Air Baltic A220-300 Economy ATH-RIX-LGW Review

This is a guest review, written by George Delfas, detailing his experience onboard Air Baltic’s new Airbus A220-300 aircraft. 


In early September, I flew with Air Baltic on their new A220-300 aircraft
to return to the UK, following my holiday in Greece. Air Baltic operate a wide
network of flights to major cities across Europe, as well as many seasonal
holiday destinations utilising their fleet of modern A220-300s and
Bombardier Dash 8 Q400s – in addition to ageing B737-300 and 737-500 aircraft which are slowly being phased out and replaced.

My flight was from Athens to Riga, and then onwards from Riga to London
Gatwick. Both flights were operated by the A220-300, making for a very
pleasant experience – thanks in part to their modern cabin product and low noise emissions.

I arrived at Athens Eleftherios Venizelos Airport at 22.00, with five hours to wait as my flight wasn’t until 03.15am.

Landside at Athens airport was very noisy, with many people coming and going and cleaning taking place, so I went through security after 45 minutes. Athens airport security was a pleasant contrast to the chaos of the check-in area – there was no queue whatsoever – and I was airside in just over 1 minute,
although this may have been due to the time of night. The gate
area was almost completely empty given the time of day, but an
impressive array of cafes remained open for an airport with only 2-3
flights departing from the ‘B’ gates between 00.00 and 05.00, with a wide
range of food available for purchase. There was a large quantity of
seating at the gates, however loud music was played preventing me from
getting any proper sleep. Thankfully, this was switched off at 1am.

At 02.50 we began boarding from a gate with a bus to take us to the
remote stand where YL-CSA (Air Baltic’s first ever A220-300, delivered
in November 2016) was waiting to take us to Riga. I boarded the plane
through the front door, was met by a friendly crew member and entered the
aircraft to find it lit with cool, pale coloured lighting with soft, relaxing
boarding music.

Boarding YL-CSA in Athens

We departed from Athens at 03.33, 18 minutes behind schedule, with an
estimated flight time of 2hours and 50minutes. After the seatbelt signs
had been switched off, the crew came around with the passengers’ pre-
ordered meals. They then brought the trolley service through. This sold a
range of snacks which could be bought on board at fairly reasonable
prices comparable to other airlines offering a similar service. The service
was fast, but I imagine that on busier flights during the day the service
could take a long time, with only one galley at the rear of the aircraft to
serve the entire economy cabin (the other galley at the front was
exclusively for business class passengers).

The cabin was very spacious, with each seat having a fantastic width of
18.5″and 32″of pitch making for a very comfortable flight.

The Economy Class product on the Airbus A220

The seats reclined sufficiently, with the seat base moving forward as well as the back reclining so as not to squash the legs of the person behind you. I thought this was a clever solution to this all-to-common issue. It is worth bearing in mind, that even the back row had room behind it to allow the seats to recline. The overhead bins were also enormous, and dropped down from the ceiling allowing easier access for shorter passengers. The tray tables had a sleek design which fitted neatly into the back of the seat in front of you, but were released by a slightly fiddly metal catch which you had to slide rather
than turn to release the table. This was, however, not a major issue.

The only major downside to the economy cabin was that out of the two toilets
on board, one was exclusively for the business class passengers, which
left just one lavatory for the entire economy class cabin of around 135 people,
leading to queues. There was at least one large window in each row,
allowing all passengers to see out even if seated on the aisle and allowing
a huge amount of natural light into the cabin.

Above each row is a small screen which displays the safety briefing and a
map during the flight. There is no other IFE, and no WiFi on board.
Adverts were played on the screens during the taxi, despite it being 03.30,
which was incredibly annoying, especially as the sound was played
loudly throughout the aircraft.

The A220’s signature overhead panel screen – showing onward connections from Riga.

30 minutes before landing in Riga, information on connecting flights was displayed on the screens, allowing you to see whether your next flight was on time, and which gate and concourse in the airport it was departing from saving you time once you had disembarked. This struck me as a nice touch.

Despite a horrible whining noise when the engines were started in
Athens, the rest of the flight was very quiet once cruising at 38,000 feet,
and noticeably quieter than an A320.

We landed in Riga at 06.19, 16 minutes ahead of schedule, following a
beautiful approach over foggy pine forests into a very, very foggy airport.
Disembarkation was through an airbridge on to concourse C.

Boarding YL-CSJ in an extremely foggy Riga.

Riga Airport is very small and easy to navigate, so it should have been a couple of minutes to reach Gate C9 for my onward flight to Gatwick. However,
there were huge queues for passport control to reach the boarding gates
for extra Schengen flights, meaning that I arrived at the gate after
boarding had started. The queue to board moved fast, and I was soon
walking out across the tarmac to my aircraft for this flight, another A220-
300 (YL-CSJ, Air Baltic’s second newest A220 delivered in July 2018).

The flight departed at 07.52, with an estimated flight time of 2hours
20minutes.

Departing over Lativa’s misty pine forests

Once we reached our cruising altitude of 40,000 feet, the
meals for those who had pre-ordered them were brought around. I had
ordered pancakes with fruit juice for breakfast, which arrived in a box,
and was warm.

The meal was nicely and neatly presented, in a compact box

The pancakes were very tasty, and came with fresh fruit
and a croissant and jam. Many options were available to choose from
when booking your flight online, including many traditional Latvian
dishes, ranging in price from €9 to €29, with options for specific dietary
requirements.

The breakfast meal, served onboard my RIX-LGW flight.

The crew were efficient and friendly, but were quite
reserved and didn’t make too many announcements, which was – at least in my opinion –  a good thing.

I won’t describe the cabin again, as the aircraft was the same type as
before, but Air Baltic have made some small changes to the cabin from
the earlier A220-300 models, with small improvements such as the seats
having a plastic back with a pocket that doesn’t bulge into your knees as
much when items are placed into it all helping to make the flight more
enjoyable.

We landed at Gatwick at 08.22, 18 minutes ahead of schedule, after
enduring possibly the most bumpy landing I have experienced which
even drew a sarcastic round of applause from many of the passengers,
and disembarked through an airbridge into the South Terminal.

Leaving YL-CSJ behind at London-Gatwick.

Bottom Line: 
Overall, my experience with Air Baltic was fantastic and I would
definitely fly with them again. They have the prices and service of a
budget carrier, but their cabin product, meal choices and noise levels on
the A220-300 is way above their rivals such as easyJet or British Airways
and provides fantastic comfort even for overnight flights.

China Southern A380 Economy Class Review

I love the A380. It is as simple as that. So when I saw that China Southern operated the Airbus A380 between the two Chinese cities of Beijing and Guangzhou, i decided to jump on the opportunity immediately. Below is my video review on YouTube which you can watch instead of reading the review.

Having flown the Airbus A380 with Qatar Airways and Emirates before, I was eager to see what China Southern had done with the aircraft and how it compared to the 5* offerings onboard the Middle Eastern carriers. I was also keen to see how it compared to Qantas and Etihad who have been reviewed on LondonSpotter by an ex-contributor, James, and as a guest review respectively.

Booking

Seeing as China Southern are based in Guangzhou, I decided to use this trip as a way of getting to Vietnam, my next stop on my Asia trip. I booked Beijing – Guangzhou – Hanoi as well as Guangzhou – Shanghai all in one booking for a total cost of £330 in economy.

This is a pretty good price for the three flights and I was lucky to find it. My go-to website for cheaper airfares is SkyScanner – have a go yourself and see just how low you can get the fares of your next trip. Remember to click all the way through to the booking agent as prices often go down from what is advertised on SkyScanner’s site.

