2018 Flying & Plane Spotting Showcase 2nd Half
I've been lucky finding good deals to faraway destinations in the 2nd half of 2018. During the summer peak season, I flew to 2 opposite long-haul destinations on the cheap to Norway and Australia, on opposite sides of the world. My flying in the fall and autumn were more subdued for short-haul trips.
AY 102 Hong Kong - Helsinki
Norway is quite a distance away from Hong Kong. At the peak summer season, I was worried it would be a costly flight even if going the long way through the Middle East. Luckily, Finnair had a very affordable fare of just over HKD$5600 with a stopover in Helsinki flying a short northerly route. The advertised flight times are great - 10.5 hours into Finland and just 1.5 hours more into Oslo.
Finnair used to fly just one red-eye a day, but in recent years, they've added a morning flight, which is now flown with an A350.
The hardware is good, with a decent-sized television and the reading materials ahead of me and not hitting against my knees.
A favourite feature is a flight timeline on when you will be fed, twice.
The dredgers are getting ready to start a huge reclamation project to build a new runway.
Economy Class meals are typically nothing to boast about.
We flew over the arid and barren regions of Inner Mongolia, and then Mongolia, where the barbarians once lived and tried to invade China.
Browsing the IFE, the selection wasn't the greatest although they have a wide variety of Asian content to cater for its many routes to the region.
Luckily, regular drinks are complimentary on this flight, but probably not for a shorter one within Europe.
Helsinki is now a major transit point for Asians heading to Europe. There is still more construction under way to let it handle more traffic.
AY 917 Helsinki - Oslo
After less than 24 hours in Finland and a good recharging break in Porvoo, I headed back to Helsinki for the next short-haul to Norway. The airport is now connected to the city by train, and the journey time is very manageable at half an hour. I still remember my first visit here in 2009 required a long bus ride into town.
Labour is expensive in this part of the world. Do-it-yourself check-in is becoming an increasing prominent part of the airport experience.
Air-side, it was crowded and there wasn't much seating to handle the traffic. However, I noticed the nice wood furnishings that look elegant yet simple.
However, they need to expand to better manage the crowds. There are various bottleneck points that need staff intervention.
I snatched up a window seat at the front of the plane. Similar to my prior regional flight with Finnair to Warsaw, today's flight is operated by Norra, a subsidiary.
Finnair's blueberry juice is a unique offering and tastes quite good.
There is no free food on these short haul flights. The to-pay food menu on board has a lot of options but at only 1.5 hours, I didn't have an urge to eat dinner on board.
The weather cleared out nicely over Norway as we descended into Oslo, but I couldn't spot the fjords along here.
Gaining an hour, I arrived shy of 8pm with the sun still blazing wonderfully above. This is indeed land of the midnight sun.
Oslo's airport is also a nice facility with good use of wood. The more I fly in this part of the continent, the more crappy Heathrow feels!
Once land-side, I looked for the cheaper NSB trains into the city. As I read online, the "express" Flytoget is much more expensive with only a few minutes' saving.
SQ 871 Hong Kong - Singapore
Flying out for a cheap holiday during the height of the summer holidays seem an impossible task. Most of Asia north of the Equator is unbearably hot, with Japan seeing 40C temperatures and monsoon rains drenching Southeast Asia. So where to go for a cooler break that can also be affordable? Singapore Airlines was having a fare sale on certain days to Perth, costing under HKD $4200 including taxes. The down-side is I needed to stay overnight in Singapore and continue to Perth the next morning.
There were also a few museum-like exhibits scattered around the terminal, although they seemed more contemporary.
Stepping onto the A330, it screamed retro. It is an old jet although the cabin colours still looked smart enough. Each seat had a blanket and pillow placed already while earphones have to be picked up at the bridge before boarding the aircraft. The PTV screen is not a touch-screen, so I have to use the remote to browse around.
Browsing around the IFE, the selection was quite pitiful. I had flown SQ a few years ago in a much newer jet and I recall it had much more selection than this antiquated version.
It was quite bumpy and we stayed at 26000 feet for half the flight with a typhoon lurking offshore that we avoided. During the bumps, menu booklets were distributed and dinner was served. SQ's catering in Economy is nothing to boast about anymore either, although the Haggen Daz ice-cream at the end was probably the only highlight of the meal.
