When it comes to flights between the UK and Ireland, there isn’t much in the way of variety. The biggest two airlines heading across the Irish Sea are of course Ryanair and Aer Lingus, with British Airways and Flybe picking up flights depending on where you live. But none of these are particularly exciting. There is, however, another way of getting across the Irish Sea in style, and on a relatively rare airline.
Hainan Airlines are a Chinese airline based in the city of Haikou, China. They have hubs at Beijing and Xi’an too, and operate long haul flights to Europe using a fleet of Airbus A330, A350 and Boeing 787 aircraft. What makes them interesting to British and Irish aviation fans are their fifth freedom flights operated between Edinburgh and Dublin.
Hainan operates a twice-weekly route from Beijing to Edinburgh and Dublin, and twice-weekly to Dublin and Edinburgh. These flights between Ireland and Scotland are operated as fifth freedom flights, meaning it is possible to book a seat just between Edinburgh and Dublin, or vice versa. Both business class and economy are sold on these flights, which are usually operated by Boeing 787 aircraft.
I’d booked a seat in business class for the novelty factor alone. It wasn’t cheap, costing almost £300 for the 210 mile flight from Edinburgh to Dublin, but did mean I experienced the novelty of a 40 minute flight on a flatbed seat!
I arrived at Edinburgh Airport in the early hours, having tracked my flight arriving from Beijing. Check in was quick, as I was the only passenger boarding here at Edinburgh to go to Dublin. Most passengers either disembarked at Edinburgh, or remained onboard for the technical stop.
I headed through fast track security and to the Aspire Lounge. The lounge is surprisingly big, with plenty of seating and refreshments, but it is at the wrong end of the terminal for the gate that Hainan Airlines use. This meant I couldn’t stay for long as I had to walk the entire length of the terminal to get to the gate!
On arrival at the gate, the flight was getting ready for boarding. I was taken down to the aircraft by the gate agent, as I seemed to be the only passenger boarding here.
The cabin crew directed me to my seat in the very red business class cabin. As I was putting my bag into the overhead locker, the flight attendant bought my breakfast to me to eat on the ground – as the flight would be so short I wouldn’t have time to eat it in the air!
Eating my breakfast at the gate was a unique experience, and the crew came to clear up my tray as we pushed back for our flight.
We got airborne on a beautiful summer morning, and quickly reached our cruising altitude of 24,000ft.
The business class cabin on the Hainan 787 is laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration. They have started replacing this with a more private 1-2-1 configuration, but alas today I was stuck with the old config. The seat was pretty comfortable, but not particularly private for a longer flight. This wasn’t an issue today however, as the cabin was mostly empty.
There’s a privacy divider between the seats, and a power socket, USB port and headphone socket under the armrest.
There was a bottle of water and some Chinese nuts there too. In front of the seat is the reasonably sized screen, with some storage at the side and a magazine rack underneath containing a variety of Chinese language reading material.
The seat goes into a full flat bed position, and includes not only a seat memory but also a massage function which was pretty comfortable.
I had a look at the inflight entertainment which had a decent selection of TV and movies, no doubt heavily censored. I was surprised to see Top Gear on there – but there wasn’t time to watch a full episode on this short flight.
After a few minutes at cruising altitude we reached the Northern Irish coast and got some good views of Belfast. We started our descent down towards Dublin, where we made a beautiful approach to runway 28.
Interestingly, the cabin crew centrally dimmed all the windows just before landing meaning I had to manually brighten my window.
We touched down on schedule and taxied in to Terminal 1 at Dublin. As I disembarked, there were staff holding up signs for connections to Beijing, which raised a chuckle with the passengers behind me who had just arrived from there!
Overall Hainan offer a decent business class product, for such a short flight. In economy this flight is great value for money, costing just £52 one way. Would I do this flight in business class again? Definitely not – it’s a huge extravagance that’s really pretty pointless. However for the fun factor it can’t be beaten, and it certainly beats a Ryanair 737!