The Flight

I arrived at Beijing Capital Airport with around 2 hours until takeoff and was pleasantly surprised at the small queues and relative ease of getting through the airport. I checked my bag all the way through to Hanoi and walked through security which was right next to the bag drop desks.

To my annoyance, I had packed my bags in a bit of a hurry that morning and put my toiletries in my carry-on case. This resulted in me losing my shampoo and other bottles over 100ml – stupid mistake.

The gate was a two minute walk from the security exit and as soon as I was through, I noticed the huge A380 being loaded up at the gate.

Our A380 loading up in Beijing

The gate was directly infront of the China Southern lounge so business class passengers could simply walk from the lounge onto the aircraft in a matter of minutes.

People were seated but seeing as i wanted to get on the aircraft early, I started the queue for economy passengers. As is normal on Chinese flights, as soon as one person queued, everyone followed the herd and suddenly I was at the front of a 100 strong line!

Boarding began on-time and I boarded the aircraft as the first economy passenger.

The lower deck economy cabin

I arrived at what I thought was my seat and sat down until a passenger came and showed me his boarding pass and it turned out I was sitting in 53A when in fact my seat was 53K. I politely moved to the other side of the aircraft.

As I was sitting in 53A, I noticed something very surprising. In the seat pocket was a safety card for a Boeing 787-9 aircraft. The A380 bares absolutely NO resemblance to a 787 so this posed a serious safety threat if the aircraft were to be evacuated in an emergency.

Our safety card… hang on…. this is no 787!

China Southern’s A380 is set up in a three-cabin configuration with economy taking up the majority of the bottom deck and backward eight rows of the upper deck. The lower deck is configured in a 3-4-3 setup which is an immediate setback from their A330 product which sits in a 2-4-2 configuration.

The seats were comfy yet small

The upper deck, however, sports the 2-4-2 setup so if you get an opportunity to sit there, take it. The A380 can seat 428 passengers and by walking through the cabin I could estimate that it was around 75-80% full.

The upper deck in a nicer 2-4-2 configuration

The seat is relatively large and comfortable although my legs were pushed up against the seat infront of me for the majority of the flight which was very uncomfortable.

Legroom…poor

The seats pitch is 32″ and the width is 17.2″. This compares to airlines like Qatar Airways who offer 18.5″ of width in economy – a much comfier option.

Boarding was completed about 25 minutes before departure and the jetbridge was removed from the aircraft giving me the impression that we were heading for an on-time departure.

How wrong I was…

After around 30 minutes of sitting on the ground, the cabin manager came over the loudspeaker to announce that we were delayed because of ATC restrictions but gave no time estimation on how long we would be stranded for. As this was only 30 minutes, I wasn’t massively fussed.

After about 40 minutes on the ground, the crew came around with the drinks trolley and began to serve drinks. I went for coffee which came in a plastic cup but tasted pretty good.

Coffee in a plastic cup? Why not. It tasted good nonetheless

After this drinks service I pulled out my laptop to crack on with some work when I noticed the next serious failure of this aircraft. Above my head, towels had been stuffed into the ceiling to stop a leaking air-conditioner. While the towels were doing an ok job, drips were still coming through and the seat next to me began getting pretty damp – maybe this explains why it was empty.

The towel above still let the aircon drip on me

I considered telling the cabin crew but I thought they had enough to worry about with the delays so put my headphones on and continued to work.

After around 2 hours on the ground, the crew emerged once again from hiding with breakfast. The option was chicken or pork and I went for the chicken.

My celery infused meal

The meal came with a side salad or celery, vanilla yogurt, a bread roll and some pickled vegetable in a packet.

The meal was piping hot when I opened it up but to my surprise the chicken dish was packed with celery… I’m not a huge fan of celery so the dish really wasn’t that pleasant for me. The yogurt and bread roll, however, were fine. Although I didn’t like it all that much, it was nice to have a hot meal unlike on Vietnam Airlines.

Our meals were cleared away and around 10 minutes later, we were on the move and finally ready to depart for Guangzhou.

Finally on the move

We taxied out and departed out of Beijing for the 2 hour 40 minute flight south.

Takeoff!

Having already eaten on the ground, I wasn’t expecting too much from this flight and in fact all we had in the way of service was another drinks service.

Each seat on the A380 is fitted with a personal monitor and remote control. There are also headphones waiting in the seat pocket. While the headphones are better than those given on China Southern’s A330, they were still poor quality and only worked when half way in and halfway out of the plug. This meant that I couldn’t watch the IFE and to be honest, after looking at the film options, I wasn’t fussed. I took my own headphones out and listened to music for the rest of the flight.

The screen was small and not very responsive

Something I found very annoying was the lack of power on this aircraft. I had heard that the A380s had power ports but I couldn’t find a USB or AC port at all.

Lastly, I found the crew on this flight to be very unwelcoming and borderline rude. Apart from one lovely crew member who served the food and drink, I found the others to be quite stand-offish. For the majority of the flight they all stood in the galley chatting with each other as the services had already been carried out on the ground.

We came into land in Guangzhou 2 hours late and the aircraft was empty soon after as everyone finally remembered how it felt to stretch their legs!

Deboarding the huge A380

Conclusion

While I totally understand that China Southern had nothing to do with the delays, I think the way in which it was handled wasn’t great. We were given very little information and the crew seemed rude throughout the flight. The food may have been nice if you LOVE celery but to me it wasn’t very nice at all.

Having a leaking air conditioning system above a seat is VERY BAD. During the flight I had bits of ice falling down on me from above which was definitely not included in my ticket.

A bit of ice that fell from the ceiling – it had almost melted away before I got this picture.

Finally, having a 787 safety card in the seat pocket posed a serious security threat and should not be tolerated on any airline.

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Spain’s worst Business Class? | Air Europa Review

After my arrival into Malaga with Aer Lingus, I found myself with just 50 minutes to connect from one side of the terminal to another. Luckily for me, when I arrived at my gate there was a Primera Air Boeing 737 still waiting for the final few passengers to arrive, meaning my flight to Madrid would be delayed.

UX5049 Malaga – Madrid:

Finally the 737 pushed back and departed for Billund. The gate staff changed the signage over to Air Europa, and invited all Sky Priority + VIP passengers to come forward for boarding, so I did. I had my mobile boarding pass scanned and I was told to walk down the corridor and wait for a member of staff to direct me. It was only when the whole flight was waiting in the corridor that a member of staff came and lead us to a bus that would take us to the aircraft. So much for my priority boarding…

As we drove across the airfield, the plain white ATR 72 came into view. Today’s flight was being operated by Swiftair and not Air Europa themselves. Much like my Iberia flight from Ibiza to Mallorca. As the doors to the bus opened, the rush of passengers to the aircraft steps began, but not before larger cabin bags were tagged and placed into the aircraft hold.

Whether sitting in Business Class or Economy, the legroom on this aircraft was extremely disappointing…

After boarding I settled into “Business Class” seat 17A; I noticed that for other than an inch or two of extra legroom, this seat was no different to the others on-board. Even without my hand luggage underneath the seat, it was a very tight squeeze to attempt to stretch out. The seat width was the same as the Canaryfly ATR, because of this, I knew I was in for a rough ride. I fully understand that unlike their jet engined counterparts, regional propellor aircraft aren’t as gifted with vast amounts of space. However, despite this I have seen many airlines create a dedicated Business Class cabin on aircraft Including the ATR family.

