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China Eastern Business DXB-KMG-PVG July 2014

China Eastern Business DXB-KMG-PVG July 2014

Old Jul 22, 14, 4:42 am
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China Eastern Business DXB-KMG-PVG July 2014

China Eastern Airlines Trip Report


Here is another series of trip reports on four Asian-based airlines. They are all pretty well known but are currently at a different stage of establishing itself as a leader in the ever-expanding Asian-Pacific region. This first report will cover a pretty well-known People’s Republic of China (PRC) based airline, that is based in Shanghai with various branches across the PRC, as it buys and/or purchases other regional carriers in China. I honestly have been avoiding China Eastern Airlines for decades, as most of my colleagues, family and friends, who travel to the PRC, do not think highly about it. However if you need to travel in the PRC, especially Shanghai, China Eastern is simply unavoidable. When I am searching for an one way flight returning from Dubai to Asia, I find out that China Eastern Airlines (MU) is offering a rather attractive one-way business class fare from Dubai to most Asian cities, which is even cheaper than Cathay Pacific’s Premium Economy class. However China Eastern does not fly nonstop from Dubai to Shanghai Pudong, but has a stop in Kunming, which is one of its newest regional hubs in the Yunnan region. MU has purchased China Yunnan Airlines, and some of the planes, including the one I flew, have the logo showing its Yunnan branch. This additions top makes this flight even more interesting, despite transit in the PRC is complicated and extremely difficult. So this trip report will hopefully shed a light on the transit procedures in Shanghai Pudong and Kunming. I took this flight with no expectation and was actually pleasantly surprised by the service. Of course none of my flights were full so I got two seats to myself. Many of the amenities will be considered “economy class” like, but with the price tag, you can’t complaint too much. It is interesting to see a mix of male and female F/As. However the ground operation was a mess and nobody wants to take responsibility for anything. Given how my flight was delayed four hours and even when the Dubai manager even admitted that I would miss my flight, nobody was authorized or willing to take any action, till I got to Shanghai Pudong. Despite the okay in-flight experience, I am fine with not flying China Eastern Airlines for a while. I won’t avoid it but it is definitely not on the top of my list of airline to fly again.

July 15, 2014
MU 756 Dubai International to Kunming Changshui International Lv2030 Arr0700+1 Airbus A330-300X B-6120

I arrived at DXB’s Terminal One around two hours prior to departure, and prior to my arrival, I have already noted that my inbound flight was delayed significantly. The flight arrived Kunming slightly late, but was held up for a significant amount of time at Kunming due to Air Traffic restriction, which is common occurrence in the PRC especially the military can close any air space that they like at any given times. ATC delay is just a term to explain this unexplained situation. Anyway, this letter was posted in the check-in counters.


Check-in was a complete disaster, even with a Sky Priority line, wait was rather long. Honestly this was one of the longest wait for check-in as a business class passenger. The agents were not particularly efficient and required Chinese translations with many Chinese passengers. The manager was overlooking the two business class counters, and at least made sure that only J and elite passengers were using the priority line.



The regular economy class lane was long and this picture pretty much summarized it. If you fly MU Y, you need to arrive at least three hours prior to departure.



After almost twenty to thirty minutes, it was finally my turn, and I immediately asked the manager about the connection to Taipei. He basically told me that you would miss your flight, and the staffs at Shanghai would rebook you on the next flight, and if you need to overnight at Pudong, they would provide accommodation. Of course I did my homework and there was a China Airlines flight to Taipei later this evening. For a normal airline, the agent would have looked into options and put me on other flights. There was actually a Sichuan Airline flight that flew directly from Kunming to Taipei that afternoon, and both Air China and China Southern both have flights are going out on time. I could have flown to Guangzhou on China Southern, which was a Skyteam Alliance member. Anyway, rule number one: Don’t even bother to ask about re-routing even on severe delays. Nothing can be done until you get to its main hub in the PRC. They will only rebook you on their partner airlines. Anyway, if you don’t speak some mandarin, you might not want to fly China Eastern too. Almost all communications concerning the delays were done in mandarin, even in Dubai, as most passengers were Chinese. I overhead that some meal vouchers would be provided at the gate around 8pm. Anyway, with that long line, it would be hours before they could process all of them.

