Hong Kong Airlines Latest New/Old Plane B-LHA J Class Review

Hong Kong Airlines Latest New/Old Plane B-LHA J Class Review

Hong Kong Airlines (HX) has a new/old plane. An emirates A330, registration B-LHA. It’s a 17 year old airframe and a 330-200 series powered by Rolls Royce engines. They plan to buy further of these ex-Emirates aircraft so although the plane itself is old the cabin has been refitted. This is a review of the J class on B-LHA which differs considerably from the other aircraft in the fleet.

Broadly speaking current HX aircfaft consist of fully flat 1-2-1 seating or 2-2-2 recliner style side by side seating. This plane is 2-2-2 but features a product I’ve never seen before in J class. The seats are slightly angled and the cabin has a modern fresh feel. Initial impressions are good, however when sitting down you realize that the cabin seems to have been designed for Asian passengers.

The screen and foot rest feel quite close to the seat at the bulkhead, the seat of choice for a lot of frequent fliers; if you’re sitting in the rows behind then it does feel more spacious. However to be honest the footrest/tv screen is quite weird. It’s a standalone console with a tiny footrest which is open at the back. There’s a large amount of space behind each console at every seat which is strange. It’s a total waste of space which could have been avoided by putting the footrest and screen at the back of the seat or bulkhead thus making it feel less cramped. If this plane is only used within Asia then it’s acceptable in my opinion but for long haul it will feel cramped and there is an issue of stepping over your seatmate in the bulkhead seats. From a commercial point of view it also seems to make no sense as there’s 3 rows of J versus 4 on other aircraft of the same type at HX.

On the positive side, the screen is very impressive and for a change so is the software running it. It behaves like a tablet and is fast and responsive. Very clear and a good size. If anything it’s too responsive and you can scroll through the listings too fast!

The table is in the center armrest and is solid and a good size. It’s comfortable to both eat and work from though as I’m writing this on a 10 inch laptop I can just about see the screen in front. If you were using a large 15 inch screen laptop then you wouldn’t be able to easily watch something at the same time as working. In terms of seat controls they’re down below the center console and aren’t easy to access while the table is deployed, but everything is also accessible through the touch screen so not a big issue. There’s also a regular power plug on the front of the center console.

The seat is firm yet comfortable, a minor gripe is that the take off and landing default position is slightly reclined as on most planes yet you can’t make it more upright to eat or work. It would be more comfortable for using the table if it could be made more upright.

Storage space is minimal and to be honest I’m surprised HX is still ordering seats/planes without taking this into account. The old Singapore 33S aircraft are terrible for this with a large gap down the side of the seat that swallows electronics when you think it’s a side pocket. The A350 that were sidetracked from Hainan to HX also have very poor storage and this aircraft is no different. There is a small mesh pocket on the right of the seat and footrest, which isn’t very deep so could only contain a phone or passport. The plastic pocket to the side of the seat also isn’t deep and not suitable for anything except the smallest items.

The seat goes fully flat and this was a pleasant surprise. The design is clever with the narrow seat fitting flush with the padding to make a wider sleeping area. It was quite comfortable and at first during recline I thought I would be too tall at 6’2″ to lie fully flat bearing in mind the console is close to the seat, but after fully reclining I was able to lie fully fat. The open footrest becomes something of a bonus at this point compared to the tiny foot coffins of other airlines, at least here you have space at the back and even sides to rearrange your feat.

Now a final very serious point, no coffee machine! Flight crew and regular passengers will know how important this is! What doesn’t help is that HX uses a bag of coffee in Y and J which is literally a bag steeped in a pot of hot water and it’s as bad as it sounds. Apparently this plane will eventually be fitted with a coffee machine but in the meantime bring a coffee stick and HX please load some better coffee in J on these aircraft!


Modern, Light Design

No more excessive red design

Impressive touch screen with good movie and TV options

Comfortable fully flat seat

At seat power and separate USB


No Wifi

Cramped feeling to some seats with wasted space around console

Tiny footrest

No Coffee Machine!

Hong Kong Airlines A350

Hong Kong Airlines A350

Hong Kong Airlines is introducing A350s into it’s fleet with the first aircraft flying short haul training and familiarization routes between Taipei and Bangkok. I took a flight to Bangkok to experience the new aircraft.

The first sector was a night flight so I had a chance to experience the seat as a bed. The seats are in a 1-2-1 staggered layout parallel to the cabin, i.e not herringbone. First impression was that the seat felt quite close to the screen. I wondered how it would be when fully reclined and how much space there was, but more of that later. The seat has a generous foot rest with space underneath for shoes. It’s definitely a lot more roomy than the coffin box that you get on other A350 business classes. Finnair’s foot section is tiny in comparison and doesn’t leave you much space at all to move your feet. The seat has storage to the left with enough space for a thin laptop if you remove the magazines and place them in the slot under the screen after take off. Missing though is any other significant storage. The side table is large and there’s a cubby hole for the headphones to hang in, but you can’t use this for take off and landing. Even the water holder can’t be used for take off and landing, which is weird but apparently an Airbus rule. It’s a pretty glaring oversight that no storage has been added to the seat that can be used before at cruise.

