Scandinavian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Stockholm to Hong Kong

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Transfer in Stockholm Arlanda

I just stepped off an Airbus A 321 of SWISS, arriving from Zürich. It’s just gone nine o’clock in the morning and I now have another six hours to make my connection to Hong Kong.

The SAS Lounge

There is no SAS or Star Alliance lounge in the non-Schengen sector of the F concourse, from where the flight to Hong Kong will be leaving. But SAS has a Business Class lounge and a dedicated lounge for Star Alliance Gold members in the Schengen area.

The Business Class lounge is nice, although it is quite small and tends to get very busy at times. Here too there’s a bit of a IKEA showroom/Starbucks café vibe going on. But given that this is the heartland of IKEA and I’m shameless enough to stereotype, I guess that’s fair enough.

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The food and drinks selection is somewhat limited though. But I’m guessing the lounge had been designed mainly to cater for short-haul traffic, seeing as the number of long-haul flights from Stockholm is fairly limited. But the wifi connection is good.

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Boarding

One hour before departure the valiant M. has solved yet another series of mathematical somethings that only an engineer could find exciting, and so we head off for our departure gate. The queue at immigration is quite busy, especially seeing as the Thai Airways and Emirates flights are departing ahead of our flight to Hong Kong. But the line moves quickly.

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The non-Schengen area has closed gates, so when the flight starts boarding, that only means that passengers are invited to enter the holding area. But at least there are plenty of places to sit.

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The Cabin

I must say, I rather like the new SAS Business Class cabin. The colours are admittedly a bit dark, but I think that only makes the cabin look more elegant. The seats are in a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration and there are eight rows of seats, which means a total capacity of 32 seats in Business Class – all of which have direct access to the aisle.

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On the even numbered rows the window seats and the D aisle seats have a bit more privacy because they are not directly on the aisle.

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The seats are staggered, so that the window seats are slightly in front of the middle seats.

The seat is comfortable to sit and lounge in. In the bed position though, it feels a bit tight because there isn’t a lot of height clearance to move the legs.

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The touch screen is very responsive. Moreover, you can touch the screen from your seat without even having to bend forward.

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Apparently, there is complimentary wifi on board for Business Class passengers. But I try a couple of times throughout the flight, and it never works.

Amenities

A duvet, pillow, seat cover and the amenity kit have already been placed at every seat.

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After take-off the crew also distribute slippers.

The Crew

The crew on today’s flight is really excellent. They’re very friendly and their interaction with the passengers is relaxed and welcoming. It’s nice to experience a crew on a flight that actually looks happy to be there, for a change.

The service on the ground begins with the welcome drinks. There is a choice of orange juice, water and champagne. While we’re still on the ground, the crew also distribute the nicely designed menu for the flight and an unscented hot towel.

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After take-off, once the service begins, I notice that the crew always make sure to start the service at the same time on both aisles. This is really just a minor thing, but still I think it’s a nice gesture.

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The Meal

The meal service begins with a large bowl of mixed nuts and an aperitif. I decide to go with the Apple Must, which is some sort of thick apple juice and very tasty.

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After that, the table is set.

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The Salad

The salad is prepared in front of you.

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The First Course

There is a choice of two first courses. I go with the smoked cod served on a bed of pickled root vegetable julienne and a mustard, dill and brown sugar dressing. During the first course the crew make two bread rounds and actively encourage passengers to take as much bread as they like.

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The Main Course

For the main course there is a selection of four main dishes. Again, I go with the fish and have the baked cod with herb butter, parsley potatoes, cabbage with onions, oven dried tomatoes and a Hollandaise sauce.

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Dessert

After the main course there is a cheese and dessert service, which is served from a trolley and really looks very nice. I have the rhubarb tart and strawberries, which are served with thick whipped cream. With that I have a Sauternes to drink.

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And then to conclude the meal, I have a coffee.

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Inflight Snacks

All in all, I have to say I really enjoy the meal. I think the quality of the food is very good. What’s more, there’s copious amount of it and the presentation on the trolley is nice. After the meal service the crew set up a self-service bar by the side of the L2 galley. And here too there is a large selection of items to choose from, including crisps, biscuits, instant noodles and fresh fruit.