About seat assignment, I used expedia to book this ticket, and was able to select a seat in the website, but in reality, you would be randomly assign another seat. Remember to check your seat assignment, when you check-in.

Lounge


China Eastern Airlines uses the Maraha Lounge, which was fairly busy at this evening hour.
The lounge itself was not that impressive, and there were some warmed food available, along with free wifi and limited beverages. I wish that there was better option, and in hindsight, I should have gone to the Air France lounge. The bathrooms were sort of dirty too.






Gate:

Gate C17 was used this evening, and there was no order at all. This was pretty much the norm with China Eastern Airlines. Thankfully, the manager was pulling out business class passengers to enter the gate area first. There were more sandwiches and bottled waters available for delayed guests.

Look at the line stretching over to the other side:


My first view of B-6120


Boarding finally began at 12:05am, and the leading flight attendant welcomed business class guests. I immediately noticed that the cabin temperature was very warm and being stuck in the ground was no help.

My first impression of the cabin




My seat initially – 10L



Seat
China Eastern is the midst of introducing those all-aisle access reverse herringbone business class seats on some of the Airbus A330-200s, but of course, Dubai is not one of those lucky markets. Older generation of sliding business class seats were used, but to be honest, it was fairly comfortabel and maybe I was too tired, I was able to sleep after the meal service. Power outlets were available, along with an electronic seat control.

Power outlet and handset console


Electronic seat control panel


Personal TV


Literature pocket


The flight attendants were apologetic and pretty efficient to get the flight going. The leading F/A approached me and offered me an empty pair of seats in Row 7. She told me that there was additional set of crew on this flight, and they did not want to disturb me in the aft section, as there would be movements throughout the flight. I still had two seats to myself, and I was more than happy to accommodate. I also got to get closer to the entrance, which allowed a speedy exit.

My new seats – 7L


After most passengers were settled down, slippers were passed out, along with hot towel in a real china plate. There was no amenity kit available. There was a choice of water or orange juice as beverage.







Headsets were already placed inside the seat console, and the quality was pretty bad. Thankfully sleep was more important on this flight.


Door was closed at 00:30am, and all the F/As bowed after the leading purser did her welcome speech. However the pilot soon made his only announcement during this flight, and due to ATC delay in the PRC, we had to sit in the tarmac for another thirty minutes before being allowed to push back. Safety demo was shown and the F/A passed out bottled waters, as well as taking meal orders. There were no printed menus and wine lists. Tonight’s dinner would feature a choice of beef or chicken, and there was no description of how they were prepared, but from what I saw, they were all prepared in Chinese style. Rule #2 – most meals are designed for Chinese passengers and don’t expect western meals. The wait was okay, as I had reading materials and the F/As were lenient and allowed most passengers to recline their seats. However, the cabin temperature remained extremely warm and the passengers behind me waved one of the F/As and told her to do something about it. Well the cabin temperature remained very warm throughout the flight and that was a major issue. I did not even use the blanket during these two flights.

We finally pushed back at 1:02am and slowly headed towards R/W30L. We took off at 1:25am for this six hours and sixteen minutes flight to Kunming. The routing took us towards Gulf of Oman, as we climbed to 39,000feet, which was our final cruising attitude. We flew directly towards the Indian subcontinent – passing cities of Candhinagar, Banswara, Jabalpur, Amikapur, Jamshedpur, and Kolkata, and then towards Chittagong, Bangladesh, and then Mogoke, Myanmar, and then Lincang, Yunnan.

Service pretty much began shortly after the seat belt sign was turned off.

Linen – a nicely branded one with China Eastern logo, was passed out to cover our tray tables.


To my surprise, there was a starter, which features a plate of smoked fish – halibut and salmon, accompanied by mixed greens and a spiced mango salad. On the starter tray, the cheese platter, fruit plate, and dessert were also presented.



Cheese


Fruit platter


Dessert – Apple Crumble tart with vanilla sauce


Breads were then offered and I chose a nice soft twist roll!


