2012 Flying & Plane Spotting Showcase

Showcase 2012 Cover

I embarked on 29 flights across 4 continents in 2012, of which 36% were free flights on mileage, and I was at the airport literally at the start (1 January in Dubai) and end (31 December in Toronto) of the year. By numbers, 69% of these flights were short-haul, while my longest flight was a red-eye from Bangkok to Frankfurt on Thai's brand new A380.

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Hong Kong - Taipei

Anyone up for Hyderabad later?

This route sees so many flights a day, I never expect a full loading. I was right. The Economy configuration is still the old type so I was particularly excited at capturing a piece of history.

Taipei during the winter is a gloomy place.

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Hong Kong - Osaka

Having scored a super cheap package for Chinese New Year, I didn't mind so much the red-eye flight to Osaka. I was somewhat awake by the time I sat down on the train awaiting the journey into the city.

I was a bit confused by the various lines that would take passengers into the city at various costs.

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Osaka - Taipei

The rapid train looks ultra-modern and would "rapidly" take passengers to Kansai airport in comfort. Most of it was empty, and soon I knew why. Apparently, this is a premium service and an agent soon walked along the aisles checking tickets and selling that premium add-on.

Kansai is built on an artificial island with various engineering features to adjust as the land settles.

The skies were clear and the ascent passed through a lot of scenery.

Today's service was nowhere near full. There were plenty of empty seats to create your own lie-flat bed in Economy!

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Hong Kong - Xian

Rumours of Dragonair's imminent resumption of their Xian service circulated in aviation forums for a while, while the press release noted likely resumption to be in Q2. After fiddling around the Asia Miles redemption engine online, I found availability on the unannounced route but could not confirm the seats. I had to make a call to get that redemption!

Air corridor restrictions are quite annoying throughout China. Today's flight would take 3 hours, a lot longer than normal.

With no inflight entertainment, I watched the scenery outside unfold.

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Xian - Hong Kong

Xian's airport terminal is segregated between international and domestic sections. The international space is very small and there isn't much to do here at all. The facility is new but is already showing signs of abnormal aging.

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Hong Kong - Shanghai Pudong

I purposedly chose to fly Cathay's very few daily fights to Shanghai. Normally, I'd choose the far more plentiful frequencies on its sister carrier, Dragonair. Knowing their Business Class could be a mix from the small and cozy A320 to the A330, I wanted to make sure I can get the lie-flat product, and booked this CX flight early in the morning.

I got my wish, and loading in J was very light.

The weather was also quite good today, and the haze that would normally obscure the land features seemed to have dissipated a little.

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Shanghai Pudong - Hong Kong

The Cathay / Dragonair lounge at Pudong is quite spacious, which was expected given there are so many flights a day. I spent a lot of time surfing the web from one of many computers so the wait for boarding doesn't feel as long (not that I arrived at the airport that early anyway).

Dragonair's A320 does not have a large Business Class at all. But the seats are wide and comfortable - even moreso than Cathay's lie-flat. At only 2 hours long, I could survive sleeping upright this time and enjoying a full meal.

This is it. Not many seats in J.

I sat back and took in the views.

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Hong Kong - Denpasar

Not able to redeem a free seat on Cathay's 747 (why is it so difficult), I had to settle with a paid ticket on Hong Kong Airlines to Bali. I don't usually board from the tarmac these days.

The clouds and aerials were beautiful. Too bad the weather in Bali would not be as nice.

Bali is a long 5-hour flight from Hong Kong, but it was a comfortable one.

I expected interesting airlines at Denpasar, and was not disappointed.

Meanwhile, parts of the airport looked like relics from history.

So that's how they exchanged money in the old days ...

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Hong Kong - Naha

To secure award travel seats, I booked for a redemption as early as possible back in the summer of 2011 for a May 2012 departure. At 20,000 miles plus the fuel surcharge and taxes, I was all set to head to this southern Japanese outpost. With a delayed departure time, I did some plane spotting.

Hong Kong Airlines' Naha flight departed on-time as I watched in jealousy. A few of my friends were on this flight.

With still some time before my departure, I headed to the Travelers' Lounge for a break. I was amazed how nice it was, with more food selections than CX's Business Class lounge and half the crowd.

The captain came on the PA and apologized for the delay, which was due to air traffic delays in Shanghai causing the aircraft's late arrival. Having been on two roundtrips to Shanghai that same month, I could relate and believe that explanation. On the way out, I saw China Southern's new A380.

I waited for a break in the clouds to take a photo of this eastern suburb.

Macaroni doesn't tend to survive well if left long. While the beef and vegetables were delicious, the carbs were a bit disgusting.

I was quite annoyed there was no onboard entertainment whatsoever, so I had no idea which part of Taiwan we've entered and whether we were passing by any of the major cities.

Notice Dragonair's new destinations have been added to the map, including Xian and Jeju but not Chiang Mai yet.

The approach into Naha was picturesque. They were having a very nice day.

The Japanese hosts were not intending to pack the bus before leaving for the arrivals area. With plenty of standing room left, the doors closed and we embarked on a short trip to the terminal.

