VA to HKG from Jul 5 2017, ex MEL

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777

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So where's the rest of the commentary on the inaugural? Or did it get lost in the Bermuda triangle?

Mrs 777 and I were both on the inaugural and both back last night overnight.

The flight over had the full treatment with DickBran, JoBo, and Celebrity Chef Luke Mangan (tm) up the front of the bus. There seemed to be a big VIP contingent from HX but I didn't recognise anyone. We were near the front of Y and surrounded by journos from TV networks who will filming in flight stories and took turns at doing press conferences with the key folks on board.

A few inflight bells and whistles: SRB did a lap to shake everyone's hand and pose for selfies (my trip was a little screwed up by the fact I left my phone in the Uber on the way to the airport). They handed out fortune cookies, dragon dances at both ends and SRB did pretty poor Cantonese lessons over the PA. Mildly amusing and mercifully reasonably short.

Other details:

- The crew were pretty excited -- the ones i spoke to had come off international long haul and were excited to go somewhere other that AUH or LAX for a change. Some had never been to HK.
- Etihad lounge had the morning breakfast spread -- first time i've been there during daylight hours so was nice to be out of the basement and have a view
- The Hong Kong airlines lounge was pretty packed but seemed but seemed slightly better than average (or than my expectations): lots of staff there and very personal service, was relatively easy for both of us to get showers, some limited a la carte options and a basic drink selection. A slight pain is that the lounge is a long way from the midfield terminal so we had to leave a little early to get to the gate. My understanding is that a new improved lounge in the midfield terminal is on its way but was delayed by a fire during construction
- Priority bag tags worked for us at both ends and our bags came out pretty quickly. We were behind SRB as we walked at the HK end out so we made a pretty quick escape.

Flight seemed to run pretty smoothly both ways -- a few teething hiccups (Dannyism ended up at the lounge on the return without an invitation and had a bit of stuffing around but they'd sorted it out by the time we came through about 1/2 an hour later).

At a guess there was an 80% load both ways. Promisingly for VA there seemed to be a big Chinese/ HK contingent on the way back so the partnership with HX seems to be getting bums on seats. Check in at the HK end was handled by HX staff with a few VA people troubleshooting and greeting. There were also a few HX flight attendants both way -- i don't know if that's a permanent or temporary thing but it seemed to make the service work better for the Chinese contingent.

All in all it seemed a pretty promising debut. It's a very competitive route so they will be up against it but I think it's a good move by VA, good use of the A330 and the more international destinations they want to add (particularly ex MEL) the better.

777.
 

Justchecking

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- The crew were pretty excited -- the ones i spoke to had come off international long haul and were excited to go somewhere other that AUH or LAX for a change.

Thats very interesting because the long haul crew are only trained on the 777, or rather as far as I knew. So they didn't use any of the short haul crew who had been operating domestically on the 330? I wonder if the LX crew are going to be permanently operating all intl sectors now and the shorthaul crew get shunted back to the 737 once the 330 leaves domestic rotation? I can't imagine they would have trained a handful of Lx crew just for the inaugural. But stranger things have happened I guess.

Or did you mean these crew had transferred back to shorthaul permanently?
 

jaspon

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Thats very interesting because the long haul crew are only trained on the 777, or rather as far as I knew. So they didn't use any of the short haul crew who had been operating domestically on the 330? I wonder if the LX crew are going to be permanently operating all intl sectors now and the shorthaul crew get shunted back to the 737 once the 330 leaves domestic rotation? I can't imagine they would have trained a handful of Lx crew just for the inaugural. But stranger things have happened I guess.

Or did you mean these crew had transferred back to shorthaul permanently?

Friend of mine recently transferred to the HKG flying from domestic.
The current MEL base HKG crew came from a mix of existing 777 crew ( who did an a330 conversion) and existing domestic airbus crew ( who are now only long haul endorsed)
Am told down the line once more cities open up, the long haul cabin crew will be endorsed on both long haul aircraft types and operate both.
There is also a Hong Kong Airlines ambassador onboard each flight for the first 6 months, to assist crew with cultural and language needs for chinese speaking pax
 

Dannyism

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Mrs 777 and I were both on the inaugural and both back last night overnight.

