I have had several encounters on Chinese airlines given that I have visited China on several occasions. On the last international flight to Shanghai from Singapore, I was really disappointed in the flight experience due to the rowdiness of the general passengers and the lack of service provided by the airline. Somehow, China Eastern doesn’t seem to provide the pleasure of flying for me, and I had wanted to blacklist them ever since. Prior to that, I actually had a good impression of Chinese airlines having taken them on my trip around China, using them on routes from Beijing to Xi’an, Xi’an to Guilin and Guilin to Shanghai and found ground and on-board service to be really on par with those provided even in developed countries. This time, I shall re-visit the memories of taking China Eastern on one of the busiest routes in China, the Shanghai-Beijing flight. My aunt did the booking for me through ctrip.com and we had to collect our tickets upon arrival in Hongqiao Airport. It will also be my first time departing through SHA, though I won’t be arriving in Beijing’s nice Terminal 3.
MU5107 Shanghai Hongqiao SHA – Beijing Capital T2 PEK
04 September 2010
Scheduled ETD/ETA: 11:00-13:10
Airbus A330-300 B-6120
Seat No: 28A
I had spent the last 2 weeks touring the World Expo in Shanghai as well as visited Nanjing and Suzhou using the new high-speed railway system that will soon be rolled out to more cities in China. Having experienced first-hand what China has accomplished for travellers, I wanted to see how air travellers in the dometic routes would fare. Arriving at the airport early as my uncle have yet to visit the high-speed railway station in Hongqiao (it was just a few days before when I was here taking the high-speed train to Nanjing), he realized that he left his passport at home. Why the fuss, one might ask, since it is a domestic flight? Apparently, passengers travelling by air have to bring their passport (not sure if this applies to only foreigners or locals as well) as the check-in agents do check the names on the tickets with that on the passport. Thus, my uncle had to send his driver to return home to pick up his passport for him, while the rest of the travelling party checked in first. The friendly check-in agent was cordial and even allowed my uncle to check in as well, allocating him a seat with the condition that he returns to the check in counter after he obtains his passport. While waiting for the passport, we made the way to see the Hongqiao Railway Station through the basement concourse level which acts as a connector between the railway station and the airport.
Along the way my uncle explains that Shanghai had pushed for the development of Hongqiao to be one of the premier transportation hubs in not just China but the world. The wide concourse, clear signs and bright lighting of the whole facility made me agree that Hongqiao is definitely one of those places where getting from a train to an aircraft is made as simple as ABC. Along the way, there are even food & beverage options for the travel-weary and passengers with light hand luggage can take the subway line to the city, or take the bus to the suburban areas. In terms of infrastructure development, China is up there with the developed world now. Time passed by fast, and soon thereafter my uncle’s driver passed him his passport and we were on our way through immigration (another reason why a passport is mandatory). We still had some time to spare in Hongqiao’s Terminal and from what I know, there are some international departures and arrivals from Hongqiao. The way I see it, Hongqiao and Pudong will become to Shanghai what Haneda and Narita is for Tokyo. The new Hongqiao Terminal is really well lit, with large windows allowing passengers to have a nice view out towards the tarmac. This also made spotting planes easy like in Hong Kong. Shops, amenities and seating areas were all easily available. With no status and not flying premium class, it was straight to the waiting gate for me, but it wasn’t such a bad thing as there were even free newspapers provided in the terminal, including an English edition ‘China Daily’. When the boarding call was made, passengers went for an orderly boarding queue, totally unlike the China of the past. Boarding passes were checked, and we soon crossed the aerobridge into the plane. Due to the large travelling party we were with, we had nearly the whole row of seats to ourselves, and while I was initially assigned 29G which was an aisle seat, I took the seat next to my uncle at 28A instead and let the families with kids take the centre 4 abreast seating. The Airbus A330 was configured in a 2-4-2 arrangement which meant that seat width was comfortable enough for a 2 hour flight. Seats in the Business section was a 2-2-2 arrangement.
Boarding was conducted in a relatively efficient manner and from what I noticed, it was a full load on the Economy section with perhaps 70% load on Business. Overall that’s a lot of people paying for these tickets which aren’t cheap at all for a 2 hour flight. Passengers were a mix of businesspeople and families who had just visited Shanghai for the World Expo. Soon, the plane backed out and proceeded to taxi for the runway. Unlike the situation in Pudong, it did not take very long for take off and passengers on my side of the window were soon treated to views of downtown Shanghai in the distance. Around half an hour after take-off, the flight attendants went on to serve passengers their meals. There were two choices that day, and I can’t remember the second choice, though I had the rice with chicken. I did enjoy this meal and finished it heartily. Along with the main course, a small packet of pickled vegetables was also offered. Instead of the usual salad or appetizers, there was a side dish of salted egg which I am not a fan of. For dessert, there was several cubes of rock melon. A sealed pack of mineral water is included in the meal tray, and there was also a couple of beverages available including soft drinks, juices and coffee or tea. Service in the economy section of the cabin was as good as it could be throughout the flight, and even after the lunch, the cabin was not as rowdy as the flight I took 5 years back. Maybe the masses in China has become more culturally sensible, or maybe it was a short flight? I do hope it’s the former, since it would be for the better.
There was an in-flight catalog on board and the flight attendants started sales of these items, though I don’t remember they announcing it through the system unlike some other carriers. The short domestic flight also meant any in-flight entertainment were virtually non-existent. While there was an in-flight magazine, it was relatively of poor quality compared to Cathay Pacific and Dragonair in terms of article quality and attractiveness. It was fortunate then that the nice weather outside entertained me for a bit during the flight before I went for some shut-eye before the plane prepared for landing. Prior to landing, passengers on the window seat could also take in views of the development on the capital city as the wide outer ring roads of the city becomes visible. Considering how extensive the road and highway network in Beijing is, it is thus amazing to see traffic jams still occurring in the city. As far as I can remember, there wasn’t any delay in landing at Beijing and very soon we taxied past the amazing Terminal 3 to dock at the older Terminal 2 which was my first contact with China during my visit in 2002. While Terminal 2 is old, the authorities have still made a good job in maintaining the cleanliness and making it as orderly as possible. Pathways from the arrival gate to the baggage claim was also easy to navigate with toilets spread out evenly. Though passengers should utilize one when they need it since some of the toilets might be in need of service. Luggage collection was also efficient and fast, which made the whole experience on flying with China Eastern on the domestic route relatively enjoyable.