Category: Airport Lounge Review

Malindo Air: Kuala Lumpur – Bali – Brisbane in Business Class

KUL – DPS – BNE 

 15/12/19

After my stay at the Petaling Jaya Hilton (review upcoming), I continued on with my RGN-KUL-DPS-BNE biz ticket on Malindo.

 

I took a Grab car for 55 or 60 ringgit (circa US$15) from the PJ Hilton to KUL.  The lady who drove me was a wonderful conversationalist, and we covered Malay cuisine and spices in addition to relationships in the course of our drive.

 

Upon arriving at the terminal, I went over to Malindo’s check-in desks. The business desks were empty, and the agent soon handed me a boarding card and a voucher for lounge access or credit at a selection of eateries in the terminal.

 

I breezed through security this afternoon, changed some leftover ringgit, had some pre-departure sushi, and proceeded to the Sama Sama lounge, one of the options on my Malindo voucher. If you decided to cash in your voucher for credit at Burger King, you would have faced an enormous queue. I couldn’t believe it, and counted almost 50 people waiting.  I don’t think an airport Burger King meal merits that sort of a wait, but a collective “you do you, bro” is perhaps the best approach. 

Shot of a BA aircraft at the sushi restaurant

Sama Sama is actually a transit hotel located airside with KUL.  Their lobby also contains a lounge, which they offer as an ancillary revenue stream.  While small, anyone who is hungry can opt to partake of the sizable buffet.  My highest praise goes to the superabundance of charging outlets suitable for direct USB connections and international plugs. If your devices are starved on power, this is probably the best option in the airport.

Onboard

Conveniently, a gate change meant that my flight would be departing from a gate much closer to the lounge than originally planned – based on what was printed on my boarding pass.  I went for a stroll and arrived at the gate. After going through security (security is done at the gate), I found a seat in the gate area and awaited boarding.  Our gate was adjacent to a Hajj flight, and we were treated to the sight of the pilgrims queuing for their flight. They were all garbed in white.

The boarding area was rather crowded, though they did board business class first. I stowed my backpack and relaxed. The crew offered us juice or water, and I took water per custom. We departed on time and made for Bali.

A meal service was offered, and while I forget which dishes were offered, I opted for a biriyani – by now solidified as the safe choice on Malindo.  It was fine, but I didn’t polish off everything in front of me (salad, cake, bread, fruit) due to the sheer quantity and my desire not to gorge before sleeping.

Malindo J seating

Upon arrival in DPS, a change in procedure meant that all passengers had to disembark, including those in direct transit to Australia.  This process wasted about half an hour of going through a document check in Denpasar, security, and waiting to re-board.

Upon boarding, I once again found my seat on a considerably more crowded aircraft. Clearly, DPS-BNE delivers the load factor.  For the long haul though, what sort of yields do they get for this route? That’s the question. Given my prior experience with their head office, they might not even know themselves!

I can’t give much of an update on this flight, as I promptly went to sleep ASAP.  I was hiring a car immediately upon arrival, so I wanted to be alert for the drive from Brisbane to my friend’s home in Redlands Bay.To my surprise, we received an amenity kit, pictured below. It won’t exactly steal the thunder from more upmarket offerings on other airlines. 

Amenity Kit

They did offer a breakfast service, though I opted to just have some yogurt, fruit, and tea. Everything on that front was quite good. Tea is a safe choice in the air, and fresh fruit catered from Denpasar will range from “decent” to “excellent,” as one would expect. 

Arrival & Summary

 

Arrival into Australia for e-passport holders from smartgate eligible countries is one of the fastest, most painless entries into a country I have experienced. In the bad old days, long queues could leave you wishing for or thankful for a premium cabin express pass.  In a few minutes, I had my bags and was on my way into a sunburnt land.

 

Summary: A solid trip, through and through. The price was unbeatable, and I enjoyed a fabricated excuse to stop and see how KL had developed since my last visit. I should reiterate from my previous reviews that I do find the J recliner comfortable for what it is. Your mileage may vary, however. 

Vietnam Airlines: Luang Prabang to Siem Reap in Business

11 Feb 19, LPQ – REP

When running through my options when I worked out these bookings last June, I decided on a fifth freedom flight by Vietnam Airlines.  They flight Hanoi-Luang Prabang-Siem Reap, so I hopped on for the Siem Reap leg.

