing in Muscat a bit earlier than to wait much longer for the plane to be thoroughly cleaned.

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