Having to travel from Hong Kong – Bangkok and return provides some great opportunities as major competing airlines offer a full widebody service on this short sector. Expect to see the B747-400 and A380 making regular appearances on this leg. Coupled with cheap airfares thanks to economies of scale and high competition, there are few other places around the world that let you sample First at these prices. So we knew we had to travel first, but the question was on what airline, aircraft and time.
Planning- to fly Emirates, Cathay or Thai?
When it comes to the heavyweights, the choice is really Emirates (EK), Cathay (CX) or Thai (TG). Each airline is known for offering high standards of service both in hard and soft product. With three great competitors, it would be a tough call. Unfortunately CX was eliminated first due to a higher price which is a shame as I hope to fly them some day…in First.
Now came a really tough call between EK and TG. EK offered an amazing amount of ‘bling’ including onboard showers and some perks in their onboard ‘suites’, but Thai offered the chance to fly in the nose of a 744 for the first time, a sample of the TG A380, better departure and arrival times and the famous experience of departing BKK as a premium passenger.
With a few gold coins the difference between the two fares (in Australian dollars at least), I decided to go for the bling- to go all out and enjoy the best hard product I’ve ever experienced in the sky. I also get to add a new airline in Emirates to the list. I did look at doing first class one way with each airline, but this increased the price to an unjustifiable level. I then looked at doing a leg in business then first, but the difference was very minor. How often am I in this part of the world and in a position to try first? Let’s just do both legs in F. The EK website was the best and most functional I have used of any airline recently, and I was set with my seat, or ‘suite’ allocations done- suite 3A on both legs.
Preflight Impressions (written before the trip to be fair)
These flights should be amazing and I would expect them to go up there with some of the best I’ve experienced. Big expectations but I believe Emirates can pull this one off. The big question- will the flights be long enough to enjoy the experience? I’m expecting to be quite busy from top of climb until top of decent with an amazing suite, shower, 2 bars, dining plus a whole A380 to explore.
Hopefully this problem is a good one, now let’s go flying.
My trip started at the Nathan Road Novotel. The team there were kind enough to let me use the club lounge to fill in time before my evening departure. With plenty of time, I left at 3pm, then took the MTR to the Citygate outlets to kill some time, then took the free shuttle bus from the Novotel Citygate to the airport. I arrived at the airport’s terminal 1 just after 5:10pm, with check in not expected to open until 6:15pm (3 hours before scheduled takeoff).
There was plenty to see and do- Hong Kong airport is a huge space and there’s lots of aircraft that I don’t get in my corner of the earth. A KLM 747 and a South African Airways A340 come to mind. It was time to see what the go was at check-in, and all the ropes and signage were setup but it was too early for any staff to be around.
It was interesting some passengers with copious amounts of luggage- 5 bags for one person loaded to the brim. EK was going to make a fortune on excess baggage maybe? A person seemed to be wheeling wrapped up bales of hay (well they could have been anything)- about 10 per trip- up to the Economy counters.
I got in the first class line at 6:15pm (I was the first person for First and Business), and the staff promptly arrived. After checking that I was indeed in first class processing began.
“Are you going to Dubai today?”
It was tempting to mock horror that the booking system had incorrectly stored my information and try to score a free trip to Dubai, but I refrained. Maybe next time.
The boarding pass was printed and bag tagged- the feeling at this point was it’s really happening- I’m really going to fly first class for the first time.
I didn’t beep at security which was good, immigration a bit disorderly but I was ushered straight to a desk that was opening so this saved lots of time. Surely Hong Kong can do better than this for first class passengers though?
Thoughts on Hong Kong airport- efficient, well organised and everything is done by the book which makes for an easy travel experience. But the airport is lacking a certain character- it feels very cold and sterile in my opinion. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was- perhaps the lack of a giant fish pond, cactus garden and indoor rainforest? Not sure. But I shook off my feelings and headed to the EK lounge. On the way, you couldn’t help but think that the airport takes everyone as morons, with ‘Please hold the handrail and mind your step’ playing on repeat. Although it seems to be a thing Hong Kong wide with the MTR equally as cautious.
