Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Update from China - Trip Report (MU586 LAX-PVG-PEK) [[Reupdated 7/18 - watch for ((upd))s]]

It's about time I did something that people actually consider useful.

As you probably know, I'm in China. How did I get there, you ask? Well...

June 26, 2005 (Sunday) - 9:15am: Departed for LAX. I live relatively next to it, so only a 30-minute drive. Not that I can drive or anything.

9:45am: Arrive at China Eastern check-in. Check-in didn't start for another 15 minutes, so off I went to do some amateur planespotting.

9:50am: The people at LAX are too friggin paranoid about terrorism. I started taking pictures around the south part of the Bradley terminal. Saw several JL (Japan Airlines) and KE (Korean Air) jumbos, and a LY (El Al) Airbus .. A330 I think. And a couple of QF (Qantas) 747s.

A young woman wearing LAX badges (Israeli or Russian, I'm not too good with nationalities) comes up to me. She takes a look at my pictures and starts deleting them because "you cannot take pictures" at LAX. Pure. Bull. Shit. (Trip Report by BRAVO7E7 on Airliners.net... nice website, very well done report, but too poor to afford a membership)

10am: Mentally cursing at the woman, I walked back to check-in. It was about to start. We were the second/third to check-in (me and my mom). After getting seated near the wing (actually, next to the center of the wing) I went to the third floor to wait. And wait. And wait. Afterwards, I went into the gate area. More staring-at-planes-and-wishing-that-I-could-take-some-pictures-of-them. Then, more waiting for boarding to start.

Which, of course, was going to start at 1:30, but was delayed to ...

2:10pm: Boarding WAS to start. There was a Korean Air 744 at the gate, but soon after the lonnnnnngggggg line of Y-class passengers cleared out, and we sat. The China Eastern 583 (towards LAX) flight arrived at around 12:45, later than usual. A person next to me conversed with my mom at check-in, saying "it's the fourth time in a row..."

2:30pm: Now we board. The A340-600 was in great condition, and probably was better than the Air China 744-Combi that I was on last year. The aircraft was B-6055, for the nerds who like to keep track of that stuff.

2:55pm (give or take): The aircraft started pushback, and I saw the next flight to occupy our gate, an Aer Lingus from Dublin. Some other flights came in afterwards.. Singapore, China Airlines, Tahiti Nui, Cathay Pacific (I loved the reg, B-HUG... the A.net spotters had a field day with that one), and some others. I also saw some Delta ones, many United Express/SkyWest regional jets, Ted, United, Air New Zealand, Southwest, and a whole lot more. Oh, and the gate was 105.

I saw a United jet land on Runway 25R, while we were departing on 25L. We headed towards Dockweiler, and made a really wide turn towards Santa Barbara. They served lunch at cruising altitude. First, some beverages and a bag of peanuts. They were good, but were kinda over on the salt. Lunch (dinner?) was beef over rice or chicken with noodles. They ran out of beef before they got to us, because everyone else wanted beef. Apparently it wasn't good, as the lavatory sink was a bit unpleasant...

3:30pm: The chicken came with a dinner roll and some butter. There was some plastic silverware in festive colors, and a salad of some stuff I forgot, but it had corn in it. Came with some OK semisweet chocolate cake. Twas good. (Catering was by Hacor for this flight. They labeled all the food thingies with the flight number and description. How nice of them.)

The route was to go north towards SFO for a while, but veering west towards NRT halfway. Then it was over the boring Pacific until reaching Japan, then southwest towards Shanghai.

Halfway through the flight, I reused my VitaminWater bottle that I overpaid for at LAX for regular water. They didn't come around with water during the night (day) unlike Air China does. Also unlike them, they never turned off the monitors even during the dimming of the cabin lights. Anyway, I snuck around the galley, and learned that it was a packed flight - 8 people in F and a hell of a lot more in Y-class. Some didn't pay for food, were they babies?

((upd)) Shortly afterwards, they served us a slice of a really thick (three layers of bread!!) ham sandwich. Not the kind they serve at a deli, but rather one you pack in your son's lunchbox. It was good anyway.

They had entertainment shows in Chinese, and they had Looney Tunes: Back In Action on with Chinese subtitles. Afterwards, there was this funny comedy movie in Chinese in which two people want to be wrestlers, so they converted a restaurant into a ring and some other stuff.

