KA 950 Hong Kong - Qingdao
So where to go for a long weekend break? Typically, Hong Kongers fly to Taiwan or Thailand for a relaxing short holiday, but I wanted to go somewhere cooler and sunnier. Qingdao came back onto my radar. Having last been in 2007 on a group tour and impressed by the architecture, 3 days would be a decent amount of time to explore the city on my own. Winters are typically sunny in northern China, and the weather forecast called for wonderful sunny weather for the entire weekend. On Thursday, 2 days before departure, I checked BA Avios, which was the cheapest way to redeem on Cathay Dragon at 15,000 points. Nothing. Before and after - still nothing. Then I hopped over to Asia Miles, which had plenty of availability across multiple days. As I clicked through the flight selection, I noticed there was a redemption promotion remark at the end of the booking and the final cost was only 16,000 Asia Miles (as opposed to 20,000). I wasn't aware there was a promotion happening but apparently from late February to mid-March, redemptions to select destinations were eligible, mostly regional short-hauls.
On Saturday morning, I decided to sleep in a bit more and use my mobile boarding pass to board so I didn't need to rush to meet the 50 minute check-in deadline at the airport. I collect boarding passes these days, expecting the paper versions will turn obsolete in the near future. Sadly, Cathay has started using black-and-white cheap printouts, greatly reducing the collection value.
Security didn't take long and I was air-side within minutes. First, more plane spotting.
Today's flight is operated by the A330, one of my favourite aircraft types thanks to its humane seating plan of 2-4-2, where the window seat was never too far away from the aisle. It was also parked very close to immigration at Gate 21. Boarding was timely and I was surprised there wasn't a long boarding queue at all.
Since I had a mobile boarding pass, the agent had to do the detailed ID check at the gate.
Soon, I was comfortably seated at the front row thanks to an early online check-in. Loading was quite light today and we pushed back slightly ahead of schedule for the long taxi to take-off.
We were held for quite some time as other planes passed and took off ahead.
Off we went into the grey skies.
It would have been a spectacular harbour view if the weather was better.
I had the entire row all to myself. We initially flew south then east before looping back a bit west then north to track the coast.
Did we miss a waypoint?
Meanwhile, breakfast was served. The dim sum platter had more variety than the typical breakfasts I have had with this airline group.
The flight path skirted along the coast and the weather was sunny most of the way. By now, we were near Shanghai.
The A330 was quite empty. I guess people didn't want to visit Qingdao during the colder parts of the year despite the sunshine.
The seats look like Cathay's stock.
The lavatory was well-stocked for this short-haul flight with face moisturizer and hand lotion.
The IFE is the same as Cathay's but they changed the name to StudioKA for branding purposes.
We cruised at 40,000 feet but quickly descended 10,000 feet just past Shanghai despite still having a long way to go to Qingdao. We remained at the lower altitude until final descent.
It was a smoggy day, which made it difficult to spot the exact features as we entered the city's eastern side and flew past the airport before looping back for touchdown.
Not many widebodies at this airport, which is typical for the second and third tier city airports.
The front row is indeed more comfortable with 2 windows and being before the engine, seemed quieter.
We parked at the end of the terminal, but it wasn't a very long walk to an otherwise empty immigration area since I was at the front part of the plane.
Within 20 minutes from parking at the gate, I was on the bus ready to head into the city. With only hand luggage, it was a breeze through customs and the X-ray machine. The only down-side was the long walk to the domestic side of the terminal for the buses. I hope the metro link to the airport can finish soon.
Airport bus 701 departs every 30 minutes. There is an attendant standing outside the bus to check your ticket and ask where you are going in Mandarin. For the Copthorne Hotel, you get off at the Carrefour across the street. Then the driver will place your luggage in a dedicated compartment for your stop. 45 minutes later, I was in the heart of the new town for my luxury apartment high in the sky.
KA 951 Qingdao - Hong Kong
Worried I would miss my 2:20pm flight if I took the bus, I had considered spending over 100 yuan for a taxi straight to the airport. Too bad the metro is still being built to the airport, and the airport bus only leaves every 30 minutes, making my margin of error even smaller.
I spent the morning touring parts of the historic district followed by the Olympic sailing area in the newer district. Finishing early, I went to look for the airport bus next to my hotel. If I can't board within 15 minutes, I would taxi out.