One of the two crew on-board, who’s names I forget, offered myself and the other three passengers in Business a glass of Orange Juice or Water to drink prior to our departure. I chose the Orange Juice and also accepted the anti-bacterial face wipe offered that I believe substituted for a hot towel. Once boarding had been completed the crew introduced themselves by making several announcements in both Spanish and English. The engines of the turbo prop started up and we began our taxi to the runway.

Welcome drinks, not quite as extravagant as a certain other Spanish airline…

Upon take off from Malaga, we climbed out over the Mediterranean Sea then turned towards the mainland. Once the seatbelt signs had been deactivated, the crew came around to clear the rubbish from the welcome drinks. Offering another selection of drinks, I chose a Coca-Cola and folded down the tray table to begin writing up the Aer Lingus review on my laptop. Only, when it was all of the way down, It rested on my lap and left me with no space whatsoever. After resting my drink on my laptop (being very careful not to spill it), they offered a selection of newspapers that had become very creased from sitting in one of the overhead lockers. Declining this, I was offered my in-flight meal.

A tray of peculiar looking sandwiches was presented to me, two choices, Chicken or Ham. Choosing the latter, I opened it to find it was quite simply ham on a tomato bread. Talk about fine dining! I was also given a small packet of salted nuts and later offered a bag of ready salted potato chips. It certainly wasn’t the most exciting selection in the world, that’s for sure.

Attempting to take a working lunch didn’t go as planned…

No In-flight Entertainment is offered, so anyone planning to travel with on the ATR best pack a book otherwise you could be in for a very boring and uncomfortable flight. To pass the time, I cursed myself for not choosing to take the Renfe First Class service from Malaga to Madrid’s central train station. At least I would have had a large reclining leather seat, warm meal and most importantly, a cool air conditioned cabin. 

Much to the relief of I imagine most people that had booked into this ‘Business Class’ service, the city of Madrid came into view and we began to make our approach. The crew passed through the cabin to collect any rubbish that was lying around and then took their seats for landing.

I have to be completely honest, this isn’t at all what I had expected when booking onto a Business Class flight with Air Europa. The quite frankly disappointing seat space available and very basic food options that were offered, really leave me wondering if the nearly £200 I paid for this 1 hour 30 minute flight was worth it. The only saving grace for my experience was the crew. They were fantastic from take off to touch down, and honestly couldn’t do enough for you.

EC-MIY, the aircraft that flew me from Malaga to Madrid

Many reading this may be quick to point out that, as I mentioned, it was not Air Europa that operated this flight. It is however, the airlines choice to allow fare paying passengers to fly in a Business Class that is no different than the economy product offered.

My advice to anyone thinking of flying Business on a Air Europa service operated by Swiftair would be this; don’t do it. Save yourself the disappointment and discomfort and fly with Iberia instead.

Vietnam Airlines A350-900 Economy Review

I have reviewed this flight both in writing and video format! Be sure to see my video review below.

Vietnam Airlines fly more than five times a day between the two major Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (yes, I refer to it as Saigon too!). They are in direct competition with Vietnamese budget carrier VietJet who operate a fleet of modern A321neo aircraft. I originally booked a ticket with VietJet for August 5th, but once I got to Hanoi I decided I really wanted to stay an extra night so I phoned up VietJet and they said I would have to cancel and rebook if I wanted to change my date of travel.

Not wanting to book another full revenue ticket, I looked into other options. I could see that Vietnam Airlines operated the route with widebody aircraft such as the B787, A350 and A330 so checked out prices. Being so late in advance, however, I decided to skip this option due to it being too expensive. Just as I was about to give up, I remembered that Vietnam Airlines are, of course, partners with Air France! I fired up my Flying Blue account and searched for availability and right there was a stack of award flights for 11,500 Flying Blue miles and £8.

I originally wanted to book the flight in business class but Air France had no availability so seeing as I didn’t would have had to cancel and rebook on VietJet anyway, I decided to choose Vietnam’s A350.

The A350 during boarding

The Flight

I arrived at Hanoi International Airport two days after arriving on my China Southern flight. The Vietnam Airlines’ domestic departures level at Hanoi is relatively small but was split between destinations instead of just having one big set of queues for everyone. Seeing as their were so many flights to Ho Chi Minh that day, I ended up in a long queue and after 20 minutes of waiting, I was finally able to check-in and drop my bag.

Hanoi’s domestic terminal

I asked the woman at check in for a window seat which she was happy to give but the only seat she said was available was 36A. I checked the seat map online and saw that the aircraft had a premium economy cabin. Knowing that no premium economy product was sold on this route, I asked if I could sit there but I was told that the cabin was reserved for SkyTeam elites.

A little disappointed that I was SO far back, I headed through security to find that FlightRadar24 was showing my flight as a B787 instead of an A350 – another setback. I had already missed Cathay Pacific’s A350-1000 product on my flight to Taipei because of an aircraft change to a Cathay Dragon A330 so was eager to make this one.

After walking around the small domestic area after security I ended up taking a seat and booking some more award flights!

Boarding started on time and still not knowing which aircraft I was on, I headed down to gate 10 where we boarded a bus which took us to the international stands to board our aircraft.

Bus boarding

By the name of this review I’m sure you have guessed what’s coming next: I stepped out of the bus to see the stunning Airbus A350 boarding for my flight to Saigon.

I walked around the aircraft for a while seeing as I would have had to wait on the stairs anyway. It was fun being able to freely take pictures of the aircraft from the tarmac!

I was very happy being able to take pictures freely

I boarded as one of the last passengers through the front door and walked all the way through the aircraft to find my seat.

Is that huge or HUGE?

Unfortunately, the aviation gods dealt me a bad hand and the seats 36 B and C were both nabbed. We pushed back soon after I got onboard and took off straight away to an amazing rainbow which appeared soon after we hit the skies.

A beautiful takeoff from Hanoi

Vietnam Airlines’ A350 economy class is set up in a 3-3-3 configuration.

The 3-3-3 configuration with noticeably large IFE screens

Economy class is set up in two cabins from rows 16-43.

Seat width was good – 18 inches

Each seat offers 32 inches of pitch and 18 inches of width.

Legroom ok but note that I am 6″2

The aircraft feels super modern and you can definitely tell the plane is new. Each seat is equipped with a personal IFE screen which was overwhelmingly large.

Loved the screens

Below the screen is a USB plug which was great as I love to see USB plugs on long-haul aircraft.

USB plug…tick

The IFE system has a selection of films, TV shows, games, maps and music. I wasn’t able to try any of the video or audio out because headphones aren’t given out on this short flight.

Film selection was ok

I ended up put the map on the screen and watched as we made our way to Saigon.

Map feature is always my favourite

Around 30 minutes after departure, the cabin crew made their way through the cabin offering out breakfast. I was expecting a hot breakfast option but the crew simply gave out boxes of crackers.

The breakfast box was terrible

The drinks trolley followed and I asked for a coffee which they said they didn’t have. I then asked for some orange juice and was told that all they had was coke and water. This was a weird choice seeing as it was very early in the morning and I ended the breakfast still feeling very hungry.

For the rest of the flight I sat back and watched the views as we approached Saigon. The approach is simply stunning as you go over an enormous area of densely packed housing! You can watch the whole takeoff and landing below.

We landed in Saigon on-time and taxied to stand to complete my first flight with Vietnam Airlines.

Overall, I thought the flight’s service offering was poor. For such a busy route, I would have hoped Vietnam Airlines could offer more in the way of food and drink. In terms of the aircraft, I was super impressed. The A350 is super modern and the cabin is more spacious than on other Asian carriers. I hope to try out the business class product next!

