Friday, 1 August 2014

Oz 2014 6: Back to Asia: VS A346 Upper Class SYD-HKG


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Maps generated by theGreat Circle Mapper -copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

This journey is one of those that works out completely different to how you planned it. Originally, I was planning on spending some Avios on British Airways Club World on their direct flight from SYD-SIN. However, those seats vanished between the time of looking and waiting for a few Avios to be credited to my account. Never mind, Qantas still had a few seats left on their BNE-SIN service on the 747. Although that would have meant flying SYD-BNE-SYD-BNE…. However within a very short period those flights vanished too, leaving the only Avios route being with Malaysia Airlines onboard an A330 and a 738.

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Having already logged that combination on this trip, this really didn’t appeal. By perfect timing, an email dropped into my inbox from Virgin Atlantic, saying they had a reward seat sale on. As I had a few thousand of their Flying Club miles lying around waiting for a rainy day, I figured this would be my opportunity. I checked things out and a one way SIN-HKG sector would now be 40,000 miles – which came just within my budget of 41,000 miles. As I didn’t have to wait for any of these miles to appear in my account, I could book this flight without the risk of it vanishing. Of course, there were the taxes to consider, which came to around £120. Bargain!

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After arriving into Sydney, it was time to see what was around. First off was a short walk from my hotel to Darling Harbour.

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And couple of the more famous sights.

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Checking out the botanical gardens. Keeping with the theme of my time down under, the weather could have been better…

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I would have rather seen a Koala or something.

There was a good view of the city skyline, Opera house and the bridge from the gardens – just a shame the backdrop wasn’t as good as it had been previously…

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More rain…

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Seeing what the city had to offer.

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Sheltering from yet more rain in the Australian Currency museum. It was actually pretty interesting, so I’m slightly glad it did rain on this occasion as its not the sort of place I'd normally give a second glance.

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As the weather looked to be half decent-ish, I decided to make the journey out to Bondi Beach. Again, it could have been better, but at least it didn’t rain too heavily. If nothing else, it made for a more interesting sky than just plain grey. Although I would have taken blue.

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My final evening was spent seeing the skyline from the Sydney Eye.

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Back at darling harbour to spend my last few Australian dollars on breakfast.

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After a bit if a wander, it was on to the train to the airport.

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I arrived around twenty minutes later. The Virgin Atlantic check in was at the far end to where the train station was. As with all the times I'd checked in with VS, I was met at the entrance to check in, and directed to the correct check in area.

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There were a couple of people in front of me but it was no more than a couple of minutes before I was seen. I came away with a haul of paperwork.

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I went for a bit if a walk airside, before using the fast track security.

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It wasn't overly fast, and rather than being directed through the metal detector with nobody using it, I was sent through the nudiscope with a bit of a queue. Within ten minutes or so, I was through. Rather than head straight fir the lounge, I took a bit of a walk to see what was around.

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Reminds me slightly of LHR T1

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A pair of Brits in the distance.

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First time spotting an Air Fiji

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Turns out I would have been on the MH OneWorld logojet…

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Eventually, I did head off in the direction of the Air New Zealand lounge (which VS use here in SYD), which was almost in a satellite area of the terminal, complete with another forced duty free shop.

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Upon reaching the lounge I was welcomed in.

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It was actually quite a decent lounge, with some good food options.

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Just as I entered the lounge, my plane was being towed on to stand.

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There were also other decent views from here.

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Unfortunately, since arriving in Oz, I'd had a cold brewing and today was the day it decided to make a full appearance. So I forced down a hot dog and some sprite before retiring to the quiet area with a couple of pills. Luckily they seemed to do the trick.

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Upon reaching the mobile free zone, there was a woman talking quite loudly on her phone... Another guy soon took care of it though by informing one of the staff members. It was quite amusing actually, as another guy started talking as if he was on the phone, and the same guy popped up like a meerkat to check he wasn't. I stayed in the lounge before heading down to the gate around 30 minutes before boarding. The crew were arriving slowly but surely, the last of which to turn up were the three flight crew.

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Just a few moments later boarding began, and it was the usual mess.

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VS201
SYD-HKG
April 2014
A340-600 / G-VRED Scarlet Lady
Seat: 10A / Upper Class
Scheduled: 14:25/21:55
Off Stand: 14:42
On Stand: 22:12


I made my way on board, and turned left towards my seat. Most of the others boarding around me ended up turning right.

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Apologies for the camera bag…

There was an amenity kit on my footrest waiting as well as a bottle of water hidden behind the seat.

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Almost immediately, I was offered either water, OJ or champagne. I took the champagne. I'm hardly a connoisseur when it comes to champagne, but I didn't think much of it.

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Our flight time was announced as 9 hours and 5 minutes.

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Car style seatbelts

Newspapers were offered. Goes to show how long this aircraft is away from home base for – this was the Sunday edition, yet it’s now Tuesday. And the aircraft won’t arrive back at LHR until early Wednesday.

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Around 10 minutes after our STD, the captain was on again, saying that our 'lack of progress' was being caused by a catering issue - there hadn't been enough meals loaded, so we were waiting for some more.

We eventually did push back around twenty minutes behind schedule and made our way over to the active. During the taxi, the purser mentioned there were 305 pax on board and 17 crew. So a healthy load. Surprising how VS couldn’t make this route work really.

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Once at the threshold there were a few props to arrive and depart. Somewhat appropriately, during our wait a massive rainstorm broke out. It disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived.

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We ambled on to the runway and made a quiet and smooth takeoff and into the low cloud.

