Saturday, October 29, 2011

Shanghai to Hong Kong in Dragonair's economy class

Flight: KA 859 (CX 6737)
Route: SHA - HKG
Aircraft: Airbus Industrie 330
Date: Apr. 24, 2011
Class of service: Economy
Fare: Q

Check-in at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport, Terminal 1.

It was a flight scheduled at noon. I arrived at the terminal well in advance and received a NotiFly SMS while waiting in the line. It's Cathay Pacific's flight notification service. However, I later found that it does not provide updated flight information, such as delay or cancellation. (At least, not in my case.) 

I am not a member of Marco Polo Club. In fact, this was my virgin flight on a Oneworld carrier. So everything was a wild adventure. I have heard a lot of good things about Dragonair and Cathay Pacific, even for their coach product. And Dragonair was awarded by SkyTrak as the best regional airline. That's why I still have very high expectation, though the booking experience was sub-par at best.

Nearby, ANA and Japan Airlines were also checking in passengers. When it was my turn, I was ushered to a counter that checks business passengers. Great. First thing I asked was whether this flight is overbooked. Yes. KA 859 was on this Sunday, but, unfortunately, this is the only KA flight out of SHA and I had a hotel booked in Hong Kong. I told the agent to go ahead to assign a window seat for me. I ended up in 46A.

The A330 that took me to Hong Kong.
I walked around the departure level. Terminal 1 was a very old facility. It's not among one of the gleaming airports you would normally see today in Asia. In it's prime time, United 747-400 was still in grey livery. Now, Terminal 1 only serve a few international routes to Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong. The rest of the facility was taken over by a local budget carrier.

It's not a facility designed for plane-spotters. Actually, it's the most photo-unfriendly airport I had had the displeasure of visiting. Lounges looked old and unappealing from the outside. There was not enough outlets for laptops and Wifi coverage is pathetic. I couldn't check my email prior to departure.

Once settled into the cabin, it was another world. Dragonair's flight attendant on this flight caught my attention. They are so gorgeous! I couldn't take my eyes (and mind, until today) off them. Their uniform is such an elegant masterpiece. I was greeted with smile, good eye contact and professional service. A flight attendant helped me with carry-on luggage.

Visibility was not great. Smog is a problem in China.
We pushed back on time, after JAL 82 to Haneda. I noticed a lot of Japanese business travelers on that flight. One reason maybe both SHA and HND are located closer to city center and, thus, give businessperson faster access to hotel/conference.

JAL Boeing 777-200 looks much cleaner than my KA bird.
Once airborne, the sky cleared up. Anyone who had been in China for awhile could tell you the same story about smog. Clear blue sky at low altitude is not guaranteed. Smog sometimes could go from bad and then straight to worse, for no obvious reason, and wouldn't clear up for a week.

En route to HKG!
Shanghai to Hong Kong and Beijing to Hong Kong are the equivalent of San Francisco and Los Angeles to JFK in terms of the importance of the route itself. Dragonair didn't named the service between these city pairs Premium Service but these two routes they operate feature new products introduced earlier this spring. And I was fortunate enough to be an early bird to try this product.
Menu for economy class. Two selections offered for entrée.

I ordered Chicken in Burgundy Sauce, Potatoes and Vegetable, then began to check the seat. It is somewhat worn. The IFE is old and the screen is small and has no anti-glare. Videos are not on-demand. Selections are okay and I am not very picky about movies in general, and the flight itself was too short for any movie. So I didn't bother watching anything. Legroom is about average.

Chicken in Burgundy Sauce, Potatoes and Vegetable
I was a part-time food critic for a publication in Shanghai at that time. So I consider myself a quasi-professional when it comes to food. In terms of airline food, this dish was not the most creative. Presentation was, well, just okay. Anyways, it still looked appetizing to me. I have seen those horrible turkey sandwich served on Continental/United flights before and, considering the fact that this was served on a two-hour flight without additional charge, I wouldn't complain. For this particular dish, before even tasting it, I would give a base score of 3.5 out of 5.

The main course was actually not bad. I finished them all. Chicken was nicely marinated and very juicy. Veggie tasted a little mild but the potato was cooked perfectly, crunchy on the outside and tender inside.

Very cute wine cup.
Time to wash everything down with some white wine. And finish it off with a dessert. Dragonair's solution is Haagen-Dazs ice cream.

No need to scream for ice-cream!
Financially, this ice cream service in coach class works favorably for Dragonair. It has actually become one of their killing public relations advantage against competitors who do not offer ice cream. Since Haagen-Dazs is among some of the over-priced western brands in China, rumor has it that there are people in Shanghai and Beijing dying to fly with Dragonair just to get a chance to enjoy a free ice cream at 30,000 feet! The same thing would cost RMB 78, or roughly $10, at sea level in a 7-Eleven in Shanghai. If KA's fare is competitive, people will fly KA for their service.

A nice, warm Easter Sunday down below in Hong Kong.
Approaching was uneventful. Announcements were made in three languages, or, to be more exact, two languages, English and Mandarin, and a dialect of Mandarin, Cantonese. I especially love the Cantonese version. Those Hong Kong flight attendants use phrases different from Mandarin to describe a similar thing. For example, aircraft is "hang-gi" (航機) , instead of "fei-ji" (飛機).

Finally, I arrived in Hong Kong!

Nathan Road, near MTR Tsim Sha Tsui Station.


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