777.

Thanks for writing this trip report 777, it was nice to meet you and your partner. Also sat next to Cryptarcadian and met David from AusBT, so shout out to them too. Good company for me, as I was travelling solo.

I agree with everything mentioned in 777's trip report, additionally I would add that on the way over they gave us Business Class meals, service and champagne, business class amenities kits, a few little trinkets like egg tarts, sweets and an HK visitors guide... And I got a photo with RB, haha. On the way back they put me in an economy X (28K) row. So had first pick of meals, noise cancelling headphones and very pleasant service.

I note that they have crew based in AU and HK. The HK staff seem very green, for example I saw detailed coaching being given on how to make drinks. I also suspect this is why I didn't get a lounge invitation at check in. Give it a few weeks and I'm sure they will be pro's. I noticed that the flight crew was a mix of men and women, HK and AU backgrounds, this worked very well in managing the cultural differences and languages of the passengers.

To user Justchecking, the crew is apparently made up of old intl short haul, long haul and domestic crews. Jaspons answer is spot on.

In summary, a very pleasant flight experience that I would happily do again, made all the better by the festivities of the inaugural.
 

DavidFlynn

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777 and Danyism, good to catch up with you both (albeit briefly) and glad
you enjoyed the flight. Now if we could have gotten you into the official launch party at The Peninsula (followed by after-party drinks, flaming shots and singing) now that would have been something extra-memorable!

I'm flying back tonight along with a few other journos and VA peeps who all extended their stay for the weekend. Will be good to check out the HKG lounge.

A few other things:
* have been told that Virgin Australia does indeed have in-town checkin at the Hong Kong Express stations (one assumes they are using HK Airlines counter)
* guesting at MEL's EY lounge for VA morning flights is limited to one guest per Platinum or Gold
 

Pleb Status

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Is there any updates on when reciprocal benefits (lounge access etc) and points/SC earn will be available on HX flights (when using a HX flight number)?
 

Saab34

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Did a quick report on airliners.net for anyone interested.

Virgin Australia Inaugural: Melbourne-Hong Kong (with Richard Branson onboard!) - Airliners.net

Came back on the Sat Night flight also and it was probably 95% HK/Chinese Pax which made for an interesting flight. I saw above the gate 212 they were building a new lounge which will be quite handy if the gate is always in that area. On the Inaugural we landed at the gate closest to the Terminal I assume for the first flight only.

I'd advise all from sitting in seat 27K on a red eye which is right behind the bathroom lesson learnt!
 
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Saab34

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Nah
FO at Rex so just went along for the ride inner avgeek coming out.

Great city though!
 
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Demon_fan

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Anyone had much success with business rewards? A few posts back it seemed like there was no availabilities and no one has said anything since. Can they still only be purchased via phone?
 
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Anyone had much success with business rewards? A few posts back it seemed like there was no availabilities and no one has said anything since. Can they still only be purchased via phone?

With the help of ExpertFlyer, I found J award seats on 5/6 June next year. There are few dates in October as well. I must say VA isn't as generous as they used to with max 1 award seats available for a given day.
 
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Maybe they're still recovering from the afterparty :p

Or in my case... only that I turned around and flew straight home utterly tired, only to find four non-stop hectic days still waiting for me! ;)

To echo your trip reports so far, it really was a fun experience, with a great atmosphere!

Luckily I spotted row 13 open during OLCI for VA 87 and moved myself up, and was told at IRL check-in that the seat next to me was actually blocked off – I didn't know at that point that rows 10-13 were getting "business-light" service, purple pillows and personalised service! Fear not for loneliness though, as not long after take-off I was joined by Dannyism next to me anyway. :D Seriously though, this was definitely a flight for having company to share the excitement with, and I also ended up chatting throughout the flight with some of the HX crew seated behind us. If I'm not mistaken, there were other off-duty VA staff travelling too as pax. From what I could see, the Y offerings were pretty standard, and not particularly "Hong Kong-inspired".

