VA MEL-HKG inaugural mini-review

By 777 | Jul 13, 2017, 11:43 AM
HI Everyone, 


I was one of the winners of ausbt competition for flights to Hong Kong for the inaugural and David suggest I post my write up here. So...  

Mrs 777 and I were both on the inaugural and both back on the following saturday. 

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 interviews 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 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 was 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 (The other competition winner 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. 

Thanks to David, Virgin and Ausbt for the chance to be on the first flight. Hong Kong is a great city (it was my 1st time there) so i'm already looking for another excuse to go back!

Members who gave thanks

Yvan J Drake, David Flynn, John Odlum, brinkers

By markpk | Jul 13, 2017, 02:14 PM
Thanks for sharing 777! 

How did you find VA's economy seating and layout for that length of flight?

Anything to share re the meal service? I know David or Chris may cover that in a later write up...
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By Packetman21 | Jul 13, 2017, 02:31 PM
Wow!
 Thanks for the insight!
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By CityRail | Jul 13, 2017, 03:10 PM
One week later, I was on VA87 to Hong Kong yesterday and I can share a few reviews after a week of operations:

1. The crew still feeling quite excited about the new route and I found the service in general much better than Qantas with staff thanking customers every time they serve you. There's also a crew from Hong Kong Airlines who can speak Cantonese and Mandarin to serve Chinese customers. I think that enables VA to avoid hiring a Chinese crew in Australia which could be troublesome.

2. Catering: 2 main meals were served rather than 1 main and snack on Qantas. There were total 3 choices available (rather than 2 on Qantas) on Economy. For lunch, we had beef stir fry or chick breast or vegetarian option; and for dinner we had beef stew, chick stir fry with rice and Italian wontons as the vegetarian option. However, I would say for the main dish the size is much smaller than what is being served on Qantas. There was no ice cream being served after lunch or dinner, which was a bit disappointing. One surprise is that there were plenty of cup noodles available mid-flight and crew were busy handing them out to passengers, which neither Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines nor Qantas will be able to offer you this.

3. Loading for business class is reasonably good with more than half full, but economy I think there were only 40% loading which is a bit low. I was able to book my reward ticket for this flight on Monday. I seriously think Virgin Australia should collaborate with travel agencies in China and Hong Kong and get some tour groups to sit at the back of the plane rather than just leaving the back section with only a dozen passengers. Also I seriously they should launch Sydney to Hong Kong soon, there were a couple of passengers are flying to Melbourne from Sydney to connect with VA's HKG service. Which I think the demand is definitely there.

4. We arrived at the Mid-field Concourse at Hong Kong and greeted by a few HX crew on arrival. I wonder whether this route is as the result of the bilateral agreement between Hong Kong and Australia where HX cannot launch Sydney and Melbourne and they are asking Hainan, VA's major shareholder to launch this route so that HX can expand its network by flying virtually to those ports through VA.
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By lionelhutz | Jul 14, 2017, 09:01 AM
Interesting. I hate that Qantas only serves 1 main and snack on their HK flights, a 9 hour flight that you've paid $1000 for justifies 2 meals. Also mid-flight cup noodles are definitely available on Cathay.

The loadings are a bit of a worry though. I have noticed over many trips on Cathay and Qantas that loadings on this route are very dependent on the time of day. Overnight flights are often full, day flights are often half empty, early departures in particular are often wide open for reward seats. Bad news for Virgin because I believe all their flights are early or midday departures. But I guess it is early days. Also I have seen Virgin sale fares on this route from $449, if they keep doing that it will fill economy up with the weekend away crowd pretty quickly.
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By JBL | Jul 14, 2017, 11:48 AM
Give VA some time for loadings, it seems like they're still trying to secure better slots in a slot competitive airport. Maybe with some future success HX will swap a few
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By John Odlum | Jul 14, 2017, 04:47 PM
Great write-up, thanks 777!
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By btaus | Jul 14, 2017, 06:20 PM
Also mid-flight cup noodles are definitely available on Cathay.
Nope. The only snack available for Australia/NZ-HKG flights in economy is salted peanuts. Flown economy with my Emerald status once due to zero award seat and $10000 business class fare.
Toblerone, cup noodles, mixed nuts and cookies only for European or North American flights.
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By Jorge_fly | Jul 14, 2017, 09:14 PM
I flew MEL- HKG on the 10th. Business was at 100% capacity, not a single free seat. The crew were excellent and still very excited about the prospect of more Chinese cities. The hard product is one of the best in the sky, I really love 'The Business' but what I found was that the A330 business class is slightly smaller than the 777.  