Entrée was served next, and the beef dish turned out to be a “stir fry beef with black pepper sauce accompanied by rice and vegetables”



The meal was completed within the first hour of the flight, as most passengers just wanted to go straight to sleep. I checked out the audio video on demand system before going to sleep. There was not much being offered but I am more than happy to see eight episodes of Big Bang Theory available. The Big Bang Theory is very popular in the PRC, so these eight episodes made MU entertainment system better than China Airlines, EVA Air, and Asiana Airlines, which I flew within the past week. I highly recommend bring your own entertaining devices, and there are power outlets for you to charge them. The evening was fairly peaceful with chops along the way.

Here are the seats in various preset positions!

Recline/Relax


Full Flat






Descent soon began at 7:10am and the F/A came around with a light refreshment service, which featured a choice of tuna or roast beef sandwich, along with orange juice or water.



Another round of hot towel



Since I did not know how the transit would go and how long the wait would be, I decided to have a tuna roll and thankfully I did so, as there was no lounge access at Kunming transit area.

We landed on R/W22 at 11:41am and parked at stand “105” three minutes later.




B-6120 at Kunming


First deplaning at Kunming was slightly postponed, as the ground agent refused to let passengers off-loaded, until she got all the paperwork. She needed three copies of the manifest and a list of passengers going onward to Shanghai. She wanted to know how many passengers were continuing to Shanghai. I found this question funny because the Kunming staffs should have easily accessed all these information after our flight left Dubai earlier that evening. Yes I noticed some unusual upgrade activities in business class but the final passenger count should not matter. The ground staff finally relented after the pilots were involved.
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Old Jul 22, 14, 4:44 am
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Transit at Kunming – Here comes the most interesting part of the journey, as nobody really knows how. So I just followed the sign and headed to the arrival level. Ignore the various transit signs because they are incorrect. Everyone including some passengers with international flights departing Kunming had to check-in again, as China Eastern did not provide “thru” boarding passes. It is indeed common for the PRC airlines not issuing all the boarding passes to your final destination even if you purchase all the flights within one ticket, and it is operated by the same airline. For those continuing to Shanghai, the ground staff had to check you off the list and provided you with a new boarding pass. During the boarding pass check, the agent would ask if you had check-in luggage, and I presume that you needed to provide the baggage tag(s). The original one was stapled to the new boarding pass with two stubs that were shredded off at two different checkpoints. I was told to go back to upstairs (there was no escalator), and turned left. It was pretty confusing but I found the “transit to China” sign, and was literally the first passenger going through immigration. After going through another security check, I entered a holding room pictured here with toilet facilities and nothing much more to do! There was no lounge access for premium and elite passengers.





There was also no ground staff available to answer any inquiry about our new boarding time and other connections. They just showed up 15 minutes prior to boarding, and it was clear that they were not able to answer any question. Finally at 12:45pm, we were told to board and there was no priority boarding. Everybody just headed to the bus, which eventually took us back to B-6120 parked at Stand 105. There were agents removing stubs at both gates.

MU 756 KMG-PVG Lv0855 Arr1200 Airbus A330-300X B-6120

I took the opportunity to take some pictures of B-6120 – not too successful.



The same crews welcomed us onboard again and the flight to Shanghai Pudong had a very light load. I was not sure if they did not receive any domestic passengers or since our flight was so late, all the other passengers were transferred to other flights in the morning. Business class had around ten passengers, and I took the chances to shoot some cabin shot.










Same pre-takeoff routine – Orange juice or water and hot towel in a tray




This time slippers and a Chinese newspaper were already pre-placed at each seat. Today’s newspaper was “Global Times”.



Boarding door was closed at 1:04pm, and once again the pilot informed us of another ATC delay. Nothing too shocking as of this point, and there was no reason given! The F/As came around with bottled waters and took our lunch orders, which was a choice of Curry beef with rice, chicken with rice, or Fish with noodles. We finally pushed back at 1:25pm and took off from R/W22 at 1:43pm for our two hours and thirty-six minutes flight.

Lunch was served at 2:15pm and this time it was a one-tray meal service.

Fresh linen again:


Lunch:


Entrée – Curry Beef with rice – very tasty with a nice kick



Appetizer – Wine Marinated chicken with coleslaw



Fresh Fruit platter


Packaged snacks and local condiments




Bread basket – choice of sesame rolls, soft twist, and garlic bread – I was encouraged to help myself to as many bread rolls as possible


For the rest of flight, I watched Big Bang Theory and drifted in and out of sleep.
Descent soon began at 3:48pm, and here were some pictures, as we got closer to Shanghai Pudong!



