Saturday, December 28, 2013

HKTrip13 - Flying to Hong Kong

This is the first of several posts in a series about my recent holidays in Hong Kong. It covers the flights and arrival in Hong Kong from Christchurch.

The Flights
As usual, flying to Hong Kong required 2 flights. Since we booked with Air New Zealand this time, this meant that we had a (very short - 1 hour!) stopover in Auckland between the two flights. The flights in question were:
  1. NZ516 - (Air New Zealand) Domestic flight to Auckland, taking off at 11:50am, and arriving at 1:10pm.
  2. CX198 - (Cathay Pacific) International flight to Hong Kong, taking off at 2:30pm, and arriving around 9:30pm.
Compared to many of the alternative itineraries, this itinerary probably has the best arrival and departure times. The downside though is that it involves passing through Auckland airport, with its two terminals. The stopover may also be a bit brief if there are any delays or if you want to grab something to eat before boarding the next flight.

Departure from Christchurch

On the day that we were due to leave, it was cold and wet in Christchurch. A cold front had moved in early on Monday, resulting in mild/chilly weather, and rain. Lots of rain

While I'd been prepared for some light drizzle, and perhaps a light chill in the air, the weather that morning really threw quite a curveball at me. About halfway through the drive to the airport, it started to drizzle. By the time we got to the long term parking at the airport (it's the 3rd exit from the second roundabout; take the right-hand lane on that exit - the left leads to short-term - and turn at the first right-hand entrance), it was absolutely bucketing down. Whoops! Should've worn my heavier black jacket, which has a hood and is better when it is slightly chilly, instead of the lighter long-gray jacket (which only works in mild and dry spring weather).

Making matters worse was the fact that the carpark was quite full, so we ended up parking right near the outermost end of the lot, far away from the exit. At least I got a good look at some of the US Air Force's Antarctic operations heavy-lifting planes, which were parked on the tarmac alongside the carpark, separated only by a chicken-wire fence.

Despite the nasty weather, and having to trudge all the way from there to the terminal while dragging my luggage and trying to carry an umbrella (more in this in a sec, but it was one of those small + flimsy collapsible travel ones which are a pain to use), by and large, these facilities were quite nice. This was because there was a covered walkway which lead from the carpark, straight to the international (arrivals) area. Nice and simple. No confusion/navigation woes to worry about. The only downside was the fact that there were frequent gaps in the canopy - i.e. whenever we crossed over some road, which meant that it was necessary to carry the umbrella and have it always open.

Once inside the terminal though, it was nice and warm. Perhaps a bit "too" warm, but still nice (in contrast to the weather outside). Check in and security were all very quick and easy, with few delays. For security, there was just 1 of the 2-3 machines there operating that morning and a skeleton staff manning this. They also seemed to have no problem with the small water bottle (a small Pump bottle I'd collected from McD's a week earlier) I had with me at the time.

Being the first time I'd flown domestically since the airport was revamped, it was interesting to see the domestic departures lounge area of our new airport terminal. Inside, there were lots of different types of comfy chairs in different colours! Some were wide multi-seaters with high backs (and in a nice light green), while the others were smaller single-seater armchairs (in a mid-red/burgundy colour). Unfortunately, I only had time to try to armchairs, since all the ones with high backs were taken and boarding was already in full swing.

Air New Zealand - Christchurch to Auckland
This was one of the best flights I've had in years.

Despite it being "only" an A320 (kitted out in a single class configuration only), the cabin was quite spacious, with no leg room (or reclined seats) issues to speak of. This can probably be attributed to the jet being fitted out with the latest in Air NZ's cabin decors (all developed in-house), with those sleek looking seats with the black padding and white plastic shells, purple LED lighting, etc. Looking back, it can probably be said that this jet was quite a new addition to the fleet, which probably explains a lot.

A requisite "shot of the plane" (and perhaps the only one I managed to take on this trip). The Air NZ A320 waiting on the tarmac. As can be seen, the ground is still quite wet from all the rain that day. Also note that the plane is sporting some of the "new" livery - a black tail-fin vs the old blue-green.

For the safety demo, they aired the eye-catching "Betty White - Safety Old School Style" clip.

Not only was this a well produced and entertaining clip, but it was also very effective at capturing the attention of passengers.