The meal service was interesting. I had the wonton soup to begin and it was a little blend given I'm at high altitude but to have a wonton soup in the sky is quite an experience. The food generally is decent on VA. I'd definitely be flying this route again, given the fact that I live in sydney and I would have to fly via Melbourne. 
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By FrequentFlyer | Jul 14, 2017, 10:45 PM
I flew MEL- HKG on the 10th. Business was at 100% capacity, not a single free seat. The crew were excellent and still very excited about the prospect of more Chinese cities. The hard product is one of the best in the sky, I really love 'The Business' but what I found was that the A330 business class is slightly smaller than the 777.  

The meal service was interesting. I had the wonton soup to begin and it was a little blend given I'm at high altitude but to have a wonton soup in the sky is quite an experience. The food generally is decent on VA. I'd definitely be flying this route again, given the fact that I live in sydney and I would have to fly via Melbourne. 

I was in business on the 10th too! Agree that the crew were stellar and all super excited with the new route. Really really impressed with the whole experience, blew my last few HK trips with QF out of the water.
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By jefflu88 | Jul 17, 2017, 09:49 AM
Does anyone have advice for VA Melb to HKG, then CX from HKG to mainland China (on seperate bookings obviously), if there is a interline baggage agreement for checked bags to go through to CX for the onward journey the same day - and checkin at the transit desks airside? Or if I need to exit through immigration, collect bags and re-check in at HK airport?
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By MRYJDrake | Jul 17, 2017, 10:25 AM
Does anyone have advice for VA Melb to HKG, then CX from HKG to mainland China (on seperate bookings obviously), if there is a interline baggage agreement for checked bags to go through to CX for the onward journey the same day - and checkin at the transit desks airside? Or if I need to exit through immigration, collect bags and re-check in at HK airport?

I suspect because of separate tickets you'll need to re-check, but I'd ask on Check-in
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By jefflu88 | Jul 19, 2017, 10:40 AM
Does anyone have advice for VA Melb to HKG, then CX from HKG to mainland China (on seperate bookings obviously), if there is a interline baggage agreement for checked bags to go through to CX for the onward journey the same day - and checkin at the transit desks airside? Or if I need to exit through immigration, collect bags and re-check in at HK airport?

I suspect because of separate tickets you'll need to re-check, but I'd ask on Check-in

Thats what I thought, however on the airport website and also the VA website it talks about going to the transfer desk to pick up boarding passes for onward flight. This to me indicates its not a codeshare flight since you would have been checked in from the original departure point with boarding passes given for the entire journey. 

The next question is if it can be done at the transfer desk airside, how does checked baggage work since I'd assume it would be taken to the baggage carousel as it hasn't been tagged for onward transfer. 

I have heard that for HKG being a major transit hub, there is a large interline agreement for baggage between airlines. Someone on another forum suggested at the transfer desk, you provide the new airline the baggage tags, and airline staff will pick up the bags off the carousel and check it through to your onward destination. Anyone had such experience can confirm or dismiss the rumour? 
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By lionelhutz | Jul 19, 2017, 07:14 PM
Also mid-flight cup noodles are definitely available on Cathay.
Nope. The only snack available for Australia/NZ-HKG flights in economy is salted peanuts. Flown economy with my Emerald status once due to zero award seat and $10000 business class fare.
Toblerone, cup noodles, mixed nuts and cookies only for European or North American flights.

I'm genuinely surprised by that - I'm sure they had them but maybe my memory is just faulty and it was either a long time ago or in business class. I stand corrected.
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