Ahead of time, I decided to do an Optiontown upgrade to business class, as the cost difference between the extra 10kgs and the Optiontown price was, again, negligible. Optiontown is a third party broker of paid upgrades into premium economy or business class, depending on the carrier. Some opacity is maintained by the need to have a booked itinerary before you can see any prices.  You go onto the Optiontown website, enter your carrier, PNR code, name, and the email tied to the booking. At that point, if available, it offers a fixed price for the itinerary. You’ll be notified if the upgrade was accepted from 72-4 hours before departure. The upgrade is assigned at the airport. If the upgrade is unsuccessful, you are refunded.

I wasn’t expecting a high load in the business cabin, as Luang Prabang – Siem Reap is the definition of a leisure route. As I expected, the upgrade cleared at the 72-hour mark.  I had to print out a document from Optiontown and bring it to the airport. A little last century, but I can work with that.

At the airport, I changed my remaining kip to USD and proceeded to the designated Vietnam Airlines counter. They didn’t bat an eye at my upgrade documents and promptly printed out a card with my seat – 2A. I checked my bags in and proceeded through the most lax security check in memory. I had a look at the terminal, which included a couple of eateries, duty free shops, and last-minute souvenir stands.

Nothing really ensorcelled me, so I proceeded to the sole Priority Pass lounge, which is Bangkok Airways’ facility. I swiped my card and went on in. Having flown with Bangkok Airways in 2015, I knew what to expect – water/tea/coffee, sandwiches, seating, and wifi. The facilities are basic in the scheme of lounges, but it still beats the terminal.

Given how small the terminal was, the Bangkok Airways lounge ended up being right next to the departure gate, so I could see when my flight arrived and disgorged the passengers coming from Hanoi. I was able to walk out just as the gate agents were calling for Sky Priority (a harmonized term across the Sky Team alliance for premium cabin + member program elites) passengers. Perfect timing.

Upon boarding, I was quickly offered a cold towel in addition to a newspaper and non-alcoholic pre-departure drink. Landing documents for Cambodia were also distributed. The FA working the business cabin spoke exceptional English. After the cabin door closed, the pilot (Russian accent?) came on and welcomed us aboard.

The business cabin’s 16 seats were older, mechanical recliners. The color scheme was forgettably institutional and begs for a refresh. To an extent this is expected on what is probably a low-yield tourist route.

Not counting uniformed crew member resting in the last row, I was the only passenger. The J cabin’s FA had a fairly easy workload on the 1 hour 15-minute flight. A snack was served – a pork pate chaud with fresh fruit and drinks.  I opted for a glass of Vietnamese beer and black tea.  I quite enjoyed the beer, for the record.

 

I did peruse the newspaper to see what opinions the Vietnamese government holds on various ASEAN and global issues. When I read that Trump and Kim would be meeting in Hanoi, I wondered what Ho Chi Minh would make of international comrade Kim Il Sung’s NBA-fan grandson meeting a reality TV start turned US President in his old capital?

In short order, our pilot had us on the ground in Siem Reap, another relatively small airport.  On the ground, one goes either to the visa-on-arrival desks or straight to immigration if they already hold a Cambodian visa (for many, an e-visa). I opted for an e-visa ahead of time to save myself a passport page.

 

The process of entering is a bit slow, as they verify the e-visa, take finger prints, and take a face picture with all the haste of an underpaid developing world bureaucrat.  From the queues at the desk, another flight or two had arrived shortly before us.  After about 25 minutes waiting, I was through, had collected my bags, and met my hotel’s tuk-tuk driver to take me to my next home.

 

Summary: I enjoyed the onboard service, though the entire product wasn’t outstanding to the point where I’d go out of my way to fly on it. If you get a fair price, by all means go ahead.  Despite the bit of rigmarole with  Optiontown, I’d use it again. 

Malindo Air: RGN – KUL in Business Class

11/12/19 

Cost: US$660 (total RGN-KUL-DPS-BNE)

RGN – KUL

When I was offered the chance to visit Mr Y in Yangon, I largely let the decision hinge on my ability to get out of my original flight ticket on China Southern KMG-CAN-BNE and find a suitable alternative flight from Yangon to Brisbane.

When going through the China Southern online refund process, I discovered that I could obtain a full refund, as the flight schedule had changed – my CAN-BNE flight was leaving 20 minutes later than at the time of booking. Fine. On the other end, I was able to secure a business class ticket on Malindo Air (second chances!) from Yangon to Brisbane for US$660. This price was cheaper than Malaysia Airlines in Economy.  For the record, this included a stopover in Kuala Lumpur or Bali.  As I had been to Bali already this year, I thought I’d see how KL had changed since my last visit.

