Aviation in Asia has had a long and varied history, as with any other part of the world, airlines and aircraft types have come and gone. Historically since the 1970’s, the Hong Kong/Taipei services have long been one of the busiest and most profitable routes in the world!
Due to the Chinese Civil War and its aftermath, the formation of two China’s has led to political controversies and restrictions between the two countries.
Mainland China, Macau and Hong Kong (since 1997) come under the official CHINA, which is People’s Republic of China run by the Communist Government. The former Chinese Government run out of the mainland retreated to Taiwan and reestablished the Republic of China on the Taiwan territory, which also includes the Penghu Islands, Matsu Islands and Kinmen county.
Due to restrictions for many years, Hong Kong was the only way for Taiwanese and Chinese citizens to transit between Taiwan and the mainland. This due to Hong Kong being a British colony prior to 1997. This mass demand for traffic saw airlines operate between Taipei and Hong Kong with wide body aircraft frequently through out the day. Since the 1970’s, airline that have included Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, EVA Air, Hong Kong Airlines and Dragonair (now Cathay Dragon) all operate flights with aircraft ranging from the iconic Boeing 747-200/400, Lockheed L10-11 Tristar, Boeing 767, Boeing 777-200/300, Airbus A330-300, Boeing 787-10, Airbus A350-900. Recent years have seen Eva Air and China Airlines introduce smaller aircraft to the route- namely the Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A321-ceo(WL).
Researching the route, I went onto a popular flight comparison website and found that on Monday May 4th 2020, there are 69 direct flights that day from Hong Kong to Taipei. Prices for a one way economy class ticket range from as little as £94 with China Airlines and the most expensive being £411 with Cathay Pacific/Cathay Dragon. Eva Air and Hong Kong Airlines also offer direct flights that day.
The route has been the most busiest route on and off for decades, and despite the two countries allowing direct air travel between Taiwan and China, the Hong Kong connection remains the most popular way of transiting. In 2015 the IATA presented data that showed 5,1 million people transited between Taipei and Hong Kong that year, an increase of 2% from 2014 alone!
Such a busy route and with so many flights occurring, the route hasn’t seen many major disasters or incidents over the years, unfortunately one major disaster did occur in May 2002. China Airlines 611 disintegrated at 35,000ft on a 15:08pm flight to Hong Kong from Taipei and killed 225 people, the cause of the Boeing 747-200 crash was down to a poor maintenance repair job done 20 years earlier after another incident, the plane flew for 22 years and the faulty repair finally gave out and destroyed the plane.
I took this service with China Airlines in late September 2019, flying economy class on CI924 on a Boeing 737-800 and CI919 on a Boeing 747-400. I paid £180 return fare with free seat selection on both flights and on my Skyteam Frequent Flyer account I earned 518 award points with 4 tier points.
My first flight was on a Boeing 737-800 from Hong Kong to Taipei. I was on a four year old example B-18658 delivered new from Boeing in September 2015. The aircraft interior contained 8 business class seats and 153 economy class seats. My seat was at 11K over the right engine with a window seat. The economy class seat was a comfortable 31″ pitch with 17″ width. The seat was covered in a pink/purple coloured fabric and the aircraft offered over head IFE Screens which provided the safety demo video, Taiwan tourism and entry announcements.
The flight was on time departure and the flight went uneventful, despite the flight being a short 90 minute service, the flight provided a complimentary meal, which I gratefully accepted. As a UK/European based frequent flyer, it is very rare to get a proper in-flight meal complimentary on a two hour flight. The meal on this flight was a chicken and rice dish, accompanied by a tub of water, a choice of tea or coffee and a chocolate and almond bar. A small, simple and ample meal for this type of flight.
We arrived ahead of schedule by a good 15 minutes and taxied to our stand, next to a China Airlines Airbus A330, passing through immigration and customs was easy and fast as we were one of few late arrivals, as it was just past 11pm at night. I caught a cab to my hostel and that was my outbound experience done.
The following day around 17:00pm, I was to fly back with China Airlines on one of their Boeing 747-400, a stark contrast in aircraft to my flight the night before!
Boarding the China Airlines Boeing 747-400, which was B-18210, one of the youngest and last pax B744 built in late 2004. The economy ticket I was flying on offered an option for a complimentary window seat in the upper deck of the plane! So I took it with little hesitation given the rarity of the type these days. I got to the upper deck and found that the Upper Deck is actually a business class cabin for medium-long haul flights the Boeing 747 still does in Asia (mainly to Japan), and on these shorter flights to China, they are sold as “Preferred Seats” for economy class flyers with the cabin’s normal First Class sold as the Business Class product.
The seat was amazing. It came with a spacious 60″ Pitch and 20″ seat width. The seat was also able to recline fully into a bed or recliner type seat. A fold away tray table and personal IFE screen were also available, making this one of the nicest economy class experience’s I’ve had.
The flight departed on time, so I had a browse of the entertainment selection for this two hour flight, enjoying some classic rock/pop music on offer from the likes of the Bee Gees, Billy Joel, Queen, Eagles and Elton John. A much nicer experience than the Boeing 737 the night before!
The crew dished out the in flight meal again. Pretty much the same offering as the previous evening except the main course was a beef noodle dish, accompanied by the water, hot tea/coffee and a white chocolate and hazelnut sweet. It was enjoyable. Later in the flight I had another hot tea with a cola, being an aviation enthusiast, I asked if I could have a paper cup with the China Airlines branding on it for my collection, the crew were ok with it.
Unfortunately my shortest ride to date on the Boeing 747 had to conclude and we landed in Hong Kong on time. I asked if I could visit the flight deck, but was refused due to China Airlines policy- which is fare enough, not every airline comes from an aviation enthusiast friendly country. Regardless it was a fantastic flight anyway and if I had the chance to fly China Airlines again on this route- I certainly would do business with them!
And with that final paragraph, concludes my experience and report on the “Golden Route” with China Airlines!