We landed on R/W17R at 4:19pm, and we were four hours and nineteen minutes later. We parked at a remote stand five minutes later. I was dreading another bus ride, but at least business class passengers got their own private mini-vans, which was definitely a nice gesture. Cathay Pacific could learn from China Eastern Airlines.


Goodbye to B-6120





So here came the next challenge! My scheduled flight from Shanghai Pudong to Taipei Taoyuan was scheduled to leave at 3:55pm, but given how everyone was late, I was still hopeful to get on the plane. Just did not feel like sitting at another airport lounge (not even a good one) for another three hours or so. Well once we arrived at the bus stop, there was a MU ground staff directing all the passengers. I did not quite understand the ground staff, but I believe that despite our flight was domestic, the bags had not cleared custom and the staffs had to bring everyone with check-in baggage to the international baggage claim hall. I then just jumped to the front and told her that I had a connecting flight, and I had no check-in baggage. She immediately pointed me towards the “transit” area amidst the arrival hall.

The transit hall was located on the right side of the domestic baggage claim area, and I had to go through another hand carry check before directing to the transit check-in desk. There was a separate sky priority line but not sure if it was particularly useful, as there were only two staffs working. After they knew that I missed my flight, I was directed to another desk behind the transit baggage claim belt. Thankfully I was the first passenger there, and the agent immediately noticed that my flight was still here, but his supervisor told him that it was too rush. I asked them politely if they could put me on the China Airlines flight that would depart at 7:50pm. The agent checked and after some phone calls, I was told that it was okay and just stood on the side and waited while the supervisor reissued my ticket. There was also another passenger heading to Korea, who was placed on the Korean Air flight after asking the staffs. No one would offer you anything unless you specifically ask for that particular flight. You really need to know the schedule of the flights between your point of connection and your final destination. After 20 minutes or so, the supervisor filled out a form and asked another staff to bring me and the other Korean bound passengers to the ticketing desk at the departure level for the endorsement stamps. Fortunately I had no baggage and the agent just gave me an e-ticket form and told me to check in with China Airlines. The poor guy had to go back to the transit area and picked up his bags, and went back to check in again. The guy was complaining and the agent just told him that despite KE and MU are both Skyteam Alliance, they used different reservation systems. The agent was surprised that I thanked her for all the hassles. Anyway, from what I noticed, transit passengers had their bags only checked to Shanghai, and then they had to pick up their bags and checked them in again. If they needed new flights, they were told to go to the supervisor desks, and even for MU flights, they needed to re-issue the ticket. Then you picked up your bags from the belt and checked in again. Basically there was a lot of going back and forth.

I am not going to write about China Airlines, except that I really appreciate flying a world-class airline. Check-in was efficient, and the agent was friendly. My request for window seats was granted with a smile and my Elite Plus status was recognized. The on board service was properly done with an experienced crew. Yes there were more ATC delays but at least I was flying a proper international airline.

China Eastern Airlines is honestly not a bad airline, but there is still much room to improve and the premium experience is still spotty at areas. The most urgent matter is to enhance the ground service, use a better lounge, and to properly ensure that boarding was organized and at least priority passengers got to board first. It was just chaotic everywhere. As of this point, I am not sure if I will really recommend this airline to non-Chinese passengers, as the catering was Chinese-oriented, and the F/As spoke little English. Chinese airports were nice, but signage was confusing, and if you don’t speak mandarin, you can get lost easily. Transits at Kunming and Shanghai Pudong Airport are just troublesome and there is so much bureaucracy involved. I will not do any connecting flights at any of these cities without at least three hours between flights. Nonetheless, it is an interesting experience. I hope you enjoy this trip report!

Carfield
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Old Jul 22, 14, 6:33 am
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Another excellent report, Carfield. Wow, what a mess MU looks like. Mrs. SFO and I are on a short PDG-SHA MU flight in September. Thanks for the warning. Hopefully, our simple nonstop goes a little smoother than your experience.
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Old Jul 22, 14, 10:19 am
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I got my onward connection's boarding pass at point of departure (FCO-PVG-HKG). I even asked if I could standby an earlier flight upon arrival at PVG and tag my bags to PVG only and was refused.
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Old Jul 22, 14, 11:56 am
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Nice report. For some reason, that apple pie looks really, really good. The tuna sandwich, not so much, but probably a wise idea to eat it if you're going to be locked in the box in Kunming for a couple hours! I probably won't be choosing to make any transits through KMG any time soon.

