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Sydney to Iceland via China. Mostly J, some China Domestic Y and Magnetic Levitation!

Sydney to Iceland via China. Mostly J, some China Domestic Y and Magnetic Levitation!

Old Nov 8, 11, 3:41 pm
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Sydney to Iceland via China. Mostly J, some China Domestic Y and Magnetic Levitation!

How does a simple trip become a far more complex undertaking?

Well it started as a short package tour in China but soon became an almost around the world extravaganza of wine, Star Alliance J flights, Chinese domestic Economy legs, lost luggage, found luggage, the Chinese Magnetic Levitation train, extensions to my list of pet hates about fellow travellers (spitting, slurping and pushing could be olympic sorts in China and most people there could spit, slurp or push for their country!), inconsistent onboard safety rules (iPhones not ok, iPads ok), two legs on the same airframe, 3 different Air China long haul business class standards, lounges and a lot of fun.

So it started as a simple SYD - PVG - SYD tour. It pretty quickly extended to SYD - PVG - XIY - PEK - SYD. Then as anybody who has justified a quick European jaunt to a loved one or employer (or both) knows, flying to Europe in J is only a few more cents than flying to just Asia. So I took this opportunity to visit my extended family who live by Lake Como and the Swiss border region of Northern Italy. So make that SYD - PVG - XIY - PEK - MXP - PEK - SYD.

I also had a few SQ award points about to expire, so what better time to burn a few on a good value intra Europe J trip. Which cities represented the best value for points, held some interest to me and provided an Air China open jaw option for the return flight home? It was between Moscow and Reykjavik. I chose Reykjavik and with the necessary connections the final itinerary looked like this:

SYD - PVG : Air China J class
PVG - PVG : High speed magnetic levitation train (431 kmph without leaving the ground)
PVG - XIY : Shanghai Airlines Y Class
XIY - PEK : China Eastern Y Class
PEK - MXP : Air China J Class
MXP - VIE : Austrian short haul J Class
VIE - OSL : Tyrolean short haul J Class
OSL - KEF : SAS short haul J Class
KEF - OSL : SAS short haul J Class
OSL - ARN : SAS very short haul J Class (of a fashion)
ARN - PEK : Air China J Class (if you could call it that)
PEK - SYD : Air China New J Class

Fasten your safety belt, ensure your tray table is fastened, seat is in the upright position and enjoy the flight as I update the trip details with photos and maybe even a video of two of the trip over the next week or so.

Last edited by sydunipete; Nov 29, 11 at 3:21 am
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Old Nov 8, 11, 5:18 pm
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CA176 - SYD to PVG. 16 Oct 11.
Seat 12D. A330-200.
Older (but not the oldest as I was later to find out) Long Haul Business Class
11:20 scheduled departure.




B-6093 is an Air China aircraft painted in Star Alliance colours. It was waiting at gate 54 to take me to Shanghai to commence a holiday which included 3 cities of mainland China. I'd heard mixed reports about Air China so it was with some trepidation that I prepared for this flight. I'm used to SQ, TG, SK, LH and UA in J Class and even though the price was right I was hoping some standards would be maintained.

Service before the flight was a worry. My pre-booked seat showed up on expert flyer as unallocated and a web site used by my travel agent said seat was unconfirmed despite a low loading factor. Air China could also not confirm use of new or old equipped aircraft. I'd seen press releases that Sydney was served on alternate days by a remodelled business class and neither my outgoing nor return trip were scheduled to be on a remodelled day (but this was shown to the wrong in practice).

My flight also coincided with a bike ride through the streets of Sydney and the path crossed every reasonable option I had to get me to the airport. Now I love bicycles and all that, but with the millions we spent building an Olympic precinct purpose build for sports, don't you think they (and other sports) could use that rather than the perfect good roads needed for automobile traffic? in a working city?

But my concern wasn't well founded and I made it to the airport with lots of time to spare.

Check-in opened 3 hours before departure and everything was smooth sailing. I was looked after by a QANTAS staff member who gave me my express customs card, boarding pass and lounge invitation. Service wasn't up to Asiana levels, but ok so far.

