Friday, November 16, 2012

16/11/12 – Brisbane to Hong Kong, and the Beginning of Something Great.

Don’t you just love it when things work? It makes life so much easier when things go according to plan. Case in point, my meticulous planning of the beginning of our trip to Asia has (so far) gone off without a hitch. As stated in the previous entry, I had a very tight connection time between my flight to Sydney and my flight to Hong Kong. But things… just… worked. Which is a nice change compared to my last international outing with Qantas, where each flight was delayed, and each time a flight was delayed, there were compounding delays connecting to other flights. Read on to see what it is like to fly when everything works effortlessly.

Our trip began nice and early, with a 5am wake up call to get to the airport in time for our flight down to Sydney. Emma’s mother, Jen, was kind enough to give us a lift to the airport at this ungodly hour, saving us the obscene cost of a taxi to the airport.

Qantas airways flight QF8, BNE – SYD
Boeing 747-400ER VH-OEG “Parkes”
Intended Pushback: 0745
Actual Pushback: 0754
Intended Arrival: 1015
Actual Arrival: 1015
Seat: 43A

As mentioned in the previous report, one of the dangers of taking this otherwise run-of-the-mill Brisbane-Sydney flight is that this particular jet’s previous point of departure is Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, USA. Because of this, even though for passengers joining the flight at Brisbane it is a domestic sector, it departs and arrives in at the international terminals. While usually this is an inconvenience, having to clear customs and whatnot, for passengers continuing on on another international flight from Sydney, this works out very well, as you don’t have to waste a significant amount of time transferring between Sydney’s domestic and international terminals, which involves a long, but frequent bus ride across the tarmac.

Anyway, we rocked up at the international terminal for our domestic flight down to Sydney. We stood in line, and were soon helped by the lovely check in agent, Melina. Having the previous day scored an upgrade to business class on our flight out of Sydney, I couldn’t help but plead with her to see if I could get Emma in business class next to me. Sadly, it was not to be, as she informed me that it would cost several thousand dollars to upgrade her. No thanks, not for a 9 hour flight.

She did however, do everything she could to make our first flight down to Sydney and our time at Sydney airport as enjoyable and smooth as possible. Firstly, she changed our allocated seats to the very front of economy. We had a bulkhead row, which meant no leg room issues, and we were also pretty much first off of the plane for economy passengers. She then gave us express passes to clear immigration quickly, and rang up the Sydney business class lounge to get Emma an invitation into the lounge as well. She also tagged our bags with business class stickers so that they’d be first off the plane when we arrived in at Hong Kong. All in all, fantastic service and it really got me in the mood for travelling. So much so that I wrote an email to Qantas congratulating them on such an exemplary staff member.

After grabbing a super healthy breakfast of hot chips from Red Rooster, we made our way speedily through immigration, and were soon airside at Brisbane’s international terminal. We had a quick browse through the shops, but we literally had about three minutes before boarding commenced. I hurriedly took photos of all of the aircraft at their gates, and then made my way to the gate to board the aircraft.

Soon everybody was on board, and we were off on our way a mere nine minutes behind schedule. Not bad for a flight that often runs up to three hours late. Strangely enough, even though everyone has seat-back screens, the safety demonstration was done manually, with even the speech being read out by a crew member, and not pre recorded. The take-off was powerful. Very powerful. We rocketed down the runway, and after a quick turn to the right over Moreton bay, we were Sydney-bound.

This was one of Qantas’ retrofitted 747’s – it had almost the exact same in flight entertainment as their flagship product, the A380. The seats were for all intents and purposes, the same as the A380’s, and the only difference with the IFE was the handset on the 747 was a lot smaller and lacked the built in keyboard that the A380 one has.

Breakfast was soon served. For Emma, she had the gluten free option, which looked and tasted about as appetising as plastic rice-shaped pieces of cardboard. I had some form of apple danish and a small yoghurt. Much more enjoyable for this short flight.