The seat itself is comfortable to sit and it has standard J class functions with upright, sleep and recline positions with individual controls to tweak it how you want it. Compare to the herringbone layouts it’s nice to sit close to the large windows if you’re in a window seat. When made into a bed it’s fully flat and feels spacious. There’s no width differences between shoulders and legs ala BA. Also as mentioned the foot rest is very roomy compared to a lot of other airlines in J. This make a significant difference in your comfort and ability to move while asleep. The only point I found on the short flight was that it felt quite firm in bed mode and I can see me getting uncomfortable on a long flight. A mattress topper would easily solve this and hopefully something HX invests in in the future. Also, compared to the herringbone layout where you can be quite exposed to the aisle, the window seats are very private with the table and console separating you from the aisle. This should mean a better sleep with less irritation from the aisle.

For work, the table is sturdy and a decent size. The only weird thing is that at least on the window seat compared to the center, the table is off center from the seat. This means that in order to work on a laptop you need to angle the table to get a decent working set up for your screen and keyboard. Bit strange and would have thought this would be easily solved during the seat design by having a longer arm extending from the bulkhead. There’s also onboard wifi, with a free option available if you watch a quick HX video or quite well priced longer options compared to other airlines. I didn’t test the wifi speed but it did seem quite sluggish while simply trying to download a WhatsApp photo. Maybe OK for emails or messages but not much else.

Entertainment wise the screen is big and clear with a decent selection of movies and TV. There’s also live Satellite TV with BBC and CNN as well as a live Sports channel. The camera views are always fun to watch! Headphones are HX own brand and noise canceling.

The cabin itself is improved on other HX aircraft and they’ve finally realized that they had way too much red before. The red bulkhead has gone and the cabin now feels much more light and airy. Also gone are the red curtains.

Where HX shines is in the cabin service. Crew are generally very friendly and motivated to provide a good flight to their passengers. As any frequent flyer knows this can make or break a flight. Where the service does need work is on the food options. HX love to do tie ups with hotels or celebrity chefs but really what’s need is an increase in budget to their meals or a change of caterer. Meals seem overtly fancy often but with a lack of presentation and quality. Simpler but higher quality meals would be a significant improvement.

Finally it’s interesting to note that on these two new aircraft crew report they have quite a high defect rate in the cabin, something I’ve seen before on CX and AY A350 aircraft as well. There do seem to be issues with how well Airbus is fitting out these planes, hopefully their air frame engineering is better than the cabin quality!

Overall HX has the potential to do well with these aircraft on long haul. They need to sort out the defects and fast. Having a toilet non operational on a brand new aircraft for a week isn’t good enough. As is deferring defects that should be fixed rapidly. They also need to work on long haul crew training, meal quality and add a mattress topper like their parent airline Hainan. With their young motivated friendly crew, other airlines better watch out!

When Business Class No Longer Adds Up

When Business Class No Longer Adds Up

As a very frequent flyer of Hong Kong Airlines (HX) often between Hong Kong and Japan, having accumulated Platinum status and many miles, my eye is always on my next trip and how to maximize my miles and money for the best balance between value, service and mileage. So how is it possible, that if I were to fly 40 business class sectors in the next year I would get zero mileage and zero status??

In the past two years booking a J class ticket on HX website was a no brainer, apart from the issue often with the website deciding not to work at the worst possible moment, but I digress. However, in the last probably three months, the commercial department has decided that offering J class on the website as the lowest bookable business class ticket is no longer what they want to do, instead offering Z class. What does this mean? No Miles…..

Now this wouldn’t be so bad if it was actually possible to book J class through the website, you want the miles right, then why not pay for them. HX has the right to change fares as they wish. Unfortunately not, it’s only possible to book the lowest possible business fare, often Z or the highest most flexible fare, at of course a very high rate! Therefore with a minimum of 9 seats in Z class on most flights according to Expertflyer.com and no way to actually select a mileage earning fare, you are left with random chance that the date you want happens to be selling J class fares after Z has sold out.

Now the smart frequent flyers amongst you will be thinking why not just call the call center? Nope. Can’t book tickets over the phone. After throwing a minor tantrum and speaking to a supervisor and having a fit of DYKWIA, they did offer to do it, once. Now calling back gets a response of “Computer Says No” for all you Little Britain fans.

So not only can I not book the ticket I want, anywhere, I also discover that booking an economy ticket WILL give me miles on the lowest sold fare but not the lowest sold business fare. Hmm…..does HX actually want people to go back to flying economy? 

Finally as if this wasn’t annoying enough I thought I’d compare last year’s J class price with this years. Not only is the Z class more expensive than last year’s J but J is now around 2000 HK$ more than last year. Last year was based on an actual booking and this year is based on the Z class rate plus $1000 according to Expertflyer.com

What this all means is a) frustration I can’t book the ticket I want b) questioning the value proposition of the new fare levels on a short intra-Asia hop and c) realizing there’s better value to be had within the HU/HX group with Fortune Wings should I wish to keep my status.

Check out the table below for the comparison of cost per SQP, which is Status Qualifying Point for all your Fortune Wings newbies (we’ll do an explainer on how the loyalty scheme works in another post) but basically the cheaper the better. Not only is there a massive jump to get the points now with J, but a long haul flight with Hainan (HU) offers far better value!

PS It’s also worth pointing out that as far as I know not offering miles on a business ticket is very rare. I only know of Malaysia and Hong Kong Airlines that are doing this. Most airlines chose to reward their best customers with mileage on business tickets of any fare type except group tickets.

PS. One final thought. The mileage earning rate for HU to the UK on a long haul trip is roughly the same as OneWorld and flights on BA/CX etc from HKG to London. I.e you need around 4 x long hauls in business class to get the top level of status.

Not only has the J class on HX become poor mileage value when compared to their own group airlines.