Check-in & Lounge

Mr Y’s boss & his Mrs kindly ran me from the Chatrium to Yangon airport.  There were two separate security queues to get into the airport, one for local Burmese and foreigners.  The foreigner queue was empty and the security check perfunctory. The local people were subjected to far more scrutiny. This as off-putting.

As my flight left at 11:59 pm that Tuesday, things weren’t rushed. This didn’t seem to be a peak time for operations at RGN.  The other major flight out appeared to be a Korean Air flight that left at 11:30 pm.

Yangon Airport

Upon checking in, I was given a pass RNG’s Mingalabar lounge and my boarding pass to KUL. Fine. 

After going through the concourse, I had low expectations. Relatively minor airports tend to have mediocre lounges. The full, manned bar, multiple buffets, spa, shower facilities, ample seating, and cavernous size surprised me, to say the least.

I nibbled at some food, but I wanted to sleep on the red-eye flight. I ignored the bar and just had a cup of tea. Everything was quite good.  The lounge itself emptied almost fully with the Korean Airlines departure at 11:30 pm.

On Board

 

At the appropriate time, I strolled down to the departure gate. Boarding was called in the usual order (extra time, biz class + elites, economy by row) and was quite orderly. I was happy to finally get on, as there was a delay with the inbound aircraft. I watched the tired Westerners disembark from KUL. 

 

Upon boarding, I was disappointed to see that the cabin which appeared almost empty (3/12 seats selected during online check-in) was in-fact nearly full.

Two factors conspired to make the flight a grind. First, the other J passengers were a boisterous bunch. If I understood Burmese, I’d no doubt have had a rollicking good laugh at their anecdotes, but my God at 2 AM?  Additionally, Malindo in their infinite wisdom opt to do a full dinner service. That meant a minimum two hours with the cabin lights on. I attempted, without success, to anesthetize myself with a warm Tiger beer (Malindo’s signature J class beverage…).

Dinner. I picked at it.

Landing in KUL @ 5 am saw me arrive in a zombie-esque state. I banked on some sleep but got none.  While the seats are comfortable for a 737 lounger, I just couldn’t sleep through dinner lights/noise and passenger conviviality.

After a quick arrival at KUL where the staff were largely asleep, I was took out some Ringgit from an Islamic Development Bank ATM, took a taxi to the Petaling Jaya Hilton, checked in early, and went straight to a long-deserved sleep.

Air China J: KMG – RGN

7 Dec 18

Check-in & Lounge

 

By this point, Mr Y had told me to visit Yangon multiple times. However, I already held a flight ticket out of China to Australia on China Southern.  These sort of changes usually involve getting nothing in return for my sunk costs.  I decided to have a look at the various flight prices.  While I wasn’t happy with the cost to Yangon from Kunming, a small schedule change on China Southern meant that I could have my ticket refunded in its entirety.

Further, I was able to secure a cheap ticket from Yangon to Australia on Malindo Air business class, which was actually cheaper than the economy options on Singapore, Thai, or Malaysian. Fine. 2 of the 3 components of this adventure were far better than expected.  I made the change and found myself suitable lodgings at the Chatrium Yangon.

At the airport, the mass of travelers had spread themselves to all check-in queues.  Several people were in front of me at the business line. I snapped a photo and sent it to Mr Y, who had a number of uncharitable comments to make at the expense of Kunming provincials and their literacy. (To a Shanghainese, Yunnan is the equivalent of ‘Flyover Country’ in the US.)

The queue of apparent illiterates

I found myself getting aboard his train of thought as I found myself declining the service of black-market FOREX touts soliciting business from the queued travelers.

Nonetheless, I passed through the near-empty exit immigration and security. There was no need for VIP/biz class express privileges. There were less than half a dozen of us travelers being processed at one time. Within minutes, I was in the cavernous but sleepy international departure wing of Kunming airport.

I visited VIP lounge number 1, a contract lounge used by Air China, Thai, Cathay Dragon, and others.  The decorator’s taste could best be described as grandmotherly.  Hot water machines were in abundance, and there was a small offering of sandwiches, soda, bottled water, and cupcakes.  I took a bottle of water and brewed some Pu’er tea. 

