This series highlights a recent trip down to Hong Kong to mix business and pleasure with a brief layover in Shanghai on the way back.
So options down to HKG from NGO are numerous (CX, NH, and UO are all non-stop), but I’m traveling during a period called Golden Week. This set of national holidays in Japan are very popular since it allows everyone to get 4-5 days off of work, so everyone travels on these dates. This means airfare is extremely expensive. When the ticket was getting booked back in late January: CX and NH were both >$1500 for Y. Even UO, a LCC, was $600. Since Japanese don’t fly Chinese carriers, MU in J was only $700 at the time so I was offered this as an option to lure me away from the more attractive, yet expensive CX/NH Y fares. I’m adventurous, so I said I’d fly MU. I had them book the ticket to build a long layover at PVG on the way back in order to get some time to Maglev it into the city for an afternoon.
From the time the ticket was booked in January, I think I received at least 10 different SMS messages notifying me of flight changes. These were getting ridiculous and eventually my flight from PVG-HKG disappeared altogether so I had no idea what I was flying until the day of (I even stopped by the MU counters twice at NGO to get this sorted out, but the JL ground agents weren't able to help me, all they could see that I was confirmed on a flight). I'll explain all of this in the introduction for the next part, needless to say, I was not looking forward to this trip from all the headaches MU caused.
This gives me a very simple routing through Shanghai-Pudong:
As always, we take the Meitetsu ?Sky service to Chubu Centrair (or Central Japan International Airport, if you want to be fancy) from downtown Nagoya for ¥1230 ($10 / €10). Seat pitch is good, but no May issue of Wind is in the seatback, gasp!
Exiting the train, we head towards the international side of the airport for check-in. If you look closely, you can see a VN crew in their red outfits heading into the airport (the ladies on the left were staring at them).
After picking up some omiyage to bring with me to Hong Kong for my friend, I make my way over to the very crowded MU check-in counters, which are actually run by JL ground staff. Fortunately, at the business class check-in counter there is no one, so I’m immediately helped. There’s a brief moment of panic by the JL agent since my middle name doesn’t appear on my boarding passes, but after consulting another agent that this doesn’t matter (I have never had immigration/security freak out about middle names, so I wasn't concerned), she hands over my boarding passes and a lounge invitation card.
With about an hour before to kill before the scheduled boarding time, I make a quick beeline up to the 3rd floor and head out onto the Sky Deck for some quick spotting.
I was underprepared for these shots as I step outside (hence the poor quality); it was the CI A333 in special livery landing from TPE followed by a MU A321 in special livery heading back to PVG.
By the time I finally get ready to do some spotting, the CI A333 is now pulling into its gate and we can get a nice side shot of its “Masalu! Taiwan” special livery. This is the first CI special livery I’ve ever seen in person.
I’ve been seeing this AY A333 in Marimekko special livery everywhere recently.
In between the AY and CI A333s was this little guy, another MU A320, but this will not be my plane today. Mine is the one that is parked way out in the middle of nowhere at a remote stand (I already knew it was going to be paxbus since my boarding pass said Gate 202).
Walking down to the far end of the Sky Deck, we can see the JL B788 undergoing final preparations for its trip down to BKK as a NH B735 taxis in the background. Hmm, as we take a closer look at the nose of B788 something looks amiss. It’s never a good sign when there are four JL ground crew huddled around the nose of your plane yanking on things moments before you push back.
Anyways, we have a string of domestic flights taking off that I can nicely capture (all of the B737 variety, I promise the two NH B735s were different!).
I really wanted to go to the lounge, so I wrapped up this brief session, by taking pictures of some of the planes as I walked back to the terminal. We have a NH B738, KE B772, SQ A333, DL B752, LH A343, and CX A333. Then a tail line-up of all the little guys.
Back inside the terminal, I see this thing. This looks to be NGO’s attempt to one up DOH’s bear.
After heading down the escalator to the departure’s level, I head over to the security/immigration for international flights through the crowd of people only stopping to take a picture of the FIDS before heading in.
Security and immigration both had no lines, which was very lucky at this hour with all the impeding international departures and I was airside within ten minutes. The duty-free area after immigration is pretty busy, but we will head to the lounge. This will be my first ever visit to the Centrair Global Lounge, which was exciting.
The lounges are located downstairs and so we take the elevator down. This guy was kind enough to hold the elevator for me while I finished taking my pictures.
Reaching the lobby area, we have the KAL Lounge to the left and this shared lounge entrance to the right. According to the sign, this lounge is used by CI, DL, KE, and MU. That makes no sense to me since there is a KAL Lounge located right next door.