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Shortly after departure, the purser - or flight service manager as VS call them, brought the menus around.

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There were also separate menus for the afternoon tea service:

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She also welcomed me back on board by name and mentioned she had noticed I was a VS frequent flyer, so thanked me for flying VS again. Impressive as I'm just a measly red tier! I've never got that treatment from BA... She assumed that I was familiar with the seat, but I sheepishly had to admit it's been around 10 years since I was last in Upper Class, so hadn't actually travelled in this seat before. She was more than happy to show me the features of the seat. After she went on here way, I had a look at the amenity kit. Back in the day, VS amenity kits used to be quite special. Now they’re your pretty standard affair.

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At the same time, hot towels were dished out.

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A few moments later, drink orders were taken. They were promptly delivered, along with some mixed nuts - although they would have been a little better if they were warmed up like on AA. First world problems...

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I caught up with a bit of TV using the provided noise cancelling headphones.

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The enhanced VS A346 cabin – economy is the same.

During this time, the table was set for lunch.

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A pair of VS celebs.

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The FSM brought around the red wine options, of which there were 5. This wasn't good enough for the guy sat behind though. I didn't hear the full conversation, but he did mention quite a few times he'd just got off a Qantas first class flight... Yeah, and?! Personally I thought 5 choices of wine was pretty good. The meal service started shortly after.

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During which time, the guy sat behind decided he was going to complain some more. I heard the word disgusting used a few times, and 'get me a pen'. Again, I thought all of the food was pretty good. I was offered some cheese, but I declined. Instead, I skipped straight to dessert.

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After lunch, I decided to watch a film. KickAss 2.

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A great sunset pic, ruined by a fogged up window.

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I think the VS cabin looks great at night.
During which, the following message appeared on screen.

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I paused the film and took the crew up on the offer. I took a walk to the bar area and could only see the one Upper Class crew member, manning the bar.

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Upscale products in the washroom


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Bar snacks

I saw the Premium Economy purser appear and I asked him, fully expecting to him to answer with something along the lines of he will find an Upper Class crew member to help me. But to my amazement, he asked where I was sitting, marched down the aisle and made my bed up for me. Good service – as I mentioned, I was fully expecting him to find one of the Upper Class crew members to take care of it. One complaint about the hardware is that the seat doesn't recline all that much, so lounging is out of the question. It's either a seat or a bed. Although the plus side of this arrangement is that the bed is very comfortable, especially with the sheet, duvet and pillow added.

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Something to nibble on whilst watching the film

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Games after the film

Following the film, I went and sat at the bar and made conversation with the crew member manning it.

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Bar snacks again. Unfortunately, all the good stuff had gone.

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Whilst I was sat at the bar, the ice cream service started. Thanks to the crew member for modeling the ice cream tray so expertly if you’re reading this!!

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After a while at the bar, the seatbelt sign was illuminated, so it was back to my seat.

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Although as it was still in the bed mode, this proved a little awkward. During this time, the crew came around and offered drinks. I decided to take advantage of the snack menu and order a burger. And hoped it would turn up after I was able to turn my bed back into a seat... It didn't, but at least it did turn up in a tray so I ate off my lap.

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Once my tray was cleared, I stuck my iPod on and had a proper lie down.

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Elbow’s latest was tonight’s choice

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It must have been more comfortable than I realised, as before I knew it, I was being brought back to life by the afternoon tea service starting. Again, as my seat was in bed mode, it was a case of eating off my lap. A pile of sandwiches and cakes were on a trolley, and you selected what you wanted. I just went with 'a bit of everything' and some tea. By this point, I was well and truly stuffed!

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Soon after, the crew started preparing the cabin for landing. Descent started, during which sweets were handed out – much like on all other VS flights, including Little Red.

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Within 30 minutes we were making a smooth landing at HK. There was a long ish taxi over to the stand.

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I know this is a pretty old service, but it was still odd seeing a UA 737 in HK!

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Once we had arrived, I was off, and following the HK arrival signs (rather than the London transit signs) and on to the train.

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Upon arrival at immigration, there was hardly any wait and I was ticketed into HK with barely a word said. I was waiting around two minutes for my bag before heading off for tonight's hotel, the Regal Airport Hotel.

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Now I normally don’t say too much about hotels, but I feel this one is worth a mention. I normally find airport hotels are pretty good, however this one was a bit of a let down. Not only did it take an age to check me in but also the condition of the room. It looks decent enough from this picture, however what you cant see is the stink of cigarette smoke, despite reserving a non smoking room. The bathroom was also pretty dirty, with mould all around. The reception area was decent enough but the rooms are in definite need of a deep clean.

But more importantly, what did I think of VS? I think they have a very decent product. Sure, the hardware might be a little dated – one of the main things I noticed was the TV screen was a little on the small side, and I’m sure they had more options on the old V:Port system before the software was updated to the awfully named VERA on Demand. I’m divided on the seat really. It’s a comfortable enough seat, and one of the more comfortable onboard beds I’ve sampled but I would have liked to have the option for something inbetween. Having to eat off my lap wasn’t the best experience due to not having time to convert it back into an upright mode. The main strong point of this flight though was the crew. On my [url=http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/trip_reports/read.main/226100]previous VS longhaul flight back in 2012[/url] they were more miss than hit I found, but on this occasion the were great – and getting recognition as being a frequent flyer despite not having status made a big impression on me.

Stay tuned for part 7 following the second part of my detour between Australia and Singapore. Which itself didn’t entirely work out as planned…