BUT - that said, I will do most anything for the right price. For fun I ran an ITA search on that routing for a couple months out and I am seeing that one-way DXB to PVG at about $800 USD. If I was paying out of pocket I would certainly give it consideration!
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Old Jul 22, 14, 11:10 pm
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Whilst I think we have to accept that the hard product offered by Chinese carriers may be a generation or two away from providing a real premium experience, I am still astounded by the pathetic soft product provided. Given that the ticket prices of the likes of MU and CA are hardly competitive, the F&B service provided is just galling.

I remember flying AG a couple of years ago, and whilst the hard product gave an authentic experience of what flying must have been like in the 1970's, F&B service and general attention for detail on board made it one of my most memorable flights ever.

It seems that the MU 'offering' is slightly above CA who's meals are usually unidentifiable and inedible. The whole no menu thing and just the standard verbal offering of 'chicken or beef' seems to be the norm along with an extensive drinks menu of water or warm orange juice pre take off. Abysmal.

Thank you for the nice report anyway. It will be good to give my head a wobble whenever I get tempted by an 'okish' fair to fly MU in future!
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Old Jul 23, 14, 9:45 am
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Originally Posted by LOUDNOISES View Post
Whilst I think we have to accept that the hard product offered by Chinese carriers may be a generation or two away from providing a real premium experience, I am still astounded by the pathetic soft product provided. Given that the ticket prices of the likes of MU and CA are hardly competitive, the F&B service provided is just galling.

I remember flying AG a couple of years ago, and whilst the hard product gave an authentic experience of what flying must have been like in the 1970's, F&B service and general attention for detail on board made it one of my most memorable flights ever.

It seems that the MU 'offering' is slightly above CA who's meals are usually unidentifiable and inedible. The whole no menu thing and just the standard verbal offering of 'chicken or beef' seems to be the norm along with an extensive drinks menu of water or warm orange juice pre take off. Abysmal.

Thank you for the nice report anyway. It will be good to give my head a wobble whenever I get tempted by an 'okish' fair to fly MU in future!
Not sure what you mean by the prices being "hardly competitive" - for dates searched in ITA the route written about by the OP this fare was about 50% of the fare on more mainstream carriers.

I think it's about setting your expectations. No this isn't going to go head to head with SQ J or whatever, but if you think of it as a couple hundred dollars more over Y and you're paying a premium just for that hard product, then there is value to be considered. As someone who is 6'2", I think hard product first and everything else second. For both work and personal travel my only paid option is Y generally, so if it was the only way to get me into a big seat I'd surely consider it.
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Old Jul 24, 14, 9:51 am
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It's nice to notice that US carriers' business class is not that bad after all
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Old Jul 24, 14, 10:32 am
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Excellent report!

As a Chinese who travels between China and the US several times a year, I recommend you to avoid having anything to do with Chinese airline or airports, they'll definitely make your trip a disaster even if there is no delay. These airlines are all state-owned and they don't give a damn if you choose them or not. They'll live on with government subsidies even if they don't get a single passenger. This is why all the agents and attendants you encountered in Dubai, on the plane, and in Kunming and Shanghai are so apathetic and unhelpful.
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Old Jul 24, 14, 2:29 pm
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Originally Posted by Carfield View Post
Descent soon began at 7:10am and the F/A came around with a light refreshment service, which featured a choice of tuna or roast beef sandwich, along with orange juice or water.
I will never complain about the BA afternoon tea service again!
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Old Jul 24, 14, 9:48 pm
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Originally Posted by arlflyer View Post
Not sure what you mean by the prices being "hardly competitive" - for dates searched in ITA the route written about by the OP this fare was about 50% of the fare on more mainstream carriers.

I think it's about setting your expectations. No this isn't going to go head to head with SQ J or whatever, but if you think of it as a couple hundred dollars more over Y and you're paying a premium just for that hard product, then there is value to be considered. As someone who is 6'2", I think hard product first and everything else second. For both work and personal travel my only paid option is Y generally, so if it was the only way to get me into a big seat I'd surely consider it.
There is no reason to restrict yourself to that particular route though is there?