The safety card was not a 2-page flyer but a fairly detailed 4-pager.
Getting a place at the airport's Ambassador Hotel was an adventure in itself. Their website has a form but it doesn't confirm anything, but sends the details away with a standard reply they will get back to me within 2 working days. It didn't help I booked the flight at the last minute and wouldn't have 2 days for them to turnaround. They did reply me the next day saying they are full and I would be waitlisted. Frustrated, I found Expedia had availability so I booked through them instead. Rooms are charged on a 6-hour standard block with additional charges if you were to exceed that block.
Located upstairs in T2's air-side area, they seem to have 2 receptions - 1 for their lounge and 1 for the hotel. The hotel couldn't find my reservation. I tried to use the airport's wifi but they needed to send a token to my phone which didn't seem to work, so reception had to give me a manual code to try to log in. After a long time trying, they relented and sent me to the lounge across for the paperwork. That reception gave me a piece of paper and directed my back to the hotel side. Classic bad customer service case study.
Otherwise, the room was good for a 1 night's stay and the shared bathrooms are lockable so you can have some privacy.
SQ 213 Singapore - Perth
With a 7:40 flight, I left the hotel at 6:40 to take the train back to T3. Changi currently has 4 terminals with T1-3 connected physically but the trains make the journeys shorter. by the time I arrived, they were already boarding.
I really don't like Changi's gate lounge setup, with security at its entry, after which passengers are stuck in the waiting area. No shopping, no restaurants, no coffee, and no bathroom.
Stepping on board, the 777 was even older than the previous night's A330. The TV screen screams the 90s and the flight map and info screens reminded me of my high school days.
I haven't seen this map interface for many years.
Turning my attention to the window to forget about this antique plane, Air India is typically in the news for bad reasons, but their special livery does look quite nice.
Menu booklets were distributed just like my Hong Kong flight. Breakfast was served over Indonesia, with a spicy beef noodle.
Indonesia's Ring of Fire landscape looks great from above.
Just over 2 hours after leaving Indonesia's islands, Australia's west coast came into view. Although we flew slightly inland, I couldn't see it too well because of the wing in the way. The untamed coast is rugged. empty, and simply beautiful.
I will remember this aircraft type to avoid it next time!
I've remarked on other airlines that their duty-free shopping includes some querky items, including cooking pots. SQ's selection is also quite big.
Can I order a wine cabinet and have it wrapped up for me when we land?
SQ 216 Perth - Singapore
With a 1:10am departure, I wasn't in a hurry to get to the airport when I was comfortably enjoying wifi at my hotel's lobby lounge. By the time I got to the bus stop, the streets were awfully quiet and slightly unnerving. The trip to the airport was about half an hour only with barely any traffic.
Inside, it looked like the terminal was ready to close for the night.
Perth's airport has an observation deck, and there was a radar map showing what to expect. The vast skies over this part of the country are quite empty.
Tonight's flight would be on a Dreamliner, a vast improvement from my inbound. Pillows and blankets were laid at every seat for us to rest during the red-eye.
The IFE was also much better. If this wasn't a red-eye, I would probably have enough to browse around for the entire duration of the flight.
As we departed, I had a great view of the city lit up at night. What a good way to say good night!
After a snooze, breakfast was served prior to arrival.
More and more airlines are now offering wifi in-flight. Hope that doesn't mean noisy conversations and live-streaming to disturb the peace.
SQ 860 Singapore - Hong Kong
I had 2 hours of connecting time between arriving from Perth and my next flight home. Terminal 3 had quieter spots, such as an upstairs lounge that passengers seem to have forgotten at this early hour.
After a nice 1st ride on SQ's Dreamliner, the next segment would be just as exciting. It would be my 1st ride on their A350. However, this initial enthusiasm would be dampened somewhat by the bus gate.
First up, the premium section's seats to get your mouth drooling and thinking whether your next flight up here is worth the big bucks?
My seat was out back. I'm a discerning customer, after all. Business Class is for the ultra long-haul flights where more space and comfort are needed.
The working desk was complex, with my favoured separate cupholder apparatus. The remote control was also sleek. Notice the mirror which can closed off. You will always have the option of looking at your gorgeous self while seated.
Like the Dreamliner, the IFE interface is much better here.
We are quite spoiled in this region with free checked baggage and food served on short and mid-haul flights. Breakfast looked like lunch instead.