The 701 bus to the airport does not have a bus stop marker outside the Copthorne Hotel. There was a gentleman waiting with a suitcase, and he directed me to an adjacent hotel where tickets are sold. Inside, I was surprised to find a large waiting room for the airport bus. A schedule was posted at the sales counter for a noon departure. 20 yuan later, I was back outside waiting for the bus at 11:55am. I saved a lot of money today.
It took 45 minutes from the airport into town a few days earlier, so even if I got stuck in traffic and it took an hour, I still have about 30 minutes wiggle room left to check-in. I had done the online formalities earlier, but they don't accept mobile boarding passes at this airport, so I had to give ample time to use a manual counter.
The bus arrived aon-time. It was empty inside so I presumed we were the first stop. Luggage was left on the curb for the driver to assemble into the cargo compartment. At 12 sharp, we pulled off with not even a dozen passengers.
You can't miss the airport bus. There is a 747 painted on the side although I couldn't spot one at the airport.
We took a different route from when we came into town, heading east, and east, and more east. There weren't that many stops along the way, and 30 minutes later, I started getting worried as the highway was nowhere in sight. Would it be possible that the whole trip would take 90 minutes and I would end up missing the check-in deadline?
Not long after, I spotted the east bus terminal, which we had passed on the way in, and we turned onto the highway. We pulled into the departures drop-off zone at 12:50pm - plenty of time left.
Like other airports in China I have recently visited, there is an anti-terrorism check at the terminal's entrance. Incoming people would be held in a pen while an agent swabbed our belongings, and once his chemical lie detector gives the all clear, we were released in. This was not really an air-tight procedure, since people coming in at arrivals do not go through this check and they can just head upstairs to departures barrier-free.
There was a huge line that snaked around Cathay Dragon's desks. I spotted the bag drop sign and there was nobody there. The bag drop counter agent at first didn't notice me but when he realized I did online check-in already, he brushed aside another set of passengers he waved over to process me first. Good to see this pro-activeness to deal with the situation. With only 1 item to check into the hold, I was done in a minute. I wonder why the others don't do OLCI?
Qingdao's airport has a relatively quiet international section and a much bigger and busier domestic section.
Immigration was quick but the lines at security got fairly long. The agents opened an extra lane to accomodate the many international flights around that hour. Security was quite tight - besides the X-ray screening, all passengers were padded down in detail even after going through the detectors.
Amusing to find a mobile company using a slow animal as its brand name.
Although the inbound had arrived on time, I doubted boarding could take place at the specified written time, and I was right. There was a manually-written sign of the revised boarding time at the gate. Interestingly, I spotted a line for Marco Polo Green members, which I don't recall seeing at other airports before.
Most passengers were in the plebian line and the "blue" elite line had a few handfuls of people. I followed after. Loading was a bit heavier than the inbound flight 2 days earlier, but there was a sprinkle of empty seats around the cabin. Since my neighbour's table was broken, the crew found another aisle seat for the passenger, and I had the whole row to myself again.
We pushed back on time and it was a short taxi for take-off. These smaller airports don't get lots of traffic like Hong Kong, so there wasn't much congestion along the tarmac.
I originally chose a right window hoping we would take off to the south and I could see a skyline view upon departure. The winds changed direction and we ended up taking off to the north and looping around. I was soon against the light and it was difficult to see the city and coastline as we climbed.
I chose the seafood rice for lunch, which was very moist and delicious. The tofu pieces soaked up the sauce very nicely. Premium ice-cream finished the job. I saw a China Eastern catering truck serving the plane before we boarded. I wondered if this meal came from Qingdao?
Once again, the seats looked like old Cathay stock. I continued watching La La Land after stopping part way on the inbound.
Similar to the inbound, we stayed at a lower altitude until we reached Shanghai, after which we climbed up to 39,000 feet. You can see Pudong airport along the coast.
There was quite a strong headwind, at times 200km/h, but it was otherwise a smooth flight home.
Flipping through the duty free catalogue, I really wonder whether they stock even half of the available items on board? What if someone wants a new suitcase?
The flight deck had mentioned there was a lot of fog when they left Hong Kong in the morning. The skies did cloud over as we approached arrival.
The arrival time steadily moved upwards and east of Hong Kong, we made a loop, which I guess was due to congestion at the airport. With the grey weather, there wasn't much to see on approach tonight.
We landed on time at a faraway gate. Expecting the luggage will take a long time to come out like on my prior trips, I didn't take the APM and slowly walked briskly along the length of the terminal to spot airplanes. By the time I reached the carousel, all the flight's bags had arrived already. Wow.
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