Hong Kong Airlines, which is expanding in the U.S. market, is quietly becoming one of the world’s best airlines. It was recently ranked the second best regional carrier in the world, has a stellar on-time performance record and is rapidly expanding its long-haul service. Hong Kong Airlines niche is "affordable luxury" and it now offers daily flights to Los Angeles. This year the company will offer direct service between Hong Kong and San Francisco and also New York's JFK airport.
Daily service between Los Angeles and Hong Kong (up from four days a week), is available for fares as low as $550 roundtrip for Economy seats while Business Class "Saver" fares start under $5,000 roundtrip (Business Class has fully reclining flat bed seats). There's also non-stop service out of Vancouver, British Columbia (with Economy fares as low as $541 and Business Class fares as low as $3,091). On March 25, it will launch service at San Francisco. Later this year, service will be introduced at New York’s JFK airport as well as at London’s Heathrow Airport. North American travelers will have access to Hong Kong Airlines’ network of more than 30 destinations in the Asia Pacific region.
And, unlike other airlines that cater predominantly to passengers located in their home market, Hong Kong Airlines wants to be the airline that caters to the passengers of its destination markets as well. “We try to deliver a product that is more personal and fun,” says Liu, adding that Hong Kong Airline is not interested in participating in a price war (although its fares are very competitive).
Indeed, each time the company launches in a new destination, it partners with a local celebrity chef or restaurant to work with its catering company enabling it to feature local favorite dishes on its flights. In Vancouver, for example, the airline partnered with Dynasty Seafood Restaurant, which has been awarded “Restaurant of the Year” in Vancouver. Dynasty’s Executive Chef and Head Dim Sum Chef worked together to custom-designed several dishes for the airline’s catering company, including baked minced pork pie and hand-shredded smoked chicken. The Vancouver flight also offers a signature cocktail made with Rémy Martin XO cognac, champagne, freshly-pressed grape juice, tea and lemon.
On Vancouver flights, each Economy passenger is given a free loaner iPad mini 4 pre-loaded with movies and television shows. Economy passengers are also offered a selection of snacks, such as Joe & Seph’s gourmet popcorn.
The company is constantly aiming to deliver service that is beyond the expectations of its customers. Its “Above and Beyond” program, for example, will arrange something special inflight for passengers, if requested in advance (and for a fee). “If someone will be experiencing a special event, such as a birthday, we can arrange to have a cake served to them in the air,” says Tracey Kwong, Hong Kong Airlines' Communications Manager. “Or if a passenger wants to plan a marriage proposal mid-air, we can help them do that.” And since Wi-Fi is available on board, the special moment can even be shared in real-time with friends and family on the ground.
The airline is proud to be known for its stellar on-time performance records. To accomplish and maintain this, the airline formed a dedicated department that watches every flight and custom-designs flight-times while taking into consideration such data points as air traffic control, weather considerations and connecting flights. “This can be adjusted dynamically,” says Liu, explaining that Hong Kong Airlines adds time into the schedule of each flight so that it achieves better on-time results. “This creates a better customer experience.”
It’s working. According to OAG Aviation, which tracks flight data, in October, 94.8% of Hong Kong Air flights were on-time, compared to 77% in the same time period for Cathay Pacific Airways. Compare this to an on-time performance record in the U.S. in October 2017 of 89.4% for Delta Airlines, 85.9% for United Airlines and an average of 84.7% for all U.S.-based carriers, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Courtesy of Hong Kong Airlines
The ribbon cutting ceremony for Hong Kong Airlines at Los Angeles Airport.
While the approach helps the company meet its performance goals, it comes at a steep price, as it is more expensive for it to schedule personnel, including pilots and flight attendants for longer duration flights. At the same time, since each aircraft is also committed for longer periods of time, they can’t be used for other flights, which is also more costly. But while the flight times may appear to be longer than some of the competition, they are often more accurate and closer to reality in terms of when a passenger will arrive at his or her destination. On top of all of that, the airline has one of the best safety records in the industry.
Hong Kong Airlines was founded in 2006 as part of HNA Group, a China-based conglomerate with interests in aviation, real estate, tourism, logistics and financial services. The company has experienced tremendous growth and development, especially over the past several years.
Courtesy of Hong Kong Airlines
The “Club Autus" lounge at the new Midfield Concourse at the Hong Kong Airport
Initially, the airline offered mostly regional routes. Today, it serves more than 36 different destinations and routes in the Asia Pacific region. In 2016, Hong Kong Airlines launched 11 new destinations including long-haul flights to Auckland and the Gold Coast of Australia. It also flies to 14 cities in Mainland China (including all of the major cities), offers eight routes to Japan and flights to Bangkok, Bali, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Nam Pen. And soon, it will launch flights between Hong Kong and the Maldives and Manila. To aid its expansion, the company will hire 1100 additional employees including cabin crew, engineers, pilots and support staff (marketing, accounting, revenue management, customer service, etc.) Currently, the company has 3,500 employees.
Courtesy of Hong Kong Airlines
The food bar at Hong Kong Airlines' “Club Autus" lounge
Hong Kong Airlines may still be in its infancy, when compared to most other airlines, but it is quickly surpassing the competition in terms of the quality of the product it provides to its passengers. And it is also presenting some serious competition with regards to its impressive, if small in number, fleet of aircraft.
Hong Kong Airlines currently operates an all-Airbus fleet of 33 passenger aircraft and 2 cargo freighters. As its aircraft have an average age of only five years old, the airline has one of the youngest and modern fleets in the world. The company has outstanding orders for 21 A350s (the latest and greatest from Airbus), including six to be delivered in 2018, and is currently in discussions to add Boeing 787 Dreamliners for long-haul flights, says Liu.
The company is also investing in its VIP lounges. The airline opened the “Club Autus" lounge at the new Midfield Concourse at the Hong Kong Airport in September. The lounge, which has a capacity of more than 200, is complimentary for Business Class and frequent fliers and available for a fee for Economy passengers (complimentary entry is offered to Hong Kong Airlines passengers traveling on their birthday, along with their companions). Here, passengers have access to ergonomic seats, showers, sleeping quarters, a family room, kids lounge, and a business lounge. There is also an expansive 20-meter long food stand (the largest at the Hong Kong airport) that offers different stations, including ones that offer hot and cold food. Visitors can order local Hong Kong specialities including dim sum and noodles, or well as other Asian specialities and Western food.
Like the city it is based in, Hong Kong Airlines can be described as international, modern, hip, efficient and dynamic. “We are the best of the East and West,” explains Liu. Its flight attendants are personable, energetic and “not so procedure-driven” he adds, and each one speaks at least three languages fluently, including English, Cantonese and Mandarin.
Hong Kong Airlines does appear to be living up to its name. “We want to carry the Hong Kong name with pride and be the city’s ambassador to the world,” says Communications Manager Kwong. “We have a responsibility to do that."