The lounge was the Air NZ lounge which is my favorite in Sydney. Free wifi, good food, a reasonable selection of drinks and a view of the tarmac add the the interest of the place. My only complaint was the paucity of newspapers and the toilets were crowded. This was probably due to a busy day for air traffic between Australia and NZ due to the semi final between our two countries in the world cup taking place today. The terminal was full of green and gold jerseys. Luckily the Air NZ lounge wasn't a mecca for al black fans. Of course I had to pass through the shopping mall that is Sydney international airport, but I escaped that reasonable unscathed.

The express card at customs didn't count for much. The queue master was waving people from the poverty queue through while us elite travellers with express cards waited. It wasn't a big problem though with the light traffic just creating a queue of 3.

The entire flight boarded through door 1L following the boarding call made in the lounge. It was great timing with economy boarding just completing as I arrived. On board service was polite with an FA offering to unwrap the provided slippers for me. The seats are only average. There is no personal storage space for anything bigger than a magazine. My iPad had to sit vertically on the seat beside me. The whole first row was occupied by Chinese people who seemed to be very familiar with proceedings so I assumed they were airline personnel. The aircraft was a 2 class configuration

Champagne (Cattier Brut) offered upon boarding which was much better than was provided in the lounge (Brancott Estate Brut Cuvée which just didn't cut it for me). However the tide was out today (in fact it was low tide on Champagne pond on every Air China flight I took).



Newspapers including an Australian Chinese language paper were available while the reassuringly Australian voice of the first officer (Peter Ross from memory) introduced himself.



By the time I was seated we had been counted several times by people with counters. Who knows why, but it seemed excessive. Hot towels handed out in time for another head count. Business class cabin was about 60% full so it appears they don't upgrade everyone like other airlines. But there is another theory. This flight and subsequent ones all had several breakages of equipment, IFE, seats, tray tables. So they may keep load factors low to allow for redundancy so they can move people around! It was rather shabby with several loose panels and missing parts. I just hope the business end of the engineering is maintained better.

Business class was 2-2-2 configuration with just 4 rows in the main business class cabin. There was just enough leg room for my 192cm frame.







Push back 15mins late. During taxiing I saw 4 A380s which must be a fair complement for Sydney. Two of them were SQ and were parked as opposite ends of this terminal. So at least one flight had a long walk through the terminal.

Drink and food orders were taken during the safety video from the wine list provided. French and Chinese wines were available. All meals had to be ordered at this time and there was a fair selection of Chinese and western choices available. I chose pork ribs and Hokkien noodles for dinner.







The English part of the announcements was barely recognisable. I picked up "seat belts" and that's about it. The nose wheel camera gave us a good view of taxiing which then changed to downward facing.

Chinese airlines are not good at cabin discipline and a few people were wandering around while seat belt sign was on. This was to be a common theme during my next few legs.

After lunch window shades were pulled down for this daytime flight, but in another common theme, people kept pulling them up and down. Surely up or down is ok, playing with them isn't?

Movie selection and performance of the AVOD is a major downfall.



If you like Chinese movies you might be right at home. Otherwise bring an iPad with some movies loaded. This is what I did which raised an interesting situation. iPhone's are not permitted, even in flight mode, which is why the photos stop half way through the flight, yet iPads are just fine. They possess very similar electronics and this demonstrates the silliness of some of the current rules. But back to the IFE : it's slow, patchy in usability and the best movie from a very restricted choice was Mr Poppa's Penguins.

Meal service was out of kilter, nuts were immediately followed with appetiser.



In fact the whole meal was a sort of world record attempt for the quickest meal service on a flight.



Why can't this be done by all airlines on overnight flights? Lunch was just ok. But 6 courses served within 90 mins of push back is not a bad effort at all. Everything was served individually with not a trolley in sight. The drinks all came out individually from the galley too with no chance to view the bottle. This was a bit of a trap too. They didn't have the French white, but instead of saying so they served the Chinese white instead. You could tell because the Chinese white wine was bad. Dry and astringent, thin and unappealing.





