Passengers travelling with Hong Kong Airlines can now connect to the Internet aboard its new Airbus A350 aircraft: currently darting between Hong Kong, Bangkok and Taipei, but soon stretching its wings to Los Angeles and San Francisco – longer flights where being online has much more appeal.
A range of plans are available, starting at 15 minutes of free surfing through to unlimited time and data for productive business travellers and social media enthusiasts.
Australian Business Traveller put the service to the test on a recent return trip between Hong Kong and Bangkok to bring you this review.
Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A350 inflight Internet: plans
Whether you're connecting from a smartphone, tablet or laptop, four plans are available to choose from:
- Free WiFi: 15 minutes with no data limit but speeds capped at 64kbps, unlocked after you watch a short video
- Chat Pass (US$2.95): Unlimited time, 20MB data limit, speeds capped at 64kbps
- 1 Hour Pass (US$4.95): 60 minutes of continuous access, no data limit
- Flight Pass (US$11.95): Unlimited time and data on one flight
That's a great range of options and more than many other airlines provide, catering to a variety of needs: whether that's more data, more time or both, plus a no-cost option which allows you to try the service with no obligation, before considering a purchase of one of the paid plans.
We particularly appreciate that the 'Flight Pass' option doesn't have a data cap, so even though inflight Internet speeds aren't typically fast to begin with, syncing your email or downloading large files like PowerPoint presentations won't cause your connection to wind down early.
Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A350 inflight Internet: getting online
When your gadget is in flight mode, switch on WiFi, connect to the 'Hong Kong Airlines' hotspot after your aircraft reaches cruising altitude, and open your web browser: you should see the login screen waiting for you, but if not, manually browse to hkairlines.aero to get started.
Scroll down the page to explore the plans available on your flight, and for more information on each plan (such as data or speed limits), click on the 'Details' link:
For instance, that's where you'll discover that the free plan provides enough speed for text-based chat (but little else), and that it's available once per device – so if you have smartphone and a tablet, you could enjoy 15 minutes of access on each gadget at no charge.
We began by choosing the free option, and after a one-minute Hong Kong Airlines promotional video had played, a unique voucher code was revealed:
When you return to the plan selection screen, the option for a free connection disappears (as you've already gone through that process): but as you're now armed with a voucher code for that free connection, click 'use a voucher or promo'.
It's a bit of a muck around – ideally, you'd be connected straight to the Internet after watching the video – but it's still better than having no free option at all.
Key in your voucher code, enter your email address and you'll be online. We'd suggest keeping this tab or window open in your browser and surfing through another, as you can return at any time to see how long you have left:
After a brief surf, we returned to the earlier screen to grab a Flight Pass...
... and after keying in credit card details (the portal accepts Mastercard, Visa, American Express and JCB), the connection resumes.
However, it does ask if you'd like to create an account or check-out as a 'guest'. Creating an account is optional and requires your email address and a password, but it allows you to access the Internet on your other devices via the same plan (one device at a time).
For instance, we initially signed up using our tablet, but when the inflight meal arrived and took over the tray table, we signed in via our smartphone to remain connected using the same plan, at no extra cost.
Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A350 inflight Internet: surfing speeds
Most inflight Internet connections aren't known for their speed, and Hong Kong Airlines' Airbus A350 is no exception.
The fastest downloads we recorded on our six-hour return journey between Hong Kong and Bangkok were just 0.31Mbps, although uploads peaked at 1.84Mbps, with ping speeds in the range of 700-1200ms, according to Speedtest.
In fairness, the lowest speed reading (0.06Mbps down, 0.21Mbps up) was recorded when connected to the free plan – limited to 64kbps down and giving results as such, being only marginally faster than a dial-up connection on the ground 15-20 years ago – although the other tests were performed when connected to the unlimited Flight Plan.
We didn't observe any connection dropouts on our flights, although with speeds being this slow, some web browsing tasks like opening Facebook.com took several minutes, and syncing emails via programs like Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird proved particularly painful.
That said, with enough patience we were still able to send and receive photos and messages, use social media apps and browse the Web, albeit slowly: certainly not on-par with the new, higher-speed connections found on Qantas and Virgin Australia, but comparable to many other international airlines, including Qatar Airways and Swiss.
One last thing: the airline's satellite Internet connection also makes three live TV stations available via the regular inflight entertainment system, but they're tucked away under a separate 'Satellite TV' category, and not initially visible on the system's home screen, or in the normal TV section.
They're so hidden that we actually missed the option on our first flight, but went exploring in more detail after seeing another passenger watching BBC World News live before take-off, as these channels are available gate-to-gate, but do cut in and out during climb and descent.
Unlike general Web browsing, there's no charge to watch these networks: so if you want to keep up-to-date with news or sport on the ground throughout your flight, it's another good option to have.
Chris Chamberlin travelled as a guest of Hong Kong Airlines.