Cathay Dragon A320 Business Class Review

Dragonair officially became known as Cathay Dragon in November 2016 and since the original takeover in 2007, the Dragonair brand has become more and more similar to that of Cathay Pacific. Cathay Dragon now operate many of the short haul routes on Cathay Pacific’s network and one of those routes is Changsha.

I have made a video of this flight which gives you the opportunity to see first hand what the experience was like – watch it below.

Having flown into Changsha just two days previously, I arrived back at the airport bright and early and very excited to see just how Cathay Dragon’s business class product compared to that of fellow OneWorld airline British Airways. You can see their regional business class reviews which I wrote for the Boeing 767 and Airbus A319.

The British Airways A319 Business Class. Will Cathay’s be any better?

Booking

I booked this flight using my British Airways Avios which I generated by using my American Express British Airways Premium Plus card. The one-way flight cost 9,000 Avios and around £20 in tax. This flight can be bought revenue but I advise to go via comparison sites such as SkyScanner to get the best prices. I found some very good prices on all of Cathay’s network on SkyScanner last night so be sure to have a browse.

Pre-Flight

I arrived at Changsha airport three hours before my flight departure as I didn’t know what to expect in terms of waiting times. The airport was pretty quiet at this time but check-in desks for Cathay were not open. I asked some people but it seemed nobody who knew spoke English. After about 20 minutes I googled it and found that Cathay’s desks only open 2 hours before the departure time. This meant I had to kill an hour in the departure hall before going through security.

Once check-in opened I took my place in the tiny queue

Business class passengers are really taken care of here at Changsha – you get a red carpet all to yourself!

Today I was travelling with my AeroLite case. I have to say its an incredible suitcase to use as a carry on bag.

At check-in we encountered some issues with my bags. To cut a long story short, I was flying the route Changsha – Hong Kong – Taipei – Hong Kong but the girls at check-in wouldn’t allow me to check my bags all the way through as they were scared it wouldn’t make the connecting flight in Taipei in time. Anyway, after 40 minutes of standing around, they decided to tell me the best option was to abandon my bag in Hong Kong and hope that I found it later that night… You can watch the video below which highlights exactly what happened and shows you if I found my bag or not!

As I was heading through passport control, another setback occurred. The Chinese border guard spoke very little English. He made me stand aside for several minutes and then repeatedly asked me the same question in Mandarin which I made very clear I didn’t understand. After he finally called an English speaker, I could finally get to security. Security had no fast-track line and a huge queue so when I asked the lady for a business class line she simply walked me to the front, opened the entrance and pushed me into the queue that was more like a jostling mass of fanboys trying to get the front of the crowd at a concert.

I finally made it airside with around 20 minutes until boarding began and hit one more setback. The lounge at Changsha was under construction so there was a makeshift lounge in use. This lounge was called ‘No.16: First and Business VIP Lounge’. As I walked in, I realised there was nothing less VIP than this lounge and after a quick coke and a glass of champagne which turned out to be simple white wine, I was out and moved down to gate 44 for boarding.

The Flight

Priority boarding was strictly enforced and as a business class passenger I was one of the first people to board.

Cathay strictly enforce priority boarding

As I entered the cabin I was instantly impressed. Without even needing to see any food or amenities, the 2-2 configuration was enough to reassure me that this was going to be an excellent flight. There are only two rows of business class seats which makes the cabin ultra private.

Loved the 2-2 configuration a lot

Because of this 4 abreast setup, the space next to the seats is great. There is room enough to store anything you brought onboard as well as the blanket and pillow that greeted you as you got onboard.

The seat has a small area at the front for your drinks, a storage area underneath the armrest, a table which folds inside the armrest and seat controls to adjust the recline and foot rest. I thought it was amazing that the A320 seats were fitted with a recliner. The seat recline didn’t take you to a lie flat position but a 3/4 position which was very comfortable.

Mega comfort

Cathay’s own brand headphones are also waiting for you as you board the plane. These headphones were really good and were to be used when watching films on the iPad that was handed out to business class passengers before takeoff.

Cathay’s headphones and comfy pillow

The iPad was equipped with Cathay’s own IFE programme and had an OK selection of media. I found this to be of very little use on a 1 hour 20 minute flight but did like the magazines that were loaded onto the iPad. I ended up reading Business Traveller during the cruise.

Such a cool novelty being given an iPad

Alongside the iPad I was also given a menu. I was very impressed with this and Cathay Dragan once again showed British Airways up in this department. Food orders were taken on the ground and I chose the Sauteed Pork with Osmanthus lychee sauce, steamed jasmine rice and sugar peas. To drink I went for the Taittinger Brut Reserve Champagne which I was very happy to see on the menu. You can see the full menu in the slideshow below.

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As soon as I was comfortably seated, the offer of a welcome drink came around. On the tray was water, orange juice and a gin & orange juice cocktail. I chose the cocktail and was impressed. It had a strong gin kick which was excellently complemented by the orange juice.

My gin welcome drink

Once boarding was complete we taxied out and departed Changsha, waving goodbye to the first stop on my China trip.

Ciao Changsha

As soon as we hit our cruising altitude the crew made no mistake in getting our food out promptly. My Pork dish came around and was really nicely presented. The tray had my meal, a fruit salad, butter for bread that I assumed would come later, salt and pepper shakers, cutlery and two glasses.

Nice layout

After the meal was delivered, the crew came back to fill my glasses with the Taittinger I had decided on.

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Next came the bread. Alongside the normal rolls, there was an option of hot garlic bread which I jumped straight on. I couldn’t help laughing as I remembered the joke my mum always makes when I eat garlic bread. It generally involves her saying I better not kiss anyone after eating it. I don’t think there was any danger of that on this flight, anyway.

Garlic bread?!! YESSS

After I had cleaned up my really excellent meal, I was offered tea or coffee and opted for a coffee.

That’s what you’re meant to drink in the morning, not champagne

Overall, I was left mega impressed by the food offering. My pork dish was amazingly presented and tasted fantastic too. The fruit salad was accompanied it well and the hot garlic bread was a nice treat.

The whole dish
Cheers!

Before I knew it, we were already making our descent into Hong Kong and out of the window were some of the best views I have ever seen from an aircraft. We approached Hong Kong and then banked over it as we began our approach into Hong Kong International.

These views were UNREAL

As we came onto our final approach, headphones, ipads and drinks were all collected and we landed about 30 minutes late. I was first to exit the aircraft and was warmly sent on my way by the crew.

Hello Hong Kong!!

To conclude, I had an amazing flight in Cathay Dragan’s business class on this 1 hour 20 minute hop. The crew were fantastic, the food service excellent, the champagne great and the amenities even better. To be given an iPad and a menu really helps give business class passengers that elite feeling which so many other carriers fail to do.

Flying a 2-2 configuration is a real positive as it gives heaps of storage space and a very spacious cabin. If you have the opportunity to fly Cathay Dragon’s business class then do, it’s a really amazing product and one I can’t wait to do again in the future.

Like this review? See my latest 787 business class review here

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Aer Lingus A330 Economy Review

Every summer airlines tend to assign wide-body aircraft to short-haul routes to cope with the demand for seats. Aer Lingus are one such airline that does this, at peak times the Irish carrier’s Airbus A330 fleet operates to popular holiday destinations such as Malaga and Faro.

All through August, Aer Lingus are operating Dublin – Malaga – Dublin as flights EI582 and EI583 on the A330. Departing at 0700 and scheduled to arrive at 1110, this allows holiday makers to enjoy a full first day on their well-earned vacation. The return flight departs at 1220 to arrive at 1430.

Having never flown Aer Lingus before, I hopped on-board flight EI582 from Dublin to Malaga to try them for myself.