Take Off
We slowly taxied all the way out past the fire station, with its 2 appliances parked outside, waiting to take action if called upon. From memory, I haven't been down this part of the field before. Outside, nearly all the grass had turned a golden-brown colour - as if it was either in the process of dying out, deliberately sprayed dead to deter the birds, or just being worse for wear after a few weeks of good weather and sunshine.

Takeoff and straight into the thick + low cloud layer. As can be seen, the fields below were varying colours. Also, note how the rain quickly streamed off the body of the plane as we became airborne. From the looks of things, we had between 10-15 degrees of flaps (as the little numbers beside each mark seem to suggest).

The takeoff roll was relatively smooth and gentle. Before long, we were in the air, and shooting straight into the thick and low cloud level. Since it was still raining quite steadily, the cloud level was lower than usual, forming a very thick and dense blanket above the land. But once we breached the layer of clouds, it was a very different story up above...

Cruise - Clear Blue Skies, and Cloud...
Clear blue skies - so bright that those at the window seats would be well advised to wear a pair of sunglasses while peering outside. Below, the thick blanket of silver-grey clouds just stretched out as far as the eye could see - and endless blanket/sea of white. From the air, it was obvious why New Zealand was originally called "the land of the long white cloud" by the initial Maori settlers - it seemed that the entire country was almost completely smothered by a thick blanket of cloud that day (and indeed it was, with rain in most places except for a few patches in the far north).

Part way through the flight, they (the friendly and enthusiastic Christchurch-based crew) started serving refreshments consisting of a small snack and a hot drink. For this, the crew were dressed in vests and aprons, with various Kiwiana icons included on the playful montage across the back.

There were two options for the snack: a Cookie Time cookie (yay! Another Christchurch company... I haven't had these in years) or an airline-branded bag of spicy chips (they were the crunchies/wheat shells type).

As for the drinks, they had the usual suspects (coffee or tee). The tea was a really nice, smooth, and good tasting one (IIRC, it might've been Chanui, but I'm not entirely sure). This was served in cups decorated with maps of New Zealand which highlighted different airports that AirNZ operated out of, and the other airports that could be reached from there. My cup was for Christchurch (IIRC, it indicated there were some 27 or so domestic airports that could be reached).

A slight gripe though is that the crew missed a few rows when handing out the snacks, until a helpful passenger in an aisle seat alerted them. Admittedly, it can be a bit confusing at times to figure out which row of seats correspond to which row numbers!

In the first of several bouts of turbulence that day, we encountered a patch of rough weather partway through the flight. The cause of this was pretty clear to be seen out the windows...

Flying through a thin layer of wispy high cloud. This seemed to just float by outside the window over the top of the wing. Down below, the cloud cover was still quite thick.

Later in the flight, we encountered another patch of turbulence. Once again, there was a thin layer of high cloud passing by. But this time, down below, the cloud cover was a bit patchier. Also note how the moon is visible (if you look closely).
My favourite shot from the flight! It has everything - wing, complex cloud formations down below, wispy high cloud, deep blue sky, and the moon to boot! Also, note how, while the cloud cover on the LHS is relatively large, chunky, and patchy, on the far right, it has a very interesting lumpy formation.

Approach and Landing
As we began to approach Auckland, the cloud cover began to clear up, becoming patchier. Of all places in the country, Auckland and the far north were some of the few places in the country that were expected to be relatively rain-free that day, with a high of 21-23 degrees right around lunchtime (before a southerly was due to come through and bring the weather right down).

The surf breaking against the rocky shoreline, as seen through a gap in the clouds. It's interesting how much this resembles abstract art at times...

Descending (with a slight bank) through two layers of cloud. While there wasn't rain in Auckland, there was still reasonably thick cloud cover like the rest of the country that day.

The hilly countryside surrounding Auckland could be seen through breaks in the cloud. From time to time, there were also sparse clusters of small speckles scattered around. More likely than not, these were actually houses in a semi-rural small town, though they were a bit too small to be sure.

A closer look at the waves hitting the shoreline

Rolling green hillside, dotted with the occasional shed. It's quite amazing how green, uncluttered, and lumpy the terrain around here is... In many ways, this is a very different New Zealand to what can be seen in the South Island (so much so that we often joke that it's like a different country up there!)