Just as you wrote jaspon, the HX crew were saying that they are on exchange (not sure if I'm using the right word) with VA, and we'll see one of them on each MEL/HKG flight over the next 6 months. Some of them have worked the HX flights to Australia (CNS/OOL) before, and HX had things to teach VA like successfully selling duty free! As far as VA staff goes, they do have a small number of Cantonese-speakers in the team, and I met one of them working the return flight.

The water cannon salutes at both ends were highlights, along with the super enthusiastic crew throughout, and the SRB/JB/camera crew walk-throughs – certainly not an everyday occurrence! SRB trying to "teach" Cantonese either amused or horrified people, but I thought it was hilarious, especially the HX cabin crew member couldn't help pointing out that what was printed on the card for "I just flew in with Virgin Australia" was wrong (well, not wording a Cantonese speaker would ever use)! First time ever I'd been delayed between the jetbridge at the arrival gate by a lion dance ahead too.

HX's Club Bauhinia lounge can't compare to CX's offerings at HKG, but it was a pleasant lounge with good (Asian) food options. There are noodle soups and egg puffs made to order, although I didn't have time to sample any this time as I was hurrying straight back to the same gate 22 (nice and close) for the return VA 86. The supporting VA staff at check-in (a temporary affair, I heard) were amazed that I was flying straight back, and by the time I showed up at the gate they had a model VA A330 waiting for me as a gift – a nice gesture much appreciated!

HKG-MEL was a much quieter affair in comparison, and without fanfare beyond a mention of it being an inaugural from the captain on the PA. In lieu of water cannons, we got almost an hour's delay on the ground heh, with Chinese air traffic being blamed. It was a much lighter load and looked like there was space to stretch out in Y, but given how tired I was at this point after (having barely slept the night before and a 04:30 start), I was thankfully in J!

The seatbelt signs coming back on for a while delayed dinner further, but this time there were duck pancakes, laksa and "Asian inspired sweets" (egg tart, jin deui... not quite crunchy) on offer as ex-HKG-only catering options, although no printed menus on board yet. The J service was up to VA's usual high standard, and with the comfy seat made into a bed I managed to sleep a solid (for me) 4.5 hours. It's a great route for the A330s. No time to sample breakfast unfortunately, despite being curious about the chicken congee on the menu!

All in all, very glad I booked myself on this adventure – an inaugural inaugural experience for me!

Bonus anecdote of personal significance: The most surprising thing for me on the inaugural was actually hearing the pre-recorded announcements in Cantonese. "That voice... who is telling me where to store my cabin luggage? Could it be?!" A few messages of enquiry later and... yep. My mother was the voice behind them! (Yes, I followed mum's instructions.)
 
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DavidFlynn

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Luckily I spotted row 13 open during OLCI for VA 87 and moved myself up, and was told at IRL check-in that the seat next to me was actually blocked off – I didn't know at that point that rows 10-13 were getting "business-light" service, purple pillows and personalised service! Fear not for loneliness though, as not long after take-off I was joined by Dannyism next to me anyway.
Sounds like the front rows were the place to be, a shame we didn't catch up.

If I'm not mistaken, there were other off-duty VA staff travelling too as pax.
There were quite a few travelling on duty, including some of the PR team in rows 10-13, as J was chockers.

HX's Club Bauhinia lounge can't compare to CX's offerings at HKG, but it was a pleasant lounge with good (Asian) food options. There are noodle soups and egg puffs made to order, although I didn't have time to sample any this time as I was hurrying straight back to the same gate 22 (nice and close) for the return VA 86. The supporting VA staff at check-in (a temporary affair, I heard) were amazed that I was flying straight back, and by the time I showed up at the gate they had a model VA A330 waiting for me as a gift – a nice gesture much appreciated!
There you go, even we media didn't get a model VA330! Club Bauhinia's pretty 'average' – ticks the boxes but doesn't knock anything to the fences let alone out of the park. Will be interesting to see what the new VIP Lounge at the mid-field terminal is like.
 
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andyhui01

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Finally managed to fit a MEL-HKG run in Sep. Can't walk away from a $450 ticket. Plane is empty. I have not been in the VA A330 in Y before. How is the legroom in Row 10? Is this the case of 737 Row 1 in J with little legroom or is it better than that? Do the standard Y seats have some sort of foot rest at all?
 
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