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Hong Kong - Dalian

With a typhoon approaching Hong Kong and threatening the long weekend, I decided to take drastic action by flying out for a short trip. With most of the region under the summer monsoon, I settled for Dalian, which was forecasted to have a sunny weekend. I knew from my booking that today's flight would be operated by a 737-800. However, I was surprised to find we would board at Gate 46, and not some Gate 5xx in the North Satellite terminal, which is designed for narrowbodies only. With a 1725 scheduled departure, it was a bit worrying to see the plane arrive at the gate at around 1710. We were not going to depart on-time today.

To make things worse, the Guangzhou ATC has imposed air traffic controls and our departure would be further delayed by 20 minutes. We departed at 6:35pm, an hour and 10 minutes behind schedule.

Lucky the 747 will take-off behind our wake, not the other way around!

We took off into the sunset. The delay wasn't so annoying anymore as I had no sightseeing planned upon arrival in Dalian anyway.

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Hong Kong - Istanbul Roundtrip

I don't fare well in red-eye flights, and this is a long one to Istanbul. But then, I get to arrive bright and early with a full day of sightseeing ahead!

Istanbul's airport is connected to the city by subway, then a tram connection. With a huge luggage, I was able to navigate despite the lack of storage racks.

Turkish Airlines provides a good assortment of in-flight entertainment on your own personal TV screen.

Although I could not catch a glimpse of Hong Kong on descent, the consolation prize of Macau was acceptable enough.

With Air Pacific as dessert.

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Hong Kong - Sydney

This was my first trip on the A380. Luckily, it was cheaper than flying Cathay so I was justified to fly Qantas.

I was quite impressed with Qantas' Lounge near Gate 16.

Qantas' Business Class meal service had a lot more choice than Cathay Pacific.

The portions were bigger as well.

However, I didn't like the seat configuration. I had to step over my neighbour to reach the aisle.

Nevertheless, I would not give up the window seat for the lovely views.

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Sydney - Launceston

I embarked on an ambitious weekend trip to Tasmania. For sure, I would not be able to cover the whole island, but selective parts. To maximize my visit, I got up bright and early to catch the sunrise at the airport. Good thing the trains were already running.

I don't usually see these small regional jets in Hong Kong, so I was quite happy to spot this.

The clouds were in the way, but at least I could see the Bass Strait!

No airbridges at Launceston! It felt like a Ryanair arrival!

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Launceston - Sydney

After an exhausted two days, I returned back to Launceston for the flight to Sydney. The skies were beautiful at this quiet airport.

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Sydney - Hong Kong

Sydney's airport is fairly close to the city, and nothing beats airplanes set against the skyline!

My 2nd flight on the A380.

While the terminal design had a lot of corners, I was able to find a number of windows to spot and photograph planes.

The Business Class lounge had more food selection than their Hong Kong facility, although the design styles were similar.

I was captivated by the pancake-making machine, but I didn't want to try so I could save room for a feast onboard!

The upper deck's windows run along the upwards curve so it was hard to get decent photos without an annoying glare.

With a fairly light loading in Business Class, I set out to enjoy the seat and the views.

As expected, there was plenty of food around. This was only the appetizer.

Then there was a snack course after the meal on-demand.

Goodbye, Australia!

The A380 has some new high-tech features. The faucet turns on automatically but you need to manually set the temperature first.

A minibar was set up at the front of the cabin with plenty of little things for you to self-serve. I grabbed a few packs of veggie chips to enjoy with my movie.

Flying can be very enjoyable in the premium section.

Do you want to try first class next time? The crew was very nice to offer me a glimpse upon landing. What a great extra touch to their down-to-earth service!

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Hong Kong - Bangkok

I designed a Christmas round-the-world (RTW) trip to use up points on 2 airline programs across different alliances for. Having heard Thai would receive its A380 earlier in the year, I was determined to try it out. To achieve this, I had to purchase a 1-way to Bangkok to position myself for that redemption, and also to enjoy Bangkok for a short vacation!

The plane looked pretty good with PTVs at every seat. However, they never bothered to turn on the IFE, so all I got was the moving map for the entire 2.5 hour trip.

Many foreign carriers have 5th freedoms between Hong Kong and Bangkok, including Royal Jordanian, Kenya, and Ethiopian.

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Bangkok - Frankfurt

I'm not a big fan of Bangkok's airport, which has long corridors with no automated moving machines and dirty bathrooms. It is also very hard to spot and photograph airplanes from within the terminal.

I had entire empty rows in front of and behind me. I had all 3 seats to myself - my own synthetic Business Class bed!

Eating dinner past midnight seemed a bit weird.

The upper deck Economy section was closed today.

Let's see the premium classes! Thanks to the crew for offering a visit upon arrival!

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Frankfurt - Toronto

Frankfurt is a decent plane spotting airport. I was quite happy to have spotted this bird.

All passengers flying Air Canada today had to find an agent at the gate for a secondary ID check, where the agent (not an immigration officer) would verify your identity and ask you why you are heading to Canada. Then they mark down who they talked to. I don't see what authority they have to stop people from flying if all the documents were in order. This caused a lot of confusion. The weirdest part was they also checked your passport to verify your identification when you board.

As if the ground checks were not annoying enough, this was my worst flight in recent memory. Passengers could not find space in the overhead compartment for their hand luggage and the plane was full. It took a long time to serve half the plane's special meals. The entertainment options were few and inadequate for an 8-hour transatlantic crossing.

How I miss Thai Airways! The empty A380 was my best flight of 2012!

The Master List (in chronological order)

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