One we were clear of the clouds, it was practically a straight-in + stabilised landing which passed over yet more rolling hillside and the harbour. Far in the distance, Rangitoto Island (a big dormant volcano visible in the Hauraki Gulf) and the Sky Tower (tallest building in NZ) + the city skyline could be seen.

Approach - Passing over yet more farmland

Landing - Passing over the harbour on final to the airport. The sky tower is the barely-visible thin-line spike in the distance, and Rangitoto should be the pointy peak to the far right (IIRC).

There was a quite a gusty breeze blowing as we came in to land. The flaps were fully extended to 40/50 degrees, and were buffetted around quite a bit (notably, the corners really "flapped" around quite a bit). The landing itself was nice and smooth though.

Auckland Airport
Getting between the terminals
I'm not very fond of Auckland Airport. Like LAX (which I absolutely despise), it is split into two terminals: a domestic and an international terminal. These are not exactly located right next to each other, but are separated by an open air car park and/or several other industrial-looking buildings, though apparently, all of this is still a "10-minute, walkable" distance. I'd have loved to verify this, but various things worked against me managing to do so - on the outward leg, this was the short turnaround (about 1 hr) from landing in Auckland to departing on the next flight; on the inbound leg though, it was the weather which didn't play ball!

In the end though, I ended up taking a shuttle from one terminal to the other. As it happens, when emerging from the domestic terminal, this is a very confusing thing to do. That's because you're presented with a screen saying that the shuttle will be arriving soon, but with very little indication of what it will actually look like. In the meantime, heaps of busses with similar but slightly different wording on them (i.e. some are labelled "Airbus Express" and are yellow and blue, while others are "Park and Ride" which are black and orange) pass by. Adding to the confusion is the fact that many of these "other" busses usually have signs on the side which say that they will be heading over to the other terminal, though, depending on the driver, you may either be grumpily kicked off, or given a free lift across. In our case, it was the latter :)

Note: At the international terminal, this is only slightly better, given the fact that there were security personnel around to act as waypoints, and the fact that many travellers were looking similarly baffled AND laden down with the mountains of luggage they had to haul from one terminal to the other.

Now, about this business of having to collect and haul your luggage from one terminal to the other: On this trip, we were fortunate to be travelling/booked on Air New Zealand. As a result, for the outbound leg, our luggage was checked straight through to Hong Kong (though we did have to go to the Cathay Pacific check in desk at the international terminal to get them to register our bags with their computer system - though this could be done just using the boarding pass info, so no need for us to collect and haul our bags across). For the inbound leg, we used the Air NZ international <-> domestic transfers desk (located to the left of the arrivals exit IIRC), where we checked our bags in again (since you have to collect your luggage prior to passing "customs and biosecurity" so that they can confiscate all your food and fine you for any "transgressions"). However, this option isn't really available if you're flying or booked via some other airline (e.g. Qantas <=> its budget subsidiary Jetstar - which operates all by a few of Qantas's flights around here nowadays), and you're practically forced to haul your luggage between the terminals (and likely in a state of zombification and jetlag from a long 10-12 hour flight that arrived at or before 6am in the dark).

The Domestic Terminal
When disembarking from the flight, it was quite a shock getting off that sparkly new plane from our beautiful new airport in Christchurch, and walking through into Auckland's domestic terminal. The thing looked absolutely dilapidated! A relic of the 70's and 80's, with dirty + old looking windows, walls, and general aesthetic. The foyer wasn't much better, except you now had a scrappy mess of shops and people smooshed together, all within an area with a fairly low ceiling, and depressing fluorescent lighting.

To make the disembarking process go a bit quicker, they opened the back door of the plane too, allowing passengers at the back to get off from there (by climbing down one of those movable ladders before walking across the tarmac to the terminal). We were probably some of the last people off that jet, and by that stage could have gone either way. But, not wanting to brave the stairs, we ended up opting to head up the front to the airbridge.

The International Terminal
The international terminal only fared slightly better. At the very least, it looked like something from the 90's (or at the very least, something from the same era as Sydney's airport). By and large, the departures hall looked exactly the way that I remember it looking when I last passed through this airport nearly a decade ago, except that this time, it looked a hell lot dirtier/grimier/dustier and generally in a state of dated disrepair. While writing this post, I kindof wish I'd taken one or two quick shots of this for demonstration purposes, but it was generally too depressing to warrant that at the time.

