2017 Flying & Plane Spotting Showcase Part 1


Hong Kong - Jakarta
19 February

My first trip in 2017 would be to Jakarta, a warm choice in the midst of their wet season. Cathay has 4 flights a day, 2 of which depart during inhospitable times. Fearing nasty traffic that this city is so famous for, the 4pm flight would be late in case I'm on the road for 3 hours into the city. Unfortunately, that means only the 9:20 am flight is left, and an early Sunday wake-up call. On the bright side, I was able to spot the new A350 despite being half asleep.

Today, I would be riding the old livery 777 with a full Economy class. An insider had told me there was a possibility to upgrade, but Premium Economy didn't have window seats left this morning.

The Western breakfast was normal with the predictable egg, sausage, and beans. The yoghurt was really tasty.

I really like the seat's mini-storage area, which is perfect for small items that poke through your pocket, such as mobile and keys. On a longer flight, getting rid of these greatly enhances comfort.

As we broke through the clouds on final approach into Jakarta, a lush green landscape emerged then a busy harbour with plenty of ships.

But Jakarta doesn't seem very dense at all.


Jakarta - Hong Kong
19 February

Lunch-time traffic from the city wasn't too bad. There were some bottlenecks along the way, but the taxi pulled into the airport in well under an hour. Luckily it didn't rain. I had heard it would take up to 3 hours if traffic backed up. There was a huge line through security to get into the check-in area, which is sanitized from the public and supposedly for departing passengers only. The plane ticket check wasn't so rigorous and after I got through, it was a breeze into Cathay's counters.

I flew domestic out of this airport last year, and noticed the international section was a bit nicer with many duty-free shops but not so many restaurants. Unfortunately, air-conditioning was very weak inside the 3 restaurants we went into, which either didn't have seats left or stopped serving lunch already at 1pm.

Plane spotting is a bit difficult since the planes are parked in pods away from the main terminal area. These pods don't seem to be freely accessible by all departing passengers.

It was a bit easier spotting from the plane.

On a good traffic day, it takes only 40 minutes from Central Jakarta to the airport. As we climbed out, the countryside emerged quite quickly.

The weather cleared out on departure but the pilots steered away from these tall formations as we headed towards Borneo.


Hong Kong - Qingdao
4 March

Asia Miles was having a surprise redemption sale for regional destinations. With a 20% discount, my long weekend hop would only cost 16,000 Asia Miles. 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.

Loading was quite light today and we pushed back slightly ahead of schedule for the long taxi to take-off. I had a front row seat with a small PTV screen but ample legroom.

There was a lot of traffic and plenty of planes passed ahead of us to take off.

I had the correct window for take-off but the weather wasn't too good to spot the harbour this morning.

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.

Views were quite decent as we progressed north towards Shanghai. Everyone was enjoying a good day.

Looks like Dragonair inherited an older Cathay plane with the older type of hardware.

But the smog rolled in as we descended. The northern winter is still mostly coal-powered.


Qingdao - Hong Kong
6 March

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. Worse yet, the bus stop is not even signposted!

Seems most passengers don't do online check-in. The regular line was quite busy while I had my line all to myself.

Qingdao's airport has a relatively quiet international section and a much bigger and busier domestic section.

The water dispenser has gone high-tech.

Most passengers were lined up on the plebian line. There was special line for the lowly Marco Polo Green, which I don't recall seeing elsewhere before, and another not-too-large group in the other elite line.

The smog had cleared out and visibility was great.

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.

Further south, Shanghai was having a good day as well.

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?


Hong Kong - Jakarta
12 March

With a speedy commute into the city on light Sunday traffic last time, I opted for a later departure today to get a proper weekend sleep. Instead of the 777, I got the A330 this time, my favourite widebody.

There was a good variety of planes this afternoon.

At this hour, lunch was served, not breakfast.

The huge moon rose fairly quickly, and the sun set just as quick.

4 hours later, I was back in Jakarta.


Jakarta - Hong Kong
24 March

There is a brand new terminal but most airlines are still stuck in the older facility. Gates are in pods just off the main building, which gives a bit of a resort feel but not so good for plane spotting.

A month later, and on the same flight, I picked the other side of the plane to capture aerials of the city on departure. Luckily, the flight path was the same, and there was a decent variety of birds to spot.

Only Garuda jets at the new terminal.

Rainy season came to a standstill this afternoon with blue skies all over as we took off, turned 180 degrees for the northbound journey.

You can make out the massive new terminal in white and the smaller older facility where I departed to the right.

With the sun heading west, I wasn't against the light anymore.

Being a mid-afternoon departure, the timing of this meal is neither lunch nor dinner.


Hong Kong - Dubai
15 April

Finding an affordable vacation during holiday long weekends like Easter and Ching Ming is quite difficult. Strangely, the further I go, the less premium they charged. So this year, I decided to go far - all the way to Morocco. The prospect of sitting in Economy class for 2 flights of 8 hours each was not very appetizing, even on the A380. With not so many airlines flying these birds, I forgot how spacious the seats were, how quiet the engines are, and how much IFE choice Emirates had in store for the journey.

Nevertheless, service had gone a bit downhill from my past flights. The crew were not as attentive anymore and they decided not to load eye-shades for this red-eye. 8 hours was not long enough to worth having any.


