Hong Kong Airlines made a splash by announcing a nonstop route from San Francisco to Hong Kong four times a week, starting in May of 2018.  This put airlines who used to dominate this flight route like United, Cathay Pacific, and Singapore Airlines on notice, as Hong Kong Airlines typically been a lower cost carrier.  In a short time, Hong Kong Airlines has grown its fleet of Airbus aircraft from 1 to 37, including the state of the art Airbus A350-900.  Team GTE has flown Hong Kong Airlines traveling through Asia and was quite impressed. Therefore, we naturally couldn’t wait to fly their first long haul international flight on this Skytrax 4 star airline.

Pre Flight 

Overall Grade C+

The check-in process for business class check-in was no different than that of flying economy, besides there being one separate counter for business class passengers. The staff was just OK, and it’s unbelievable to think that they strictly enforce a 10kg weight limit for business class passengers for carry-on when there is so much available overhead storage space in business class.  Hong Kong airlines use the Air France KLM lounge in Terminal 1 of SFO, which is one of the worst lounges we have ever been to.  When the highlight food was cup of noodles, you know there’s a problem.   It’s definitely not worth writing about.  

The unique “raccoon eye” of the Airbus A350

Layout  

Overall Grade:  B+

Since the Airbus A350 was designed to be a midsize long haul plane, there are only 33 business class seats, as compared to airlines that fly say a Boeing 777-300 ER, which could have anywhere from 40-60 business class seats.  The main drawback to just 33 business class seats is that it only takes up one section of the plane, which means there are only 2 toilets for 33 passengers.  They cover the basics, where business class customers board in a separate entrance, and there is plenty of overhead storage space.  Since there is only one business class section, there is not an additional second galley, which means the front galley is extremely cramped with limited space to stand around to wait for the toilet, as all the flight attendants are working in there also.  

Most importantly, after most recently flying Air New Zealand business class, the business class seats are in in the cubby format.  Interestingly enough, every other middle row had a “couples seat” configuration, where they put the center console on the edges instead of in the middle so you are pretty much sitting right next to the person next to you.  This can either be super mega awesome if you are traveling with your significant other, or super mega annoying if some stranger is super annoying in terms of either talking, snoring, or even smelling.  

business class boarding w/ HK Airline attendant on hand
business class cabin
The green apple soap is way better than the L’ Occitane

 

Lighting 

Overall Grade: B

The cabin lighting, for the most part, was good.  There was less of the mood lighting than we have seen on other flights but they hit all the basic necessities.  Modern LED lighting throughout the plane(including the bathrooms), a functional headrest light with 3 different settings, and overhead LED lights. 

The seats were missing some of the smaller and useful lights like the lighting in the footrest so you could see where your shoes and storage area or on top of the seats to help guide you into the cubby.

functional LED reading lamp
bathroom LEDs
LED signage

Seating 

Overall Grade: B+

While not the largest seats that team GTE has flown on, the 44” inch pitch and 23” width seats were extremely spacious and functional. The seating areas are tapered to maximize available area to be used a seat and leg space area.  There was even ample space under the footrest to store a backpack, although we found out that they did not allow any storage under the footrest.  It’s amazing how every airline has a different policy on in-seat storage.  

The seats have your standard functionality in terms of reclining, lay flat, and permutations in between. It was missing some of the fine tune adjustments like lumbar support or just footrest adjustability.  The seats were made of cloth, unlike other premium airlines where leather is used.  We found that the leather seats was a lot more comfortable, especially on a 12+ hour long haul flight, where these little details matter.  

The tray table was quite small, but it had a critically important design where it was designed so that you could get out of your seat without having to put your tray table back (or risk knocking all your food and drink to the ground). It’s amazing how many airlines we’ve flown on that does not have this functionality.

Quick Tip: Make sure you avoid Seat 11C (the first seat on the left-hand side).  Usually, bulkhead seats can provide more room but the way Hong Kong Airlines alternates the seating, you end up with less leg room and also the curtains and foot traffic can hit your legs when you are trying to sleep).  If flying solo, choose the EVEN number rows.  IF flying with a companion, choose the odd number rows to fly in a “love seat configuration”

window seat
center “love seat” setup
nice cupholder to keep your drinks secured
interesting table design in front of your seat
leg room for days!

 

Amenities  

Overall Grade: B

Upon boarding, you are presented with an amenity kit that includes a dental kit, eye mask, socks, lotion, earplugs.  The item items in the kit were of decent quality, with the toothbrush and toothpaste being the most impressive.  Everything else was nothing to write home about.  In the lavatories, they had a basic selection of L’occitane lotions.  Better than nothing, but nothing to scream home about.  They were also missing a pen in the amenity kit! 