The only shot I do have of the place is a shot of one of the big towering sculptures that greet you once you head upstairs to the foodcourt/shopping area (note that this is still outside security).
Guardian Sculpture

We didn't have much time before in Aucklnad before we needed to head to the gate to board our next flight. That's because the previous flight had landed at around 1:15 - 1:20pm, getting out of the Domestic Terminal and trying to find/board the shuttles took another 5-10 minutes, riding the shuttle to the other terminal took 5 or so minutes, finding+walking to the Cathay Pacific check-in counters and waiting while they searched their computer systems for our luggage took another 10 minutes (fortunately by this point, there were no queues to speak of), leaving us with about 15 minutes before we needed to head in through security (2:30pm takeoff).

In that 15 minutes, we managed to have a quick meal/snack. This proved to be a wise decision in the end, since the first meal service on this flight wasn't until 5-6pm NZ time! As we were pressed for time, we ended up settling for a quick bite to eat from McD's. Interestingly, despite ordering 3 burgers (2 of these were $1 or $2 dollar burger-only lunch deals, and another regular combo) it all came in at $7 exactly. Normally, you can't even get a single burger let alone a combo at that price there here in NZ. (NOTE: they operate on a 3-digit order code system at this branch, with this number being printed on the docket.)

International Terminal - Secure Area and Boarding
Entry to the secure area is a via a "hole in the wall" entrance at the end of the upstairs arcade, with a burgundy coloured wall. A sign beside the entrance instructs passengers to leave all trollies outside.

As usual, there was the "NZ/Australian E-Passports" (i.e. "locals") to the right, and "Aliens" (or the more diplomatically labelled "Other Passports") to the left. Once again, the E-Passports system worked flawlessly and efficiently, with 5-8 booths operational, and very few staff needed (NOTE: in this case, the machines swallowed the tickets, while you need to collect and hand these to customs when arriving).

Next up was security scanning, and the usual routine of disemboweling your bags and pockets on the conveyor belt into the stacks of utilitarian gray trays. There was a bit of a queue here at last, and in that time, I finished off the last of the water I'd brought with me before abandoning the tiny (but apparently not tiny enough, according to the big ugly warnings scattered along the divider) water bottle on the marble divider separating the scanning area from the queue. I'd have dumped it in a bin, if only they provided one. Then again, I guess they don't really want any surprises there...  (I leave it as an exercise for the reader *ahem security scanners* to imagine what approaches could apply here ;)

Fortunately, the folks manning the scanner here were big jolly folk - not the grumpy and prison-warden-like outsourced labour found at Sydney.

Once past security, you're dumped in between several duty free shops (as per every other airport these days). However, unlike the others, in this case, you're not really inside any particular shop, but standing between several. Compared to the miserable conditions outside, it is only in here that you can finally start to see and feel the "makeover" and "make time for all the brands you love" (as per their latest advertising campaign, where a long-suffering husband gets weighed down with bags as his wife goes to shop for cosmetics, and then the dude sees a watch, quickly slings up all the bags, only to have the boarding call go off). There are quite a few more shops in here, though all of these are the "usual suspects" types. There are also a few food outlets not seen outside (i.e. Burger King).

It was quite a long walk to the gate, which involved passing through several "precincts" and then down an escalator. There, wedged between the window+gate, a glass divider (providing some kind of priority accessway - perhaps for disembarking passengers), the escalators, and another mob of passengers queued outside another gate (but headed for the USA IIRC), were all the passengers waiting to board the Cathay Pacific flight. A large number were Asian (as to be expected for a flight to Hong Kong), though not all.

Cathay Pacific - Auckland to Hong Kong
The Plane
This flight was operated on an A340, in a 3-4 class configuration (including Economy, Premium Economy, Business, and probably First too). Inside, they used a 2-4-2 seating configuration (I can't say I'm a fan of it). We were seated in the central block, wedged right in the middle of the whole block.

View from my seat in the center block. Overhead, the overhead bins hover ominously (especially considering the bear-like types of carry on the some people lug with them).