EI582 Dublin – Malaga:

Travelling with hand baggage only allowed me to check in to my flight 2 days prior to departure using the mobile app. After arriving at Dublin’s Terminal 2, I made my way through security and to the Aer Lingus lounge; access to which was included in my fare. You can read my review on the lounge here.

EI-FNH sat at the gate

As 6am approached, I took a short walk to gate 422, where my aircraft EI-FNH was waiting for me. When the gate staff announced that boarding would be commencing shortly, I joined the Priority Boarding lane which is reserved for Aer Club members and those sat in premium seats.

Making my way down the air bridge to the aircraft, I was greeted with a friendly warm welcome from Louise, one of the Senior Cabin Crew on-board today. She directed me to my seat, 3K. As soon as I stepped into the A330’s Business Class cabin, I was immediately impressed with the modern feel to the cabin; the black and silver colour scheme of the cabin is really easy on the eye.

Business Class Cabin (Image Credit: independent.ie)

Settling into my seat, I couldn’t believe how much space was available to me. The seating configuration varies depending on which row you sit in. Some are set out in a 2-2-2 style, whereas my row was configured in a 1-2-1 layout. For anyone travelling on the Aer Lingus A330 and you are unsure which business class seat to choose, I highly recommend seat 3K. This is mainly for the fact that you get two windows all to yourself!

Now, it’s at this moment that I should point out that for this whole flight I was actually an economy passenger. When operating the A330 on these sectors, the airline cannot simply remove the upper class cabins; so instead they sell the business class seats off as premium seats. I purchased mine for €79.99, which to some may seem expensive, but believe me, it’s worth it.

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All of the seats in this cabin convert from traditional upright seats into fully lie-flat 6.5ft long beds. Providing a seat width of 22″, these are almost certainly one of the most comfortable airline seats I have sat in for quite sometime! Not only do you get tonnes of space, but there are storage compartments everywhere. There’s even your own magazine rack to keep your literature and laptop in whenever you’re not using it. Whilst the layout of the cabin and the spacing may not be as luxurious as other A330 operators such as Virgin Atlantic, it does provide ample amounts of comfort to get you through a long-haul flight.

We made an on-time departure from Dublin and began our journey to the south of Spain. The bar service passed through the cabin when we had reached our cruising altitude of 39,000 feet. I treated myself to a warm breakfast option of a Sausage and Bacon baguette. At €5 this was hardly breaking the bank, and surprisingly actually tasted really good! A can of Fanta cost just €2.50; it must be noted that all options offered in Aer Lingus’ bar service were really well priced.

For once an airline breakfast that was great value & tasty!

The combination of a very early start and a hearty meal had me feeling a little on the tired side. I reclined my seat into the full lie-flat position and stuck on the latest Star Wars film to entertain myself. Had I wanted too, I could have chosen from any number of Hollywood hits, complete box sets of TV shows such as The Walking Dead or even updated my Facebook using the chargeable on-board Wi-Fi. The IFE remote is located within the armrest of the chair, luckily for me it was behind a flap that doesn’t dig into your thigh leaving you feeling uncomfortable.

Despite today’s flight being full in both cabins, I didn’t get that same feeling. Aer Lingus feature 30 lie flat beds in the front cabin and 287 economy seats in the main cabin. When stretching my legs, I didn’t find myself having to worry about knocking into someone when walking down the aisle. If you’re travelling with a partner in the near future on this aircraft in economy, I would highly recommend booking seats A & C or H & K. This A330’s economy is set in the traditional Airbus 2-4-2 configuration, meaning that you get a window seat and a row all to yourselves!

Shamrock 582 Heavy fully established in the cruise!

As the Interactive map flicked onto the screen, we started to decrease our altitude and the Costa del Sol came into view on my right hand side. Making our way out parallel to the airport and then turning to make our final approach over the Mediterranean Sea, I realised that I had grown fondly attached to this Airbus A330-300. Two years ago I flew from Sydney to Melbourne on Qantas’ Airbus A330-200 and I had thoroughly enjoyed my first 330 experience with them. This flight however has certainly lived up to my previous experience, and certainly surpassed all expectations I had.

Aer Lingus’ fabulous crew and unique Irish charm has clearly won me over. My experience with the airline has left me with no doubts that they are one of the best airlines that I have flown with. I personally, cannot wait until I am flying on an aircraft that carries the “Shamrock” call sign again. Hopefully It will be a transatlantic flight with them so that I can test out their Business Class product properly.

I guess it’s true what they say, “Smart flies Aer Lingus”.

Note: At the request of the crew on-board, I was asked to respect my fellow passengers privacy and not photograph the cabin whilst in-flight.

Aer Lingus Dublin Lounge Review (again)

Split over two terminals, Dublin Airport is rapidly growing into one of Europe’s major hubs. The sleek, modern Terminal 2 is the home of Aer Lingus as well as other major transatlantic carriers.

Before my Dublin – Malaga flight, where I reviewed Aer Lingus’ Airbus A330, you can read that review here, I decided to head on down to the lounge to experience some award winning Irish hospitality for myself.

Entrance to the lounge in T2

Once you have cleared security and get airside, getting to the lounge is a simple case of following the clearly displayed signage, heading down a level in an elevator, turning a corner and hey presto you’ve arrived!

As soon as I stepped through the door, I was immediately greeted by Gloria, who was manning the welcome desk this morning. After a quick check of my boarding pass, I was given a card with the Wi-Fi details printed on it, and I was wished a very pleasant stay.

The firs thing I noticed when I walked through into the seating area was an unmistakable sense of peace and tranquillity. The lounge has TV sets mounted on the walls at various points throughout the lounge, all of which are set to mute to allow guests the opportunity to relax before their flight and to let them catch up on work. Giant floor to ceiling windows allow lots of natural light to flood into the lounge; they also give guests inside the lounge a view of the distinctive shamrock that is on the tail of every Aer Lingus aircraft.

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This mornings buffet consisted of a cold selection of cereals, pastries, yoghurt and fruit salad. There was some snacks such as biscuits and every airline’s favourite sour cream and chive pretzels. I had previously read about the disappointing array of food options available here at the lounge, and Its very clear that nothing has changed. All food is accompanied by fresh fruit juices, hot drinks and a selection of sodas from the fridge.

Split over two levels, the lounge offers an upstairs seating area that is designated as the quiet zone. Also on the top level are complimentary shower rooms that guests transiting through Dublin can use. My experience with airport lounge shower rooms is that they can become quite hot and humid very quickly, however without using Aer Lingus’, I can’t comment on them.

The upstairs seating area is designated as the quiet zone. There is also a giant Airbus A350 model that I really wanted to take home with me!

As the flight information display screens indicated that it was time for me to head to the gate so that I could board my flight to Malaga, I got the sense that the Aer Lingus lounge is ideal for an hour or so whilst you wait for your flight. In my honest opinion, If the access had not have been included in my fare, I wouldn’t have lost any sleep over it. The lounge is practical and modern, but not quite what I expected from a Skytrax 4* rated airline.

Hainan Boeing 787 Economy Review

Those of you that follow the @londonspotter Instagram page will know that Raj is currently jetting around China reviewing brand new airlines and aircraft types exclusively for us. Earlier in July he flew from London to Changsha in Hainan’s 787 business class. Wanting to give you guys, our dedicated readers, the best possible coverage of a new airline to the website, I decided to jump on-board with them to check out their Boeing 787 Dreamliner economy class.

B-2729 lining up for it’s departure from Dublin

With Chinese tourism having contributed a whopping £26.5 million to Edinburgh’s economy, It makes perfect business sense for an airline to launch a direct air link between Scotland and China. When Hainan Airlines entered the Scottish aviation market, they initially flew the route on Airbus A330-300 aircraft. However, demand has proven so popular that the airline took the decision to upgrade the service to a 787 Dreamliner.