The Chinese red on the other hand was far better than the French red. It was a Cabernet Sauvignon, that despite what I put down to youth of the vines, it was up there with good Bordeaux selections. This was impressive, but during the trip to come I had some Chinese red wines that we're truly unrecognisable as wine.



There was also a tea list.



Toilets were clean, inflight magazine is mostly in Chinese with minimal English content, so you can't rely upon the IFE or the magazine for passing the time. Dinner service commence 2 1/2 hours before landing, which isn't required when you've got a world record breaking crew. I would have thought that if breakfast can be served during descent into New York by a First Class United crew (as it was on a recent trip for me), these guys could do it while we were taxiing to the gate!

The Hokkien noodles were bland and no alcohol was served with this second meal.

Head phones were not noise canceling, so it might be time for an investment in these gems if you are doing an over night leg. Seat belt sign was on for most of the flight (another theme I was to discover on every chinese flight - but the passengers didn't seem to care).

Landed at 19:20 and deplaned 5 mins later about 15 mins late in all. The Shanghai terminal in brand spanking new and spectacular. It was built for last year's world expo and is yet another example of China's massive scale and capability. Immigration was pretty quick but bags took a while and priority tags seemed to count for little. It was a scrum to get the bags with Chinese crowding the belt (which is my pet hate. Surely everything would be easier if everybody stood a metre or so back from the belt and just moved forward when they saw their bag). But I was in a car on my way through the smog to Shanghai within 30 mins of landing.

Last edited by sydunipete; Nov 29, 11 at 3:28 am
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Old Nov 8, 11, 10:08 pm
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An intriguing beginning! Looking forward to reading some updates from your slightly oddball itinerary
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Old Nov 9, 11, 3:49 am
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Interesting read so far.
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Old Nov 9, 11, 8:25 pm
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Magnetic Levitation

Although not strictly a flight, it's not strictly ground transport either. The Magnetic Levitation (MagLev) for short is the coolest way to transfer between Shanghai Pudong Airport and the city.

You can catch a bus and enjoy the experience of Shanghai traffic and smog, you could walk the 30 km (which is probably quicker than the bus), or you can experience the MagLev.



The train quickly accelerates from the station to its top speed of 431 kmph. It's rattling along to the point where several photos I took of the in carriage speedo just came out blurred. But I did get one decent shot at high speed.



Not long after reaching top speed it's time to commence descent and slow down for the destination. The train covers 30 km in just over 7 minutes and for a ticket price of 50 RMB (about $7) for "ordinary class" or double that for "VIP class" this is a) a bargain b) cool and c) a lot of fun. (But then again I thought the same thing of a Segway tour I did in Paris a few years back.)



I managed to video the passing countryside at the time that a MagLev heading in the opposite direction passed by. The sound and feeling was like a canon shot : at a head on speed of 860 kmph you realise how quick these things move.

https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/phot...eat=directlink

Last edited by sydunipete; Nov 10, 11 at 1:28 am
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Old Nov 9, 11, 10:21 pm
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PVG - XIE

FM9207 - PVG to XIY. 19 Oct 11.
Seat 23D. B737-800.
Domestic Economy Class
12:00 scheduled departure.

Domestic, economy, China, discount airline : All the signs of a winner right!

Shanghai airport is a massive beast with gates up to C223.





Signs were dual language pointing to exotic destinations.





One of the shops in the airport was selling live crabs. Their nippers were tied in place, but the smell was obvious and I was hoping nobody on our flight had a taste for these delicacies.



Aircraft B-5320 was in fair condition.



I didn't get to sample the lounge as I was flying on a pre-organised economy fare and I also can't report upon the 8 first class seats (although they did look very comfortable and they were very ornately decorated).



Economy was the usual 3-3 configuration. Leg room was normal for economy domestic. (Remember I'm 192cms tall.)



A normal person fits like this:



We were subject to several safety briefings, some pre-recorded, some live and unlike the previous Air China briefing there were largely legible to my western ears.

Push back was a few minutes late due to air traffic control prior to a tour of all the taxiways. Well it seemed that way.