Today's flight path was a bit odd as we veered a bit westwards and not fly over the South China Sea for most of the journey.
CX 474 Hong Kong - Taipei
Cathay flies so many times to Taipei everyday that the schedule looks like an intercity bus service. Reaching the airport with ample time to spare, I asked the be placed on stand-by for an earlier flight.
Air-side, the waiting lounges were getting new carpets and also more water machines.
A new quick haircutting joint has opened, albeit tagged with a "premium" label to its cheap and fast image.
The Orient Thai 747 that previously sat in front of the aircraft maintenance area for over a year has moved further away. Seems its owners won't come back for it any time soon.
A packaged headphone was already in the seat when I boarded, which is something that normally costs money for North American flights of this length, even transborder ones.
A free meal was also served, although it was not a hot rice dish as I had thought. There was a news item noting Cathay was moving away from sandwiches for their lunch and dinner departures, but I still got a warm sandwich.
Not long after, Taiwan's coastline came into view. The weather on this side of the strait was much better today.
There was a huge crowd at the renovated Terminal 1 that could not fit into the immigration queues. People spilled over and staff struggled to contain everyone into the organized chaos. I was only able to get pass after an hour. Perhaps this is a victim of its own success, with more Southeast Asian tourists coming, or they need to consider pushing for automated processing like in Australia?
CX 405 Taipei - Hong Kong
Departing from Taoyuan was far more pleasant than arriving. All foreigners could use the automated kiosk that scans your passport and verifies your fingerprints in order to exit. Why can't they do that for arrivals?
Some good facilities to help the traveler before flying include ...
Relations with China have soured since the Taiwanese elected a separatist party to power in the last election, so they are trying to entice more Southeast Asian tourists to come to make up for the drastic drop in mainland tourists. So a halal menu was not surprising.
With some time to go before boarding, I walked to Terminal 2 to explore their renovated gates, each of which has a different theme.
Plane spotting was also good, with EVA's new Dreamliner parked at the gate.
The Hello Kitty store remained in place despite all the changes around it.
Back on board, catering has also improved on this late afternoon sector with a proper hot dish.
Cathay does a good job including Hong Kong content in its IFE. This includes the aviation series it sponsored some 10 years ago, with all episodes available to keep even the long-haul passenger sleepless.
Many Taiwanese use Hong Kong as a connecting point not just for China, but also points beyond such as Europe. Transfer information appeared on the IFE as we descended, and for us arriving passengers, the gate number and baggage carousel were already known also.
KA 606 Hong Kong - Xiamen
One of the remnants of the rivalry between Beijing and Taipei still lives alive and well just off the Chinese coast. Kinmen is governed by Taiwan but they are closer to Xiamen than to Taipei. In fact, you can see Xiamen's skyline from the islands.
Getting there can get interesting. By air, you need to fly to Taiwan first, then connect to a domestic flight to Kinmen, a major detour for me. Alternatively, take a flight to Xiamen, and take a ferry.
Xiamen is a short flight from Hong Kong - even shorter than to Kaohsiung. At under an hour, I had 3 flights a day to choose from. The all-in price came in at just under HKD $1000.
My short flight today would be flown on a widebody. The A330 offers comfortable legroom and they even gave a sandwich as a meal.
While I have very little expectations for service on such a short sector, I turned my attention to the views outside, as China's coastal areas light up for the night.
KA 615 Xiamen - Hong Kong
Xiamen's airport is fairly small as there aren't many international flights out of here. The terminal is spacious, have enough shops and food options, and I don't need to walk long distances to get to my gate.
For those with hand-carry only, you will luckily be able to bypass any line and use the kiosk.
For locals traveling abroad, grab a SIM for your destination before you fly out. This vending machine is quite useful. The prices are not the cheapest but are still decent. Singapore for 5 days costs 60 yuan, Indonesia for 8 days costs 70 yuan, and Taiwan for 7 days costs 70 yuan as well.
Yet, there are some weird things in this terminal, such as separate towels for cleaning the toilets and the different uses by towel colour. These are NOT for your hands to dry, despite how close to the sink they are.
HKG-HEL HEL-OSL OSL-HEL HEL-HKG HKG-SIN SIN-PER
PER-SIN SIN-HKG HKG-TPE TPE-HKG HKG-XMN XMN-HKG
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