Flying between Hong Kong and London – Pros and cons of 5 airlines

As you all know, I’m a Hong Kong girl studying in the UK, so I frequently fly back and forth between Hong Kong and London. Also, I’ve been doing this for the past 3 years already and have flown with many different airlines on this route. Hence I thought I’d share some advice on which airline you’d want to fly with and list their pros and cons, especially since there are so many airlines and flights to choose from and this wealth of choice can be a little too overwhelming at times. There are 9 direct flights every day between Hong Kong and London operated by 3 airlines (Cathay Pacific, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways) as well as countless airlines operating indirect routes via various locations in Europe (e.g. Moscow, Helsinki, Stockholm, Vienna, Zürich, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam) and, the Middle East (e.g. Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi) and Mainland China (e.g. Beijing and Guangzhou). In this article, I’ll just focus on the pros and cons of 5 airlines (Cathay Pacific, Virgin Atlantic, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Finnair) I’ve flown with, and the pros and cons of each airline will be based on several factors including whether it operates direct or indirect flights, the number of flights per day, which airports and terminals it flies from, the baggage allowance, airline alliances it belongs to, its frequent flyer programmes and anything else that makes the airline stand out. In my opinion, the general quality of food, service and legroom is very good across all 5 of the airlines so you won’t go very far wrong with any of them. Plus, ticket prices fluctuate way too unpredictably for me to make a comment on them that’d always be accurate. But anyways, here are the reviews of the 5 airlines, as promised:

Cathay Pacific (direct flight)

Pros:

  • Many flights per day between Hong Kong and London (convenient if you miss a flight or want more choices of travel times)
  • Direct flights (so no need to worry about missing connecting flights or disrupting your sleep)
  • Flies to and from Gatwick and Heathrow (more choices for those travelling to/from southern England)
  • Flies from Terminal 3 at London Heathrow (convenient travel on the Piccadilly Line as TWO trains go to Heathrow – one to Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5, the other one going to Terminals 4, and 1, 2, 3)
  • Generous baggage allowance (30kg and 2 suitcases for Economy passengers)
  • Extremely authentic Asian food for all meals of the day (for massive Asian food lovers like me) and Haagen-Dazs ice cream for lunch and dinner!
  • Cathay Pacific is a member of Oneworld (like British Airways, Qatar Airways and Finnair), so you can earn points on all of these airlines if you have a membership card that belongs to one of these airlines

Cons:

  • Continuously stuck on a plane for 12 hours (some people would rather get off a plane after a few hours to stretch legs, use the bathroom and eat non-airplane food)
  • If collecting points as a frequent flyer, you can definitely earn points and redeem benefits with points (e.g. extra baggage allowance) through the free membership programme Asia Miles. HOWEVER, to really enjoy complimentary benefits (e.g. lounge passes, advanced seat reservations, priority boarding and check-in) WITHOUT having to redeem your points, you’d have to join the Marco Polo Club for 100 USD per year. Other airlines such as Qatar Airways only have 1 loyalty programme (exactly like Marco Polo) for ALL frequent flyers and unlike Marco Polo, you can still reap all the complimentary benefits without paying any membership costs at all!
Virgin Atlantic (direct flight)

Pros:

  • Direct flights (so no need to worry about missing connecting flights or disrupting your sleep)
  • Flies from Terminal 3 at London Heathrow (convenient travel on the Piccadilly Line as TWO trains go to Heathrow – one to Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5, the other one going to Terminals 4, and 1, 2, 3)

Cons:

  • Only 1 flight a day (so limited travel times and that’s it if you miss your flight!)
  • Low baggage allowance (23kg frankly isn’t very much for the start/end of the academic year)
  • Continuously stuck on a plane for 12 hours (some people would rather get off a plane after a few hours to stretch legs, use the bathroom and eat non-airplane food)
  • Virgin Atlantic is not part of any airline alliance unlike all the other airlines mentioned here, which means that you can’t earn or redeem points on your frequent flyer membership card on any other airline
Qatar Airways (via Doha) and Emirates (via Dubai)

Pros:

  • Many flights per day between Hong Kong, Dubai/Doha and London (convenient if you miss a flight or want more choices of travel times)
  • Indirect flight – only stuck on an airplane for a maximum of 9 hours, lots of opportunities to shop, stretch your legs, go to the bathroom and have non-airplane food and drinks at Doha/Dubai airport
  • Generous baggage allowance (30kg and 2 suitcases for Economy passengers)
  • Lots of food throughout (2 large meals between Hong Kong and Dubai/Doha, 1 large and 1 light meal between Dubai/Doha and London)
  • All the food is Halal (so you don’t need to worry at all if you’re a Muslim passenger)
  • Excellent in-flight entertainment on both flights (whereas if you take Finnair, you will not have inflight entertainment on your flight between London and Helsinki)
  • Qatar Airways is a member of Oneworld (like British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Finnair), so you can earn points on all of these airlines if you have a membership card that belongs to one of these airlines
  • Emirates, on the other hand, is NOT a member of any of the three big airline alliances (Oneworld, Skyteam, Star Alliance). However, it does have frequent-flyer partnerships with several airlines including Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines and Qantas, so your membership benefits aren’t exactly only limited to Emirates.