I can't say that my initial impressions of the cabin or the plane were that flash, though by the end of the flight (and especially after the return flights) I did come to appreciate some of the things on offer on this carrier. That's because, overall, the plane and cabin had quite an "old + battered" vibe to it.

It's fair to say that in the past I never really understood why it was that airframes had to be retired (the video linked here is quite a sad sight IMO), or why some airlines proudly boasted of having the "youngest fleets". Now I know. Sitting in that plane as it taxied to the runway, you could feel every single light, pothole, bump, lump, patch, grains of gravel, and/or groove on the tarmac. Every. Single. One. Straight. Up. Your. Backside.  Meanwhile, on every one of the more major bumps, the overhead lockers (remember, I was seated in the middle block) would shudder and squeak.

The takeoff wasn't much better. As the plane ambled down the runway, the overhead bins began violently shaking, with some visible shearing, twisting, and distortion as the plane eventually began to rise into the sky. For a few moments there, it was actually a bit scary to watch - it looked like at any moment the entire rack of bins would either shear off the roof, or the doors would be bumped open, and would empty their contents on the floor. Fortunately, once we were in the air, things started to settle down, and stayed that way until we landed. Upon the moment of contact with the ground, there was a really hard and loud "thump" which really went right up your spine, followed by everything (seats, overhead bins, toilets/dividers, etc.) shaking violently and noisily.

The Cabin
While my initial impressions of the seats weren't that flash, by the end of the flight, I actually came to really appreciate them. My first impressions were that they looked quite old and "weird" - like weird rickety contraptions which were in need of a bit of a spruce up (any such impressions were blasted away on the return flight though).

A quick snapshot of the seats. They have a hard plastic shell, with a leather/faux-leather headrest that can be reshaped to (nicely and quite perfectly) wrap around your head, and an adjustable back-pad.

Perhaps the first killer aspect of these seats is the fact that the legroom between seats is pretty nice and comfortable. Heck, in practically all the planes I was on this time (bar the old 737's that Air NZ still operate domestically and have since I was a kid taking my first flights), leg room was quite comfortable even in economy. One of the most important aspects is that your knees aren't constantly embedded in the back of the seat in front of you (especially the seat pocket) as I found on Qantas last year (in fact, it now seems clear to me that in fact, the new-fangled chair designs by the much lauded Marc Newson are perhaps some of the worst airline seats out there, especially in actual usage, suffering from bad and uncomfortable contouring, insufficient space, and unfortunate placement of things like under-chair supports and armrests...)  Here on this flight, there were about 1-2 inches of space to spare in front of my knees at all times!

Furthermore, no one can recline their seat onto you. Guaranteed. That is one heck of a killer feature! Initially I didn't realise this, and thought that perhaps it was just the kid in front not needing the extra recline space, and the others accompanying her being considerate too. But then, I later realised that in fact, it was because the back pads of the seats can be adjusted to slide and recline within the shell (and without affecting other passengers). While initially this meant the seats felt kindof flimsy (especially with the feeling of two metallic supports jutting out of the padding in inconvenient places), by the end of the flight (perhaps after accidentally bumping the switch at some point), the seats were really quite comfotable.

The final killer aspect of these seats is that they are actually really conductive to sleep. The head rests turn out to be a comfortable size and shape to support your head without needing to add a pillow (in fact, adding a pillow then makes your neck stick out too much), making it really comfortable and easy to fall asleep in. In fact, it was so good that I fell asleep partway through the takeoff, and slept soundly for the first 2-3 hours of the flight. So too did the random young asian guy seated beside me. He was basically zombified for the first 4-5 hours of the flight, splayed out on his tray table (with a loaded backpack between his legs), refusing meal service (apart from ordering a hot cup of instant noodles about 8pm NZ time - halfway between the meal times) before waking up and watching a few movies for the last half of the flight.

Airbags on the seat belts - an oddity that I've never encountered before. Enlarge for more details.

There were some other interesting features to the seats. Perhaps the most interesting (and also another one of the reasons why I initially thought the seats looked a bit crufty) were the big bulky bags/sacs wrapped around the short end of the seat belts. For much of the flight, I thought that these were weird/retrograde seat belts that needed some weird lumpy bags on them for bizzare design reasons. It wasn't until later in the flight, when I turned on the light to check something that I realised that in fact, these were airbags! Airbags on plane seat belts... that has got to be the first time I've ever seen one! Another interesting feature of the seats were that there were cup holders that could be used without opening the tray table.