Hainan fly from Beijing to Edinburgh then onto Dublin every Tuesday and Saturday under flight number HU749, and from Beijing to Dublin then Edinburgh every Thursday and Sunday as flight HU751. With each sector bookable individually, I hopped on from Edinburgh to the Irish capital to try them for myself.

Having never flown from Edinburgh before, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. After boarding the airport shuttle from the hotel to the terminal, I immediately noticed the array of carriers that stood parked waiting for the mornings first passengers. Regionals such as Loganair and Flybe had a presence, but the most noticeable tails were that of the British Airways jets waiting to make the short flights back to London’s airports. All were dwarfed however by the distinctive red and yellow tail of the Hainan 787.

Hainan’s 787 sitting at the gate in Edinburgh

Inside the terminal, check in desks 41-45 were allocated for flight HU749. With only a handful of passengers checking in for the Edinburgh to Dublin sector, and even fewer staying on until Beijing, the airline could of easily coped with just two desks open. Security on the other hand wasn’t as quiet. I had expected it to be fairly busy but with an expected queueing time of 20 minutes, I decided that spending just £5 for the fast track security was worth it. After passing through security I made my way to the departure gate which was just a short walk away.

HU749 Edinburgh – Dublin:

I have flown my fair share of Dreamliners in past, but none of them in economy; for this simple reason, I was intrigued to see how it compares to my previous economy long haul flights on the Airbus A380 and Boeing 777.

Seat selection came free of charge when booking my flight, so I knew that I need not worry about getting seat 37K, a window seat with a superb view! Luckily for me when boarding only the aisle seat was occupied on my row, leaving both myself and my fellow passenger relieved that we wouldn’t have to do any fighting for the middle arm rests. After a quick photo shoot of the cabin, the Captain of the flight made his introductions in both Chinese and English and shortly afterwards we pushed back. He explained that he had 37 years of flying experience and that we would be climbing to a cruising altitude of 34,000 feet on our short 46 minute flight to the Irish east coast.

The view from seat 37K!

Upon take off from Edinburgh’s runway 24, I opened my hearty In-flight meal which consisted of a sole Ham & Cheese sandwich and a bottle of water that was handed out by the crew upon boarding. It was a rather odd meal choice I thought, especially considering the listed meal service for this flight was ‘Breakfast’. With the flight being so short I wasn’t expecting a full hot meal service to be offered, but the food choice could have been tailored to the flight timing better in my opinion.

Not quite what I expected as my In-flight meal…

As most of the passengers from the Beijing – Edinburgh sector had disembarked in Scotland, It gave me chance to have a wonder and grab some photo’s. To my surprise the business class cabin directly in front of economy was completely empty! The 2-2-2 configuration gave it a really spacious feel; but I won’t go into too much detail, you can read all about Hainan Business Class in Raj’s review here. Heading back to economy, the cabin is set in a 3-3-3 layout. This for me works a lot better on long haul aircraft, it gives the cabins a smaller more intimate vibe but doesn’t leave passengers feeling as if their personal space is being invaded by the person next to you. With 177 sitting in economy when fully loaded, this Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner offers a generous 31-32” of legroom per seat. This was more than ample for me to get comfortable and have my giant pink rucksack underneath the seat. Quite simply, It’s a seat that I would be more than happy to spend a long haul flight sat in.

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Between grabbing some photo’s and beginning to type up this review, I didn’t have much time to check out the In-flight Entertainment options offered. A quick flick through gave me many films suited to both Asian and European travellers. In terms of the latest Hollywood releases I was struggling to find them. The seat back screen is some 15” which gives a clear picture to anyone watching. In the seat pocket was the In-flight magazine and, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t read or understand any of it as It was all printed in Chinese!

Other than pointing out the emergency exits on the aircraft, myself nor many other passengers had any interaction with the flight crew. They were however, proudly showing off their brand new uniform which looked immaculate.

Almost as quickly as we had taken off, the Captain began our descent into a rather gloomy looking Dublin and before long we had touched down. We taxied then waited for a Qatar 787 to vacate from our gate so we could pull onto stand.

On final approach into Dublin

As I disembarked, I left feeling satisfied with my Hainan experience. For a mere £70 I had flown from Edinburgh to Dublin with a 5* Skytrax rated airline, and not with a certain low cost Irish carrier that need not be named. I would certainly love to fly with them again to experience their economy product In full swing on a much longer flight to more exotic destination than Dublin!

Note: This review is independent and not endorsed by Hainan Airlines In an way.

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BA CityFlyer Economy Flight Review

In 2017, British Airways returned to the UK regions, with the announcement of new flights to a range of holiday destinations from Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol – to be operated by BA’s wholly owned subsidiary, CityFlyer. Initially, I was sceptical: BA has long treated the English regions with contempt whilst airlines like Thomas Cook and Virgin Atlantic have thrived “up North”. However, last December, British Airways yet again increased its presence with new flights from Manchester to Dublin (adding to Aer Lingus’ frequent services) and Florence and expansion of existing connections to Ibiza, Malaga and Palma. Naturally, I was keen to try out the new flights and sample the “Jungle Jets” that solely make up BA CityFlyer’s fleet. I was not disappointed…


Flight Profile:

British Airways 4474: Manchester (MAN)-Dublin (DUB)

Aircraft: Embraer 190, G-LCYY

Seat: 15D (Euro Traveller)


Manchester Airport – Check-in/Lounge/Boarding

Manchester Airport is in the midst of a much-needed £1 billion investment, with the transformation project already under way in Terminal 2. Whilst Terminal 3 (host to most OneWorld partner airlines at Manchester, including BA, AA and Iberia) will be improved in the coming years, for now the terminal remains overcrowded and small. Despite this, Manchester Airport is making great strides to improve the experience with a string of new cafés and bars and a new ‘adults only’ Lounge.

‘The Nook’ is a swanky bar located in Terminal 3, providing a good example of MAG’s improvements in the terminal.

British Airways’ Lounge is located on a mezzanine level, looking down into the main terminal. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to be treated with the lounge experience on this trip, although I hope to try it out soon. Boarding began promptly, at 09:25 – as my aircraft, G-LCYY, was towed onto stand and was carried out according to group numbers.

The Aircraft: Where should I sit?

The cabin is upholstered with blue leather, and grey armrests. Every seat looked extremely comfortable and well-padded – a nice change from the modern ‘slim-line’ alternatives more widely used by airlines in this day and age.

This Embraer 190 can seat up to 98 passengers, in a 2-2 configuration.

Initially, I was struck by the sheer amount of legroom that this aircraft boasted – with a 34″ seat pitch! The comfort was truly unrivalled for a short flight across the Irish sea and the amount of legroom was unwavering throughout the entire plane. I was seated in row 15 – in the rear portion of the aircraft – and I was able to stretch my legs out straight in front of me with ease. Every seat also had a recline of 6″, and an abundance of seat width (specifically, 18.5″) and a large tray table, that would easily accommodate any laptop to work on the go. I simply can’t emphasise the comfort of this regional aircraft enough and would recommend it in a heartbeat to anyone choosing between BA CityFlyer and a rival airline.

34″ of pitch on an intra-Europe flight? Yes, please.

With this generous layout, CityFlyer’s Embraer 190 has a capacity of 98 passengers, in a 2-2 ‘double-bubble’ configuration. The “Double-Bubble” fuselage concept is a shape derived from overlapping two ovals to form a four-abreast cross section. The widest point of the upper oval is at the passenger’s elbow level, maximising space and allowing for wider seats and aisles than larger aircraft. This makes the E-Jet family a winner with passengers and with airline companies. 