After about 45 minutes, an attendant informed me that my flight had begun boarding.  Gate 70, mine for today, was only a short walk from the lounge. I arrived to find that most passengers had already boarded.  I thus took my seat and wasn’t disturbed by a full planeload (as this was an A319-100, there weren’t many of us).

On Board

 

Having boarded, a flight attendant welcomed me with a hot towel and a platter of beverages to choose from.  This seemed excessive for a cabin, so far, with an occupancy of one. Rather than ask me beforehand, she presented me with a choice of water, juices, and champagne. Naturally, I opted for champagne.  While my prior flights on China Eastern struck me as perfectly decent, their service omitted this most civilized pleasure.

Bourgeois Delight

Later, two more gents boarded, giving a business class load of 3/8 for this flight.

The plane itself was in decent condition. I noticed a touchscreen monitor to control cabin lights, but the cabin itself was very “base model.” My seat was a mechanically controlled, rather than electronically. The center console/table between the biz seats looked dirty but was in fact just “aged.” Nonetheless, my seat was comfortable enough for a 2-hour flight.

Eminently man-spreadable

I was presented with an overly substantial lunch that I wasn’t entirely up to eating. The food was fine, but it was too much.  There was garlic bread, meat rilettes, Yunnan-style sour fungus (more appetizing than it sounds), the chicken & mushroom main course, steamed rice, and fruit.  The quantity would have sufficed for an intercontinental J service, if you count the fruit as dessert.  My lunch was edible and forgettable.

The kulak class meal

I did finish off the champagne.  It seems as if they only keep a half bottle (375ml) on board.

I found the service quite good.  Notably, I can’t comment on the FAs English skills.  Once it was obvious that I could speak some (rudimentary) Chinese, the crew exclusively used Chinese to communicate with me.  I was delighted for the practice.

Arrival

 

Arrival in Yangon was easy.  Immigration was completely empty. No passengers. I was the first off the plane and the first to pass immigration, which had a dozen desks manned for…no one. Oh, US airports could learn something…  Customs was a non-issue. My friend advised me to walk through, as they wouldn’t dare to stop me. That was a new experience. (I was concerned, as they want you to declare gold/jewelry/valuables that are entering temporarily, which is a tad…invasive and problematic from a definitional point of view. E.g., does my computer count because of its original retail value, or not so much due to use/physical wear/tear?)

Overall: The flight was quite good.  The price was higher than I prefer to pay for a short regional (Economy was $180, plus another $80 for my second bag or $280 for business, hence my location), but this route is an effective duopoly between China Eastern and Air China. 2 hours of “real world” Chinese practice has some value, and I did enjoy some unexpected free champagne, so I am pleased with what I received considering market prices.

Malindo Air Economy & Business Class Review: HKT-KUL-DPS

Itinerary: HKT-KUL-DPS (Phuket to Bali via Kuala Lumpur)

Cost: US$306

My friend: “Who are you flying on?”

Moi: “Malindo Air – a.k.a. Lion Air”

“*Googles safety record.* Oh my God, you’re braver than I.”

“It was nice knowing you. :D”

“WHAT MADE YOU PICK THEM?”

“This route is surprisingly lacking in good [and reasonably priced] connections. Malaysia Airlines was substantially more.”

“Does Air Asia not fly this route?”

“It wasn’t coming through in my searches.”

As you can see, I survived. 

Corporate Kakistocracy

 

Prior to departure, I attempted to clarify my baggage allowance.  The short (1.5hr) leg from Phuket to KL was ticketed in Economy (Y), while KL to Bali was in Business class (J). Y gets 25kg (55lbs), and J pax receive an allowance of 40kg (88lbs). A phone call months ago didn’t quite resolve my question.

Late last week, I rang up Malindo.  A fairly competent chap related that the Economy allowance would apply. It seems Malindo uses a “most restrictive” protocol on such tickets.  For a counter-example, BA gives you the most generous allowance. Anyway, I ask about the upgrade cost to business class.  On leisure routes in low season, these upgrades can be a steal. The agent comes back with a quote of 78 Malaysian Ringgit, or US$19.50.  That would be half the cost of buying the extra 5 kg of baggage that I wanted. 

Sadly, the ticketing desk was closed.  Yes, a business with its customer service line open till 10pm is apparently unable to take money after 4:30 pm or so. Call back tomorrow, he bade me. I asked if the same price would apply, which he confirmed. Awesome, or so I foolishly thought.