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The Second Service

Ninety minutes out of Hong Kong, one of the cabin crew comes to wake me up, it’s time for the second service. This consists of:

  1. a selection of breads and butter,
  2. yoghurt and müsli,
  3. a selection of cold cuts, cheese and vegetables,
  4. a small Stilton and broccoli pie,
  5. coffee and juices.
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The timing of the meal is very good and shows that the breakfast service needn’t take for ever. Again, the quality of the meal is very good.

Arrival

Normally you can expect arrival traffic into Hong Kong to be fairly busy, causing long delays for the approach. But today is different and we’re on the ground fairly quickly. I guess it probably has to do with the fact the SAS is one of the earliest arrivals from the European airlines in Hong Kong, with most of the others not arriving until the afternoon.

KLM, Business Class – B 747-400: Hong Kong to Basel via Amsterdam

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Part of your life, you give me a moment. Me sure in spite of the past, and in spite of the future. This tick of our lifetime is one moment you love me.

– Jeremy Irons, Chinese Box (1997)

Introduction

As long as I can remember, I had always wanted to go to Hong Kong. Initially, my infatuation with the place was based partly on the old Kai Tak airport and partly on the territory’s fascinating history as a British trading post.

Originally, Hong Kong Island was leased to the British because the Chinese were wary of them and simply thought the Europeans were uncivilised. They did not want them setting foot on Chinese soil and mixing with the locals. No good could come of that. Trade with the hopelessly uncouth was okay as far as the Chinese were concerned, just as long as they kept their distance. And so Hong Kong – the barren rock – was leased to the British for a period of 150 years. In hindsight, the Chinese were probably right to be cautious about the British, considering how they set out to colonise the world like a contagious disease.

My first visit to Hong Kong was in 1994, I was twenty at the time. And I have kept returning ever since. Somehow, this place never gets boring. What I love about Hong Kong is that although the place itself is now quite familiar after so many visits, the city is never quite the same. Things disappear, change and reveal themselves in new light. And all the while it is business as usual in Hong Kong.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: MTR and Hong Kong Airport Express
Departs from: Wan Chai MTR
Frequency: Every three minutes
Journey time: About five minutes from Wan Chai to Central and another twenty-four minutes from there to the airport.
Fare: HKD4.50 for the MTR and HKD100 for the Hong Kong Airport Express.

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The entrance to the Wan Chai MTR station is just down the road from the Indigo Hotel, where I am staying in Hong Kong. From Wan Chai it is two stops to Central, where you can connect to the Hong Kong Airport Express. The transfer is pretty painless and easy, with directions on the public transport system clearly signposted. It is not possible to purchase a combined ticket for the MTR and Airport Express.

Check-in

Location: On the ground floor of the Central Airport Express station.
Facilities: In-town check-in at Central on Hong Kong Island or at the airport.
Counters: Counter 2 is the dedicated check-in counter for KLM, ANA, and Virgin at the in-town check-in area.

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Most carriers operating to and from Hong Kong will allow you to check-in at the station at Central on Hong Kong Island. In order to do so however, you must make the journey from Central to the airport by train. To this end, you are required to purchase your ticket before you check-in, the train tickets grants you access to the check-in area.

The QANTAS Business Class Lounge

Location: Immediately behind the exit from immigration north do a sharp right turn.
Type of Lounge:
Qantas lounge
Facilities:
An extensive buffet of hot and cold dishes, a large and well-stocked bar, showers and toilets, dining area and lounging area.

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This must be one of the nicest lounges I have ever set foot in. Of course it probably helps that the place is more or less deserted when I arrive. Even so, I am impressed by how spacious the lounge is, how nicely furnished it is and how good the catering is. It is not just that there are a lot of food choices; the quality of the food is also good. What is more, the lounge offers some excellent views of the ramp. From where I am sitting I can see my ride to Amsterdam in the distance.

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Boarding

There are two separate lanes for boarding – SkyPriority and everybody else. SkyPriority is for Elite and ElitePlus members as well as passengers travelling in Business Class.

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Boarding starts a little early at 12:50. By the look of it, the crew is hoping to make an early start in an attempt to have us depart Hong Kong ahead of schedule. And indeed, boarding is completed way ahead of our departure time, despite the fact that the flight is fully booked today. But then the crew discovers that there is a mistake on the load sheet, which apparently had been prepared in Amsterdam. It turns out we are overweight.

