2019 Flying & Plane Spotting Showcase 1st Half
CX 386 Hong Kong - Beijing
With a bunch of Asia Miles expiring, I redeemed Cathay Pacific to Beijing and then transferring to its sister carrier Air China for the domestic leg into Harbin. It was a tough redemption to make; the agent had trouble putting together the itinerary on the phone. After a bit of troubleshooting, he told me Air China cannot be bundled with Cathay for a single journey's redemption, and that this would be priced as 2 separate redemptions. Great. The total cost would be 20,000 Asia Miles, as opposed to 15,000 for a one-way.
The blue sky started to poke out on departure and I managed to get some decent aerials over the city.
Once past Changsha, we were able to grab some breakfast. By the time the cart reached to me, only the Western option was left.
As we descended into Beijing, I noticed it wasn't as hazy as I had originally expected. On my left was the skyline at Guomao in the eastern part of the city. It was my lucky day for aerials.
CA 1611 Beijing - Harbin
I haven't flown into Beijing for a number of the years, but this huge airport is quite dreadful to use. There was a huge line for international transit that blocked inbound immigration. I had to clear immigration then continue to domestic transfer entry next to the baggage claim. My bags first went through the X-rays and then the Air China counter re-tagged it for the hold.
Back upstairs, I joined the security line. As with other Chinese airports, an agent has to check my boarding pass first and then stamp a few times on it, then I would go through the scanning.
My next flight would depart from Pier D. From the transfer counter at Pier C, I had to take a bus even though the terminal train passes through it, but that complaint went away quickly thanks to plush seats (not the bare plastic ones) and a manageable crowd. However, like many public facilities in China, the place had a strong cigaratte smoke smell.
This pier was quite empty today, a strange sight at Beijing's airport.
We boarded earlier than schedule and were pretty much all seated in about 10 minutes. Departure was on-time, a rarity thanks to luck, and the flight was uneventful, the best type. At under 2 hours, we received snack boxes with a warm BBQ bun pastry that actually tasted quite decent.
The flight is operated by Dalian Airlines, one of Air China's brother and sister companies. Some of these city carriers in China are quite confusing but it seems they roll up into one of the big carrier groups eventually.
Upon arrival inside the well-heated terminal at Harbin, I noticed changing kiosks at the baggage hall. The temperature shock is incredible here if you come from the south.
Taxi rides into the city are expensive and drivers have a not-so-pleasant reputation. The airport bus counter was well-signed in the arrivals hall and all luggage in the hold are fastened by lock with the owner keeping the key for the duration of the journey. That was a first.
CX 331 Beijing - Hong Kong
After a complicated redemption on the inbound flight that eventually ended in Harbin, my return flight home was a far simpler Avios claim of only 10,000 points from Beijing to Hong Kong. I did not want to redeem from Harbin as BA doesn't allow Air China redemptions, and I didn't want to spend another 20,000 Asia Miles on an Air China / Cathay complex itinerary. With cheap high-speed trains, I opted for a train ride back to Beijing instead, stopping in Changchun along the way.
Beijing's Airport Express departs from Dongzhimen station in the northeastern quadrant of the city centre. This place is a poor choice for a terminus as it is nowhere near the major tourist districts, so a change on the subway is necessary. The transfer to the Airport Express consists of many staircases and 2 turnstiles, which is both inefficient and incomprehensible.
The airport station looked nice though.
Various roadblocks followed, such as a random swab test upon entering the terminal building, automated immigration kiosks that required a ticket validation step beforehand at another place, and the security computer that broke down so they couldn't match my ID, scan my boarding pass, and authenticate my face on their webcam.
At least the plane spotting is nice here ...
Tired from my day of sightseeing in Beijing, I relaxed a bit after eating the seafood dinner. The portions were not too big and I wasn't too full after the meal. But I felt far more comfortable to be on the plane than finding more surprises in the terminal.
CI 934 Hong Kong - Kaohsiung
Although Taiwan is only a short hour away by air, widebodies ply this route. My flight today to Kaohsiung would be on an A330 although the 747 does appear on the Taipei route as well.
Despite the flight time, each seat had a pillow and we received full service, including a hot meal.
I give the crew credit for trying to serve a meal for just an hour's flight. Chopping away the ascent and descent, that leaves them very little time.
So I wasn't too concerned when the PTV was small and the IFE was disappointing.
These small things were more than compensated by lovely views of the port and skyline on approach. Be sure to get a left window for the best chances.
Fear of swine flu making it to Taiwan have kept authorities on edge. The inspections at customs are thorough and expect a long wait to get through.
7C 2018 Macau - Muan
Flying on the cheap during the Easter peak season requires a major sacrifice, time. Flying out of Macau has become slightly easier from Hong Kong thanks to a massive new bridge. Jeju Air flies to both Muan and Daegu from Macau. At only HKD 1200 all inclusive just days before the long weekend, I decided to try out Muan.
First step, fight through the crowds of tour groups from China to get on the golden buses that cross the bridge.
By the time I reached Macau, the free shuttle for the city had left for the day. Connectivity is quite poor given its isolated location and the casinos still don't offer services to the port. So the final leg of the journey would be a short but expensive 91 dollar taxi ride to the airport.
Macau's airport isn't anything to boast about. It was functional, and that's pretty much it.
Portuguese remains an official language here, long after the colonial power left.