Another call, more money drained from my skype account. The new agent at Malindo informs that I’d have to go through my travel agent, Orbitz in this case.  Why do I always run into this sort of good luck when I book via a third party?!

Immediately after hanging up, I ring Orbitz. Before I can even tender my question, the agent follows protocol to inform me of the change rules and fees. Unfortunately, the fare rules on file with Orbitz are grossly incomplete (I noticed this when reading the document weeks before trying to find out, myself).  The Orbitz agent needed to call Malindo three times, which stretched the call to the near 1 hour mark. Apparently, there is a change fee of 1000 Thai baht on the ticket (approx. $29.80). Ok. And the upgrade cost?

Malindo has no idea, and they need to fax their revenue management team. I should expect an email within 24 hours.

At this point, I said “Sure, go ahead.”  I knew that I’d have a better chance of receiving a leprechaun riding a unicorn at my front door.  Neither the email nor the unicorn-mounted Sir Leprechaun appeared.

I then tried to buy the extra 5kg, when HSBC blocked the transaction.  Thanks, HSBC.  You annoyed me, but you did me a favor.

I packed two carry-ons and checked one bag @ 20kg.  My carry-ons probably weighed another 15kg together.

With great effort, I tried to give extra money to an airline that stubbornly refused to take it.

HKT-KUL

After such a great start, I proceeded to the airport.  Check-in wasn’t too crowded – 8 people/couples ahead of me. Unfortunately, even “easy” solo travellers seemed to require 5-10 minutes to check-in despite any semblance of complicating factors (tons of extra baggage, “oops where’s my passport?” etc). I feel sorry for the bus load of people who arrived 10 minutes later queued behind me.  Spending 90 minutes watching 3 people scratch their heads to check in a single university student or older couple must have been fun. 

Coral Executive Lounge at Phuket Airport fourth floor
Coral Executive Lounge, HKT

After check-in, I breezed through security and ended up using my Priority Pass card to get into the Coral Executive Lounge on the 4th floor.  A manned bar served draft Singha (my preferred Thai beer), and a small but decent buffet spread featured a pasta dish, Tom Kha soup, ginger fish, and rice in addition to fruit, cakes, pastries, and a salad bar. Soft drinks, coffee, and tea were self-serve. It was a perfect spot to kill an hour and have lunch.

At last, it was time to board.  I realized during check-in that the flight wouldn’t have the light load I initially thought it would. Boarding took place as a semi-organized scrum. In such scenarios, the losers are business passengers and those with young kids/need extra time.  

Malindo Air Boeing 737-800 parked at Phuket airport

I found my seat (6D) and stowed my bags.  In short order, my neighbor, a young American woman from the Bay Area, strikes up a conversation with me. She was on a Thai/Bali holiday now that she had some vacation time. She’s an English teacher in Beijing.  I’ve come to appreciate meeting China-based expats, as I am heading to Kunming for four months in late August.

A beverage and hot snack service was offered on this 90-minute flight to KL. As a non-cheese eater, the choice of a chicken or veggie pizza wasn’t appealing.  Then again, I wasn’t planning on eating anyway after having lunch on the Coral Lounge.

The in-flight entertainment onboard was surprisingly well-executed with high-resolution screens and a cosmopolitan, multilingual selection of content.  Somewhat fitting on an ex-Thailand flight, I watched Anna & the King.

KUL-DPS

 

After a harder-than-average touchdown, we were soon at the gate in KL.  I proceeded to the H-gates for my departure.  While Malindo does have a business lounge, both the Malindo lounge AND the priority pass lounges for KL are located in a satellite terminal.  As I didn’t have a particularly long layover, I continued working my way through A Short History of Byzantium.

Boarding was more organized. Biz and families first, then by rows. Most passengers on my flight were actually bound for Brisbane, by coincidence (I used to live there as a Master’s student at UQ).  Bali was a stop on the way.

The business seat (1A) onboard was fairly low-tech, but it was in rather good condition and was particularly comfortable. For the right price, it would be an extremely attractive option ex-Australia to Bali or elsewhere in SE Asia (both Brisbane and MEL flights are to & from KL via Bali). I realized by the end of the flight that I didn’t even feel the need to recline it, which is extremely rare for me.

Onboard service was quite friendly and responsive.  After take-off, orders were taken for a main course (lamb biriyani or channa dhal).  I opted for a biriyani with water and a Tiger beer. The biriyani was delicious, and the attendant kept my beer thimble (3oz pours) topped off. I might have had an entire can before the end of the 3-hour flight!