A word must also be said about cabin humidity (or the apparent lack thereof). I'm not sure whether it was just a lack of drinking water, meal service, or the aging airframe, but the cabin felt really dry. As in, the type where you feel that you're literally drying out corpses - your eyes feel sore and zombie-like, dry lips, dry mouth, hot/dry skin, oily hair. With about 5-6 hours left of a 11 hour flight, I think it's fair to say that most passengers at that point would've wanted off immediately.

A word must also be made here about the in-flight service - it was generally quite good actually. Not quite as super as Singapore Airlines when I last flew with them, but definitely miles ahead of Air NZ. Particular kudos must go to the crew walking around with trays of water from time to time - this really helped to relieve the dehydration when they finally came around. The only downside was that service on the left-side of the jet (with the zombified passenger) seemed a bit sloppier than on the other side, as not only did we not receive any menus or incoming passenger arrival cards, but meal service was generally a few minutes later too.

As on all long haul flights, there were 2 meals served on this flight. However, unlike on other flights (where the meals are timed to be about 1-2 hours from either end of the flight), on this flight, the meals were served at standard meal times at the destination (i.e. in Hong Kong time). So, this meant that lunch was served around 5pm NZT (12pm HKT), and the snack/second meal around 11-12pm NZT (5-6pm HKT). Although this seemed weird at the time (as in, "where is the food already?!"), it is actually quite good for helping to get your body clock in order. That, and having all the window shades pulled down after about 2 hours when the lights were dimmed (and everyone was either sleeping or watching some movies).

The food selections available on this flight were quite nice.

For the first meal, there was a choice between "Sweet and Sour Fish with Fried Rice" and some braised pork dish. The fish was tasty, with the batter standing up relatively well for something that had been reheated, but the "fried" rice turned out to be just "rice". This was also served with a Hong Kong style bun (light and fluffy inside, with a glazed brown outer skin, and served with single-serve pre-warmed Anchor butter), and a New Zealand Natural Hokey Pokey ice cream. The ice cream was quite interesting, since unlike other types of Hokey Pokey I've had over the years, the little nuggets were actually gooey and runny whereas these usually tend to be hard as a rock. Personally, I prefer it this way, though I'm not sure whether it was really meant to be like this (or whether that was really just a consequence of limited aircraft chilling capacity + pressurisation weirdness). Following the meal, they also had the usual offers of tea or coffee. Just a word of caution, the tea is really strong and hot here.

I can't really remember the second meal that much. Perhaps the cabin humidity was getting to me by that stage (since by that stage I was absolutely roasting in my seat for whatever reason), or maybe that's what happens by the time you've watched some 3-4 movies already, some partially on the side while watching another one ;) All I remember of it was that there were two choices: some pasta dish (it was probably a with a white creamy sauce), and some "E-Fu" noodles. Not exactly wanting to risk having an allergy attack in mid-air, I opted for the pasta instead (though the E-Fu noodles did look a tad more appealing presentation wise).

Entertainment System
The entertainment system was a bit of a mixed bag. There were good aspects (such an interesting range of content including some new release films, other recent classics and well reviewed offerings, some local/HK television shows like "Come Home Love" though admittedly some very old episodes) and some not so good (notably, the 5 minutes of ads you'd have to sit through everytime you changed activity).

On my seat, there was an added "complication". Early on in the flight, I discovered that the sound controls on my entertainment system were kindof borked. When I plugged in the headphones, there would be some loud heavy metal music playing (with a bit of sound distortion in the mix to boot). Attempts to control its volume would only be sometimes successful - ranging from managing to get it to drop down a bit then up a bit to compensate, to having it suddenly blow up and attempt to deafen you. However, the worst part was that initially, the sound I was getting had absolutely nothing to do with what was on my screen, apart from a few occasional snippets of the film company logos (i.e. the Fox fanfare). In fact, at times, it seemed to be broadcasting someone else's entertainment! Frustrated, I ended up packing away the headphones, and getting a few more hours of sleep. (Only to end up losing my headphones in the end!)