Being such a short flight, I didn’t bother watching anything on the IFE. Instead, I switched it to the customary flight path viewer, and used the view out my window as my source of entertainment. The flight progressed quickly, and there wasn’t much in the way of views to be seen, as the first half of the flight was quite hazy, and the second half was completely covered in fluffy white clouds. Our approach into Sydney was rough and rainy. No breathtaking views of the harbour or opera house this time, sadly.

According to the customer service manager, our touchdown in Sydney was “about as smooth as it gets on a 747”. It’s nice not to bounce down the runway when you land.

We were then off the plane in a dash, and we made our way through the transfer security check, and then were quickly at Sydney International, airside. Our first and only destination today would be the Qantas business lounge. Sadly, due to the very tight connection times, we only had about 20 minutes in the lounge, but from what I experienced, it was very nice and spiffy. They were serving breakfast at the time, and it was the equivalent of a high-class hotel’s buffet breakfast. Lots of different options, including hash browns, which Emma enjoyed immensely. I had a plate of sausages, baked beans and a few pastries. Very tasty stuff. Emma had the aforementioned hash browns and some nice Greek yoghurt. The lounge also had shower facilities and very nice bathrooms, but I sadly didn’t get to use either, due to our very short stay.

We then headed to our gate, and boarded the our flight to Hong Kong. For only the second time ever, I walked down the priority “Business/First” lane, and left Emma for my highly enjoyable flight ahead.

Qantas Airways flight QF127 SYD-HKG
Airbus A380-800, VH-OQC “Paul McGuinness”
Intended Pushback: 1140
Actual Pushback:  1139
Intended Arrival: 1745
Actual Arrival:
Captain: Mark Huxtable
Seat: 12K

Firstly, it is strange walking *uphill* on a jetbridge. Usually you walk down to the aircraft – I guess it just shows how massive an aircraft the A380 is. There is a great feeling when you board an aircraft, and instead of turning right and heading into economy class, you are able to turn left, and head into the premium areas. I was afraid that I was going to miss out on this silly experience, as Qantas’ business class on the A380 takes up most of the upper deck. Luckily though, I was in only the second row of business class, and the jetbridge is connected about a quarter of the way down the fuselage of the plane, meaning I got to partake in the stupid ritual of turning left, instead of right.

Wow. That’s all I can say about Qantas’ business class product. Having seen photos of it online, I thought it would be very drab and colourless, but the stylish silver and grey look of the cabin makes it feel very modern and swish. The seat is fantastic – I’m a tall guy at 195cm and even with my legs stretched fully out, I was unable to touch the seat in front of me. The seat has comfortable cushions, perfect for a long haul flight. Each window seat has several storage bins next to your armrest, which you can store your personal belongings in, as well as an overhead locker. Your entertainment screen is large, and motorised, meaning it deploys from its hidden spot in the armrest at a touch of a button. You also have a nice privacy divider between seats, too, if you choose not to socialise with your seatmate. I didn’t have a seatmate on this flight, so I didn’t really use it very much.

No more than three minutes after I first sat down in my seat, a lovely flight attendant was at my side with a glass of champagne. I don’t know what we’re celebrating exactly, but hey, free champagne is a great way to start a flight.

I continued to fiddle around with the seat until the aircraft pushed back. We slowly lumbered our way out to the runway, and we were soon airborne. Once again, the A380’s take-off wasn’t particularly powerful. It seemed to just trundle down the runway, and then at the last second go “Oh, you actually want to fly? Sure, why not.”

One of the amazing things about the A380 is how quiet it is. I’ve said this plenty of times before when in economy, and it is even more noticeable when you’re on the upper deck and at the very front of the plane. Combine this with the noise cancelling headphones that Qantas give you, and you have a near silent flight to enjoy.

Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendants came around on another drinks run, hot towel run, and a personalised welcome to each passenger. They even knew my name! That was awesome.

Then, about an hour into the flight, they took orders for lunch. This is what I had:


Duck and Pistachio Terrine with Spiced Apple Chutney and Watercress Salad


150 Day Old Grain Fed Sirloin with Black Vinegar Vegetables, Fragrant Rice and Chilli Sauce


Profiteroles Filled with Vanilla Cream, served with Fudge Sauce.