My seat-mate was going through wine like a fiend, and prior to disembarkation, I heard the tipsy, rambling tale of her woes arising from a passport with less than 6 months validity and needing to borrow two kilo-dollars (Australian) from her mother to get home, which she found degrading at 50 years old.  Her key mistake: booking two separate tickets from Vietnam to Australia (Hanoi-Singapore, Singapore-Brisbane), on a passport that would be expired in 5.5 months.

For this leg, I opted to watch Interstellar.  The world-building was quite thought provoking amidst the waste I see around me (and am forced to partake in due to a lack of development – e.g. dependence on bottled water for drinking). I could see myself as the grandfather who remembers the profligacy of the past (which is to say, the present).

IFE in J on the Bali leg

I was curious to see how Denpasar airport (and Bali generally) had changed in the 5 years since I have been there. It seems to have improved, as immigration queues were non-existent.  I was also delighted that Indonesia now offers a free, non-renewable/extendable 30-day visa on arrival. Before, it was US$25. A renewable/extendable 30-day visa now costs $35.  As I didn’t plan for more than a month, I went the free route.

Despite an arrival at 9:20pm, I didn’t see my bag until 10:50pm, as mine was the absolute last off the plane. I had walked to the lost luggage desk, as the belt came through with a “finished” sign (and all other passengers were gone).

Summary

 

Malindo’s head office is corporate kakistocracy incarnate. While you will get earnest agents trying to help, their systems and processes are convoluted to an extent such that “Malindoan” should replace “Byzantine” in the dictionary. As least Byzantine complexity could do such wonders as bribing one steppe horde to annihilate another. Malindo cannot even feed revenue into its own coffers.

 

That said, the onboard service was faultless.  I’d be inclined to fly them again, and I have a feeling that they could be a very cost-effective option ex-Australia if you want to buy a business ticket (and don’t mind a narrow-body aircraft).

Picture of lounge champagne

Airline Review: Cathay Dragon HKG-HKT

KA264 Hong Kong (HKG) to Phuket (HKT)

9,000 BA Avios + US$164 (Business class redemption)

 

Another great visit to Hong Kong had wrapped up, and it was time to go on to my next destination. I had an award redemption ticket on Cathay Dragon (KA) booked via my British Airways account.

 

After a minute or so handling check-out formalities at the Island Pacific, I took a cab to Hong Kong station to catch the Airport Express.

 

At Hong Kong and Kowloon stations, a facility known as “in-town check-in” exists, wherein you handle your check-in formalities at the station, receive your boarding passes, and hand over checked-baggage.  Many airlines (list here) offer this service. Naturally the home team Cathay Pacific/Cathay Dragon is one of them.

 

By coincidence, the business class check-in line was the busiest versus economy and first. I suppose that’s what you get for checking in on Hong Kong island. My agent advised me that the flight would be delayed by a half hour. Oh quelle horreur, I am going to have an extra half-hour of champagne and dim sum time in the Cathay lounge. 

 

The journey takes less than a half-hour from Central, and with my documents in hand, I head straight over to security and exit immigration (south), which aren’t too busy circa 11:30 AM on a Sunday. The addition of automated gates capable of reading an electronic passport have been very helpful, I guess.

 

My departure gate was 31, today. Cathay lounges are found by gate 1 (The Wing), 65 (the Pier), 16 (the Deck) and 35 (the Bridge). I opted for the Pier, with its tea house, noodle bar, and barista coffee facilities. The full run-down of Cathay lounges in HKG can be found here.

picture of lounge drinks list
The beverage menu at the bar

It was a decent walk, but the reward justified it. After an early start (sans food) for a couple of phone calls to the US, my stomach demanded food. After a pit-stop at the bar for a glass of champagne (GH Mumm), I went to the noodle bar for fresh-steamed pork & vegetable buns, siu mai, and noodles. I quite enjoyed the buns, but the siu mai were decidedly “mass produced” rather than “nice dim sum” in overall flavor and texture. Flyertalk noted that this coincided with the handover of Cathay’s lounge catering to Sodexo. You might recognize the name as your alma mater’s dining operator.

After another round and some (quite nice) dragon fruit for dessert, it was time for the hike back to gate 31. Just as I arrived, the business class queue was being boarded. They must have known that I was coming. 