Plenty of gates
It’s really happening
I arrived at the Emirates lounge– this was about 15 minutes after check-in so a good run overall
On this trip I think I’ve turned into a lounge addict- I now love sitting back and relaxing in the lounge and it’s almost a shame to be dragged away to have to go flying – not quite but you get my point.
I was keen not to miss a moment of the action with the A380 product given that my time onboard would be short. Boarding was scheduled for 20:25, so at around 8:15pm I left the lounge and headed to gate 62. Here’s the scene that greeted me.
The ride to BKK– A6-EEC
I had done some research on the inbound flight before getting here, and found that A6-EEC was delivered just a couple of days earlier. This was to be its fourth scheduled flight. How lucky am I?
Right on time at 8:25pm as promised on the boarding pass, we were told to line up. I was in the A line, and it seemed all of first class was behind me, meanwhile there was only one person lining up for Business class (zone B).
How refreshing it is to see an airport honest and accurate with boarding times, getting it right down to the minute? MEL should learn from this.
I was one of the first passengers to be sent down the jetway at 8:30pm.
I thought I was entering the main deck as the jetway was sloping a long way downward, but I ended up at the upper deck. The buzz of flying a new airline…
Date: 4 December 2012
Flight: EK 385
Route: HKG (VHHH) – BKK (VTBS)
Aircraft: Airbus A380-861
This aircraft is so brand new that there’s no pictures on airliners.net at the time of writing
Quick facts: First flight was on 05/07/2012. This aircraft is 0.6 years old. This is only its 4th scheduled flight ever.
Scheduled / Actual Departure (gate): 9:15pm / 9:23pm UTC+8
Scheduled / Actual Arrival (date): 11:15pm / 11:14pm UTC+7
Flight Time (gate to gate) / Scheduled: 2h51m / 3h00m
“Welcome onboard Mr. MD, my colleague will escort you to your suite”
I was shown to my suite by a female flight attendant, who then asked if I was familiar with the suite. Upon replying no, what followed was the complete tour of all the impressive features. It was a great start to the flight to have a flight attendant that you could have a good, down to earth conversation with. I mentioned that it would be tough to fit everything to do with the flight into the short flight time.
Most people reading this blog would be familiar with the Emirates suite, but let’s have a quick look anyway.
2003 Dom to kick off the flight with snack basket
View from my seat
Eye shades and slippers were passed around
The controller has an interesting locking system to stop it from being used during take off
This is my second flight on an A380. The first time was with SQ which has no camera feed, so I was loving this.
I believe we’re on to glass 2 or 3 of the Dom
Panorama- View full file
4th scheduled flight- this is how new this A380 is
Thoughts on the suite- much better than the pictures. I’ve never been in something so spacious on an aircraft. I liken it to the SQ J seat on the A380 with much more space in the legroom department. In pictures the suites look small, perhaps claustrophobic, but in real life they are quite large and I quite like the closing doors.
Plenty of people on here don’t like the wood and faux gold (or maybe it’s real?) but I think it worked quite well and the whole thing was very decadent and like nothing I’ve ever experienced on an aircraft.
Time for Arabic coffee and a date
9:15pm came and went, and it became clear that we weren’t going to be departing on time. At around 9:21pm the upper deck jetway was removed. My view was now of yet another EK A380.
Pushback started a few minutes later. The safety video was well done but had to played 3 times- Arabic, English then Cantonese.
It was a long taxi down to the end of Runway 07R, then, behind a Thai 747 (wonder where that’s going), we lifted off into the night sky.
I’ve already commented on the A380 takeoff, but it hit me again just how quiet the aircraft is and how easy it is to hear conversations of the crew in the galley and on the other side of the aircraft. Also the rotation speed feels very low and it’s a very stable and gentle climbout. This aircraft is a pleasure to fly in even without the looks of the 747.
