With the ongoing protests and trade war happening, flying long-haul has gotten far more affordable even at the front end of the plane. The avgeeks have long discussed about Cathay's pricing policy of offering connecting passengers cheaper deals than flying direct out of Hong Kong, and historically Taiwan had plenty of these deals. As the airline got smarter, the Taiwan deals seemed to have become harder to find while adventurers headed further afield to find them.
Ex-China has gotten especially cheaper as locals and tourists stay away from each other's territory, but I didn't want to risk air traffic delays or any other potential mishaps that would ruin my connection. Taipei was not particularly cheap, but Kaohsiung was, even a few weeks before departure. Premium Economy was only priced at about TWD 43000 from Kaohsiung to Toronto, about HKD 5000 cheaper than HK to Toronto direct.
Having been to Kaohsiung earlier in the year en route to Taitung, this would be a decent place for a positioning flight and a short stay. Hotels are cheap and the flight is short - only an hour from HK. Being a bit more ambitious, I decided to even save that night and do a day trip to Taiwan.
This itinerary would start in Kaohsiung with an overnight in HK. I would head home and finish packing to continue to Toronto the next morning.
12 Oct - HKG-KHH (positioning flight)
Since my revenue ticket starts in Kaohsiung, I had to redeem a positioning flight from Hong Kong to Kaohsiung that same morning. My positioning flight would be a redemption on BA Avios for Cathay Dragon. After they increased the redemption price from 4500 to 6000 Avios earlier in the year, it was still a steal and there was good availability on the multiple daily flights.
KA 432 Hong Kong - Kaohsiung
The morning started early with an 0850 departure. Due to increased security measures at the airport after a few protest sit-ins, all departing passengers must present their ticket and passport to just enter the terminal. A line snaked from the entrance but it moved steadily and my turn came up quickly. For arriving passengers, friends and family could only wait outside the terminal at the bus station. This would be the biggest uncertainty and I couldn't risk missing my positioning flight, so I arrived at the airport well in advance of the check-in cutoff time.
With only a backpack on me, I initially thought I didn't even need to worry about getting to the airport early and use the mobile boarding pass to go straight in and rush for Final Call. However, OLCI didn't work as I got an error along the lines that immigration requirements would not allow issuing a boarding pass and to see staff. This is probably because the redemption was a one-way and Cathay was worried I could be turned back at the border.
Cathay's check-in counters have been re-organized after Cathay Dragon moved back to the main-line. I recall years ago when they separated out, I had complained it was a stupid move as the customer sees the 2 airlines as one and both airlines can easily make it to a single itinerary, like mine today. With the move, my Marco Polo Green counter has been kicked out of the B aisle, and staff directed me to the C aisle where the new counters are now. The Green line is combined with Premium Economy, which I think makes more sense than being with the Business Class line previously.
There was no line although it took a while for the agent to ask about my return flight and to input the details into the computer. The boarding pass came out fine and it was a quick pass through security and immigration. I had plenty of time for plane spotting.
With a typhoon affecting Japan, many Tokyo flights were cancelled that day.
Gate 521 was a bus gate and the entire bus gate area was busy with many of the airline's flights departing out of there. I suppose HKIA has outgrown its capacity already and the new extension is quickly needed. A huge line snaked out of Economy and I walked up to the Marco Polo line for quicker access to the bus. As expected, bus departures are not the best experience although it didn't take too long to reach the plane.
I believe I was the 2nd bus out and there were many empty seats when I boarded. The interior looked dated although the PTV was a touch-screen. The plane filled up some more and the widebody had a very decent loading for the short hour flight.
We departed just 8 minutes late, shy of 9am.
Cathay's catering has improved on these short flights in recent years, offering a hot meal and not just a sandwich. Since it was breakfast time, we all received a chicken noodle, although the pieces of chicken were a bit hard to find.
The seatback has plenty of small storage spaces to place your phone and keys, a feature I quite like.
The flight was otherwise uneventful and the weather forecast for Kaohsiung was hazy and hot. As we descended, a warning video on swine flu played on the screens. Don't bring remnants of your meal into Taiwan.
With a left window, I looked forward to aerials over the city on approach. Kaohsiung's airport is located just south of the city and the landing route would offer full view of the port and small skyline.
The short flight ended at 10:23am and we were just slightly delayed on arrival. The international terminal had 2 piers and very few aircraft. We pulled into one of the further bays and it was a long walk into immigration. Throughout the journey, staff warned of bringing food into Taiwan and there were disposal bins along the way. There were only 2 immigration counters for foreigners and the line moved slowly but steadily as everyone needed to be fingerprinted. The officer was a bit surprised by my same-day turnaround as I had put my hotel as N/A. She recommended next time I put day-trip down prominently and the return flight number. The conversation was fairly cheerful and polite.
Within 20 minutes, I was back land-side.
The arrivals area was empty otherwise and since the MRT was built after the airport opened, access to the station requires a brief outdoor walk, albeit covered.
It wouldn't take long to ride into the city centre, and tickets do not have an extra airport charge.
KA 455 Kaohsiung - Hong Kong
I had a fun day trip here with a visit to an old sugar factory, a new performing arts centre, and the harbourfront. With a 7:20pm flight, I started heading to the airport at around 5:40pm. Stuck at around the Love River, the LRT ride to the MRT station was slow and lengthy but I wounded up arriving at the airport an hour before departure. Timing was a bit close but there was no line at the check-in counter thankfully.
From the MRT station, take the elevators up to the departures level on the 2nd floor.
The boarding passes for both tonight's HK flight and tomorrow's Toronto flight were printed and I was on my way.
I was given a shopping list of items to buy in Taiwan, and this bubble tea pastry is one of them.
Looking at the deparrtures board, there aren't that many international flights out of here.
Air-side, there was plenty of shopping although I was happy with my small horde from land-side already. Each gate was meticulously decorated with its own theme and felt quite cozy and comfortable. It is hard to believe the terminal building was actually quite old.
I was comfortably seated on the A330 for the short flight back home. So how many of you have tried a day trip by plane? The last time I remember doing this type of visit was to Dublin from London back in my school days.
Despite direct flights nowadays between mainland China and Taiwan, the 1-stop options via Macau or Hong Kong remain popular.
We departed 4 minutes early and despite the short flight, we were served a hot rice meal.
We arrived in Hong Kong less than an hour and a half later at 8:41pm. Unfortunately, it was a remote gate and we had to take the bus in.
With a backpack only, I was back land-side within a short period of time, and was able to take advantage of the same-day discount on the Cityflyer bus to get half off for the trip home.
Once home, I re-packed my luggage for the much colder weather at my next stop, Toronto, and made sure my Taiwan goodies are coming with me across the Pacific.
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