Hong Kong Airlines' new Airbus A350 business class seat retains the 'business traveller basics' of fully-flat beds and direct aisle access, but with some upgrades and tweaks to improve on the already-respectable seats flying on its Airbus A330 jets.
Australian Business Traveller took the airline's first Airbus A350 for a spin around Asia, ahead of its debut on flights from Hong Kong to Los Angeles in December, and to San Francisco in March 2018.
As we'd expect to find on any modern plane, Hong Kong Airlines' A350 business class cabin adopts a 1-2-1 configuration, with seats in a staggered layout:
That means some seats are closer to the aisle (the 'C' and 'H' seats), while others are further away ('A' and 'K') – and in the centre pairs, every second row finds two seats closer together ('E' and 'F'), perfect for travelling couples, while in the other rows, the seats are further apart ('D' and 'G') and better-suited to solo flyers:
Of course, a seat by the window would always be our first pick, but if you do need to sit in the centre, choosing one close to the aisle finds two very large cocktail tables between you and your 'neighbour', so you don't particularly feel like you're sitting next to anybody... and if you do wind up in what we'd call the 'honeymoon seats' next to a stranger, a large privacy wall can be raised between you.
Wherever you end up, each seat is forward-facing...
... and can be reclined partially in its original position, or tracked forward for a steeper recline – or to bring you closer to the meal table in the upright position, which is handy.
Next to your head is an adjustable, dimmable reading light, a remote control for the inflight entertainment system (although you can simply touch the screen), and a nook for your headphones...
... and below that, the cocktail shelf which is where you'll find the headphone outlet, and two USB power ports for charging smartphones and small tablets.
For more power-hungry devices such as laptops and large tablets, a proper AC power outlet is also available on the front end of the cocktail table, which accepts a variety of international plugs without needing an adaptor, including Australian and Hong Kong/UK pins, among others.
There's a fixed armrest on the same side as the cocktail table, along with a literature pocket and a water bottle holder. If you're particularly thirsty, grab a bottle of water from the Hong Kong Airlines Club Autus lounge before your flight, which fits in here perfectly – and of course, the cabin crew will give you another after take-off.
To the front is a handy coat hook where your jacket can hang during landing (stored in a cupboard during the flight by the crew, out of the way), and the tray table in its home position.
Unlock it and it expands to double in size...
... but can also swivel forward, allowing you to easily stand up and access the aisle, even if the inflight meal is still on your tray.
For passengers sitting by the windows or in the centre 'honeymoon' seats, the tray table can also double as somewhat of a privacy screen between you and the aisle, and the hinge is firm enough for it to remain in place.
Some seats offer a small storage bin aside your feet – such as the outer chairs in the centre pairs – which is a great place to keep your amenity kit and slippers. The window-side seats don't have this feature, but instead give you more floor space on which you could rest a laptop bag, without it being in the way.
Continuing our tour of the seat, there's a fixed foot rest for each passenger with space underneath for small items like shoes...
... and which joins up with the seat proper to form your fully-flat bed. We also appreciate that unlike earlier models of this seat, the hinge for the tray table is mostly recessed within the seat structure, rather than jutting out at the exact place you'd like to rest your knee when sitting upright.
The seat comes with an over-shoulder sash belt, but which only needs to be worn during take-off and landing: so you can easily unclip it from the main joint, retract it and tuck it behind the headrest for added comfort while you sleep, and without a metal joint poking you in the back.
During waking hours, there's a touchscreen inflight entertainment system in front which serves up a selection of movies, TV shows and music, along with access to the live satellite TV networks BBC News, CNN International and Sport 24...
... with that satellite connection also enabling inflight Internet access, with prices ranging from 15 minutes at no cost through to unlimited time and data on one flight for US$11.95.
AusBT review: Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A350 inflight Internet
As for the entertainment system itself, we found it easier to navigate and operate than the airline's older-generation inflight entertainment systems, such as found on the Airbus A330s flying to Cairns and Queensland's Gold Coast.
The satellite TV option is easy to overlook, although more prominent is access to the Airbus A350's external cameras: one on the tail, and one underneath the aircraft – the latter being a good choice when coming in for landing at Hong Kong on a clear day, as you may even be able to spot the aircraft's shadow on the water below, as we did:
The only thing we didn't appreciate is that like Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines' Airbus A350s feature overhead lockers above the centre business class seats, which makes the cabin itself feel much less spacious than other A350s we've flown on, such as with Finnair, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines.
Even when business class is completely full, in our experience there's always been ample room in the side lockers for everybody's bags, given they're much bigger than typical inflight lockers and can store larger bags on their side for additional space – a feature that other airlines have taken advantage of, particularly Qatar Airways which has designed its business class cabin around a welcome foyer, giving the A350 a distinct and unique feel.
But all in all, Hong Kong Airlines still provides a comfortable fully-flat bed in business class with direct and uninterrupted aisle access from every seat: two features that will be higher on the list of priorities for business travellers than having extra room overhead, and given a choice between them, we know which we'd pick!
You can catch Hong Kong Airlines' Airbus A350s on flights between Hong Kong, Bangkok and Taipei, before the aircraft moves onto its new Hong Kong-Los Angeles route in December, and Hong Kong-San Francisco in March 2018.
Hong Kong Airlines will also launch another new business class seat when it takes delivery of its third Airbus A350 jet, which we've confirmed will also offer travellers fully-flat beds and direct aisle access – so whichever plane pulls up at your gate, you'll still have a similar experience.
Chris Chamberlin flew on the Airbus A350 as a guest of Hong Kong Airlines.