Dubai - Casablanca
15 April

Transiting in Dubai is quite stressful. There are many concourses, and chances are you need to find a train to get to the next gate. Wait for elevators on both sides of the journey, only to find there are no seeats available throughout the terminal. 2 hours isn't really enough to go from gate to gate.

The Casablanca route was upgraded to the A380 just very recently, which is quite a sight with 2 levels of boarding. Off we go, back in cattle class again.

I liked the detailed flight map and 3 cameras mounted at various sections of the plane.

My right window seat would come in handy today for spotting a few cities en route. First is Sharjah, jsut next door to Dubai.

Over arid Egypt?

Crete in the distance

I barely had time to enjoy my lunch. The portions were decent and it tasted quite good.

Malta, another destination on my to-go list!

We entered Tunisia a bit further to the south and I couldn't see Tunis.

However, we flew right over Algiers.

Oran and its airport south of the city.

Look at how big the TV screens are!

As expected from a traditional full-service carrier, the duty-free catalogue is quite extensive.

The headset is partially noise-cancelling, and of quite good quality. They surely beat those cheap dollar store earbuds that Air Canada gives you.

So with so many aerial views along the sunny route and plenty of IFE to keep my eyes busy, the entire journey didn't seem too bad - bearable.

Interestingly, the approach into Casablanca passed through a lot of lush land as well. The country isn't all desert after all.

Unfortunately, the upgauge to the A380 meant we could not park at the terminal, and that the plane needs to empty onto buses for the last segment of the journey. This inevitably leads to wasting more time after the long flight. Hopefully, Casablanca can make the appropriate renovations to handle this jet soon.


Casablanca - Dubai
21 April

The week in Morocco passed quickly, and I didn't look forward to checking in at this older airport. I was right. The Emirates agent couldn't tag the luggage correctly or give the right boarding pass to the passenger. Everything was sloppy and he didn't do the right passenger identification that he was supposed to do. Perhaps at these remote outposts, people get complacent of security, which is probably why the Americans have taken a more rough stance to certain countries' flights.

Air-side, I hunted down Royal Air Maroc's Dreamliner.

Then I saw the long line for boarding buses back to the A380.

Then back up the stairs for the shorter flight home.

4 meals later, I would be home. Emirates' catering is quite decent.


Dubai - Hong Kong
22 April

Then it was time to hunt around for the next flight's gate in Dubai. Boarding for Hong Kong had been called for some time and many passengers had already been checked and rounded up into the holding pen downstairs, trapped and away from shops and restaurants.

This flight was full of tour groups returning home from a variety of faraway places. I tried my best to sleep on this red-eye, and with the skies being dark for the first few hours, I dozed on and off and opted to eat light.

Looking at the details of my seat, the earplugs were in front of me instead of in the armrest. There was a USB plug, and the remote control looked like a gaming console. A cup of water could be hung without opening the table, saving space.


Hong Kong - Manila
7 May

Manila is not really a great place to fly into. Good that it is a short flight from Hong Kong. There was a decent amount of good spotting opportunities on this sunny day to compensate for such hardship.

The rubber duck art piece is long gone, but a smaller version is now available on dry land.

The gate signage is also being revamped with longer screens showing the redundant "Hong Kong to" starting line. No, we are not in Shenzhen or Guangzhou.

A last-minute equipment swap meant I couldn't ride the A350 today.

The airport is getting increasingly busy and it shows with so many gates occupied.

Over the years, I have watched meals on these short flights of under 2 hours go from hot rice to nasty pizza pocket to today's evolved warm sandwich. It is not bad actually.

What to do with your elitist benefits after you get upgraded?

Meanwhile, the airline got on the news in a less positive way that day as well.

These seats are quite comfortable and have a very good storage feature for smaller items.

Welcome back to Manila. At least T4 is a noticeable upgrade from the old and dingy T1 years ago.


Manila - Hong Kong
19 May

Terminal 4 is supposed to be Manila's answer to the nice new airports elsewhere in the region. Unfortunately, they still have plenty of things to improve on, with the most urgent one being fixing the air-conditioning. The check-in area looks fairly nice and standard. Plenty of check-in desks meant short lines.

The terminal is also used by budget carrier Cebu Pacific, which also has long-haul flights into the Middle East.

How can they allow this to happen?

Air-side, there were some shops but otherwise not too much to do. The lounges had plenty of seats although it was quite warm from insufficient air flow.

This change to Paypal machine looks quite ingenious but I wonder how bad the exchange rate is?

Cathay makes the best of the limited hardware by cordoning off sections of seats for its elite member passengers, which is a nice gesture considering several international departures on widebodies were clustered around the evening hour tonight.

Upon departure, I noticed a few unexpected jets here, such as the A380 from both Qantas and BA. I guess Manila is a cheap place to outsource maintenance.

In good traffic conditions, the drive into Makati would only take 15 minutes. But with rain and rush hour added in, it could easily turn into 90 minutes. Makati's skyline is actually very visible from the taxiway.

For the flight home, I rode on an A330 with the older seats. Nevertheless, it was comfortable for such a short flight.

The Master List (in chronological order)