Despite Macau's small size, it has its own airline, albeit owned by Air China.
The air-side areas were quite crowded. There were many delayed flights tonight. While I wasn't sure why so many were dropping off the charts, the weather had gradually deteriorated outside with sporadic heavy showers and a thunderstorm warning.
I like bus gates, and luckily the weather co-operated as I climbed up the stairs to board.
The 737 was old but with the middle seat empty, I was able to stretch out quite comfortably at the front of the plane.
It is an awful overnight flight of only 3 hours to get a half decent amount of sleep. To make things worse, the turbulence got progressively worse and soon, the cabin crew had to sit down as well and made 2 announcements for us to stay seated due to "severe turbulence". It would continue for 2 hours and only the final hour was calm.
Muan's airport is incredibly small although the building was decent. The whole day's flights could not even fill up a single page. That also means a wonderful airport experience where you don't need to jostle with crowds or wait for anything too long. Most Hong Kongers probably would have never heard of this place, let alone know it is in Korea.
The bus stop is to the right of the exit but you need to first purchase a ticket at the machine by the door. Buses run to Muan town, Gwangju, and Mokpo. The first bus to Mokpo leaves at 6:30am, which is timed to match our arrival.
7C 2017 Muan - Macau
Muan Airport was built to serve both Gwangju and Mokpo, hence it is a long drive from either city. From Mokpo, buses run from the main bus terminal just outside the old city at sparse intervals, persumably because there are so few flights out of there. You won't encounter any language barriers buying a ticket as the machines speak English and take credit cards, just like the airport's ticketing machine when you first arrived.
The bus left mostly empty for my evening departure.
This is a small and cozy airport where everything was a short walk away. The security checkpoint doesn't even open all the time, but before there are sufficient flights and close enough to boarding time.
So passengers who arrived early would sit outside and wait for them to open.
I was going to leave on 1 of only 4 flights that evening. Critics have slammed this under-used airport as an expensive white elephant, and with good reason.
Otherwise, the facilities are quite good. They even have a blood pressure monitor in the terminal just like a pharmacy.
However, the price to pay for a small cozy airport is the lack of food options. There is only 1 restaurant in the departures level land-side.
Is it even possible that a duty-free pick-up counter at a Korean airport is unmanned and empty? I suppose this place was built for locals to fly out, and not so much as a gateway for tourists to enter the country.
Although night-time flights are typically boring with minimal views, the approach into Macau was quite interesting. The immigration island for the megabridge to Hong Kong is huge, as is the building itself.
FD 753 Macau - Chiang Mai
I've been finding a lot of good deals out of Macau for long weekends this year. My 2nd trip out of here in 2019 would be to Chiang Mai on AirAsia. Rather than taking the bridge from Hong Kong, which was almost 3 hours door-to-door, I found a cheap deal on the ferry's premium class and decided to sail to Macau in luxury instead. From the Taipa ferry terminal, casino shuttles would make the short trip to the airport.
The upper deck of the ferry was quite empty and we were even served a drink and snacks on an airplane-style tray for the hour-long ride as I watched the sun set over the South China Sea.
Macau's airport has a decent selection of restaurants but I would recommend eating elsewhere. Plenty of casino shuttles make it to here and each casino seems to have an endless assortment of restaurants.
You can see many casinos within reach from the terminal building.
Somewhat regretting my expensive dinner in the terminal, I was surprised to find the in-flight catering to be very affordable on AirAsia.
120 baht is not even USD $4.
I scanned through the menu and many hot options were attractive. As I doubted they would carry everything onboard from the inbound flight, I would suggest pre-booking online to avoid disappointment.
AirAsia doesn't gouge its customers for a proper meal on board unlike other low-cost carriers in the region.
One of my favourite Thai desserts is, unsurprisingly, on the menu.
If you are not hungry, cup noodles are available for a lighter meal, although the price is less value for money than the hot meal.
There are other shopping items on the menu, although they were less appetizing.
UO 754 Chiang Mai - Hong Kong
Scanning the web for a cheap fare back home, I didn't want to transit in Macau once again. Hong Kong Express' website had a direct flight, but surprisingly, a Chinese-owned travel website had a better deal. This is odd, since low-cost carriers typically don't like to pay commissions to external agents. Fearing this may not be a real deal as this agency was rumoured to have sourced tickets using illegal means, I held my breath when the credit card was charged and the booking noted the ticket would be issued within 24 hours. Later that night, I received the airline confirmation ID, which worked on Hong Kong Express' website. That was a scary 10 hours' wait!
Chiang Mai's modest airport isn't award-winning, but is utilitarian.
It would be wise to check-in online first as the dedicated line is far shorter.
They got the clocks wrong though.
Thais greatly respect their royal figures, even setting up a shrine in the airport.
Air-side, while the seating area is big, it was full house this evening. The food selection is pitiful and even the fast food joint was unmanned suddenly.
Unfortunately, there was no award seat available from Cathay as usual.
With a 7:30pm departure, I had to buy dinner on board, which was a small rice box and definitely not enough to fill up. I miss Air Asia's meals now.
Most Memorable Experience : Rushing across the bridge from Hong Kong to Macau to catch a cheap flight.
Least Memorable Experience : Any domestic flight in China, where nothing interesting or scary is a blessing in itself.
HKG-PEK PEK-HRB PEK-HKG HKG-KHH KHH-HKG
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