Flying to Hong Kong with kids - How to choose a flight?
January 26, 2014 6:14 PM   Subscribe

We're flying to Hong Kong with our 2 young kids. We need help figuring out the best route and the best way to buy tickets.

We are traveling from Minneapolis to Hong Kong in late April with our 4 year old twins, and we'd love your suggestions for how to route this flight. Are there better places for layovers both in terms of little kid stamina and airport amenities, i.e. earlier in the flight, like Seattle or Chicago or later, like Narita? What time of day would be better for departure to accommodate jetlag? Also, we rarely travel internationally, so your input about ticket buying and airline choice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much.
posted by werkzeuger to Travel & Transportation around Hong Kong (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure about the routes out of the US, but I've flown Air Canada, Cathay and EVA out of Vancouver to HK and found Cathay far superior.
posted by arcticseal at 6:22 PM on January 26, 2014

I recommend having one leg be as long as possible, and having that leg be starting when they'll be at their bedtime. If possible, of course! :-). So you hopefully get a bunch of sleep, and everything else before and/or after is easier to deal with. Much better than two mid-length legs.

Dunno the specifics of this route, though...
posted by wyzewoman at 6:51 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to the actual logistics, but since moving to Hong Kong, I find that only Cathay and Singapore Air are the only two airlines I'll fly for these long hauls, and I don't even have kids to worry about. The crew with these two airlines are the most attentive/polyglot/amazing I've ever met.

To accommodate jet lag, try to get into Hong Kong around 6PM. I'm not sure when your kids' bedtimes are, but after going through immigration, customs, and baggage claim, you'll get to your hotel around 8-ish. Perfect time to just zonk out (everyone!) and get up refreshed in the morning.
posted by astapasta24 at 7:36 PM on January 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I flew from Chicago to Guangzhou in early April 2012 (and arranged the travel for family to travel the same route, starting somewhere else). I believe, after a lot of searching, I eventually bought tickets using Vayama.

We ended up flying Chicago to Tokyo Narita using United (as is common with flights out of Chicago), and then Tokyo to Guangzhou using All Nippon Airways (ANA). I thought ANA and Narita were awesome. I'd never been to Japan and, even though it was just the airport, it felt like an adventure. It's a really cute airport, not too big (Chicago O'Hare has everything, but is enormous), restaurants + money changing + places to rest. Some of the shops even take USD if you don't get a chance to change your money. It's kind of a blur and we only spent a very brief layover (mostly looking around and buying souvenirs) there but the novelty was really lovely. I don't know how ANA compares to other Japanese airlines, but they were also wonderful--sweetly kind stewardesses, lovely delicious Japanese in-flight meals (with Western options if your kids would find that comforting). I usually fly budget US airlines, though, so it is certainly possible my standards are low, but I doubt it. The ANA part of the flight was markedly more enjoyable (and tasty) than the United part. I still wish I could get their special, company-original soft drink, which was delicious.

If you have a longer layover, a Japanese colleague of mine tells me that Narita itself is a really nice little town and that it is possible to take the train there and have dinner and wander around.

Almost 15 years ago, my family and I flew to Guangzhou (or maybe it was Hong Kong after all--I was only a kid) using Cathay Pacific, which I remember being really great--lots of little extras like menus to let you choose what you'd like to eat and travel amenities like toothbrushes and hot towels. I don't think individual seat-TV-screens were common at the time; it was the first time I'd seen such a thing, and I thought it was amazing. I remember that there were two identical versions of all of the channels, one in English and the other in Cantonese, and I still remember how engaging I found watching Winnie-the-Pooh with Chinese voice actors.
posted by spelunkingplato at 8:26 PM on January 26, 2014

We flew that route with a 2 and 3 year old. I am going to nth Cathay Pacific. They have child fares and they give kids activities (this was 7 years ago, mind you)!

I'd fly from the West Coast, say Vancouver, in the daytime, then direct to HK. We prefer to get long hauls done at night. If you could break up the trip, stay in Vancouver for a day or two, even better. We travel a decent amount, and in my experience slow and steady with young kids works better. Some people we know prefer to push through. Whatever works.

