2015 Flying & Plane Spotting Showcase Part 1

Showcase 2015 Cover


Montreal - Toronto
2 January

Air Canada resumed flights to Toronto Island Airport when they saw how successful Porter has become. I was able to book a fairly cheap one-way at the last minute and hoped to catch some skyline shots upon landing. Montreal's airport is quite accessible by the 747 bus service, which is covered by the transit pass, but drops you off at the arrivals level.

The airport is nice by North American standards, although the check-in process is just as annoying as back at Heathrow. You go to a kiosk first, grab the paperwork, and then line up for the bag drop, where the agent weighs your bag. Line up twice - how efficient.

Plane spotting is quite decent, with a variety of smaller birds which are not easily seen in Hong Kong.

Today's plane is so small, the boarding ramp cannot get to the door, so they had to provide an add-on, and you will need to get exposed to the bitter cold for the last 5 seconds.

Departure was on-time for the 1h19 flight across 500km to Toronto. I was quite happy shooting some aerials at the back of the full plane.

Is that Ottawa?

Don't expect hot meals for short-hauls in North America. The bag of chips and a complementary drink are already quite decent.

I got the skyline views but the winter sunset came a bit too quickly. It wasn't even 5pm yet.

Billy Bishop Airport is not physically connected to the city. Passengers walk through a covered and heated walkway to the pier for a short ride to the mainland, where complimentary buses head to Union Station. The whole experience is quite painless and it is a short journey into downtown.

Toronto - Hong Kong
8 January

15.5 hours in Economy is crazy. 15.5 hours in Business Class is far more humane. I've amassed enough miles over the years to redeem this flight, albeit at fairly last minute when inventory opens up. Even if part of the miles need to be bought, it is still a steal compared to purchasing a ticket. Terminal 3 has been greatly improved, with nice tables and computer devices included.

De-icing is an interesting exercise. We parked at a specific part of the tarmac and the truck came by to spray us clean.

Yum yum!

We moved up towards the North Pole and into a beautiful sunset.

For such a long flight, there was ample time for rest and to fully utilize the seat's lie-flat capabilities.

Hong Kong - Dhaka
24 January

The news coming out of Bangladesh were not very reassuring in the days leading up to my flight. But there was no serious government travel warning, so the trip continues, and the plane spotting goes on.

Sunsets are especially beautiful in the air.

Dragonair's IFE has been upgraded and now has a similar interface and name as its parent company, Cathay Pacific.

I spent a bit of time going through the paperwork for arrival. For those planning to bring an air rifle, dish washer, or a chandelier into the country, expect to pay duty.

Interestingly, the form had the airline's label on it. But at immigration, they would not accept it pointed us to fill out a different form. Bureaucracy.

The IFE displayed some reminders during descent that I have not seen on Cathay's IFE before. I noticed Dragonair used more automated announcements in general.

Dhaka's airport is qute old. I have never seen a complaint box like this during my travels.

Biman Bangladesh is an exciting mystery to aviation enthusiasts. I grabbed one of their magazines and confirmed their retired MD jets are really gone.

The local headlines reminded us that political violence is still happening. It didn't help that I was heading into the city at night, when the arson attacks typically occur.

Dhaka - Hong Kong
6 February

Short red-eyes are quite painful, especially in Economy Class and when civil disobedience spikes at night. The drive to the airport was smooth. I suppose the residents wouldn't want to get caught up in the petro bombs at night anyway.

The airport is very basic and I went out to photograph the barrenness and preliminary attempts to modernize.

The "before" bathroom is quite horrendous and smelly.

You can see the layout is still the same but a simple renovation makes a huge difference in the "new" version.

Biman's planes are not easy to spot, and there were a few of them this late in the day.

Zhengzhou - Hong Kong
16 March

There is no train connection to the airport, and bus services from the new high-speed train station is quite sporadic, so I needed to grab a flat-fare cab for my evening flight home. International departures are located in a quiet corner of the terminal building, which is a new facility. Note international flights are a rarity here.