After takeoff, Gina the purser came around and greeted every passenger by name, offering the menu for this evening in a restaurant-style book and took an order for a beverage.
What’s on the menu for today? A light meal that’s quite heavy.
The seat controller was unlocked, so I could put it on the tray table and have a play around
The positioning of the tray table was very good and you can freely move the seat back and forth to find a spot that’s comfortable for you.
I removed the headset from the pocket- standard-issue noise cancellation
Then my drink came- Baileys with mixed nuts
Putting on some music with ICE
Contents of the vanity
Orders were taken for the main meal, I picked the BBQ duck for the starter then the prawns Asia style. Sadly it was red light on the prawns, which were strangely popular. So I picked the chicken.
Duck with salad
The bread basket came around, and I had the usual
Crispy on the outside and moist on the inside- cooked to perfection
The duck was faultless. During the meal the 2003 Dom kept flowing.
The drinks were refilled straight from the bottle without me being asked- just like MH business back in the good old days. The Dom was surprisingly free flowing, although drinking my airfare in Dom would be too much of a challenge.
Very appropriate music for the Arabic theme I thought
Next up- chicken
Mini bar during the meal- I loved being able to help myself at any time
To finish up- the cheeseboard. I couldn’t fit in the dessert or chocolates.
Red wine or port was offered to go with the cheese board.
Couldn’t eat another bite- what a fantastic meal
Emirates has OnAir connectivity during flights in selected airspace. Not this airspace however to the dismay of a fellow passenger across the aisle. But if it were available, you would be able to use your mobile like a regular phone and use WiFi. Although, at 5MB for $2.75 USD and steeply increasing from there, I think I’ll keep the aircraft as the last place where once the doors close, all your problems remain on the ground until the doors open at the destination. Adding connectivity is definitely bittersweet- who doesn’t want to stay connected and even get work done, but at the same time, there’s something nice about just enjoying the IFE and looking at cloud formations without a care in the world. Plus some of my best ideas have come from being on a plane.
I had my eye on the countdown to BKK which was plummeting like the minutes were seconds, so I got out of the seat leaving the meal to explore. Was never asked about a shower and the lights for the lavs at the front of the aircraft were red, so I made a note to be more proactive on the return sector.
Water feature at the front of the aircraft- the first class social area wasn’t setup
Y Class- looked full
Back into J class for the first time ever (you can’t walk back to J without flying F)
The amazing bar at the back of the A380
Big screen TV
I caught up again with a couple from Dubai that I had met in the lounge- the whole bar recreates what it must have been like on the ocean liners.
Seating with seat belts
Time was really running out- at the bar it was nearly last drinks, so I went back to the seat to test out the bed
It was my first time lying flat and parallel to the floor except for once in Y on a UA 747 flight 12 years ago. I am very tall, almost 2 metres but the bed was long enough and wide enough. Very comfortable indeed.
The flight attendant offered to take my photo
A word on the crew- excellent. The flight attendant looking after me performed the service flawlessly, nothing was too much and she took the time to get to know passengers…we had a conversation about my iPhone for example. The F cabin was nearly full this evening, C was about half-full from what I could see and Y looked full, so the crew were kept very busy. I believe there are 4 First flight attendants, plus 2 for the shower spa. 2:7 is a pretty good ratio, but there’s a lot to do when looking after F passengers, so they were probably kept a little too busy tonight and there were a couple of waits for service. I hope my return sector is with a lighter load.
Now seems like a good time for a word on ICE- you couldn’t fault the huge selection of music and more (I listened to a great interview with Tim Clark about the whole Emirates operation). A couple of aspects weren’t as intuitive as they could be- one wrong button press for example caused me to completely clear my ‘favourites’ music playlist. A message asking ‘are you sure’ would have been nice. The mouse control took a bit of practice but once I understood how it worked it was seamless.
It was very sad at 10:55pm (times Bangkok from here on) to hear the co-pilot announce that descent was underway.