Lunch was a choice of fish and rice or beef and noodles. I was one of the last server and they had just ran out of beef. Beer or soft drink was available. It was all tasty enough, served on a plastic tray and with a plastic cup for the drink.



There was generally poor cabin discipline with people wandering through the cabin while the seat belt sign was on and even during push back and using mobile phones while taxiing.



Before landing we entered the toxic air of a Chinese city made worse by the manufacturing base of Xi-An burning brown coal by the metric truck load.



The airport signs were in Chinglish.



And there was the usual scrum for bags. For once, mine as one of the first off and that was without the aid of a priority tag!


Last edited by sydunipete; Nov 29, 11 at 3:28 am
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Old Nov 9, 11, 10:56 pm
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Originally Posted by sydunipete View Post

Domestic, economy, China, discount airline : All the signs of a winner right!
I really like your report and your writing style. But, fyi FM (MU) is considered a full service airline, for better or for worse. Also, I've never gotten a jetbridge on PVG-XIY; you were very fortunate to avoid the bus gate boarding area.
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Old Nov 10, 11, 12:40 am
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Thanks MoonDog, I stand corrected. At all airports I noticed some tarmac buses floating about, but I was fortunate that every transfer was via jet bridge.

In fact it's a long time now anywhere in the world that I've had to take a bus. I think the last time was in Frankfurt I'm guessing 5 years ago.

My compliments on the new terminals at Beijing and Shanghai. I didn't get to see the older terminals, but the new ones are quite impressive.
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Old Nov 10, 11, 3:08 am
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Enjoying your TR I followed it here from the link on AFF. Interesting photos and looking forward to the next installments
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Old Nov 10, 11, 3:24 am
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Originally Posted by sydunipete View Post
Thanks MoonDog, I stand corrected. At all airports I noticed some tarmac buses floating about, but I was fortunate that every transfer was via jet bridge.

In fact it's a long time now anywhere in the world that I've had to take a bus. I think the last time was in Frankfurt I'm guessing 5 years ago.

My compliments on the new terminals at Beijing and Shanghai. I didn't get to see the older terminals, but the new ones are quite impressive.
I was not that lucky at PVG, my past 3 domestic flights there were all bus transfers. to add salt to my wound, I remembered a delay of about 3 hours on a day with clear skies.

Oh, and I see the hairy crabs. Did you manage to try them while you were in Shanghai?
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Old Nov 10, 11, 3:43 am
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Originally Posted by tycosiao View Post
I remembered a delay of about 3 hours on a day with clear skies.
Is there ever a clear day in Shanghai?

Originally Posted by tycosiao View Post
Oh, and I see the hairy crabs. Did you manage to try them while you were in Shanghai?
No, unfortunately I was in China with a tour (hence the economy flights) and the food we ate was bland. Safe, but plain.

The best meal I had in China was when I went over the wall (escaped from the organised tour) and went to a muslim restaurant not far from Nanjing Rd in Shanghai and ate flat bread with lamb stew plus some of the most delicious lamb skewers I've ever eaten. Enough for three people, a couple of beers just over 100 RMB. (Probably $20!)
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Old Nov 10, 11, 4:48 am
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Started reading on AFF, loving your TR. Look forward to the rest
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Old Nov 10, 11, 6:52 am
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Nice TR - the MagLev is a really fun experience, especially when the other one passes by at full speed.

BTW, I've spent a couple of years in Shangers and I think I've seen about 5 days with blue sky.

Love the crabs though
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Old Nov 10, 11, 7:35 am
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Great report so far. That video of the maglev is extraordinary - it doesn't really look like you're going outrageously fast, until the other maglev flashes by in a fraction of a second. Awesome!
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Old Nov 10, 11, 2:40 pm
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Originally Posted by mad_atta View Post
That video of the maglev is extraordinary - it doesn't really look like you're going outrageously fast, until the other maglev flashes by in a fraction of a second. Awesome!
Yes, agreed. I have another longer video taken from the MagLev but it's nothing special. (I'm happy to post it if anybody requests it.)

It's only when that other train passes that you get a real feel for the speed. As I recall we weren't even at top speed at the time of the other train passing.
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