China Eastern Airlines Flight Review
by Juan Francisco III
Itinerary: San Francisco (SFO) – Shanghai (PVG)
Thursday, March 17th 2016
Departure time: 12:00PM
Arrival Time: 6:10PM (+1 day)
Flight Duration: 15hr10min
Aircraft Model: Boeing 777-300 ER
Seat: 7A (window)
When I tell people about China Eastern Airlines (CEA), I usually get the same response – “Is that the same as China Airlines?” The answer is a big NO. CEA is the major carrier from mainland China and their hub is in Shanghai, hence the Eastern designation in the name. CEA was founded in 1988 and is the second largest passenger airline in China to date. Flying to 21 destinations globally by way of a fleet of 430 long and short haul aircraft, CEA is a proud member of the SkyTeam alliance. I am blessed to experience flying with China Eastern Airlines aboard their new Boeing 777-300ER.
The CEA check-in counter is found at aisle 11 of the international terminal at SFO. Flying business class you can expect little to no wait upon check-in. Since CEA boasts membership to SkyTeam, they share the international airport lounge with Air France that is conveniently located right after you pass through the TSA checkpoint. While the SkyTeam lounge is not huge, it does offer enough space to relax, snack on appetizers and fresh fruit, or even send some last minute emails before your long flight. I took the time to enjoy a nice espresso and freshly baked pound cake.
As soon as I boarded the plane, the unusual layout for business class, which is a diagonal configuration, was what hit me first. It felt a lot more spacious than the conventional parallel layout. While it made it a lot easier to move around, the only drawback to this layout is that it is difficult to comfortably have a conversation with the passenger next to you. This is perfect for solo business travelers, though.
While the diagonal layout at first glance appears to be very tight, you get used to flying at an angle. This layout, in my opinion, offers much more privacy than standard business class cabins and their lie flat seats mesh very well with the design. For a religious business class flier, this is the closest I felt to First Class mini-suite privacy.
If possible, I highly suggest reserving either rows six or seven on the Boeing 777 of CEA. The forward cabin on CEA business class is separate from the main cabin so there are only eight seats, giving the illusion that business class is much smaller and intimate than it really is. They refer to this layout as “reverse herringbone.” In total there are 52 business class seats, 258 in economy and six first class mini-suites.
The seat itself is very comfortable and is at par with other major airlines as far as amenities go. Your flight is made comfortable with a large duvet and medium sized pillow as well as a pair of blue plush China Eastern slippers. The Audio Video on Demand (AVOD) system is decked out with 60’s-era movies (Hollywood & Chinese) plus the usual options for games, music and TV shows. The AVOD system is controlled with a high tech touch screen remote, which lets you easily navigate the interface. I personally liked the remote a lot since most airlines I’ve flown recently have clunky, outdated remotes that force you to use the touch screen on the monitor, requiring you to stretching from the relaxed seat position.
Appetizer 1st- Scalloped beef tenderloin skewer
Chinese style congee
Entrée – Western style mushrooms and bacon omelet, oat cereal with fresh milk, warm croissant and fresh fruit platter.
The lavatory has more than ample space to say the least. On long haul flights, I make it a point to change into a more comfortable outfit, so I’m usually stuck in the lavatory trying to wiggle my way out of my current outfit into the next. CEA’s lavatory was a pleasant experience of state of the art finishing’s mixed with common necessities. Big plus, the lavatory also had an oversize changing table.
The service on board was the shining star of the entire experience. In Business class we had all female flight attendants, all of which were around average height of 5’8’’ proudly showing off their beautiful smiles. While their English wasn’t perfect, they all spoke fluently and none were shy to make small talk with the passengers. It's easy to have an enthusiastic attitude as soon as passengers board the aircraft, but its how the flight attendants act six to eight hours into the flight when you ring your call button and request some snacks – that leaves a lasting impression. I was very impressed with the consistency of their attitude.
Shanghai (PVG) Airport
In keeping this review as fair and honest as possible, I expected a lot more from PVG airport especially since Shanghai is the financial capital of China. The transit flow for connecting passengers was somewhat confusing, the lounges are a bit outdated and the shops were very minimal. However, the PVG airport is undergoing a huge upgrade for all the aforementioned aspects of the airport. During my connection, I noticed sections of the airport closed due to the commencement of the construction.
At the moment, it appears that PVG airport is not big enough to handle the daily flight load (as far as jet bridges go), so passengers are shuttled to the main terminal and customs/transit counters. Most travelers feel this is a hassle however in fairness to China Eastern Airlines, they make the process very efficient and as painless as possible. As soon as I stepped out of the plane, they had four shuttles waiting to accommodate all passengers and the shuttles are very spacious, clean and modern. Here is a cool shot I took from the inside of the shuttle.
Currently, CEA has four lounges scattered throughout the international terminal. So if you are flying on Business Class, they will place you in the lounge that is closest to your gate. In contrast, most airlines have only one main lounge. This setup is very convenient so you can maximize as much time in the lounge before boarding. After the PVG renovations are complete, however, CEA will only use one main lounge.
The lounge I was placed in was a decent size for being a “sub – lounge.” As expected, there were warm appetizers, soup and entrees (both Chinese and Western) and a variety of loose leaf teas. There were even four private VIP rooms that were closed off, had more comfortable seating set behind closed doors. The service however of the lounge employees were second to none. One of the receptionists even gave me a tour of the terminal when she found out it was my first time at PVG airport. Throughout my layover, they were very attentive and pleasing.
From Shanghai, my connecting flight to Manila was a smooth ride. I experienced the same superb service from the attendants and the food was delicious. Flying on Business Class definitely has perks that every traveler need especially during a long and with connecting flight.
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