In a word, delicious. All of the food was a very high standard. The duck terrine was a nice starter, the beef was succulent and tasty, and the dessert while nothing particularly fancy, was very comforting. I had two (possibly three) glasses of red wine with this meal, too. I had no idea what I was drinking, but the flight attendant assured me that it was good and sufficiently fancy. I’ll take her word for it.

Over lunch, I watched an episode of “An Idiot Abroad”. Karl Pilkington, although stupid is quite hilariously profound in his observations. I decided to watch the Japan episode, to get me in the mood for the rest of our trip. It worked.

After being stuffed with food, I watched an episode of “Life’s Too Short”. I didn’t find it particularly funny, I guess that that very awkward and subtle and macabre humour isn’t for me.

One of the flight attendants then suggested that I have a drink with Emma, who was currently seated down in economy. I thought that would be a great idea, so they went down and got her, and brought her to the lounge at the front of the aircraft so we could share a drink. Yes, that’s right, this plane is so freaking huge that it has a lounge on board. Admittedly it is just two sofas and a TV, but when said two sofas and TV are 12 kilometres up in the air, it suddenly becomes a lot more impressive. Emma soon joined us, and we chatted to the other people in the lounge for about an hour. She found it to be a pleasant surprise being invited up here, and we had a nice glass of champagne to toast to our holiday ahead. We then raided the chocolate macaroons on offer, and Emma had a glass of red wine to finish off. I then walked down the spiral staircase at the rear of the plane, and took her back to economy. It was bizarre walking down a staircase and discovering that there is a whole other deck of people below you on this aircraft. Gigantic doesn’t nearly sum up the size of the A380.

Upon returning to my seat, I just had to try out the “bed” feature. Yes, that’s right, the seat converts into a completely lie-flat seat, and is cushioned enough to act like a very comfortable bed. And it is very comfortable indeed. Unfortunately, I tried for about an hour to get to sleep, but with all of the sugar and alcohol in my system, I was unable to sleep in any way shape or form. It was good to actually try out. I’ve never laid down 12 kilometres up in the air, and at least now I can say that I have.

By this stage, we were flying over Indonesia, and once again the flight path and window provided the perfect in flight entertainment. I set my seat to some form of cradle-relax-mode-thingy, and stared out one of the three windows devoted to my seat. Did I mention the chair has a massage function as well? Yep, it has a goddamn massage function! Best. Flight. Evar!

After a few hours of daydreaming (and writing this trip report), I headed back downstairs to see Emma again. I brought her another delicious chocolate macaroon, which she seemed to really enjoy.  We talked for a little bit, and then she showed me her seat, the excellent 80K (which I pre-selected for her). As I’ve mentioned in the past, when travelling in economy on Qantas’ A380, this is by far the best seat in economy. It has the legroom of business class, and is an excellent choice for those who like a window seat, but also like to get up frequently, as you don’t have to disturb passengers to leave the seat.

When I returned to my seat, it was time for more meals. Yes, MOAR MEALS. This time, it was a light, pre-arrival snack. I chose to have the Chorizo Roll with Caramelised Onion and Rocket. It was served nice and warm, straight from the oven, and the bread was nice and tasty, and the chorizo was packed with flavour. The perfect snack before landing.

I then filled out my immigration form, and sat back and enjoyed the last hour or so in my fancy pants business class seat, staring out over the South China Sea. As I was busy doing nothing but relaxing, Marc, the customer service manager, brought someone very special up to business class for me. I was surprised and overjoyed when I saw Emma there.

Marc said “Hello, look who I found. Your girlfriend can sit with you for the rest of the flight. She can stay in business for the landing.” I was really, really happy to get to share the experience with Emma, even if it was just for an hour or so. Marc even got us each another glass of champagne each to enjoy together.

Then, out of nowhere, another attendant, Katrina, brought Emma her own amenity kit to make her feel even more spoilt. We then had a lovely chat with her about our upcoming holiday and the most awesome bits of Japan that we were looking forward to. A really nice level of personal customer service.