The ‘Double-Bubble’ fuselage concept maximises passenger comfort. A big plus!

Business Class was broadly similar to the rest of the aircraft and, for a short intra-European flight, I would highly dissuade anyone from upgrading to Club Europe; Economy Class seats were equally as comfortable. It is still beneficial, however, to sit at the front of the cabin, for swift disembarkation and quick refreshments service (especially on a 40 minute flight).

The Flight

Unfortunately we incurred a delay on departure from Manchester Airport. Single runway operations meant that congestion blocked our pushback from Terminal 3. However, communication from the pilot was prompt and informative. Soon enough, we had broke through the typically thick blanket of British cloud and set course for Dublin.

Wingview: G-LCYY soaring over the Irish sea.

The flight itself was rather uneventful and only took around 25 minutes in total – meaning the crew had no choice but to carry out the onboard service efficiently and quickly. A task which they fulfilled with ease.

Onboard Service

When travelling on British Airways mainline, the onboard service consists of a buy-on-board M&S menu. With CityFlyer, this isn’t the case. Even on a flight as short as mine, the cabin crew immediately got to work and served every passenger with a complementary drink and snack – choosing from biscuits, popcorn, crisps, Diet Coke, Tonic Water and many more.

A small, but welcome touch – all guests still receive complementary drinks and snacks on BA CityFlyer.

Granted, this is a small touch but adds to the experience and makes short-haul flying feel that little bit more luxurious.

The Verdict – A Fantastic Way to Fly

British Airways CityFlyer offers one of the most comfortable and convenient short-haul products in Northern Europe, with 34″ of seat pitch and many of its radiating from London City Airport. Barring a small delay due to congestion at Manchester, the flight, aircraft and crew were faultless and, if flying from the UK Regions to a holiday destination such as Palma or Ibiza, there certainly is no other rival that comes close to matching the comfort of BA CityFlyer.


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A True 5* Experience | Hainan Airlines 787 Business Class Review

Hainan Airlines are one of 11 5* rated airlines and seeing as I had already flown on two 5* rated carriers (Qatar and JAL), it was time to tick off a third. Hainan Airlines recently started flying between London Heathrow and Changsha in Hunan province so I decided this was the perfect opportunity to test out the private Chinese carrier. I have made a full video review which you can see under this but it misses out some things. To get the full experience I suggest you watch the video and read the article.

Hainan are expanding at a rapid rate and have recently implemented new reforms in their onboard product which I was excited to test out. The first of these changes is in the design of the bed. Hainan have adapted to offer a more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing bed design which I found to be fantastic on this flight. The second change was in the food and the third change is in the uniform.

Business class passengers of Hainan Airlines have the possibility of using their limousine service but so far this is only available at selected airports and London Heathrow is not one. My brother therefore saw me off at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 and I arrived with around 4 hours until departure to see the finishing touches being added to Hainan’s check-in area. After a short wait, I checked in my bag, received my boarding pass and ventured to fast track security upstairs.

Hainan welcoming my new Aerolite suitcase! I was really excited to try my new Aerolite suitcase today and was very impressed. It is extra light and the perfect size for a carry on bag!

The fast track line at Heathrow’s T3 was really impressive this time around and I was through within minutes of entering.

Booking

The best prices i found to fly Hainan’s business class and even their economy class came from SkyScanner. These prices were extremely competitive so I advise you to have a look for yourself.

Lounge

Hainan has no lounge at London Heathrow but instead offers passengers access to the No.1 Lounge. This lounge also accepts Priority Pass entries and pay to enter passengers which meant that it was a little busy and after queueing for around five minutes, I walked in to find a seat by the window.

The lounge is very spacious with lots of seating areas, a free bar and many private rooms including a library and a cinema. On this visit, lots of the private areas had ‘reserved’ signs on them which was a shame as it meant I had to sit in the main area which was very loud. In terms of food, I originally asked for a beef burger but they told me they were out so I instead went for the ‘Asian broth’ which was very bland and a poor choice.

After spending an hour working on my laptop I then ordered a salmon salad which I saw the person next to me eat and it restored my faith in the lounge a little. The salmon salad was excellent and a really good choice if you’re in this lounge.

The drink options were good but restricted. I originally asked for champagne and the barman told me I had to pay but when I looked disappointed he pointed at the sparkling wine and said this was the free alternative. I opted for the sparkling wine and to be honest it was actually really nice.

While it is a shame that Hainan don’t have a lounge of their own at London Heathrow, I think the No.1 Lounge is a really nice area to relax, eat and drink so all in all, I really wasn’t too disappointed. Remember you can see the full tour of the lounge in the above video.

Boarding

As I left the lounge, gate 29 was called for flight HU422 to Changsha so I headed out on the 15 minute walk to the gate and was met by a completely empty business class queue. I walked straight up to the desk where my boarding pass was scanned and headed into the waiting area. I was really happy I arrived early as I ended up chatting to two cargo pilots who were positioning to Changsha to fly a 747-400 to Chicago via about five other places. It was really cool to chat to them and after around 20 minutes, we were called to board the plane.

Seeing as the plane was only a 787-8, only one jetbridge was used and after a short walk I was greeted by Orson who was the day’s cabin manager. The crew had been in London to attend the annual SkyTrax ceremony in which they were confirmed as a five star airline. The success was evident in their buoyant moods!

I headed into the first business class cabin of two as the only passenger and was greeted by two smiling faces. One of the girls to greet me was Dorlia who served me throughout the flight. It was extra special to have Dorlia serving me as she knew who I was and followed me on social media (major ego-boost moment).

 

The Aircraft

Hainan has 27 787s in their fleet and today we were flying to Changsha on B-2722, the oldest of the lot. Being a 787-8 and not a -9 model, the aircraft was fitted with the old business class model instead of the new one. What this meant was that the seats were laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration instead of a more private 1-2-1 setup.

With this in mind, I was praying for a free seat next to me and believe it or not, my wish came true. When the doors shut, the seat next to me was empty and I can’t tell you just how happy I was.

The front business class cabin has only three rows and is therefore, very private. What makes the cabin feel even more spacious is the lack of overhead bins in the middle row. This is a tactic many other airlines use on the 787 such as Qatar Airways and something I really like to see.

Behind the first cabin are two toilets for business class passengers and a galley. Behind this is the second of the business class cabins which has three more rows in the same 2-2-2 configuration. Behind this cabin is the economy section of the aircraft.

Pre-Takeoff

As soon as I sat down, Dorlia was around with a choice of hot or cold towel. I haven’t seen the option on many airlines and so it was nice to be able to choose. I obviously went for the hot towel and before I could finish using it, the welcome drinks came around.

Now instead of asking which drink you would like, Hainan brings round a selection to see which looks best for you. On the tray was orange juice, grapefruit juice, champagne and a seasonal drink called blue coastline. Dorlia explained to me that they have a drink for each season and this one was effectively a non-alcoholic cocktail. I went for the seasonal option as I knew I’d be on the champagne very quickly afterwards. Alongside the drink, Dorlia gave me a small bowl of nuts.

Less than a minute later, another tray came round. This time I was presented with noise cancelling Bose headphones (yes Bose!!) which I have to say pretty much cancelled any noise very effectively.

Also on the tray was a selection of red, light grey and dark grey ‘phone handbags’. That’s right, Hainan knows that losing your phone on the plane is all too easy so they hand out cute little felted wallets to keep your phone safe. I chose red but Dorlia gave me one in each colour.