During the ensuing delay the crew, both cockpit and cabin, make sure to keep the passengers informed about what is going on. Eventually, by the time the crew have identified the items of freight that will have to be offloaded and have them removed, we are running more than an hour late, which is particularly unfortunate given that my connection to Basel in Amsterdam is – possibly was – only ninety minutes. But we shall see. For the time being there is not really anything anybody can do about the delay.

At least the Queen of the Skies has the grace to try and console me for the delay. And how could any man resist her charms, despite her age? She sounds so much nicer than the younger birds. The take-off roll is everything you can hope for and expect of the 747 – she is much louder than other aircraft like the 777 and she certainly takes her time before eventually, elegantly and ever so gently she flexes the tips of her wings in an upward motion and severs our ties with the ground.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2, with a few single seats on the lower deck.
Seat: The Business Class cabin is divided over two decks on KLM’s Boeing B 747-400 fleet. There are twenty seats on the upper deck and another fifteen on the main deck. Obviously the upper deck is always fun on Jumbo, but there is also a lot to be said for sitting in the nose of the beast. Most of the seats are in pairs. However, there are three single seats on the main deck, which is mainly due to space limitations. The first row is in the very tip of the nose. Thus, there is a single seat on 1A, while 1J and 1K make up a pair. The seats are turned slightly outward, towards the windows on both sides of the aisle. Furthermore, the seats on the rows of two are staggered, with the window seat slightly further forward than the aisle seat. As a result, the seat feels very private in that you have to go out of your way if you want to to make eye contact with your fellow passengers.
The entire Boeing 747 fleet has now had the new cabin installed. Currently KLM is having the new seat introduced on its Boeing B 777-300 fleet as well.
Pitch: 63 inches
Width: 20 inches
Facilities: AC power outlets available, privacy screen, reading lamp
Length as a bed: 80 inches
Audio and Video: AVOD, 10.4 inches screen

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The Crew

The crew on this flight are friendly and chatty, as usual with KLM. While we are on the ground the crew make sure they are visible in the cabin to answer any questions the passengers may have during the delay. And once we are airborne the service is efficient, even so the crew still find the time for a little friendly natter with the passengers.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Fresh orange juice, sparkling wine, beer (Heineken) or still water
Hot towel before the meal: Not scented
Pre-meal drink: Ginger Ale, served with a bowl of warm nuts.
Choice: Two starters, three main courses, a selection of desserts.
Type of meal:
Lunch
Bread: A selection of different types of rolls and garlic bread.
Chocolates: Dutch chocolates are served at the end of the meal.

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The First Course

Broccoli soup with blue cheese.

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The Salad

Couscous with green salad and edamame beans.

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The Main Course

Sautéed grouper with sherry cream sauce, saffron risotto, green beans and baby carrots.

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The Cheese & Fruit

Cheese platter (Emmental and Danish blue) with seasonal fruit, served with Port.

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The meal is rather tasty. Especially the soup is unusual with a strong flavour of the blue cheese, which goes very nicely with the Broccoli. The pace of the meal is also very good, the entire meal takes much less time to complete than it did with Qantas but without being rushed.

The Second Service

Hot towel before the meal: Not scented
Choice: Hot or cold main dish with a choice of two cold side dishes.
Type of meal:
Light meal

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The Side Dish

Quinoa salad with beetroot and pumpkin.

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The Main Course

Penne with red bell pepper sauce and vegetables, parmesan cheese.

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Dessert

Traditional Dutch Apple pie served warm, with whipped cream. And a bowl of fruit.

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The lights go on just under two hours out of Amsterdam. At least we were able to make up some of our delay and although we departed seventy minutes behind schedule from Hong Kong, it looks as though this has dwindled to forty-five minutes by the time we enter Europe.

I always enjoy the second service on KLM and I am impressed by the amount of food they serve for the second service. Very often, with a lot of the other European carriers the second service is more of an embarrassment than anything else. But this is a proper meal.

Eventually, the crew pass through the cabin distributing the little BOLS houses, which marks the end of the flight. I collect house 91 and I am good to go.

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Arrival

Eventually we hit the ground at 19:40 and have a relatively short taxi – by Amsterdam’s standards – to our stand on the F pier. Perhaps I should say at the very far end of the F pier. By the time the engines are cut and the doors are open, it is already 19:55. My onward connection starts boarding in five minutes, the gate closes in twenty minutes and the flight departs in thirty-five minutes. And I still have to go through immigration and security…