Low-cost carriers don't always board from the tarmac. Here in Zhengzhou, bridges are used.

Tonight's plane is new, and the leather seats are quite comfortable and sufficient for such a short flight.

I like these slim seats with the magazine rack at the headrest and not in the pocket below that will affect your legroom.

Zhengzhou would never have made it to my radar until such cheap flights were available. It was a worthwhile trip to see the rich history in this part of China.

Hong Kong - Tianjin
3 April

With sakura at full bloom, I was supposed to visit Japan for the Easter break. However, the weather turned bad for them and the forecast called for cloudy skies and rain for the entire break. Disappointed, I had to find a value-for-money alternative on a long weekend at short notice with a decent forecast. Tianjin was the unfortunate answer.

Tonight's plane looked fairly new with mood lighting. We made a very sharp ascent that was quite uncomfortable and entered Chinese airspace at over 10,000 feet.

Seems like tonight's meal was catered from Hong Kong.

Unfortunately, my luggage didn't make it to Tianjin. After a frantic search, long wait, and finding an agent who did not wear a uniform or airline identification, I got the paperwork for the delayed luggage with no answers as to where it is. It was a cold night and my winter jacket was in the missing suitcase. There were a number of things wrong with this airport at the late hour. The banks have already closed even though more international flights were coming, the metro's last train for the city left at 10:05pm, and no buses were running anymore either.

Tianjin - Hong Kong
7 April

The price to pay for a cheap flight is a bad flight time. I was lucky to have arrived with barely a line. Minutes later, hordes of tour groups packed the international departures area.

Many years ago, 3 state airline groups were created to reduce the number of small and fragmented airlines in the country. Now it seems the industry is going back to the old days with many regional airlines once again.

Both Japan and Korea are only a short flight away, so there are a lot of morning departures to both countries.

A hot breakfast is served and it tasted somewhat decent. I don't usually get an orange like that and the strawberry jelly tasted very plastic.

Hong Kong - Sydney
11 April

A few days later, I returned to the premium lounge for a more classy long-haul to the bottom of the world. I settled at the Wing's long bar for a drink and some fruits, making sure I don't fill up before a much bigger meal on board.

I previously didn't know the lounge actually had 2 floors, and the noodle bar was upstairs.

The lounge's food selection is scattered across several rooms, with the dessert and sandwich section at the far end.

I'm quite glad Cathay Delight remains on the drinks menu for all these years. It is so refreshing and continues to be my favourite drink in the skies.

Soon, a great feast began high above the South China Sea.

I have seen Sydney's skyline on landing so many times before, but it still remains spectacular. If only I could be as lucky photographing Hong Kong's skyline during landing.

Automation has arrived in Australia. Even foreign passports could use the self-serve kiosk with your passport, get this card, and then proceed to the immigration gate without human interaction whatsoever. There is still a manual line that would take much longer to get through.

Sydney - Hong Kong
17 April

Check-in is getting increasingly complicated with more product differentiations on the same plane.

Sydney's international terminal is under renovation, but still remains a decent facility to use. I found my way back to the Qantas lounge for a quick bite. But why would they close up so quickly before the last flight departs?

I prefer this long bar more than the Wing in Hong Kong. Many bottles of wine were laid out for your self service.

Air Niugini - a neat bird that I don't see often.

Yet another great feast begins above Australia. I needed to eat quickly and catch some rest on this red-eye.

I think Cathay's main course in Business Class is a bit on the small side, but I never go hungry since a huge dessert follows afterwards.

My rest would be cut short by a second meal before landing.

Sydney - Hong Kong
23 May

Taxis are not necessarily the quickest way to the airport. Sydney's trains conveniently stop at the domestic and international terminals, taking only 11 minutes from Central. If I didn't have 2 suitcases today, I would have taken the train.

