Knowing the best route can ease domestic connections

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 March, 2008, 12:00am

The United States is one of the most important destinations for business travellers from Hong Kong, but getting around it can be complicated.

Unless all your business can be conducted in one of four US cities, and/or their immediate hinterlands, it is overwhelmingly likely that you will need to take one or more internal flights in addition to your outbound and return intercontinental ones.

Passengers boarding at Chek Lap Kok can take direct non-stop flights to New York on Cathay Pacific or Continental Airlines; to San Francisco on Cathay Pacific or United Airlines, and to Los Angeles or Chicago also on United.

Northwest Airlines also flies from Hong Kong International Airport, but all onward connections to the United States are via its Tokyo Narita hub.

For those who don't mind changing planes at Narita, Northwest offers good connections to US cities not otherwise served from Hong Kong, including its home base of Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota; Detroit, Michigan; Portland, Oregon; Seattle-Tacoma, Washington; Honolulu, Hawaii; San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport are both US hubs for Northwest, and its Northwest Airlink domestic flights, which offer extensive onward connections.

New York is a key destination for business travellers, and Cathay Pacific offers two non-stop flights per day to the city's John F. Kennedy International Airport - as it does to San Francisco.

Continental flies once a day to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey - one of its major US hubs - which is less busy than JFK, and which some business travellers consider more efficient.

When Continental inaugurated the route in 2001, Newark to Hong Kong was the world's longest scheduled flight at 12,980km, but it has since been overtaken by new long haul non-stop routes. Singapore Airlines' service from Newark to Singapore holds the record at 16,600km. Continental also flies from Newark to Beijing and is expected to add a service to Shanghai next year.

'Newark is just much more user friendly than JFK and La Guardia,' said one Hong Kong-based American business traveller who prefers to remain anonymous. 'You get a quicker passage, it has good shops and the transport links are efficient. In real terms, it doesn't take any longer to downtown Manhattan, and there are good onward connections by air.'

Continental operates Monday to Friday non-stop flights between Hong Kong and Guam, via its Continental Micronesia subsidiary. Guam is designated a US 'organised unincorporated territory'.

With its three city service, United Airlines offers the biggest range of direct flights to the US, and the only direct connection from Hong Kong to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, for the past nine years voted the Best Airport in North America by the readers of the US edition of Business Traveler Magazine.

If you are travelling to a US city with more than one airport, it is worth considering which one you fly to, and perhaps choosing your domestic carrier on that basis, advises our business traveller.

'If you are flying to Washington DC you are much better off avoiding Dulles International Airport and flying to Ronald Reagan International Airport, and in Texas, Dallas Love Field is more preferable to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. If you are going to Boston or another destination in the northeast it can be quicker and more convenient to fly via Manchester-Boston Regional airport than to Logan International Airport,' she said.

Dulles is located 40km from Washington's central business district while Ronald Reagan is 5km south of it. Love Field is 8km from Dallas's central business district while Dallas-Fort Worth is 24km away. Manchester-Boston is further away, but known for reliability, and Logan, based on international traffic, is the seventh busiest airport in the US, which means it can take quite a while to get through.

Another useful tip is to consider flying to the US via Toronto Pearson International Airport, from which Air Canada and Air Canada Jazz serve a large number of US cities.

More options will open up next year from Mexico City when Mexicana Airlines begins direct flights there from Hong Kong.

Waiting time passes much more agreeably if the traveller can rest and recuperate in a lounge.

While in Asia access to lounges is usually granted purely on the basis of the class being flown or the passenger's tier status in a frequent flier programme, in the US - although many of the lounges are run by airlines - it is more usual to buy membership of a club with cash or miles, although frequent fliers often qualify for membership discounts.

Lounge access may also be a privilege of a credit card programme. American Express Centurion Card holders, for example, automatically enjoy Priority Pass membership.

The airport lounge concept was pioneered by American Airlines which opened the first at La Guardia airport in New York in 1939, and its Admirals Club programme remains popular.

Continental, United and Northwest all operate lounge programmes. Priority Pass allows access to 450 lounges in the US and more overseas for fees ranging from US$99 to US$399 per year.