Cons:

  • Indirect flight – Takes around 4 to 6 hours longer to get to your final destination, plus complications of connecting flights and transferred baggage
  • Delayed 1st flight and running like mad for your connecting flight – Unfortunately Qatar Airways often experiences delays (not entirely sure about Emirates) and I remember having to literally run for my life for my connecting flight because my first flight was like 30 minutes late and my layover was only supposed to be a bit more than 1 hour)!
  • Possibilities of long layovers – On many occasions layovers will at least be 2 or 3 hours long and often travellers can get quite bored after a little while, because there are only that many shops and restaurants you can explore and that much time you can spend surfing the Internet on your phone or laptop.
  • Flies from Terminal 4 at London Heathrow (not so convenient on the Piccadilly Line as you must take the Terminals 4, and 1, 2, 3 train which only comes every 10 minutes or so. The other Heathrow train only goes to Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5.)
Finnair (via Helsinki)

Pros:

  • Indirect flight – Only stuck on an airplane for a maximum of 9 hours, lots of opportunities to shop, stretch your legs, go to the bathroom and have non-airplane food and drinks at Helsinki airport
  • One long + one short flight – One flight is 9 hours long but your other one is only 3 hours long, which means that you get the best of both worlds. Not only do you get the privilege of not having to be on a one-off excessively long 12-hour flight, you also don’t have to dread being on the plane for another 6 hours after a 9 hour flight!
  • Extremely punctual flights – Maybe this is because Helsinki airport doesn’t receive that much traffic compared to many other airports and punctuality is very important in Finnish culture, but Finnair flights are incredibly punctual. Unless something bad happens unexpectedly, you’re very likely to arrive on time, or even earlier than scheduled, which means that if you’re catching another flight from Helsinki, you don’t need to worry about being late for your next flight!
  • Your in-flight entertainment screen contains a precise schedule of everything on the flight – it tells you exactly when food is going to arrive, lights are going to be on and off and when the duty-free cart will come. So you’ll be able to know when everything is going to happen and can make sure you know when you’ll able to sleep, eat and shop – how considerate of Finnair!
  • Flies from Terminal 3 at London Heathrow (convenient travel on the Piccadilly Line as TWO trains go to Heathrow – one to Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5, the other one going to Terminals 4, and 1, 2, 3)
  • Finnair is a member of Oneworld (like British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways), so you can earn points on all of these airlines if you have a membership card that belongs to one of these airlines

Cons:

  • Indirect flight – Takes around 2 to 4 hours longer (not as long as Qatar Airways and Emirates though) to get to your final destination, plus complications of connecting flights and transferred baggage
  • No food or in-flight entertainment between London and Helsinki (unless you choose the British Airways codeshare flight, on which you do get a snack) – only drinks are provided on the route. You can pre-order a full meal online for 12 Euros though, which wasn’t actually too bad for me in terms of costs and value for money.
  • Low baggage allowance (23kg frankly isn’t very much for the start/end of the academic year)
  • Only 1 flight a day between Hong Kong and Helsinki on most days (so limited travel times and that’s it if you miss your flight!)
Other airlines and general advice

As I mentioned, there are also many other airlines flying between Hong Kong and London that I haven’t flown with yet. One notable example is British Airways which operates 2 direct flights every day and is part of the Oneworld network (along with Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways and Finnair), but only offers a low baggage allowance of 23 kg. I’ve only flown with them once from Helsinki to London and it was a comfortable flight with a good croissant, but I haven’t taken any of their long-haul routes so I don’t think I’m the best person to ask about the airline! Similarly, the short haul routes I’ve flown with Lufthansa and Swiss were also pretty comfortable with friendly service and tasty food (but their baggage allowance is also only 23 kg), so I’m pretty sure their long-haul flights are quite decent too!

At the end of the day, no matter which airline you choose, my advice is to take all factors into account, not just the price of your ticket for example (even though the price is also very important!). For example, you might get the cheapest plane ticket ever, but the flight might be at an inconvenient time for you, there might be a long layover and it might be going to an airport much further away from your destination than the more expensive flight! Also, this might sound really obvious but buy your tickets as early as possible because the later your leave this matter, probably the more the prices will be driven up. But at the same time you have to be quite certain about your schedules as once your booking has been confirmed, airlines might charge you an absolute fortune to change or cancel your flight. And even if your ticket that you bought might be a “flexible” one that won’t charge you anything for the act of changing your schedule, they still might charge you for the differences in price between your original and amended booking!

Anyways, I hope I’ve given you a better idea of all of these airlines and that my advice is helpful enough for you to make an informed decision. Safe travels!

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