Entering, the agent greets me, takes my lounge card, and hands me back the stub for re-entry and informs me that there will be no boarding announcements from the staff. A long walk down the hall leads us to the food/drinks area. The left side has all of your liquid needs (tea, coffee, soft drinks, liquors, and then beer). On the right side, there is a station with sake and shochu. Further back, there are some food offerings (cup noodles, one hot buffet item, pastries, and then small snacks). The buffet had two items, it was rice wrapped in banana leaves and then some sort of calzone looking thing that I didn’t dare try. There is also a case for onigiri and sandwiches that kindly reminds you not load up your backpack with food before leaving.
I took a small selection and then headed over to the corner to take a seat. The lounge was very large (~75 seats in the main area, plus a relaxation room and smoking room) and had no windows. There were maybe 4 other people in the lounge at the time.
My offering for the day: a glass of tea, a cappuccino, a croissant, and a little matcha cake. I will give them credit, they had nice chinaware in the lounge; these were actually all Noritake (Noritake is made in Nagoya, so a very nice local touch).
I quickly ate my snack, took the corporate screen shot using the NGO Free WiFi and boarding pass photos. Why MU has changed their livery and not their cardstock, who knows…
It was 9:50 and boarding was scheduled to start at 10:00 so I packed up and headed out. The agent at the entrance to the lounge wished me a nice flight as I left. The long walk to the paxbus area took me through large crowds since every gate in this area was boarding at the same time. We cross over to the paxbus boarding area and then head downstairs to the waiting lobby.
I arrive at my gate at 9:56 and the first paxbus is leaving already. As you can see, my plane actually continues onto Wuhan after stopping in Shanghai/Pudong. Several of the MU flights out of Nagoya do weird routes like this.
China Eastern Airlines, MU2692 Equipment: Boeing B737-800 [B-1965, delivered July 2014] Departure: 10:30 (ATD: 10:38) Arrival: 11:40 (ATA: 11:48) Flight time: 2:10
No one is in the SkyPrority line so I’m quickly scanned through and am the third person in line to get onto the second paxbus. Interestingly, they use Swissport here at NGO, no Cobus 3000 for me :( I get on and take a seat right next to the driver, a friendly elderly man (I think this is the first time I’ve ever had a chat with a paxbus driver before). Behind me, I can hear English! A young American couple shows up and takes a seat in the row behind me, and I can hear the lady mumbling: “I guess we’ll have to sit here, apparently somebody’s suitcase needs a seat…” She also mumbles a couple other complaints as we take the short 3-minute ride over to the plane. I just hide my passport to avoid them talking to me, they are on a flight to China and need to have some realistic expectations of how things are going to go.
We get to the plane, I let the crowds filter off, then thank the bus driver as I step out onto the tarmac. I can now get some nice shots of my plane and a close-up of the CFM56 that will power me to PVG. I love the non-circular design they use for the next-gen B737s. You can also see how new this plane is (8 months old) even though it is in the old livery.
Most of the crowd has now filtered onto the plane so I get into the back of the line. You know you are on a flight to China when…
That’s right, rice cookers as carry-on luggage. The Chinese are no fools, they know that the JPY is so weak right now, that even they have massive purchasing power here. The crappy stairs had colored windows, so I can only get this poorly lit shot of my plane’s fuselage.
I had to take this picture and not blur out her face, otherwise no one would believe me: the MU FA greeting people was smiling! I was shocked, people always say how robotic and unemotional MU FAs are, but this crew certainly wasn’t.
After I paused to take the photo of the floor mats that MU uses on their planes, the smiling purser welcomed me aboard in English and directed me to my seat (no scowl for taking pictures). Entering the cabin, here is a picture of the bulkead row (row 6) and then a picture of my seat for the next 2 hours. Pre-placed on the seats were a pillow and blanket.
Seat pitch is very good (at least 10 inches more than the 36 inches that they claim online). There is a footrest that folds down for more comfort when lounging. Interesting observation, my seat back has a newspaper and slippers/shoe bag pre-placed, but the seat next to me doesn’t. Turns out, they only pre-placed these in the seat backs of the seats that would be occupied, which shows that they actually took some time and consideration when prepping the plane. Wait… is this one newspaper? Nope, they gave me three newspapers! How bizarre is that? Instead of just walking through and offering newspapers, I’m given two Japanese and one English newspapers. I wonder if this was the same for everyone since the other passengers in J were Chinese. The load in J for this flight was 4/12 and Y didn’t look too full either (~70%).
There is personal IFE with these seats; the screen looks to be around 10.6 inches. In this picture, you can see another smiling MU FA in the galley that is getting ready to greet the passengers from the third paxbus. After third paxbus passengers filter on, pre-departure drinks are offered (water or orange juice) and an oshibori (not pictured). The glasses have the new livery on the bottom.