Upon boarding, our seats had a blanket, slippers, and a bottle of Evian water.   

The plane also had WiFi, with plans ranging from 4.99 for chatting only to 19.99 full flight packages.  The internet was quite good for the most part of the trip and a pretty decent value as compared to other airlines.  Just be careful of the 500mb limit on the full flight plan.

standard amenity kit

Sleeping 

Overall Grade:  B+

With the seat laid flat, the sleeping position was quite comfortable.  There was noticeably less of a gap between the seat cushions than some of the other lay flat seats.  It’s always the most annoying when the gap is right on the lumbar spine and hurts your back when you are laying flat.  There was plenty of leg room space to sprawl out towards the window if you felt like.

With the seats not being leather, the seats were not as comfortable to start.  One thin blanket was provided and a memory foam pillow.  Be sure to ask for another blanket if you are cold.  They also don’t provide any sort of bed liner like some of the more premium airlines do, which makes a huge difference when sleeping and would have put the sleeping experience over the top.

beware no extra pillows or comforters!

Entertainment System

Overall Grade: B+

The touchscreen screen itself was quite small and was permanently attached to the headrest.  They had an incredible selection of movies, tv shows, music shows.  Since it is an Asian airline, most of the content was Asian.  They had a decent selection of western movies and music though.  There is definitely enough content to keep you busy on the flight.  As aviation junkies, our favorite features in the inflight entertainment system are the 3D flight maps and flight-specific features.  One of the more unique features that they have was that they had a section where you can see the view of from two cameras mounted on the top and bottom of the plane.  This is a must see when landing!  

entertainment system with plenty of Asian content
view from above
view from below

Food 

Overall Grade:  A-

The food on Hong Kong Airlines Business Class was where we were the most impressed.  There was no hype in terms of prefix Book the Cook meals or exotic dishes, but we were thoroughly impressed with the food.  The meats were tender and favorable, the rice was perfectly steamed (even better than GTE’s former favorite ANA rice).  Even the mid-flight snacks dim sum were quite tasty.  The ice cream that I ate was the perfect temperature to eat right away.  Usually, the ice cream is so hard you can’t eat it for 30 minutes. Regarding snacks, they didn’t have that great of a selection.  Many airlines have an array of snacks available at any time in the galley.  But, who flies business class for the snacks anyway?

The one small knock was that they did not offer Champagne preflight, only water, and orange juice.  The second time around, We just asked.  

See below for your viewing pleasure.

Preflight

Evian Water

 

Appetizer 

Organic side salad, Kohlrabi Caesar with shrimp

Soup

Main Course

Braised pork belly with lotus root, steamed rice, and seasonal vegetables.

Desert

Haagen-Dazs ice cream

Mid-flight Snack

Assortment of Dimsum

Breakfast

Egg fu shrimp and tofu noodle

 

Quick Tip: To ensure you get the meal that you want, you can pre-book your meal up to 24 hours before the flight when checking in.  This is recommended as they can run out of your first option.

Overall Service Level 

Overall Grade:  B+

The service on Hong Kong Airlines Business class was very good. The staff was well dressed, friendly, and extremely helpful.  Their English was decent, and they address you by your last name.  They did the little things like, escort us to the toilets and open the door for us, inspect the toilets after every use, asked if we wanted something to drink when we walked by.  The head attendant would great the guests and walk them through the flight details.  

On the negative side, the one thing they were a bit slow was clearing my dishes.  I amassed quite a few items before they cleaned out my dishes.  One other strange thing was that we saw the flight attendant dump unfinished drinks in the lavatory, which is kind of gross.  Fortunately, I don’t think they reuse the cups 🙂

The gold standard in airline service is still airlines like Singapore airlines, but Hong Kong Airlines is definitely up there. 

Conclusion 

Overall Grade: B+

Besides the terrible pre-flight experience, we were extremely impressed with Hong Kong Airlines Business class.  The overall rating we gave was even better than that of the new Singapore Airlines Business Class, especially when tickets on Hong Kong Airlines are significantly cheaper.  

There are airlines that never have a chance to become a 5-star airline (like a United), but there are airlines like Hong Kong Airlines that have a chance.  There is no surprise why they have been a Skytrax 4 star airline since 2011.  Also, as they aren’t part of any of the big 3 airline alliances, as a compromise their mileage program is quite good.  

Until Next Time,

Team GTE



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