Flying QR is a steady $1,000 between Dubai and Shanghai, and whilst you may see some $800 tickets with MU, they are often more expensive. One date in particular comes in at an eye watering $2,200, yikes!

I'm not denying that the cheapest prices MU quote on some dates are great deals, but across their entire range of routes, and in line with other Chinese carriers, their pricing is nowhere near competitive for the product they provide.

CA for example can often be more than $1,500 more expensive than BA on a one way between PEK and LHR. What the justification for this is, I do not know.
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Old Jul 24, 14, 11:05 pm
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Thanks for all your kind comments!

I paid $555 all in for this one way trip from DXB to TPE, so I felt okay. I did not expect much from the beginning so in the end, I got one segment on China Airlines towards the end of the trip. I felt pretty good.

It is an interesting experience, but I am not sure if I want to transit at PRC again, as it seems to be different rules with different pairings/routes. But I still have one major PRC airline that I have yet to fly on - Air China. So I have to find an affordable way to fly this airline soon!

Thanks again!

Carfield
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Old Jul 24, 14, 11:15 pm
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I'm a frequent (Western) business traveler in China/Asia. MU was a one-and-done experience for my fiancee and I that I hope to never repeat.

On a Guangzhou-Melbourne flight, J-Class, I was approached by an attendant who informed me that other passengers (all Chinese) had complained of my body odor. Funny, as I had showered and changed clothes in the airport before departure. The fact that I was a 6'3" laowai in an otherwise Chinese business class had nothing to do with it, I'm sure.

There were three Chinese female passengers that seemed, to me, to be on their first international airline flight; who paid uncomfortably close attention to pretty much my every move. When I pulled out a portable charger for my cell they reacted immediately by waving for the cabin crew, who then asked me if I was a "Security Threat."

The entire flight was a series of comments, gestures, and the cabin crew reacting to the three women.


I wrote a letter, got some money back, and received a nice apology but; it is simply not a Western friendly and/or first-tier airline.
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Old Jul 25, 14, 3:19 am
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The Chinese airlines seem to be upping their game equipment wise. I recently took a brand new 787 on CZ and it had nice lie flats in business class, MU is advertising new 777-300's with glorious business class seats on the Shanghai subway these days and CA has nice lie flats on their 777-300's as well.

There are just a few things they could do to get better in their premium classes.

1: Food and drink are horrible on these planes and they FA's really can't comprehend someone wanting to drink more than one drink, even if it is a 12hour flight. They could mix up their wines as well. A choice of Dynasty or some cheap Bordeaux seems to be all that is ever offered.

2: Aside from the Big Bang Theory, which is in abundance on all Chinese IFE's, the selection of entertainment is horrible, espeically for transcontinental flights.

3: The FA's are usually very professional but their English skills sometimes need work.

4: The stupid CAAC rule about phones being off the entire flight even in flight mode needs to go.

5: Stop the pilots from smoking in the cockpit and stinking up the whole cabin.

6: Operate on time and be clear with the reason for delays and expected departure.

7: Although personally I'm not one to turn down a warm Tsingtao and a bag of peanuts, their choices in their flagship lounges could be much better.

If they got these things right I believe they could pick up alot of business, especially on USA-China routes where, let's face it, the US competition isn't exactly stellar in and of itself.

They've got the seats...it's just a matter of time before the rest follows.
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Old Jul 25, 14, 6:38 am
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Originally Posted by RavenSix View Post

On a Guangzhou-Melbourne flight, J-Class, I was approached by an attendant who informed me that other passengers (all Chinese) had complained of my body odor. Funny, as I had showered and changed clothes in the airport before departure. The fact that I was a 6'3" laowai in an otherwise Chinese business class had nothing to do with it, I'm sure.

I wrote a letter, got some money back, and received a nice apology but; it is simply not a Western friendly and/or first-tier airline.
CAN-MEL, was that CZ or MU?

Also, for a variety of reasons, flying in China is generally unpleasant. However, the most decent domestic carrier I've tried has been ZH (Shenzhen Airlines). Give 'em a try, and/or ask around the China forum.
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