The FA then comes by and asks me if I will be taking lunch after take-off. She then asks me verbally if I want “fish and rice” or “chicken and rice.” I opt for the fish and then she shows me the drink menu. I ask for longjing tea. The front door then closes and we prepare for push-back. A brief interlude to show the pillow and blanket offered on this regional route. You can also see the cabin on push-back, with the BSI turned on.
As we push back, we can see that AY and VN are also getting pushed back at the same time too. The safety video comes on and is played first in English (with Japanese subtitles) and then in Chinese. Apparently the safety video was very boring because my neighbors across the aisle were already passed out and we hadn’t even made it to the runway yet.
As we taxi to the runway, we can see a NH Dash-8 landing. As we reach the threshold of the runway, a look back and see that we are being trailed by a NH 763 and the AY A333.
An OZ A321 crosses our nose as she lands from ICN.
We then turn onto the runway for alignment, pause for the OZ A321 to exit, and then start our southward departure. As we lift up, we can get a nice aerial shot of NGO and the taxing OZ A321 before sailing up over Ise Bay.
We bank sharply to the right to start our westerly route to China. This takes us back towards Mie Prefecture and a nice aerial view of Yokkaichi (just for Cobra!) and the Suzuka Mountains.
As always, central Japan is very cloudy so let’s take a look at the seatback contents. We have a safety card, magazine (only in Chinese), and a “clean bag.”
As soon as we hear the cockpit signal the FAs, the IFE is turned on. The controls for the IFE are located in the central armrest along with the headphone jack. The FA then comes out and offers headphones, but I declined. The IFE had a very crisp screen and was very responsive. The selection looked very good (40+ movies), which was surprising for a narrow-body. I was expecting a water-downed offering. The one thing I don’t like is that there was 2-minutes of car commercials at the start of every movie/TV show, but you can fast-forward through them so it wasn’t ‘that’ inconvenient.
But before delving into the IFE offerings, I make a trip to the lavatory since that tea/coffee from the lounge caught up to me. The door was still locked, so the FA prepping for meal service quickly apologized and opened it for me. The bathroom was very clean, and the bar of soap with towel and flower in the corner was a nice touch.
Walking out of the lavatory, the FA was standing right there smiling and holding a basket with oshibori in it. She told me to take one. I was a little confused, but did as she told. I thought maybe this was the pre-meal oshibori, but it wasn’t. Apparently, she was offering it for me to freshen up after using the lavatory. Unfortunately, while I was in the bathroom, the window shades were all lowered and the cabin lights dimmed. The safety video also was playing again (the Chinese version didn’t finish pre-departure so they were playing the rest of it).
The FA came out, opened up my table, and laid my linens down. She then promptly returned with my cup of tea, a packet of mixed nuts, and another oshibori.
My tray was then brought out, followed immediately by the purser with a basket of warm bread. I asked for the toast, but then she told me it was okay if I wanted more, so I took a roll as well. MU must have really upped their catering presentation recently. Normally, short regional flights get those ramekins for the main, but this was actually on a plate. The main was two pieces of fish with a good tasting sauce. I couldn’t tell you the type of fish, but it had a reddish skin. It was served with two types of potatoes, lotus root, and rice. The starter was on the left, which consisted of crab on top of rice, a piece of cooked fish (w/ lotus root), then raw salmon (hiding in the back). The dessert was a simple fruit plate as is common for lunch services.
Metal chopsticks were adorned with the new MU logo, but the fork/knife were mixed.
I thought presentation was generally very nice (little garnishes adorning everything) and the food had good flavor. It’s not overly glamorous cuisine, but the taste sure made up for that and I didn’t find anything inedible or strange tasting. The bread was kind of disappointing, but that was about it. Refills were proposed throughout the meal service and this time the service protocol seemed very polite. Normally, Chinese FAs will ask you: “More?” or “Finished?;” but this FA was asking: “Would you like another?” At the end of the service, the FA came by and offered me another oshibori (this was the fourth one of the flight, apparently there are no oshibori shortages in China). The meal service concluded when we were just over halfway there.
Cleaning up my tray table, she asked me if I wanted any coffee so I said yes. This was brought out and enjoyed my coffee while watching TV and working on some puzzles in the newspaper.
Getting closer, the purser comes through, stops to talk to me, and thanks me for flying with MU. She also noticed my coffee was almost empty so she asked me if I wanted more. I said yes, then she looks down sees that I didn’t touch the sugar or creamer and says “Oh, you like your coffee black”. She then comes back and brings me just the coffee without any sugar/creamer packets. This has really been one of the most personal Chinese crews I have ever seen before.