 

KA (formerly Dragonair) uses a 2-2-2 recliner configuration in business class. The seat is more than roomy enough for the regional routes flown by KA. HKG-HKT is only 3 hours. That said, the frequent flyer community does note that it is a downgrade versus Cathay Pacific’s long-haul 1-2-1 business product.

Legroom shot of Cathay Dragon business class

If you’re wondering, KA is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cathay Pacific. It is decidedly *not* a low-cost carrier by any means, considering the price to fly, in-flight service, baggage allowance, etc. You will find some smaller blogs out there calling it a low-cost. They are wrong.

 

Back to our originally scheduled programming!

 

I took a copy of the Sunday edition of the South China Morning Post and navigated to 15H, and aisle seat on the right side of the aircraft (an A330-300). The flight attendants made *two* beverage runs before departure, so I helped myself to what tasted like an orange-mango-champagne cocktail. I do believe that the first few sips would have covered my weekly dose of Vitamin S(ugar).

Pre departure beverage on KA264
My tasty tropical cocktail

After a brief update by the Australian pilot and perusing the paper (complete with the customary lamentations about the Hong Kong residential real estate market), we were in the air.

 

As soon as we passed 10,000 ft, the flight attendants distributed menus and took drink orders.  Champagne (Taittinger) and Earl Grey tea for me, please.

 

The selection for lunch included prawns in cream over pasta, sliced lemon chicken, and pork satay with nasi goreng. I opted for the latter, though the FA advised me that it would be spicy. Given that Cathay catering tends to be very restrained in the flavor department, “YAY!”  The starters included a small salad and beef medallions for an appetizer. The FAs also came around with bread (I went for garlic).

First course on KA264

The pork was perfectly tender, and giving the rice a 3-4 out of 10 on the spice scale would be generous.   This was an utterly unnecessary meal, but I needed to have a bite so that I could pass on my findings to you, the reader.

Pork Satay on Cathay Dragon 264

For dessert, various Haagen Dazs (I believe) ice creams came around. I declined, as I am not a big HD fan.

 

Coffee and tea were offered, so I took some more Earl Grey. 

 

During the last hour, I decided to “test” the crew – again for science, for your benefit – by pressing the champagne button (aka the call button) for one last glass. As with Cathay mainline flights, the crew was incredibly prompt. It’s moments like this where one doesn’t miss US carrier service.

View on descent into Phuket with small islands
The views between Krabi and Phuket were stunning.

Our arrival in Phuket was non-descript, and my bags were among the first off the carousel, so everything ended on a strong note. Now I have one month of Thai food to look forward to.

Primeclass lounge seating area

A Lounge Review Salvo: Miami, Zurich, and Tokyo

In a departure from my customary practice of “each item gets its own review,” I am combining my visits to each lounge into one review. During the course of my journey, I stopped in the Avianca Lounge in Miami Airport, the Primeclass Lounge in Zurich, and the IASS Lounge in Tokyo Narita.

 

Why do I have access? My Hilton Honors Ascend Amex comes with Priority Pass Select membership at no additional cost, though I did have to opt-in. A select membership grants me ten free lounge visits per calendar year. Additional visits are US$27. The value (both monetary and comfort) of the free lounge visits on this trip has already come quite close to the annual fee.

 

Lounges have (essentially) four benefits:

  • Complimentary refreshments – Do not overlook this, as a bottle of water, coffee, a small sandwich, and a salad/fruit can easily be US$20 or more. Throw in a couple of alcoholic drinks, and your wallet is taking a $40-50 hit.
  • Seating, wifi, and power – this is the holy trinity of 21st century civilization, and one or more of these are frequently lacking in the main terminal.
  • Peace and quiet – After getting rid of the rental car, dealing with a taxi/uber, getting up ungodly early, being abused by security, and other such joys of travel, having a chill-spot where you can feel the cortisol levels plummet really helps.
  • Markedly better bathrooms – The vastly lower traffic versus the main terminal means that I am usually not worrying about what sort of hybridized super-hepatitis I am going to get from touching the faucet.

Avianca Lounge, Miami

 

After an early check-in, a client call, and mind-numbingly tedious security, I had a choice. At the J gates in MIA, Priority Pass allows members to use either the LATAM (Oneworld) or Avianca (Star Alliance) lounges, which are right next to each other. I opted for Avianca – largely based on the “logic” (loosely used) of “I am flying with Swiss, a Star carrier, so why not try the star lounge?” 