The check-in area was deserted with over an hour to go before departure. Check-in was smooth and I was asked whether I wanted to use the Arrival Lounge in Hong Kong. There was a huge line at immigration with several international departures to Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, and Guangzhou. Luckily, Business Class passengers get an expedite card so I went straight to the head of the line. There was an agent sorting the lines but he never bothered to check whether I should come through the express line. The agent at security did, though.

The departures level is under renovation, but the huge duty-free is open for business. I found my favourite Hunter Valley dessert wine at a discount compared to the city. Cathay uses the Qantas Lounge upstairs, next to a renovating area. It was fairly empty already as 9pm approached and there was no line for a quick hot shower. By the time I finished, the entrance had already been cordoned off. I guess nobody checked that I was still inside. The workers were busy cleaning up and there was no food left. I wished they kept the lounge operating until the last flight starts boarding.

The lounge was getting quieter as the late night departures bid farewell to Sydney. I prefer to be clean for my red-eye after a day of sightseeing, so I took advantage of the shower facilities in the lounge - nothing luxurious but decent.

There was a huge crowd at the gate as boarding started about 20 minutes before departure. The common folks were already in a long line while a family was going through the Business Class line ahead of me. The agents were quick to spot me and pushed me ahead of the queue. Unlike in HK, only 1 jet bridge is used, so all passengers have to board through the same door, and get stuck in the same line. One of the agents enthusiastically joked it was like the Ladies' Market here. I noticed there were no Chinese agents at the gate, which is probably needed to keep the Mandarin speakers in check.

I sat in the relative seclusion of the second Business Class cabin behind the door. It wasn't a full flight today up front. We all managed to board quickly and the plane pushed back right on the dot. I was a bit surprised bilingual (Cantonese) announcements were not always offered, but the staff were super and most served with a smile.

Goodbye, Sydney!

Dinner took a bit of time to get going and by the time I finished the chocolates at the end, it was 2 hours into the journey. I always wondered why the appetizer is much better presented than the main course?

No Cathay Delight this month, so I settled for my 2nd favourite. Sydney is probably one of my least favourite red-eyes to fly Business Class. With a long dinner service and a breakfast ahead, it is hard to get a decent night's sleep. You end up skipping 1 meal - either dinner or breakfast.

I noticed the lights came back on for breakfast service, which I declined, and managed to get about 3 hours before the captain came back on the PA for the descent. Due to bad weather in Hong Kong, he noted we may be delayed on the ground as the gate has not been arranged yet. The descent wasn't particularly bumpy although I saw some thunderstorms in the distance.

We landed ahead of schedule and just shy of 5am on the south runway, a rarity. The captain came back noting a gate has already been assigned. However, upon arrival at Gate 60, it took a few minutes for the ground staff to get to the gate and arrange for our arrival. Unfortunately, the trains were not up and running (they start at 6:20) so we had to walk all the way to immigration. With several long-haul international flights arriving before sunrise (Toronto, New York), I hope the airport authorities can get the trains up and running, or put us at the front of the gates. But given the weather problems the night before, I was a bit more understanding.

Tokyo Narita - Hong Kong
5 July

Narita's budget airline terminal is a bit of a walk from the train station, but at least it is covered and there is a neat pavement to lead you to it. The interior decor is basic yet functional, and clean as expected anywhere in Japan. A long line snaked around orderly around Vanilla's check-in desks. Don't get there too close to the cutoff.

They even placed ticket machines for the trains here.

There are shops that sell the typical tourist fare.

Food on board is actually cheaper than Hong Kong Express! Japan is no longer an expensive place to visit thanks to a cheap and devalued yen!

The aerials of Hong Kong's countryside were stunning on this hot summer's day.

The Master List (in chronological order)



1st Half Stats

Most memorable flight : Taking a ferry from the airport terminal building to the city @ Toronto
Biggest service surprise : Vanilla Air's in-flight food is cheaper than Hong Kong Express!
Longest flight : YYZ-HKG
Shortest flight : YUL-YTZ