The FA comes up to me and tells me our estimated arrival time and current temperature in Shanghai. As we begin our final descent into PVG, we can see the FAs line the aisle and do a bow before they start the cabin preparations. Not sure why.
The cabin lights get switched back on and this gives me a chance to show a peak at the row behind me and the first row of economy. (No, that was not my Prada bag… that belonged to the Chinese couple across the aisle that are still passed out sleeping). Also a picture of the curtain details for the galley.
Outside, we are still over cloudy waters so not too much to see (other than a pretty winglet).
I make a last stop at the lavatory. Again, upon exiting the lavatory, the FA is standing there with a basket of oshibori for me. I take one and head back to my seat. She then comes by and delivers me an immigration card for China (which I won't be needing this time).
Our descent continues, and before I know it we reach mainland China. It is hazy outside, which is normal for Shanghai. We pass over the numerous housing projects and some farmland as we drop into PVG.
As we approach the runway, we can see who runs the show here with two MUs in the new livery and a CZ awaiting take-off. Upon touching down, we can see a line of MUs in the old livery heading off to the runway. We follow a CZ A321 as we turn off the runway.
Our taxi takes us past remote stands filled with planes. HO A320s in normal livery and special livery. Then a sea of MU planes in old livery, new livery, and SkyTeam special livery.
We then taxi around Terminal 1 giving nice views of a MU A333 and CI B77W before we turn into our remote stand.
As we pull into our stand, a look back the terminal shows a sea of SkyTeam heavies.
Leaving the plane, the FAs are still smiling and thank me for flying with MU. This gives me a nice chance to get the fuselage shot before heading down to the bus. Our VIP bus is parked in front of the plane, so I can actually get a nose shot too (the pilots already opened up the window).
I love these mini VIP buses they use in China, so much more space to take pictures as we zip back to the terminal. The tarmac, unfortunately, was very uneven so it was a bumpy ride making photography difficult. Various MU planes, but there was a new airline for me: China United Airlines (KN). I’ve never heard of them before, but they have a nice looking B738.
Arriving at the terminal, we are dumped into this dark hallway with no signs. Not the most friendly welcome to a country. We then go up the escalators where there are two options: international transfer counter and domestic transfer/arrivals. There is no one to be seen, so I’m quickly called over to the SkyPriority counter.
No passport stamp for the transfer (unlike Beijing), then I’m lead through another dark pathway towards an empty security line.
At least there is a FIDS here and I can see there are two flights to NGO about to leave, but my plane for HKG won’t be leaving for much later.
Thinking there was no way this could be any sketchier of an airport, we now turn towards International Departures. Yet, there is another dark hallway we have to pass through before we finally reach the stairway to heaven.
Thanks for reading this report and please stop by for the continuation of this series as we begin a long layover in PVG, which was not by choice! I will also discuss the “mystery of the missing flight.”
JAL Sakura Lounge Annex
Nagoya - NGO
Shanghai - PVG
This was a highly dreaded flight for me since I had read so many bad reviews about MU on the site. It turned out that my low expectations weren’t warranted and it was actually a decent experience. It has definitely changed my opinion of the carrier (not that I plan on flying them long-haul anytime soon…).
Cabin comfort: This was a really nice, new B738 with BSI. The cabin was really airy and the seat pitch was better than I was expecting (probably close to 45-50 inches). No seatmate really helped and the recline was decent for a recliner. I also found the seats to be more comfortable than the ones that I had on MU’s A320s. Nice pair of slippers and shoe bag.
Crew: This was the biggest surprise for me. None of the MU FAs on this flight seemed robotic at all. They were all smiling and friendly. They were by no means ‘chatty,’ but there was some personality behind their service. English ability was good and all announcements were made in Chinese and English. The only strange thing was that the pilots never made announcements (this was the same for all four flights).
Meal and catering: Okay, Chinese food is Chinese food, but I found it all edible. I think presentation is a place where MU has recently really taken a big step forward. The plating was nice and the small little garnishes on each dish are visually appealing. I found the fish to be good tasting with the sauce. The starter and fruit plate were decent. The bread wasn’t too good. Overall, a good meal, but nothing special or anything I would order at a nice restaurant.
Entertainment: Personal IFE was responsive and crisp. The screen wasn’t huge, but it was what you’d expect on a narrow-body. It was also well stocked with a full selection, which was really nice. The pre-placement of newspapers (three!) in the seat back was strange, but at least it was there.
On-time performance: Left on time and landed 8 minutes late (they shot themselves in the foot because this flight was originally scheduled to land at 12:00, but they moved it up to 11:40 a couple weeks before the flight).
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