After this, more kept coming. I was given a choice of medium, large or extra large pyjamas, shown to my slippers which are stored in the footwell and shown my Samsonite amenity kit.

Before taking off I was paid one final visit by a very special member of the team: the Chef. That’s right, Hainan Airlines has one member of staff who is the chef and she came around twice before takeoff. The first time was to surprise me with a special drink of coconut juice and baileys which looked like milk and tasted incredible. The second time she came round was to take my order. She wanted to know what I wanted for starter, main and dessert but also took orders for drinks and asked exactly when I wanted them. It is clear that Hainan tailor this service to be exactly as you want it. The food options were so varied and you can see the full menu below.

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Finally, the amenity kit by Samsonite was shown to me and oh boy was it packed. The bag has everything you’d expect from a business class amenity kit such as toothpaste, a toothbrush, lip balm, eye mask, ear plugs and socks but also throws in a couple of unusual items which I haven’t yet come across in an amenity kit. The bag came with a comb and a heavy bottle of what looked like perfume. You can see all the items below.

The Seat

The old business class seat is by no means a bad one. The seat is 22.5 inches wide and provides you with 74 inches of legroom. I am 6”2’ and I could comfortably stretch my legs out which was a massive perk.

The footwell in front of the seat is very deep and when in a lie flat position, can be used as a storage area.

Beside the TV you have a storage area and a hanger for a jacket or shirt although I asked the crew to hang my shirt up when I was in my pyjamas.

In the middle of the two seats is a shared armrest with a small table at the front for a drink.

The armrest is pretty large but too small to be comfortably shared by two people. This middle section is where your seat controls are placed. The seat controls cover everything you could want. You can turn your seat fully lie-flat or fully upright and anything in between. You can also raise the leg-rest and adjust the headrest. One awesome feature is a little blue button you can press which gives you a lower back massage!!. After pressing the button the area on my lower back moved around a lot and gave a very pleasant massage!

Underneath the armrest is a USB charger, a power plug and a headphone jack. This area also stores your remote control.

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We took off from runway 27L around 20 minutes late which was impressive. Just four hours before, the Heathrow control tour was evacuated due to a fire alarm and departing and arriving aircraft were all put on hold. Some aircraft had to wait upwards of an hour.

As soon as we were airborne I was given reading material such as The Economist and National Geographic.

This complemented the newspaper I had been given on the ground.

Pretty soon after takeoff and having taken our orders on the ground, food service began and my favourite part of the meal was brought around: the Chinese shrimp dumpling. Now I love a good Chinese dumpling but something about this one was just amazing and I could have eaten 100 more.

Secondly, I was brought a bowl of Chinese soup. I had been given the option of Western or Chinese and I of course went for Chinese. The soup was nice and hot and pretty flavourful.

Thirdly, I was brought a small salad with a sweet dressing on the top. If I’m honest, this was the low point of the meal. The salad was freezing cold and crunchy and I really didn’t enjoy it.

Onwards to the main course which I have to say was presented amazingly and didn’t disappoint in taste either. The dish I chose was ‘Szechuan pork with ginger and chili’ but it came with lots of Chinese style side dishes which were incredible. The crew also come around with choices of sauce. Dorlia suggested that I don’t eat the really spicy one (as she could see I was a bit of a weak soul, obviously) and so instead I went for the sweeter one.

The dish was so filling that I actually skipped the offer of ice cream and even when the Chef came around with what looked like sugar tart, I listened to my stomach and said no.

By this point I was starting to feel pretty tired and so I asked Dorlia to show me the new bed design so I could test it out. The new design is aesthetically very pleasing with its gold lining.

The feel of it once I got in was also pretty impressive. The two layers of cover mean you are lying on a very soft surface and you are kept warm by the thick duvet above you too. Once I got changed into my pyjamas, Dorlia was even so good as to tuck me in. What a lovely crew member eh?

With my bed comfortably set and wearing my fresh pyjamas I decided to lie down and see what was offered on the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system.

Seeing as the screen is far away from you there is no point it being touchscreen and it is controlled by the remote control which is found next to your seat. The control is easy to use and also controls features such as the light above your head and calling cabin crew. The system is very responsive and has a little feature which I found incredible useful. While watching a film, you can press the little airplane button and the flight map will appear in the top right corner of the screen. This is a really nifty way of seeing where you are without leaving your film. I watched one film but then stuck the map on for pretty much the entire flight.

The selection of TV and films is good but nothing to brag about. Noteworthy films include all three Lord of the Rings films which you could probably just about get through in 12 hours right? Other films include the Dark Knight Rises and some old classics too. The system also has a selection of Asian films and TV series.

With the Dark Knight Rises playing on my screen, my tiredness got the better of me so I paused the film and nodded off pretty much instantly.

After around three or four hours of sleep I woke up and was almost immediately asked if I wanted a cup of tea or coffee and some fruit. Within a minute or two I was given a cup of coffee and two hot towels. This service was so quick that Hainan must check very often if you’re awake to be ready to serve you.

Soon after waking up I set to work on my laptop and something extremely strange happened which you will have seen in great detail if you watched the video! All of a sudden, my nose started bleeding very badly. My table was up so I had to chuck all my laptop stuff onto the seat next to me and run to the toilet by which point I was already bleeding pretty badly and had ruined my new pyjamas!

It was a very weird situation and has never happened to me before. The way the crew dealt with it was fantastic. As I was holding my nose they wiped down my hands which by this point were covered in blood and got me a set of new pyjamas to put on. What was also very sweet was that after I returned to my seat, the chef came up with a bowl of cherries saying that they would help my blood. This was another example of how Hainan crew took initiative throughout the flight.

Before landing, the crew came round with one last meal option. For this service I went for the noodles and was not disappointed.

The noodles came with a side soup, a hard boiled egg, some sauces and a sweet bread which the crew said was very popular in China. I’d never had it before but it tasted fantastic and I almost asked for more.

Once I had finished my first breakfast dish, they brought a second one on me. This time I was given a plate of fresh fruit which tasted really amazing and was the perfect way to wrap up the food service.

After this final dish I got changed into my clothes and headed back to my seat to watch the stunning approach into Changsha play out. Just before we came into land I was then surprised by Dorlia as she brought me a little Hainan squidgy toy plane which doubled up as a turtle! Madness!!

This gesture may have only been little but it summed up to me just why Hainan are a five star airline. When I flew London-Changsha the crew were simply unbeatable. They spoke fantastic English, they were caring, genuine and thoughtful and it didn’t seem like they were doing things because they had to which you see with so many airlines today.

The food was amazing and when I said it trumps any other airline food I’ve had, I may have been a little brash but it is definitely up there.

After landing, I was met by my limousine driver who took me to my hotel in Changsha. This was a very nice welcome to a foreign city and I’m glad Hainan offer this limousine service.

Hainan Airlines has a charm about them which you don’t see a lot of nowadays. They are classy, visibly Chinese in attire but at the same time very western in their service. The crew don’t seem like they do it because its their job but because they enjoy it and that is what I love to see in an airline.

Finally, do Hainan deserve to be a 5* airline? My answer is yes, they do. My experience was not 5* worthy because of one thing: the seat and cabin. While the seat was good, it was no way near a 5* product. I am eager to try Hainan’s new business class product as I am sure that the new seat mixed with the amazing crew, fantastic amenities and incredible food will be about as 5* as you can get. Based on soft product alone, my flight was 5* by all means.

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disclaimer: this flight was provided by Hainan Airlines. I was under no pressure to state any particular opinions and all views are my own and based on this flight.