(OT: When we landed in HK, we worked hard at keeping everyone up until bedtime the first day. We found this awesome playground built into a hill on HK side with slides that go to the different levels of the playground. We mellowed and played there for a very long time. Not an easy day but it worked out fine.)
posted by mamabear at 9:24 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Cathay and Singapore Airlines are among the top 5 airlines in the world in just about every aspect, maybe among the top 2. However, Hong Kong is a regional hub and you will likely find all sorts of deals for similar prices. E.g. Discounted business class seats or premium economy seats in other airlines might have a similar cost, and when it comes to long-haul anything other than basic coach class can make a big difference.
posted by magullo at 5:20 AM on January 27, 2014

It looks like no matter what, that you'll be flying to ORD (Chicago) to take the flight to Hong Kong.

That said, I'd pick a great Asian airline (Cathay or Singapore or Asiana) and go direct with them from ORD.

I believe Cathay is a code share with United. United SUX, but if that's the cheapest, as long as you're outbound on the long flight to Hong Kong on Cathay, I'd do that. (What''s a 45 min flight?)

The rhythm on long flights to asia is kind of weird. I was fed Bi Bim Bap at midnight out of LA to Seoul on Asiana. Then everyone on the flight took a sleeping pill and they were OUT for about 10 hours.

Bring plenty of snacks. I'd load up in ORD on things like cereal, PBJ and other non-perishible stuff your kids will want to nom. I have never been so hungry on a flight! We went about 9 hours without food service and I was nomish!

I'd pick ORD because that's the shortest flight from MSP, and since it's crappy domestic, the shorter the better.

This means you can get everyone situated on the long haul and enjoy the amazing service that you can enjoy on Cathay Pacific.

Do charge up tablets, and let the kids go nuts on games and movies. Whatever it takes to keep them engaged and happy.

Walk around, not just to the toilets. Upon landing in Seoul (not Inchon, more's the pity) we did some in seat exercises that were a hoot!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:26 PM on January 27, 2014

Cathay flies to Hong Kong once daily from Chicago (CX807) - but it leaves Chicago at 2pm, arriving at HKG at 7:55pm.

Practically this would mean a morning flight from MSP to ORD, possibly changing terminals and redoing security, and then having a weird early bedtime as passengers will shut their windowshades and try to sleep even though it's the middle of the day. I think this might weird out your four-year-olds a lot.

Instead, you could take an afternoon/evening flight from MSP to SFO and then fly Cathay's night flight, CX 873, which leaves at 11:10pm and arrives at 6:00 am, or Singapore's night flight, SQ 1, which leaves and arrives about an hour after Cathay 873.

Your kids would be rather exhausted, probably, from their day of domestic travel and preparation at home, so might conk out earlier, and both airlines will have excellent cabin crew on hand to help out with what we might consider above-and-beyond stuff if you need, say, a set of crayons for your kids to draw with or an extra cup to hold some Goldfish crackers or something.

Hong Kong arrival is easy; you can even arrange a meet-and-assist service to get you from gate to immigration to car/train/etc seamlessly.

The next day will be tricky and it depends on your accommodation - check to see if you're in a good location for fun outside being-crazy-and-running-around-time (look for parks here) and plan very little if possible.

You could fly via LAX as well, but LAX's inter-terminal transfers are harder and it's just a less-nice experience, and Cathay and American are your only nonstop choices.

Also consider the layout of the aircraft. With four middle seats you can take over a whole row; with one kid and one adult in an aisle-window set up in front of the other two (like seats 1AB and 2AB), you'll be able to split them up more easily if they are trouble and give both that coveted window access upon landing in HKG, which is truly a spectacular view. A three-three-three layout seems tricky with a party of four - avoid this if you can, or call the airline if needed to confirm the layout and aircraft type before booking if the website is unclear.

Finally - sign up for the frequent-flier programs of whoever you fly with across the Pacific if their alliances play nice (here, you'd need to fly either American connecting to Cathay or United connecting to Singapore); a flight like MSP-SFO-HKG is over 17,000 miles return if your booking class earns you 100% of miles actually flown. If you can pool the miles as a family and sign the kids up too, that's probably enough for you and your partner to redeem for a domestic trip somewhere to recover from The Great Hong Kong Escapade of 2014. :) Flyertalk has more.
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