Later on, I managed to procure a new set of headphones, and this time, I had a bit more luck with the entertainment system, managing to watch 2 movies (White House Down and The King's Speech) on it. This did require a bit of "creative management" and "hacking" of the system. That's because, from time to time during the films, the audio would suddenly cut out and be replaced with the annoying heavy metal music trying to deafen me. However, I soon discovered that by bringing up the language selection dialog and fiddling around with changing the language (even if I didn't actually end up choosing something else) would end up restoring the audio. So, there I was, watching a few films, and periodically manically stabbing the screen until I got my audio back!

Apart from the films I saw on my own system, I managed to watch (in full or at least partially) 3-4 other films too, including Rio, Despicable Me 2, Turbo, and Monsters University (all of which, particularly Turbo, seemed to be quite popular choices with many passengers from the look of things when on the move around the cabin). One of the nice things about watching animated films is that, quite often you don't need to really know what they're saying, as the visual storytelling more than does the job too.

Another issue I had with the system was that at times it was kindof sluggish to respond to the touch screen inputs, particularly when trying to get it to move to the next page. Other things were kindof better.

One other interesting tidbit I thought might be interesting to some of the readers of this blog: Cathay Pacific's entertainment systems run Linux (for reference, it seems that Air New Zealand's international offerings run Windows - specifically, they seem to run a series of webpages hosted in Internet Explorer, if my hunches are right). I know this, since during the approach and landing, an entertainment system in the row in front of me crashed, and proceeded to reboot itself (a process which did not complete until we were on the ground, having started just before the descent which lasted about 20-25 minutes). During the reboot process, there was a large Tux logo in the corner as pages of console boot-logs streamed past at an epic rate, before freezing for several minutes.

The Flight
The flight overall took some 11 hours, landing at 9:25pm Hong Kong time (= NZ daylight saving time - 5 hours). The flight path basically involved flying for 3 hours across the Tasman sea from Auckland to Sydney, then up the Australian coastline, and up and around the islands between Australia and Hong Kong.

During this time, we encountered many patches of turbulence - some severe and heavy, with the pilots having to turn on the seat belt signs many times. In particular, many of these seemed to be over Australia, which must've also been having its share of bad weather that day.

For the approach to Hong Kong, we descended very rapidly. So rapidly, that sitting in the cabin, it was possible to feel that we were on a slight downwards incline (and/or imagine the air being directed upwards by the elevators) as we dropped down, before a more severe pressure change inside the cabin, followed by painful popping ears. Checking the flight info screen, it became obvious why: we'd just gone from 35,000/36,000 down to 30,000 feet, then 27,000 feet in the space of less than a minute. The steep descent continued for a few more minutes before becoming a lot more gentle and gradual.

Hong Kong Airport
Upon landing, there was quite a long walk from the plane to the immigration area. A long, long way.

About halfway down the long corridor towards the immigration area. There were multiple travellators like this along the way, but in the end, it was just easier/faster/less hassle to just walk it out on the side. Plus, it's a good way to way to stretch your legs after hours spent sitting.

IIRC, were were probably parked out at Gate 30 or so, which would be somewhere along the long "body" part of the plane-like terminal layout. Last time (via a Qantas A380), there was only a short walk needed, probably since that jet had been parked on one of the side "wings". This is probably consistent with what I saw walking around inside the terminal, since this time we walked head-on into the immigration counter, whereas on previous visits we've ended up coming in side-on.

Also, unlike on previous visits, the general climate and humidity were really quite comfortable. Stepping off the plane this time, there was none of the instant clamminess and "Boof! Humid Air!" that you often get arriving in Asia.


This time, when passing through immigration, they appeared to use a new way of marking passports. Instead of simply stamping the passport and shoving the tear-off part of your arrival card inside, they got a printout docket and stapled this to the passport (including flight info, and other such details).


There was a bit of a delay at the luggage claim hall this time, as for whatever reason, it took them a while to start getting the luggage out. As a result, there was quite a crowd gathered around carousel 10 waiting for their luggage, including various FA's and other passengers. This gave me quite a bit of time to carefully inspect the luggage claim hall - the amount of symmetry and repeating lines in the place is quite interesting to observe. (I would include a shot or two of it here, but I'm not sure about the legality of taking any shots in that area - since you still have to pass the customs screening gates after that, so I decided against doing that this time).

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