As a final treat before landing, I asked one of the friendly flight attendants if it would be alright if I could see the cockpit on my disembarking from the aircraft. A few minutes later, she returned and informed me that that would be no issue. I would have to wait until the passengers have left, but if I were happy to do that, then it would be no problem at all.

Sadly, like our approach into Sydney earlier in the day, there were no awesome views of Hong Kong on our approach. All we saw was clouds until about two minutes before landing.

When we were on the ground, Emma and I then got to not only look at the cockpit and chat to the pilots, which was fascinating, but we also got to look at Qantas’ prestigious first class section. It looked amazing, but I knew that I’d absolutely never be able to afford it. Oh well, it was interesting to sit in the seat, only if just for a minute.

So, is Business class worth the price? If you are a very high income earner, or you fly frequently enough to upgrade a lot, then yes, it is worth the price. For someone like me though? A person who goes on one, maybe two international trips a year? I simply couldn’t justify the ~$4000 return trip ticket price.

That being said though, the next time I have enough points to upgrade to business class, I will in a heartbeat. The pre-flight benefits are awesome, the on-board service is fantastic and genuine, the food is delicious, and the seat. My GOD, the seat! This was the most comfortable flight I’ve ever been on, easily. I just wish that it was longer… I could happily do LAX – Melbourne in one of these seats, and not feel the slightest bit of discomfort.

Alright, now after nearly THREE THOUSAND words on flights, I suppose you’re wondering if I’m ever actually going to talk about Hong Kong? Well yes, here we go.

Immigration and customs were painless enough, customs especially, which was basically walking through the exit, with no checks whatsoever. We then bought an octopus card each (Hong Kong’s public transport card), and then got on the airport express to the city.

Half an hour later, and we were in the middle of bustling Hong Kong station. We headed above ground for a little bit, and discovered just how crazy-pants busy Hong Kong is. Dazed and quite tired after our long day, we stumbled our way into Central Station, where we then caught another local train to Sheung Wan.

One long and confusing walk to our hotel later, and we were finally at Hong Kong, safe and sound. We then got changed out of our travelling clothes (I dressed up all smart-like for the business class flight, as did Emma in case she got upgraded), and into something more comfortable. We had one goal in mind for tonight, and an excellent way to start our adventure in Hong Kong – the Star Ferry across Hong Kong Harbour, to see the Hong Kong skyline.

After catching a train across to Tsim Sha Tsui, we had a wander down the highly posh streets of this district – every high-class name brand had a store here – Chanel, Tiffany’s, Louis Vutton. They were all here. What’s more, they appeared to be their flagship stores for the Asia region. They were all massively impressive – so much so that it puts New York’s 5th Avenue to shame.

We then made our way down to the ferry, and paid the ridiculously cheap travel fee of HKD$2.50 ($0.30 AUD) for the opportunity to see the best view of Hong Kong’s skyline. Even on the fairly hazy and rainy night that was tonight, it was a true sight to behold – something that I won’t forget in a hurry.

By this stage, it was getting late, with Emma and I having been awake for somewhere in the region of 20 hours. And myself, running on only 4 hours sleep from the previous night, too, were definitely feeling the effects. We staggered in to a “Circle K”, basically a 7-Eleven, and bought some microwave meals to eat back at the hotel. A short walk later, and we were back at the hotel. Our first warning sign as to the quality of said meals should have been the price. At HKD$15 ($2AUD), they were very very cheap. They also tasted very very cheap. Mine was some form of chicken, pork and sausage on rice. While I wasn’t expecting a gourmet experience from this microwave meal, it was particularly bad. The chicken had so many bones in it that I’m pretty sure they put the carcass of said chicken through a mulcher before cooking it and whacking it on top of some tasteless rice. Oh well, the experience, while unpleasant, was certainly humorous to us in our sleep-deprived delirium.

Speaking of which, it’s now almost 1am here. That means it’s 3am in Brisbane, and that means that I’ve gone without sleep for 22 hours. I'm running on like 4 hours sleep from the past 48. Time to stop typing and start sleepialglakent.................2329)))))))))))d.ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss

Tomorrow: Exploring Hong Kong Island! Meeting with Harry!

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