 

This upcoming multi-continental flight wasn’t my first such marathon. By now, I know what to do and what not to do to minimize discomfort. I say “minimize discomfort,” as even up at the pointy end, I’ve been worn down excessively by overindulging in the bacchanalian quantities of champagne and food, which aggravates the effects of air travel (dehydration, air pressure effects on the intestines).  So, my plan was to eat something light in the lounge and decline food in the air.

 

My arrival circa 5:15 pm found the lounge quite busy with Avianca passengers awaiting their flights. I opted against taking pictures, as the crowding made it seem almost like an invasion of the next table’s privacy. Despite being almost at its effective capacity (in terms of occupied seating), the staff deserve commendation for effectively maintaining a supply of food and beverages as well as clearing customers’ plates, glasses, etc.

 

Food options included a giant bowl of hummus (yaaaaas), fruit salad, mixed veggies, salad, chips, bread, chicken teriyaki, steamed rice, and sandwiches (cut up into bite-sized pieces on toothpicks). I opted for a piece of a turkey sandwich, a small bread roll, hummus, and fruit. Perfect.

 

Beverages included tea, an espresso/cappuccino/latte machine, various hard liquors (mid-shelf), wine (awful, the pinot noir sported a pronounced acetone flavor), domestic beer, and various soft drinks. I declined to finish the single small glass of wine I had poured in favor of herbal tea and water.  

 

After about 6:15, the lounge cleared out with an Avianca flight. I was able to work on a proposal for the client I had called earlier, enjoy my dinner, and watch Return of the Jedi on a nearby TV. Well done, Avianca. 

Avianca seating area

Summary: Despite the crowding if a flight is going out, it’s not a bad place to kill time. I was happy that there were some reasonably healthy and tasty food offerings. Bonus points for vintage Star Wars.

Primeclass Lounge, Zurich

 

After arriving at the E gates in ZRH (ie the non-Schengen area), I went straight to the Primeclass lounge. This one is a very new addition to ZRH and the Priority Pass portfolio. Other choices include two Aspire lounges and a Swiss Airlines lounge. After some research, this seemed like the best option.

 

You see, I really wanted a shower. I find a shower between flights to be very refreshing, and I imagine that my future seatmate on the next sector probably appreciates someone that is freshly washed as opposed to – stale.  

 

When I checked into the lounge, the shower was being cleaned up. No problem. In the meantime, I decamped to the bar area, poured a glass of Evian water, and fixed a healthy breakfast plate of gummy bears. The lounge was immaculate, felt brand new, and was so lightly utilized that the servers/staff outnumbered the patrons.Primeclass lounge seating area

 

 

Plane spotters will appreciate the outdoor seating, a luxury in airports. View of outdoor area at Zurich airport primeclass lounge

I took a cup of Earl Grey out there, watching the planes do their thing, and enjoyed a beautiful Swiss spring day. Suddenly, I could see myself settling in Switzerland after bringing in some ill-gotten gains. (This is a joke)

 

By now, the cleaners had worked their magic and stocked the shower room with fresh towels. The room was a bit tight, but the cleanliness was irreproachable. As you would expect, I felt SO MUCH BETTER.Primeclass lounge shower area

Afterwards, my stomach demanded something with a bit more nutrition than a dozen gummy bears, so I helped myself to a fruit cocktail and a piece of rye bread.  The buffet also featured eggs, rosti potatoes, yogurt, and croissants.  Everything appeared to be of decent quality. 

 

Summary: Possibly the best offering in the E-gates (that isn’t a Swiss First Class lounge). The Swiss business lounge as well as the Aspire lounges have garnered mediocre reviews. If I recall correctly, the Aspire lounges don’t have bathrooms inside. The Primeclass lounge, with showers, restroom, and a nap room (if you have the time), blow the Aspire offerings out of the water on those grounds alone.  

IASS Lounge, Narita

 

Having arrived in Narita and cleared immigration by 9 AM, I decided that there wasn’t much point going to my accommodation so early. Narita does have some lounges “landside” (ie before security) that welcome arriving passengers. Great. A coffee, some water, and somewhere to charge my phone merited burning one of my allotted ten visits.

 

Or did it? The IASS lounge only had tea, coffee, water, and a soda machine. Food was limited to a jar of (admittedly tasty) Japanese snack mix. 

 

The lounge itself was more of a large living room with seats. With the minimal atmosphere, I was happy to be on my way after an hour of charging the phone, checking up on the news, and rehydrating.  

 

Summary: Profoundly “meh,” but I accomplished what I came to do.