2.5 hours before landing: Dinner (lunch?) was served over Japan. We never got to see Mt. Fuji, even though they said we could. Meh. I kinda forgot what it was, but I think it was fish over thin noodles, dinner roll, and smoked salmon salad.

7:00-something pm: We landed in PVG an hour late. Meh. I'm not sure what runway it was, but it was going NW-SE compared to the runway parallel to the terminal.

After deplaning in gate 19, there was a person that sorted out the people leaving at Shanghai with the people going to Beijing, Shenyang, Qingdao, Harbin, and some other cities. Geez. One MU connection had four flight numbers, all of them theirs. I noticed that the connections for MU586 all had the number 586 at the end (5586, 3586, etc). We were handed out new A320-214 boarding passes after clearing customs early because the second leg was considered a domestic flight.

So, two hours, a really expensive cup of kiwifruit juice, and a mosquito bite later, we boarded in gate 11-- wait, no, gate 52. It was on the last, final, bottom, lowest, almost underground floor.

9:40pm: They bussed us to the remote gate, where we boarded the A320 in humid weather. The reg was B-2400. It was olllllddd compared to the pencil-plane. We departed 10 minutes late at around 10pm towards Beijing.

The manual-style safety demo was done by the flight attendants. There was a round of applause at the beginning, not sure why. One of them started doing it too early, and she started blushing.

It felt freaky being on a domestic flight at night. You never know what might happen. Even worse, there was a thunderstorm close by with high winds at cruising altitude. Huhuhuhuh.

We were served a cup of Waterman water, which really wasn't mineral water but reunvaporized water. Heeding someone's warning on some airline meal website that it tasted like plastic, I drank it. And they were right. It wasn't as bad as I expected, but it wasn't good either. But I was thirsty.

Snack boxes came with the water. It had a slice of nutty cake, coconut cookies, and some other snack item. All were OK. The snackbox was hard to close, but wasn't meant to be anyway.

The plane shook around for a while, and shortly after, we arrived at Beijing Capital at "23:52" (11:52pm), two minutes late. Baggage came faster than usual probably because this was half-international, half-domestic.

The bathrooms at PEK were kinda hard to find. Once you get out of the baggage claim/customs area, people start chasing you around asking you if they want to send you to downtown Beijing with their taxi. Others throw around business cards with the IATA logo to sell you tickets. Hmm.

Overall, China Eastern had somewhat good service, although there was one flight attendant on the Pacific leg that had a problem helping people. I would describe it, but I would have to kill you. Not really.

Ratings for both Pacific and Domestic legs (respectively):
Lavatory: C+ ... A-
Service: B- ... B+ (not much to rate)
Meals: C ... C

Baggage Handling at PEK: D (bags were found damaged... They throw your bags on a cart, and start joyriding to the terminal... One even fell off the cart :O )

Service at LAX: A for check-in and boarding, A for TSA (speedy), C for food prices (F for the TSA person who told me not to take pictures, even though it should be legal) [Overall: B-]
Service at PVG: B- for re-boarding, C for food prices
Service at PEK: none to rate

Info in a nutshell:
LAX-PVG MU586 Airbus A340-600 B-6055 - Delayed Departure 1.5h / Arrival 1h
PVG-PEK MU586 Airbus A320-200 B-2400 - Delayed Departure 10m / Arrival 2m

Arrival time was inconvenient... I mean, who'd wanna pick up someone in Beijing at midnight?

Overall China Eastern Grade: B

Would fly them again... and I will. Check for updates on my return trip!

This took me an hour and 20 minutes to write, by the way.

((upd)) After reading more reviews on airlinequality.com, I was surprised at the many many many mixed reviews. Maybe the reason why I'm not as pissed off about service and other crap is because I'm used to the way Chinese airlines treat me. Maybe it's because I can speak Chinese. Maybe it's because I'm Asian. Maybe it's because I'm getting tired of typing with this goddamned Dell keyboard!!!!! ... Maybe next time I should fly UA...

Oh, eBaum's World was updated, so was Homestar Runner and Weebl's Stuff... and Illwillpress... and Maddox, probably.. didn't check that yet.

See ya in a while.