Flight Check: Hong Kong to Haikou on Dragonair Flight

By Rod Pascoe

Rod Pascoe flies KA694 to the capital of Hainan, an island province in southern China.
The Dragonair has a special queue at check-in for senior citizens, people with infants and passengers with reduced mobility. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Aero Icarus
The Dragonair has a special queue at check-in for senior citizens, people with infants and passengers with reduced mobility. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Aero Icarus

The Plane: An Airbus A320.

Pre-flight arrangements: You can check in for your flight and drop off your baggage at the Airport Express stations at Hong Kong Central and Kowloon. This means if you have a flight later in the day, as our Kiwi media contingent did, you can get rid of your bags soon after checking out of your hotel, without having to go out to the airport early. It's a great service.

Getting to the plane: We took the Airport Express high-speed air-conditioned train from Hong Kong Central. It was so spotless, I thought it must have been new. Hong Kong International is such a huge aviation hub, it has 80 or more air bridges. Terminal 1, where Dragonair operates from, is separated into channels, clearly marked A, B, C, D, etc, and electronic noticeboards tell you which one your airline check-in counters are on, so it's easy to find your way around. At the end of the channels, you pass through security and passport control.

I was told a rail service then takes passengers to most departure gates, but our flight was leaving from one of two satellite terminals, so we were taken across the tarmac by bus. It was so packed with standing passengers and their carry-on luggage I feared my backpack would hit someone if I moved. That wasn't a pleasant experience.

Special feature: I really liked that Dragonair has a special queue at check-in for senior citizens, people with infants and passengers with reduced mobility. In addition to the staff behind the check-in counters, Dragonair has six or more workers out in the public area to guide passengers as they arrive.

Price: Business Class $616; Economy $379. But it's possible to book a flight from Auckland to Haikou, treating Hong Kong as just a stopover, and the airfare isn't much greater than it would be if you were just going Auckland to Hong Kong.

My seat: An aisle seat in an emergency-window row, so I had considerably more leg room than normal.

How full: About three-quarters of the 150 Economy Class seats were taken; the eight Business Class seats were all occupied.

Fellow passengers: Apart from the seven-person Kiwi media contingent I was part of, every other person was Asian. Despite the tiny number of Westerners, and the fact we were flying between two regions of China, all announcements were made in English first, then Cantonese and Mandarin.

The service: The hostesses were affable, immaculately groomed and demure. They spoke very good English.

Refreshments: Two mini walnut cookies and a small bottle of water, delivered in a presentation gift bag. Being a greenie, I was worried that the bag, made of thick brown paper, immediately became waste. It wasn't necessary. And don't get me started on plastic water bottles...

Entertainment: This was a commuter flight, so there wasn't any. But copies of the South China Morning Post and Chinese-language papers were available to be picked up at the aircraft door, and inside, there were racks of magazines such as National Geographic and Fortune. Each seat also had a copy of Dragonair's 98-page Silkroad magazine and a 218-page Emporium shopping guide.

Toilets: I have a real thing about unisex toilets. It gets up my nose that blokes who can't aim straight just zip up and leave. Don't they care that women have to use the same facilities? So I have always considered it my duty as a man to get a big wad of toilet paper and clean up the drips' drips. I am happy to say this wasn't necessary in either of the two rear toilets available for cattle-class passengers. They were immaculate.

Flight time: I was told it would be 1hr 20m, but that was about the time from when the jet left the departure gate to the time it landed in Haikou. The flight itself was 57 minutes long.

Flying experience: The plane shook a bit as we climbed to cruising altitude and one of my journalist colleagues became so frightened she gripped the armrest and held on for dear life. She held her hands out so I could see how much she was shaking. But we were out of the turbulence in less than five minutes and the flight was super-smooth from then on.

Arrival experience: At Haikou Airport, I was a little annoyed that we had to put our bags through an x-ray machine again. It seemed pointless, especially as the two security staff on duty spent almost the entire time talking to each other and barely looked at the screens. Some of our group just pushed their luggage trollies past the x-ray machines and no one said a word. One of our local contacts said the check was actually to catch people bringing in suitcases full of money (untaxed earnings) to buy apartments in Hainan.

Would I fly this again? To be sure, and I hope to, when I return to Hainan Island for pleasure rather than work.

- NZ Herald

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