Preparing for landing
It’s interesting to not have any overhead lockers or passenger service units- just a small compartment in the ceiling for oxygen.
Slightly early, we came back to earth on 19R at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, vacating on E9 and heading for the terminal building.
Passengers continuing to Dubai were asked to remain onboard with the transit being around 90 minutes. So that the aircraft could be cleaned and catered as quickly as possible passengers were asked to remain in their seats.
Last look at my seat
I thanked the crew for their amazing efforts on today’s flight and proceeded into the terminal building.
It was my third time in Thailand since July last year, and it felt like returning home.
I changed some money, then proceeded through the premium lane before finding my bag already waiting for me at the carousel.
Spoilt for choice between Golden Club Class and EK First
Sadly EK First really makes Golden Club Class look second rate, but that’s to be expected.
I was with my ride to the hotel within 30 minutes of landing. Given that midnight was coming I decided to book somewhere cheap and close to the airport before proceeding to the city of Bangkok the following day.
Approximately $40 USD/AUD, or 1280 THB got me the Convenient Grand Hotel Suvarnabhumi. The price was their deluxe room, plus free airport transfers, plus WiFi plus breakfast.
A bit rough around the edges but the perfect place to put one’s head for the night
The next day it was only 250 baht to transfer by taxi into the city.
This flight was a lot to take in, and onboard it was non-stop. It took around a day after the trip to digest what happened during the 3 hours, process it and go over it. The more I thought about it, the more I was impressed by the entire experience.
IMPRESSIONS OF EK 385
Check-in: Easy, friendly, efficient. Couldn’t fault it.
Departure: Hong Kong needs a priority lane. Otherwise you couldn’t fault it- much better than the disorganised gate system at KLIA.
Lounge: Great food, great dining, amazing staff and a restful place to relax. Couldn’t fault it.
Onboard: The flight couldn’t really be faulted. Brand new aircraft, suite where everything works and so well setup and operated using the latest technology. Crew outstanding.
Food and Beverages: Out of prawns but this was the only problem in the service with copious amount of food and beverages available.
Arrival: I really like BKK. Today’s arrival was simple and fast.
For a first flight with EK, you can’t help but get a lot of respect for the airline after a flight like this. The airline has a healthy balance sheet, and is expanding rapidly. 2 new destinations a month? It really is at the cutting edge of aviation from what I saw with the technology on-board. From the cabin staff building a great rapport and showing off the first class suite like a proud parent to the amazing ICE system, this flight promised to be one of the best I’ve ever taken and delivered.
Still I feel like I haven’t done my job when writing a trip report or any review without finding areas for improvement. Nothing can be perfect right?
Firstly, obviously it was a shame not get my first preference in dining, but at the same time you can’t expect airlines to uplift 5 choices x 14 passengers. Secondly, the crew were probably just slightly overworked with the full cabin- I’d like to see the service with a lighter load. Hopefully on the way back. This was probably exaggerated by the fact that it’s such a short flight and people like me are keen to experience everything, whereas on the sector to DXB, I’d probably want a nice, slow service. Last of all, the ICE system was the best I’ve used, but while navigating I heard ‘Welcome to ICE…’ about 10 times. It was a little tricky to navigate between all the entertainment then back to the airshow and cameras. Luckily I mastered this on the following sector by finding everything under information. Also it was a shame that one button clears your favourites list- a popup asking ‘Are you sure’ would avoid frustration here. Despite these issues I would take ICE over any other system on the market.
When you look at them, these aren’t really flaws, just observations. Yes, I managed to find a few areas for improvement but I don’t blame Emirates at all for these and I don’t think the really took anything away from the fact that this was an outstanding flight, one of the best I’ve taken and that Emirates is a great airline. Under the magnifying glass, I think EK did magnificently and I can’t wait for the return sector, which, when looking at the seating plan, promises to have a lighter load. I also missed out on using the bathroom onboard, and even seeing the shower suite, so these will be the absolute priority for my next flight. The return sector post will be posted on 27/01.
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